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Undergraduate students compete to tackle housing challenges in Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area

Photo of the ntersection of Parliament St and Dundas St in 2010

The intersection of Parliament St and Dundas St in 2010. The Regent Park neighbourhood is being revitalized with a mixture of condominiums, market-rate rental apartments and public housing. Photo: City of Toronto (CC BY 2.0)

The students behind CivicSpark – a University of Toronto group devoted to fostering the next generation of city builders – will bring 13 undergraduate teams from universities across the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area (GTHA) together this weekend to offer their solutions to the area’s affordable housing problem.

“With the cost of housing constantly increasing, there is a real concern that people, especially marginalized and vulnerable groups can be pushed out of their homes,” said Edwin White Chacon, a fifth-year Arts & Science student in political science, and ethics, society and law, and one of CivicSpark’s co-founders.

The competition comes at a time when the University of Toronto itself is exploring different housing approaches to help make the city more livable and sustainable – including building laneway houses in the Huron-Sussex neighbourhood bordering the St. George campus.

Student teams have each had one month to analyse a specific case and prepare a 20-minute presentation that includes innovative and tangible solutions. They will be judged by a panel of urban experts and city planners as well as professionals from Toronto Community Housing Corporation and the Ontario Ministry of Housing.

The top two teams of the day will go head to head in solving a surprise case under the pressure of a very tight time frame.  “The finalist teams will be given the same case and 60 minutes to prepare their solutions and present them,” said Chacon.  Last year’s competition, which focused on transportation and public space, saw the final teams competing on ways to revitalize the space under Toronto’s Gardiner Expressway.

For student participants, the benefits include professional development, insight into the complexities of regional issues, as well as valuable connections with experts and professionals in urban planning. The winning team gets the opportunity to have an informational interview with decision makers in the GTHA’s public, private and not-for-profit sectors.

CivicSpark was co-founded in 2015 as a chapter of CivicAction, a local city-building organization, by Chacon and undergraduate students Sara Urbina (economics and geography) and Joe Becker (political science and Canadian studies).

To learn more about CivicSpark and the case competition, visit their website and their Facebook page.