Day 2 | Challenges and Opportunities for Anchor Institutions to Rebuild Downtowns: Post-Secondaries

Day 2 | Challenges and Opportunities for Anchor Institutions to Rebuild Downtowns: Post-Secondaries

Universities and post-secondary institutions—particularly those with campuses downtown, are inherently connected to their communities. They attract thousands of people to the core and foster innovation, entrepreneurship and economic growth. Transitioning to virtual learning has had an extraordinary impact on downtowns. How will they recover and contribute to the recovery of their downtowns?

Full Panel

Note to readers: This video session was transcribed using auto-transcribing software. Manual editing was undertaken in an effort to improve readability and clarity. Questions or concerns with the transcription can be directed to with “transcription” in the subject line.

Mary Rowe [00:00:05] Hi, guys, it’s Mary Rowe back for our finale, sort of our penultimate finale, actually. This is a very important session, and I’m very appreciative that we have two very, very busy presidents who have made time in their schedules to come out of this call. And just so you know, folks both for Mohamad and Joy’s benefit. Universities have been cited repeatedly over the last few days, so people have been saying, Well, what about post-secondary is what’s the role of universities? So the timing couldn’t be better. And I’m very appreciative that Stephen Phillips is going to moderate this discussion because it’s so critical. And I also had a lovely note from Mark Gertler over the weekend saying just I’m all in on this and really supportive of my colleagues to make this pitch because I think he’s the maybe the incoming chair of the Council of Universities or whatever that organisation is called and apparently spoke about this. So he’s with you, he’s with you in spirit. And and as I said, we’ve had many, many stakeholders across other topics. I think with their hands up saying, I hope that post-secondary, they’re going to be part of the solution and helping downtowns recover. So we’ve had a really interesting series of sessions leading up to this. After we’re done with you, then we’re going to hear a session on sort of public space and public animation and hear from Los Angeles and New York and other cities in Vancouver and other places about about different kinds of tangible things that can be done. But but we had a sessions yesterday on libraries, on faith institutions, and now we’re really keen to hear about the the other aspects of anchor institutions being post-secondary and university. So Stephen, I’m going to pass to you and I just want to thank Mohamed and Joy for joining us. Thanks very much. And looking forward to the conversation very much, and I’ll pass it over to the three of you. Thanks. 


Stephen Phillips [00:01:42] Thank you, Mary. Welcome to Dr. Johnson and Dr. Lachemi and presidents of both of your universities, S.F.U in Burnaby and downtown Vancouver, which we’re going to be talking about and the the iconic presence of Ryerson on another icon, while the most iconic street, probably in Canada being Young Street. And you know, really where I wanted to start, we want to talk about the downtowns and your relationship to the downtowns and how it might be changing or how it is changing and the future, the both the future and about your relationship. And just to sort of set, you know, a little bit of the context. Dr. Johnson, in looking at some of the material on you and on S.F.U you, you know your focus on enhancing student learning experiences and working towards reconciliation and advancing equity, diversity and inclusion across S.F.U. I think says a lot about your different campuses, and I believe you have three campuses, including Surrey and what the intentions are. I mean, you are approximately 30,000 student university and the I believe the downtown Vancouver campus opened in 1989, so it’s been there for a while. I certainly have been there. Your downtown campus, interestingly, has been described as the intellectual heart of the city, which is really interesting for a campus such as that. And then Dr. Lachemi, President, Lachemi, you know, Ryerson with, you know, 45,000 students, you know, a very well noted and iconic campus, you know, has always been, you know, the focus of it, of a major downtown area of the city of Toronto. It’s been called a leader in or noted as a leader in innovative, career oriented location or education. It’s always filled a void. You’ve been, you are, you know, a full fledged university, which you’ve always filled that void before that of, you know, training workers, both on the very practical side and on the higher academic side. So, and it’s very diverse institution, very inclusive. And what I really want to focus on and I’ll ask, you know, President Johnson to go first. Can you just touch on you both have very different scales in your relationship to the downtown. And when we talk about trying to regenerate the downtowns both in in Vancouver and in Toronto, could you just talk about your relationship with the downtown and Vancouver? 


