Christina Wang
Sep 8 · 5 min read

From August 16–18, 2019 1UP Toronto and Urban Minds hosted the second annual 1UP Leaders Lab. 1UP Leaders Lab is a free three-day youth leadership training program for high school students with a focus on urban planning, city-building, and architecture. Our program trains these students to become fellows who lead their own school chapter to tackle a challenge in their own communities.

This year, we had 22 enthusiastic students, representing 18 schools, coming from all over the GTA to attend our lab. They were a group of like-minded, passionate youth eager to quite simply learn, learn more about the core themes of city-building: sustainability, accessibility, and mobility, just to name a few. Our journey can be broken down into three days, each with its own theme.

Day 1: Exploration and Discovery

As we’ve seen throughout history, exploration and discovery are the foundational steps of achievement, steps that are also applicable to our own course of self-discovery. In order to truly create an impact on our society, we have to first accumulate knowledge and further our understanding of how the world legitimately works. To challenge the status quo, we have to have this deeper understanding of our current world, which allows us to then ask questions and identify problems. It all starts with a pro-active, curious mind that constantly asks “Why?”.

So that’s what we did: On day one, we asked why.

We asked professionals in the urban planning field questions.

We started off the day with a tour of Toronto’s Waterfront, which was led by Joel Leon from the Toronto Society of Architects (TSA). We asked Joel “How did the Waterfront develop over time and become what it is now?” and he replied with an in-depth description of its history. Originally, the Waterfront was a busy industrial harbor that acted as a center for trade and commerce between Britain and its North American colonies. This bustling hub of business nourished Toronto’s early growth. Yet, people in the late 1800s weren’t aware of that, because people were physically disconnected from the factories. The Waterfront used to be private land, but now it has become a place for work and play, connecting people from all over the GTA with one another and nature. The Waterfront holds activities and events throughout the entire year that are designed to be available to a diverse group of people. The public and accessible transportation is also a key factor in the Waterfront's success. The space is reachable via a wide variety of transportation methods, including streetcars, walking, biking, ferries, and buses.

“Along the way we’ll explore the challenges, successes, and lessons we’ve learned for the future of waterfront redevelopment and see how traces of our industrial past are finding new uses for art, culture, and leisure.” -TSA

The waterfront’s renovation is a perfect example of a holistic glow up transforming from a dark, anti-social industrial space to a bright, go-getter hub. As this year’s fellows build their own project, the Waterfront’s renovation should set a good reference point and inspiration as to what they can do.

One of our chapters from this year carried out a similar practice as the Waterfront. Our chapter in Earl Haig transformed their side entrance into a space that promotes mental well-being and community.

During the second half of the day, we had Sidewalk Labs answer questions that haven’t ever crossed our minds. Sidewalk Labs is an infrastructure company, a sister company to Google, and Alphabet Inc’s urban innovation organization.

“By combining people-centered urban design with cutting-edge technology, we can achieve new standards of sustainability, affordability, mobility, and economic opportunity.” -Sidewalk Lab’s Website

Sidewalk Labs designed a prototype city along the Waterfront with programs and architectural features that tackle Toronto’s prevailing issues: the housing crisis, a safer and efficient mobility system, and waste control to name a few. The solutions were creative and innovative all with the help of cutting-edge technology and futuristic thinking. For example, Sidewalk Labs intends to change private vehicle dependency in the Eastern Waterfront by restricting speed limits to 10km/hr.

Currently, Sidewalk Labs is facing difficulties gaining trust from the public. Although they are an entirely separate company from Google, their relationship as sister companies has been enough to render much of the public wary of them. No surprise, the public is concerned about privacy and data collection. given that Google’s primary means of profit are data-driven advertisements. On the other hand, Sidewalk Labs wants nothing to do with user data, in fact, they emphasize data literacy and transparency in their residential spaces as a part of their model.

As with any project, there will always be recurring issues that need to be addressed, but that doesn’t stop a designer. Sidewalk Labs taught us to always aim big, rethink and innovate, and never hesitate to use others as inspiration.

To finish the day off, we completed a David Crombie Park scavenger hunt. The goal was to practice being observant, detail-oriented, and to realize the importance of the mundane.

On day one, we pushed ourselves out of our comfort zone. We gained exposure to the urban planning world by asking, listening, and observing overlooked details. Learning is a constant journey, and just like any skill, application is a crucial process. Schools are slowly moving away from the traditional method of notes, textbooks, and chalkboards. Instead, they are starting to realize the importance of students functioning and thriving in the real world. Schools are integrating more field trips, and projects into their curriculum.

And they are right that application is effective and makes a bigger impact.

On the next day, we worked on applying our knowledge and creativity in a real-life professional project. To read more:

Urban Minds

​We are creating new ways for youth to participate in city building.

Thanks to Angela Ng and Ryan Lo

Christina Wang

Written by

TKS Innovator

Urban Minds

​We are creating new ways for youth to participate in city building.

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