RESEARCH AND INNOVATION AT THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO
JULY 2009 · VOL.10, NO.1
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Climate control
Jing Chen

 

Jing Chen. Photo by John Hryniuk

Canada’s role as a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol raises a lot of questions for Jing Chen. How will planting more trees help Canada meet its Kyoto target? How do we fulfill our Kyoto duty to measure and report on Canada’s carbon emissions? The geography professor and Canada Research Chair in Ecosystem-Atmospheric Interaction is finding answers by quantifying Canada’s carbon sink — the plants and soil that absorb carbon from the atmosphere.
This kind of information is key to estimating, for example, how much more carbon can be absorbed by the land.
With more than five million square kilometres of forest in Canada, measuring our carbon sink is an enormous task. For many years, this measurement has been done by reading data from 29 micrometeorological towers installed across the country. Chen and his students have developed an upscaling method. “We use the data from the towers and calibrate our model with satellite remote sensing imagery,” he says. “The result is the most accurate and comprehensive estimation of Canada’s carbon sink available — a detailed picture of where carbon is being absorbed and released.” Chen’s research is used by the federal government as a reference for its environmental reporting requirements and in environmental policy development. As Chen says, “the research has a direct effect on how Canada is dealing with climate change and is helping us find answers to address some of the questions climate change raises.”
– Anjali Baichwal

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Goodbye, middle-income neighbourhoods
David Hulchanski

 

David Hulchanski. Photo by John Hryniuk

Social work professor and housing expert David Hulchanski and his research team at U of T’s Cities Centre (formerly the Centre for Urban & Community Studies) woke the world up to a different view of Toronto in 2007 when the centre released a report called The Three Cities within Toronto: Income polarization among Toronto’s neighbourhoods, 1970-2000.
The Toronto Star and the Globe & Mail created special sections based on the elaborate maps Hulchanski’s team had drawn to indicate how the number of middle-income neighbourhoods had decreased over 30 years, only to be replaced by a growing number of low-income areas mainly — and surprisingly — in the city’s inner suburbs.
“People now have a much better idea of what is happening in this city in terms of the widening income gap and neighbourhood polarization by income and ethnicity,” says Hulchanski, who adds that similar changes are happening in large Canadian cities like Vancouver and Montreal.
“Our goal was to illustrate how change over three decades in social and economic policies, and the economy in general, had played out on the ground. We ourselves were shocked at what we saw. I can still remember our data analyst bringing out a map and saying, ‘Look at this!’ The number of the city’s middle-income neighbourhoods had declined from 66 per cent in the early 1970s to 29 per cent in 2005. You always expect some up and down, but to have that kind of consistent decrease was amazing.”
Hulchanski credits a five-year grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council with enabling the researchers to delve deeply into the analysis. The multidisciplinary nature of the team from the Cities Centre and partnership with St. Christopher House, a Toronto social service agency, were also instrumental in providing a rich research perspective.
What’s the next step? “Do something about this. Research by itself doesn’t make for social change. But this is the kind of information policy makers can use to make urban living more equitable for more citizens.”
In fact, Hulchanski can already see positive social innovation happening to counter the findings of Three Cities with Toronto Mayor David Miller’s Transit City plan, the Tower Renewal initiative and his emphasis on making Toronto one inclusive city. “He is pursuing ideas and policies that are opposite from the three cities trend that we identified.
It’s a very positive way of reacting to our analysis.” – Paul Fraumeni

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Is your kid being cyber-bullied?
Faye Mishna

 

Faye Mishna. Photo by John Hryniuk

Kids who bully find a way. They pound you in the school yard, or a group of girls whisper and giggle while looking at you. And now, there’s the new method: they’ll get at you over the Internet.

Don’t wave it away — this is real. U of T’s Faye Mishna conducted a survey in 2008 among 2,186 Toronto students and found that 50% had been bullied over the Internet. The abuse has become so bad that the Canadian Teachers’ Federation wants cyber
bullying added to the list of offenses in the criminal code.

Mishna is the Margaret and Wallace McCain Family Chair in Child and Family at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work. A specialist in children’s mental health as both a clinician and academic for 30 years, she is one of the go-to experts on how bullies ply their trade using the Internet. Resources like Kids Helpline regularly seek out her expertise.

She defines bullying as “intentionally and repetitively hurting someone and causing distress through the use of power. With cyber bullying it’s even worse — the Internet enables the threat to be sent everywhere, so the repetition is greater.”

How to ease the problem? “Yes, parents must monitor use of the Internet. But we have to do more than that — the key is to learn how to identify the signs of cyber bullying and the kids being victimized by it. This is where research comes into play.”

And a network approach is vital. “Parents, the police, teachers, lawmakers, and child protection and health agencies must get together to devise systematic, formalized approaches to helping kids with this problem.” – Paul Fraumeni

 

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What is social innovation?
Professor R. Paul Young

 

r. Paul Young

What do you think of when you hear the word innovation?

Most of us think of improving technology — new information technolo-gy devices, for example, or taking medicine to the next levels by developing drugs and vaccines or inventing stunning rehabilitative aids.

If we can develop improved engineering methods to create bio-friendly fuel, why can’t we shorten wait times for medical procedures? If we can speed up the Internet, why can’t we figure out a way to prevent online bullying? If we can develop joints that help buildings withstand earthquakes, why can’t we help policy makers and urban planners design mixed housing projects that blur income distinctions?

In fact, we can. And we are.

“Social innovation” is an emerging term that, broadly defined, involves solving a social problem or improving the way we live.

As new as the term is, the activity is not new. Canada’s universal public health care system is a good example. The work of civil and women’s rights advocates in the 1960s, such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Gloria Steinem, led to social reforms that continue to help our society progress.

But there seems to be a new age of social innovation in the works. U.S. President Barack Obama has made liberal use of the term in his speeches and has, in fact, established an Office of Social Innovation in his government. The MaRS Discovery Centre, of which U of T is a partner, is home to Social Innovation Generation, a collaborative initiative to create a culture of social innovation.

And, as this special issue of Edge showcases, there’s no shortage of scholars contributing to social innovation at the University of Toronto. We have devoted this entire issue to stories about faculty who are harnessing research to change the way we think and act, maybe even the way we innovate society itself.

We are proud to be home to so many innovators of all sorts at U of T. Our researchers are literally working to make the world a better place.

I hope you enjoy this issue.

 

R. Paul Young, PhD, FRSC

Vice-President, Research

 

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EDGE · JULY 2009 · VOL.10, NO.1