Dr. Joy Johnson [00:04:27]  yeah. Thanks so much for that, I’m so pleased to be here. And I do want to begin by acknowledging I’m on Burnaby Mountain, where our main campus is and and this is on the unceded territories of the Musqueam Squamish, Cook, Whitlam. And so a lot of people, as you mentioned, we have three campuses. And what’s interesting to me, and because of that, we have very different and really strong relationships with three municipalities. And so I talked to three mayors on a regular basis. And I think all three of those mayors of Burnaby, Surrey and Vancouver recognised that post-secondary institutions are so vital for the life of the city and they want more of us. I think that’s what’s so interesting to me is that they they want more presence because they recognise that students for very, very good economic reasons, you know, students purchase goods and use transit and that’s good for our cities, but also because of what you referred to earlier about us being an intellectual heart. And the benefits of having a vital institution that can engage the community in arts, engage the community in seminars and lectures, and partner with the community in a variety of ways. And I would say, Stephen, across our three campuses, we’ve had very different, we have different stories to tell. And so even if I were to pick Surrey, which is our fastest growing municipality almost in Canada right now, it’s growing so quickly. It’s such a great story because if you grew with a brand new downtown in Surrey and so worked very, very closely with Surrey as they establish their new city hall, their new library, and we established a campus in Surrey to build a hub there, recognising that there’s so much to be gained by making sure that there is a university presence, but also these other amenities as well. And I think that’s really worked well, and I’m a big fan of mixed use facilities. I think there brings a certain vibrancy in Surrey. We actually build a campus on top of a shopping mall, you know, that wasn’t being utilised to the degree it needed to be and so repurposed that so there are still stores there, but also a university campus and that kind of dynamic of use of facilities and partnership with the city who helped us re-zone helped us get our permits in a timely manner has made a huge, huge difference. And I will make just one, maybe a very, very quick remark about downtown as well. Certainly, when we went downtown, there were a lot of concerns about the gentrification of the Downtown Eastside and Vancouver, and we had to partner with our with the local community to think carefully about what we could give back to that community as well, not to simply take over buildings and facilities, but what could we offer them offer that community in terms of partnership? And that was a long and I would say, initially difficult discussion, but it really has really enhanced both the university and the community. So I’ll just close by saying because I know Mohamed’s anxious to get into this one as well. We benefit as much as City’s benefit because we also learn so much through these partnerships. And I just think that’s there’s really magic to be had there. 


Stephen Phillips [00:08:21] Thank you, Mohamed. 


Mohamed Lachemi [00:08:24] Thank you very much for the invitation, sir. Really a pleasure for me to be here with my friend and colleague Joy sharing this panel, but also to be invited to talk about our roles in university, in downtown. Here is a definition that I aways share with our students, but also our partners. We see downtown Toronto, and downtown Toronto is expanding as actually our living love. It’s very important for a university like Ryerson that we see ourselves as part of the community. And what Joy has mentioned, this is a partnership. And in order for a partnership and for us is a partnership that has been there for over 70 years. That partnership, to be successful, it has to be a win win for both sides, and that’s actually what we will do in downtown Toronto. Living lab for our students because we want our students to be engaged with the communities around us, with the businesses participating in solving problems, but learning by doing. And that’s actually one of the things that are important for us in our D.N.A, Experiential learning. When we have students from any of the programs contributing to finding solutions, they learn and they add to the community around us. And of course, the partnership with the industries, is extremely important. We know that talking about the pandemic, but post-pandemic is going to be all about talent. I think it’s important for us to find a way to help the industry, especially in meat. And I can give a couple of examples about the way that we do it. So when we talk about downtown Toronto and you mention over forty five thousand students, I’ll give you just an example of a conversation that I had about six years ago with our former premier late premier now Bill Davis, in his way because he was a champion of education in Ontario. He called saying that I have seen what Ryerson University has done in downtown Toronto. I want this to be also part of my own city, and we all know that he was a big champion of Brampton. And actually, I’m pleased also to share that in addition to our contribution in downtown Toronto, we have now a presence in downtown Brampton. And actually, the discussion with Premier Davies was about bringing that new element to add to the vibrancy of the downtown, but also to find more opportunities to solve problems. And we do have a number of activities that we actually created in recent years. A centre for cyber security. Why cybersecurity? I don’t think that I need to convince anybody that we need to do something about cybersecurity. We are hearing about all the issues that we are facing with cyber security. So we created, actually opportunities for training and reskilling in cyber security. And I think if there’s anything that we need to learn about the pandemic is the  importance of universities to reskill and retool workers. It’s not just about students that are coming to spend four, five, six years, is also about the opportunities for us to contribute to this rapid change in need in terms of talent. So I think it’s important for universities to be part of their community to contribute to the community, to add value to contribute to community, but also to learn from the community about the needs. And I think that’s the most important contribution that we have, all to me. 


