Environment-led Map the System team advances to global finals with light rail gentrification project

Thursday, May 14, 2020

The University of Waterloo’s Map the System team, including two students from the Faculty of Environment are taking their local research to the global stage in June, following a winning presentation at the Canadian finals last week. Map the System, a problem-based pitch competition hosted by Oxford University, encourages post-secondary students of all levels to apply systems-thinking tools to relevant social issues.

three participating students

Kaitlin Webber, Emma McDougall, and Sam Petrie collaborated to explore the social and economic impact of the recently launched Light Rail Transit (LRT) system in Waterloo Region.

The team formed when Planning prof. Dawn Parker at the Waterloo Institute for Complexity & Innovation (WICI) reached out to Webber, MA in Planning, and McDougall, PhD in Planning, to encourage their participation due to a common interest in exploring the impacts of urban transit. They were referred to Petrie, currently a PhD candidate in Health Sciences at Carleton University, and an alumnus of the Department of Knowledge Integration.

Their project focuses on the transit-induced gentrification resulting from the new LRT in the Waterloo Region, and highlights the tension between economic gain and social equity that is emerging from this recently completed project. Webber, McDougall, and Petrie plan to continue using their research to advocate for more equitable communities along the light rail corridor in Waterloo Region. They also plan to share their findings with other cities that are interested in developing LRT systems.

lrt trainThe students received substantial support from Dr. Brian Doucet from the Waterloo School of Planning, and Parker. The team would also like to express thanks for feedback they received from Engineering alumnus Kirsten Wright from WICI, WICI’s Urban Growth and Change Research Group, Ian Thomas from Kindred Credit Union, Dr. Kevin Curtis from the School of Planning, Atul Bhatt and the team from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, Kirsten Moy from the Aspen Institute, and David Edwards from Purpose Built Communities.

Of the sixteen teams that presented at the Canadian finals, six will compete against teams from institutions across the world in a virtual competition from June 5-7, 2020. They are also eligible for up to $10,000 in “Apprenticing with a Problem” funding from McConnel’s RECODE program and the Trico Charitable Foundation.

In spite of the necessary shift to an online competition in the final days before submissions were due, students such as Webber, McDougall, and Petrie found the experience to have significant value. According to Webber, participating in Map the System “allowed us to shape a solution space for a problem we were researching and exploring abstractly, into something more concrete and tangible.” The team’s success at each level of the competition continues to shed light on the important issue of gentrification, while exemplifying the unique ways in which systems thinking can help solve complex global problems.

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