SFU Semester Outside: Exploring Vancouver’s Urban Ecology

Originally posted as a SFU Sustainability news story)

hile we are lucky enough to live in one of the greenest cities in the world, it is easy to take our urban ecology for granted. Seeking to overcome this, SFU’s Semester Outside in the City, a partnership between SFU’s Semester in Dialogue and CityStudio Vancouver, provides students of any discipline the opportunity to connect with nature through outdoor learning.

Re-connect and re-wild

Wrapping up last month, the program’s third cohort, led by instructors Mark Winston and Laura Piersol, brought together 19 students from diverse disciplines to explore the idea of “rewilding” in Vancouver. This concept was introduced by the Vancouver Park Board’s 2014 Environmental Education and Stewardship Action Plan, and focuses on becoming more engaged with nature and resisting the urge to control it.

“To me, rewilding Vancouver begins with rewilding ourselves,” explains Sasha Makhneva, participant in the program and SFU Environmental Science student. “By spending more time connecting to the small things in nature, we become more motivated to take care of it. These actions then help to build a sense of community by fostering a better relationship to our environment.”

Beyond the classroom

As part of the 7-week intensive program, students were given the unique opportunity to design and implement projects which hold greater value beyond the classroom.

“We were encouraged to think in terms of community projects rather than school projects. Everything we did was going to be seen by the public which meant that everyone was really invested and proud of the work that they were doing,” comments Megan McLellan, Semester student and recent graduate of the SFU Communications program.

The students’ final projects encouraged a deeper connection to nature and a greater understanding of Vancouver’s urban ecology. Most projects are geared towards children, with the intent of inspiring knowledge through curiosity and play. They included:

  1. Biopolis: a biodiversity card game similar to Pokémon featuring plants and animals that inhabit the Arbutus Corridor as personified characters. The characters each have attack and heal properties based on real-life biological information with which to battle for the title of most biodiverse garden.
  2. Invasive Removal Arts Project: an informational website on which users can learn about invasive species found in Everett Crowley Park. The website contains a resource guide, extensive information about invasive plants, as well as creative projects such as flower-pressing and jam-making which encourage careful harvesting and reuse of these invasive species.
  3. Jericho Park Activity Book: a hands-on outdoor learning experience intended to teach kids in grades 3 and 4 about Jericho Beach Park. The lesson plan and activity book focus on biodiversity and Musqueam heritage and complements the new BC curriculum.
  4. Salmon’s Ravine Quest: an interactive quest which guides kids through the Renfrew Ravine, learning about its history and biodiversity along the way.

Keep exploring

These projects seek to bring attention to the importance of biodiversity in our urban ecosystem and remind us of the importance of rewilding and exploring the city with fresh eyes. Learn more about these and other projects or contact us to learn how faculty can partner with the City of Vancouver. Students interested in the Semester in Dialogue can learn more here.

Photos by: Megan McLellan

About the Author

Haley Roeser is a recent UBC graduate with a background in urban systems. She is currently volunteering with CityStudio to document student stories and projects. You can also find her at frida&frank.