Stephen Phillips [00:12:30] Well, thank you. And I think that’s a really important point and it’s a great segway into what I want to ask you joy, we all know the change that we’re going through, and we just talked about it briefly. What is it, what does it mean to do the downtown S.F.U campus? What is that? What does that change look like to you right now? 


Dr. Joy Johnson [00:12:54] Yeah, I mean, if you walk through downtown Vancouver right now, it’s certainly not as vibrant as it was three years ago. And I think that for downtown Vancouver, it really will mean doing a bit of a rethink about what you know about the future of those businesses downtown and actually some of those offices as well. I mean, we actually are interested in having a greater downtown presence in Vancouver. Our business school is certainly very interested in expanding its programming there. And to, you know, to Mohamed’s point, I think what we’re trying to think about is is where we can add value right now. What is going to be required and what kind of programming can be situated downtown that can make a difference. And that’s why our business school is particularly interested because there is such a growing need for executive business education right now in terms of talent, in terms of managers, people able to lead and and develop companies. So that’s certainly a space we’re interested in. I would also say it’s so interesting because I do think the one thing as a bit of an aside, I’m very, very concerned about what’s happened to the arts in our cities. And I will say because we have our school of contemporary arts located downtown that we have been able to keep the arts kind of present and going to some degree during this time in which a lot of our artists are struggling. And so again, I think that we provide a bit of a lifeline in the downtown to, you know, to continue to lift up the arts to provide opportunities. Because as a post-secondary institution, we have been able to keep our educational programming moving forward and engage artists as instructors and  as performers to some degree as well. So yeah, it is an interesting question right now as we think about the future, particularly of downtown Vancouver. I would say, though, as well, I want to make a mention of Burnaby, where we have a obviously a campus that, you know, back in the day, people, you know, built universities on top of mountains. I don’t know what they were thinking, but that’s what they did. And but we have built a city up here, and that’s been a very successful project about bringing people to the campus because we also recognise to the point being raised here is that universities can’t exist without cities either. We need people, we don’t want to just be a place people commute to. But right now, our city of Burnaby is thinking about developing a new downtown core and in metro town. And it’s so interesting because they keep coming to us saying we need a few down there now, and it’s just fascinating about how important that is in terms of building opportunity in terms of a full, a full, you know, downtown core. We see that playing out across all three cities that we’re involved with. 


Stephen Phillips [00:16:09] Mohamed, when we think about the footprint of Ryerson, the extensive footprint and I’m talking about the physicality, I know you’ve just had a a new master plan or a master plan update. The, all the spaces that you have, is Ryerson thinking of what the pandemic means to the amount of space you have, how you might change the use of some of those spaces or we’ve had other speakers the last, you know, yesterday and today talk about the need for certain groups need space and Ryerson is used. The campus is used by everybody. If you’re just passing through it, the homeless, the less fortunate. Your thoughts on that, please? 


