A university campus is the site of so many crossroads. In an urban setting, this effect is multiplied. Students, community members and local stakeholders - all using the same space to create an incredible mosaic of diversity. As administrators, we must look at the total integration of the community. For us, innovation is mandatory - and where there is innovation, there is integration. Students feel welcome in this community and the community, in turn, is receptive to them. They learn from one another and everyone is more prosperous as a result. I began my term with Ryerson at a critical time in its development - we were in the process of completing the construction of the new business faculty building. Ryerson was also facing a number of issues at this time, but more than ever, it needed an update. I stood on the corner of Gould and Victoria at the time and I remember thinking how much potential this place had. Ryerson was on the cusp of becoming much more than just a couple of buildings behind Sam the Record Man. We were on the verge of creating something phenomenal (The Globe and Mail).
Ryerson is primarily a commuter school. We wanted to create a new space where they felt comfortable studying, learning, and collaborating. As it currently stood, the campus simply did not have the space to fill that demand. Our solution? The Ryerson Student Learning Centre. I am proud to say that it has been transformative for the campus. The library became much more integrated in student life, creating up to 155 000 square feet of space reserved exclusively for them (Ryerson University). It houses the Sandbox, a world-class incubator for our local entrepreneurs as well as the DMZ, an interactive lab space that fosters technological education (Ryerson University). Working with our design team, we were able to add a touch of modernity to Gould. Standing on that corner then, I saw that potential had come to life.
From glass skyscrapers to the foundation within its roots, one of Ryerson’s greatest strengths is in its ability to harmonize with its downtown neighbours. The Urban Farm is a way that we take care of our surrounding community. Its main growing space takes a previously underutilized quarter of an acre on the roof above George Vari Centre at Church and Gould and transforms it into a sustainable food production facility. The farm’s goal is to increase capacity for urban agriculture through production, education and research. All of its crops are spray-free and grown ecologically. It grows 10,000 pounds of produce every year, which is divided between Ryerson Eats, the Gould Street Farmers’ Market, the Good Food Centre, and also includes a food share program where members receive a bag of fresh produce each week from the end of May through to October. This innovative and successful project demonstrates the massive potential of green roofs to produce food in urbanized environments and allows Ryerson to contribute to the overall health of its students, its surrounding community, and its environment (Ryerson Urban Farm).
During my time at Ryerson, the campus underwent a tremendous transformation. We now yield the fruits of our labour - our initiatives are contributing both to current students and to our downtown neighbours. We took the challenges of lack of space, of disruption and of sustainability and we raised the bar. I visited Ryerson recently. I am no longer the president there, although I must mention that Dr. Lachemi is going a stellar job. As I stood on that same corner once more, I saw the campus in a whole new light. Ryerson has transformed to become the amalgamation of the old and the new: the very epitome of an urban, diverse campus.