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March 05, 2020
Participants at the Ryerson Urban Farm Living Lab Roundtable.

On February 14, 2020, Ryerson’s Urban Farm hosted its first-ever Living Lab Roundtable, bringing together more than 80 attendees from a variety of sectors and industries to help set the Urban Farm’s research priorities.

Thanks to a generous donation from Andrew and Valerie Pringle, the Living Lab research framework was launched in 2019 to mobilize strategic research priorities in green roof and rooftop farming technology. The goal is to apply learnings not only to academic research, but also to associated industries and community organizations in Toronto and beyond.

Here are three interesting things we learned at the February 14 Living Lab Roundtable and how our work will influence the growth of green roof technologies.

Toronto is a North American leader in green roofs and rooftop farming

Since enacting North America’s first comprehensive green roof bylaw in 2009, Toronto has quickly emerged as a leader in the green roof movement. As North America’s metropolitan area with the third highest number of green roof installations, Toronto now operates more than 700 green roofs, totalling more than 600,000 square feet or approximately 73 football fields worth of rooftop green spaces.

In 2020, the City of Toronto will be reviewing its green roof bylaw with the aim of expanding green roofing requirements for new building developments and removing economic barriers to retrofitting existing buildings with green roof technologies.

Ryerson has long been a leader in Canada’s urban agriculture and green roof movement

Brainstorming post-it notes on the table at the Ryerson Urban Farm Living Lab Roundtable.

Ryerson’s green roof leadership has not just been limited to campus. In 2005, Ryerson professor Hitesh Doshi from the Department of Architectural Science (DAS) was principal investigator of a report that led to the City of Toronto’s Green Roof Bylaw. In 2009, Doshi became chair of the Technical Advisory Group to inform the current green roof bylaw we find in Toronto today and has consulted on municipal policies throughout the world.

Over the last two decades, Ryerson has also been a leading voice in Canadian urban agriculture. DAS professors June Komisar and Mark Gorgolewski, and professor Joe Nasr, research associate at Centre for Studies in Food Security (CSFS), co-wrote Carrot City: Creating Places for Urban Agriculture , published in 2011. Ryerson subsequently hosted the 2012 Urban Agriculture Summit, organized by CSFS, FoodShare and Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, with more than 800 people in attendance.

In just a few short years we’ve gone from opening the original Andrew and Valerie Pringle Environmental Green Roof atop the George Vari Engineering and Computing Centre (ENG) in 2004 to transforming this space into the largest capacity university rooftop farm in all of Canada by 2014. With the opening of a second rooftop farm at the Daphne Cockwell Health Sciences Complex (DCC), Ryerson will be opening Toronto’s first purpose-built rooftop farm under the City of Toronto’s Green Roof Bylaw later this year.

Diverse perspectives are critical to expanding Toronto’s capacity for rooftop farming

Rooftop farming involves more than just farmers and Ryerson’s own academics. The Living Lab research framework promotes collaboration and partnership across disciplines and sectors, is driven by stakeholder input and community needs, facilitates formal and informal learning opportunities for participants, and delivers measurable outcomes that will support an expanded rooftop farming movement in Toronto.

By bringing together urban farmers, academics, policy makers and industry leaders, we’re hoping to find innovative and creative solutions to many of the challenges facing the rooftop farming sector today.

What’s next?

Based on discussions at the Living Lab Roundtable and feedback from attendees, the Ryerson Urban Farm will be establishing the Living Lab’s research priorities for the next two years. The goal is to ensure that future research directly supports building capacity for rooftop farming as a direct response to the needs of the broader community and industry.

Four participants sitting at a table having a conversation at the Ryerson Urban Farm Living Lab Roundtable.

Working with principal investigator professor Fiona Yeudall at Ryerson’s Centre for Studies in Food Security , this two-year feasibility study will identify research priorities in green roof technology and urban agriculture that aim to contribute to the development of more rooftop farms here in Toronto and around the globe.

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