Mohamed Lachemi [00:16:55] I think we have a lot of lessons to learn from the from the pandemic. A lot of challenges, but personally, I see a lot of opportunities, and to your question, we need also to be flexible and to adapt to remote and flexible work. And I think it’s important for us because we are actually a community of 50,000, more than 50,000 people with the staff and faculty. And I can tell you, 80 percent of our people are commuters. So it’s very important for us also to take into consideration that aspect and offer some flexibility. If I take the staff, actually, we walked on a new way of doing business and we don’t want everybody to come back and that has actually it’s it’s good to offer flexibility for people. Flexible work force, but also implications in terms of space. Does anyone at the university need a private office? Question No. Not anymore. We should create the common spaces for people to walk, but we don’t need all people to be at there at the same time on campus. So that has actually a big difference in terms of usage of space. You mentioned about our campus. I think the most important thing that we learnt also over time is the importance of partnership. We cannot do all this by ourselves. And as you know, Stephen, we have had many success stories about the type of partnership that we can create with our the communities around us and the business community. One of the examples a lot of people probably don’t realise, but on a downtown area or this section of Dundas and Young, we are actually users of the Cineplex theatres. And that Project when was designed, was actually designed with the idea of having rising and students in both theatres from morning to early afternoon. That’s actually a perfect example of the use of a space between a public institution or educational institution and the private sector. And we have other examples, so I think it’s important for us to think out of the box downtown area for us. We are probably when we talk about density, I think we have probably a huge density compared to any other campus in the country. But we need also to think outside the box and optimise those resources and also welcoming people to also use the facilities that we have, as you mentioned. You mentioned Steve, and we don’t have walls between us and the rest of the community. Everybody is welcome. Everybody can contribute. And I think that’s the role of the university. You don’t push back people, you invite them and engage them. Also, some of the activities that we do. 


Stephen Phillips [00:20:04] So switching now, just sort of switching things around a little bit. Joy, could you comment a little bit? You know what, what can the downtown? So what can the city do for S.F.U? So at the municipal level, the provincial level and even the federal level. How did they have to change their models of, you know, supporting your institution? 


Dr. Joy Johnson [00:20:28] Yeah, I mean, I think there’s a variety of things that municipalities do to support institutions. You know, one is, you know, I think about some of the programs we’ve had. One is a program called City Studio in which we bring our students and, you know, city planners together in a semester to solve problems in the city. These are fantastic opportunities for our students who are engaged in and really pressing issues, everything from urban waste to transportation issues and thinking creatively about solutions. So those are partnerships, again, as Mohamed says, that are very, very valuable. There’s a lot of nuts and bolts. So to I mean, I think about, for example, in Surrey and Burnaby, you know, helping us get our building permits. Saying, you know, when we have a common understanding of what we want to accomplish, I think that can be very helpful in terms of expediting projects. We were very fortunate to get federal funds through strategic infrastructure funding from the federal government to build a new building out in Surrey. Our energy for that houses our Energy Systems Engineering program. And we got that building built in three years, really from conception to full completion because the city partnered with us and wanted to see this building built as well and helped pave the way. And there are concessions as well that they’ve offered us from time to time, which really are helpful. So I just think that kind of partnership again and again with Burnaby, we’re in the midst of having a discussion about an innovation lab where our, where they can bring their issues to us and we can bring our researchers to the problem and we can partner together. So again, to Mohamed’s point, it is about partnerships, it’s about that synergy, it’s about that mutual benefit. And I think one of the best things cities can do in terms of what they can bring us is is bring us their problems and be prepared to partner and be prepared to work together. That makes a huge difference. 


Stephen Phillips [00:22:46] Fantastically interesting, thank you, Mohamed, you care to talk about the same, the relationship  with municipally, provincially and federally and with Ryerson in moving forward and what they can do to support you. 


Mohamed Lachemi [00:23:01] I think it’s always about finding the best way to be taught. As I said, partnership has to be win win, both sides. And I think the most important thing is for any level of government also to benefit from the expertise that we have. We do have a lot of people who are talented and experts in many areas. And I think if this is an important consideration to take important thing, to take into consideration. I can give you two examples, and I think that there’s a consensus in our country that climate change has to be addressed. I can tell you, I’m talking about the university sector in general. We have a lot of people who are working on this. We need in this case to sit down with municipalities, federal government and that the federal, the provincial government to see how can we offer solutions and universities can be used as kind of pilot projects for doing things in a different way. That’s one aspect. The other example, actually during the pandemic, and I have to give credit here to the leadership of the city of Toronto, here, they reach out from the beginning of the pandemic to all public or post-secondary institutions in Toronto. We have four universities four colleges, and they brought everybody to the table and the idea was can we work together to deal with the recovery of the pandemic recovery? And we got actually a good support from both the province and the federal government with funding. And we came up as a kind of a collective with ideas for research projects. And I’m pleased to say that the City has selected eight research projects to deal with issues that we are dealing with during the pandemic, for example, the link between the COVID death and social and demographic factors within a city. We know that not everybody is affected the same way. We had issues dealing with protecting cities labour market trends and needs to, next few years. How can the city adapt to that? The other another project about risk for future supply, disruption for personal protective equipment and art. So that actually was a lost project, a perfect example of type of collaboration you can have between the university sector and the City. Please to say that the eight projects that were selected and some of them we had multiple partners. Ryerson was involved in seven out of eight. So I think those are the examples we can bring to the table. But let’s let’s discuss what are the issues, how can we contribute and how we can benefit those? 


Stephen Phillips [00:26:01] Now that’s absolutely very well put and just to sort of finish off because I know that how much you know, the local businesses you know surrounding your institutions depend on the students. I mean, when you talk about 50,000 students. I mean, there’s a lot from transit to, you know, local businesses to food and entertainment. What’s your plans for being back, you know, fully on campus? Joy, just starting with you. What is the plan for that? 


Dr. Joy Johnson [00:26:33] We’re back. 


Stephen Phillips [00:26:35] Totally back now?


Dr. Joy Johnson [00:26:36] Well, there’s no such thing as totally back I’ve learnt. We have signalled in and certainly our provincial health officer and the minister of Advanced Education, Skills Training want us back. And I’m really pleased that 24 out of 25 institutions are back right now within campus learning in British Columbia. But that being said, there’s a lot of anxiety and we still have quite a bit of online delivery. When I look across my shoulder and I can see a hall down there, it’s full of students right now and that makes me very happy because not only are they learning and they need to be learning in classrooms, but they’re also socialising. And to your point, they’re using transit and they’re buying their coffee and supporting our local businesses because they’ve suffered. Like ecosystem effects are extraordinary, in terms of the economic impact of our universities, and so being back on campus is part of moving forward with that. 


Stephen Phillips [00:27:28] You’re making a lot of people happy, I know that, Mohamed, are you? What’s your situation?


Mohamed Lachemi [00:27:33] Our plan actually from next week is, we are using the month of February as a transition with the goal that everybody is back by the end of February, February 28. That’s the plan. And your point about the impact on local businesses. Definitely, that has been a huge problem for businesses around us. And one thing I think the university sector has to realise about that type of partnership, but I know one of the people in audience is Mark Gardner, who is the CEO of Downtown B. I think that type of developing that partnership collaboration. Regular meetings, talking about the issues because those issues are also our issues. So I think it’s important for the university sector to pay attention to the communities around them. 


Stephen Phillips [00:28:31] Well, all I can say is thank you both. I mean, this has been a remarkable discussion. Right on time. 


Dr. Joy Johnson [00:28:40] Okay, great. Take care. 


Mary Rowe [00:28:43] Thank you. Steven, thank you for putting that together and really great to have the two presidents. Thank you, both of you. And also you covered, not only university is a place which I appreciate and your proximity to downtown and you’ve made a statement by being located downtown. But also all the other, all the other benefits you bring your faculty, the capacity we saw on the chat, people asking, can you put your brainpower to work in terms of how are we going to reimagine these downtowns? How do we figure out what social cohesion is going to look like? How do we deal with the mental health challenges? So we’ll be back knocking on your door lots? And I’m delighted to hear you mention City Studio. I’m a big fan of Duane’s and I think it’s a really good model and I’m hoping that we can continue to share those best practices, and Ryerson, as right there on that iconic street of Young Street. I’m looking forward to what that recovery does look like. So thanks very much. And Steven, thank you for corralling these two in a really lively conversation. We appreciate you joining us. 


Full Audience
Chatroom Transcript

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Canadian Urban Institute: Our next session is “Challenges and Opportunities for Anchor Institutions to Rebuild Downtowns: Post-secondaries”. Universities and post-secondary institutions—particularly those with campuses downtown, are inherently connected to their communities. They attract thousands of people to the core and foster innovation, entrepreneurship and economic growth. Transitioning to virtual learning has had an extraordinary impact on downtowns. How will they recover and contribute to the recovery of their downtowns?

Joining us today are:
Dr. Joy Johnson, President and Vice Chancellor, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby  Vancouver
Mohamed Lachemi, President and Vice Chancellor, Ryerson University, Toronto. 

This session will be moderated by Stephen Phillips, Senior Vice President, Business Leader, Buildings, Stantec.

04:55:37 Canadian Urban Institute: Stephen is passionate about design, sustainability, and people. With a career focused on education, research, justice, and healthcare projects, Stephen works collaboratively with his team, clients, and end users to develop contextual, responsive, and sustainable solutions. Stephen brings 30 years of experience developing student use buildings for education clients with a focus on the human experience. Through this understanding Stephen has developed a keen understanding of the patterns in which students and faculty use campus buildings including flexible learning and teaching, team-work, informal study spaces, residences and living spaces, and the importance of collegial identity and involvement. Stephen’s ability to bring together and inspire students, faculty, and administrations has led to a portfolio of truly transformational and award-winning post-secondary buildings.

04:55:59 Canadian Urban Institute: Dr. Joy Johnson, SFU’s 10th president and vice-chancellor, is passionate about SFU’s academic and research mission. As president, Joy is committed to enhancing student learning experiences, working towards reconciliation, and advancing equity, diversity and inclusion across SFU. Prior to her appointment as president, Joy served as SFU’s vice-president, research and international from 2014 to 2020. She currently leads SFU’s equity, diversity and inclusion initiative.

04:56:12 Canadian Urban Institute: Dr. Mohamed Lachemi is president and vice-chancellor of Ryerson University. An internationally recognized researcher and accomplished academic administrator, he has been a key contributor to the growth of Ryerson over a transformational time in the university’s history. A Ryerson professor of civil engineering since 1998, he has served in progressively senior roles, including dean of the faculty of engineering and architectural science, and provost and vice-president academic. Dr. Lachemi is well known for his pioneering research in sustainable materials and innovative technologies that mitigate the effects of built structures on the environment, and was awarded a Canada Research Chair in Sustainable Construction. He is a Chair of the Council of Ontario Universities, Fellow of the Canadian Society for Civil Engineering, a Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Engineering, and a Board member of Trillium Health Partners.

04:58:55 Brian Owen: @Jamie Excellent! Thank you. I meant to mention it yesterday. The entire event  has been tremendous! Kudos to Mary and everyone at CUI!

05:01:17 Mark Garner: Ryerson students and faculty contribute over 30 million dollars annually to the local downtown neighbourhood

05:01:29 Kerry LeBlanc: absolutely an awesome conference. Thank you CUI. Together we can make a difference.

05:01:51 Mark Garner: Thank you Dr. Lachemi for being here today and for Ryerson being a great partner

05:03:15 Mark van Elsberg: Universities in Urban locations are not an isolated campus, they are a campus where the City runs through it.  Branding and transforming some streets to focus on students allows the City to participate.  Gould street as a pilot project transformed Ryerson from a public perception along with Ryerson expanding onto neighbouring streets and over shopping malls.  Ryerson Students are educated by living in an urban centre with all the good and bad.

05:05:05 Sue Uteck: We are very fortunate to have St. Mary’s, Dalhousie, the College of Art and Design and the Technical University of NS ALL in the Downtown of Halifax.

05:07:40 Gelare Danaie: The connection between University campus and the businesses is key in a vibrant downtown. Even as a small business we want to be close to these campuses to be close to the talent pool

05:08:15 Anneke Smit: The University of Windsor currently has two programs downtown – Social Work and the School of Creative Arts (SOCA) – in addition to our law faculty-affiliated legal clinics

05:08:23 Kay Matthews: How can rural communities encourage satellite “classrooms”?

05:13:45 Rachel Braithwaite: Good question Kay! Might also be great to have certain departments located on Main Streets

05:16:25 Adriana Dossena: university campuses have a variety of building types & the larger ones such as U of T, are cities within cities that  include food/dining, hospitality, housing, museums with similar challenges to the cities in which they are embedded & with 40% of students often coming from outside community – the vibrancy & dynamic in partnership between city decision makers & universities could benefit from collaborating more not just in experiential programming with students, but job skills retraining, union engagement, participatory learning through strategic planning to build confidence, sense of safety, place-making/keeping with diverse perspectives, approaches & peer-to-peer & intergenerational network building

05:21:05 Anneke Smit: Another key piece on universities/colleges role is a curricular one – are our higher ed curriculums/programs producing graduates with all the skills we need for good city building moving forward?

05:23:44 Canadian Urban Institute: Thank you Stephen, Mohamed, and Joy.