Imagining My Sustainable City: Appreciating Place and Envisioning a Future Hamilton

IMSC is a four-day intensive program that brings ecological awareness into Grade 7 classrooms through an introduction to sustainable urban planning and architecture.

By Emily Foster
Published May 07, 2015

No.9: Contemporary Art and the Environment is an arts organization that uses art and design to bring awareness to environmental concerns. We deliver programs in schools and in the public domain designed to encourage the use of creative thinking to resolve environmental issues and to promote a sustainable lifestyle.

Imagining My Sustainable City is a four-day intensive program created by No.9 that brings ecological awareness into Grade 7 classrooms through an introduction to sustainable urban planning and architecture.

From 2011 to 2014, in partnership with the Toronto District School Board, No.9 reached over 1,500 students, 50 teachers, and five priority neighbourhoods throughout Toronto's 44 wards.

In 2013 and 2014, No.9 engaged 70 students through Imagining My Sustainable City in Chicago, IL in partnership with the Chicago Architecture Foundation.

Building on the success of Imagining My Sustainable City, No.9, in partnership with Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB), is expanding IMSC to Hamilton in 2015 as a part of an Action Campaign led by Evergreen CityWorks, in collaboration with the Hamilton Community Foundation and other partners.

The call to action aligns with No.9's and Evergreen CityWorks' missions to educate and engage the next generation about the development of sustainable communities. 

During Imagining My Sustainable City, No.9's Architectural Educators work closely with the students from across the City of Hamilton to deepen their eco-literacy and engage them as agents of change with respect to sustainability.

Each class begins by exploring the unique characteristics of the neighbourhood surrounding their school. The students walk through their neighbourhood with No.9's Architectural Educators as well as local architects and planners, who contextualize the students' plans within the Ontario Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe.

Students then map their walk, brainstorm programmes that could contribute to a sustainable neighbourhood, and plan their project.

On the second day, the students are introduced to the nine pillars that contribute to sustainable city building: waste management, water management, green building design, alternative energy sources, open green space, urban agriculture, public transportation, public art and design, and civic engagement and leadership.

These pillars were created by No.9 to allow students to understand core elements that can help to make cities more sustainable. The students incorporate these pillars into their individual designs as well as the overall goals of the project while learning about Hamilton's past and present approaches to sustainable design.

The students also receive an introduction to architectural design and are challenged to construct a scale volume out of a cardboard 'kit of parts.' The volumes are used as a tool throughout the design process by introducing the students to scale, model making, and space.

On the third and fourth days, the students build a scale model of their design while working collaboratively to ensure that their designs create a cohesive vision for their future neighbourhood.

On day four, the students present their overall vision for their sustainable neighbourhood as well as their individual projects to their Principal, City Councillor, Superintendent and School Trustee, receiving feedback on how their designs may become implemented within Hamilton.

Since October 2013, No.9 has engaged members of the Ontario Association of Architects (OAA) as volunteers in Imagining My Sustainable City classrooms across the city of Toronto.

Imagining My Sustainable City Hamilton provides OAA members and practicing professionals in the Hamilton area with the opportunity to mentor the students on the design process, model-making techniques, material selection, and scale.

This professional mentorship strengthens the connection between what is taught in the classroom and the professional world, and interested OAA members are encouraged to contact No.9 to learn more about IMSC volunteer opportunities.

Throughout Hamilton, No.9 will engage a total of fourteen schools in 2015. To date, IMSC has taken place at Sir William Osler Elementary School, Cardinal Heights Middle School, Mount Albion Public School, Allan A. Greenleaf Elementary School and Ancaster Meadow Elementary School.

IMSC is scheduled to take place at Queen Mary Elementary School, Westview Elementary School, Adelaide Hoodless Public School, and Hess Street Elementary School before June 2015. An additional five schools will be selected by the HWDSB in the coming months to participate in IMSC between September and December 2015.

Following the completion of IMSC's first stage in June, there will be a culminating exhibit to showcase the students' work. The exhibit will highlight the ideas and innovations to invited dignitaries, press, and school board representatives, as well as the public.

In November 2014, No.9 met with the participating HWDSB teachers for a daylong training and planning session. The teachers were actively involved in the selection of their IMSC sites, and this workshop gave No.9 the chance to learn more about Hamilton's diverse communities, intricate history, and the City's plans for the future.

In January, Imagining My Sustainable City Hamilton officially started at Sir William Osler Elementary School. Using the Dundas Valley Conservation Area Trail Centre as their site, Dan Siertsema's Grade 7 students designed a recreational and outdoor education centre that highlighted the history of the area and serves to educate people about the unique flora and fauna found in the surrounding Carolinian forest.

Learning skills were taught implicitly and explicitly and students were asked and expected to be independent, individually responsible, and work collaboratively. Finding their own strengths and building on it helped them to learn something about themselves.
— Dan Siertsema, Grade 7 Teacher, Sir William Osler Elementary School

The energy and creativity that each classroom brings to the program has produced some incredible, thought-provoking suggestions for Hamilton's future.

IMSC gives voice to the often unheard population that will shortly become Hamilton's business owners, policy makers, homeowners, and educators, and the program gives Hamilton's youth the opportunity to communicate what Hamilton means to them:

I built a Hamilton Hall of Fame that shows people who were born in Hamilton and the history of what we have done here...I researched it more and found out that Lawrence Hill and hockey players also come from was really cool because it was just something I didn't know.
— Grade 7 Student, Cardinal Heights Middle School

The goal of Imagining My Sustainable City is to infuse the real world, interdisciplinary aspects of the architectural profession with the required Grade 7 curriculum through hands-on community building exercises and by making it fun for the students.

Collectively, the students' vision for their sustainable Hamilton leads to discussions of civic engagement, governance, and living a sustainable lifestyle. IMSC can become a foundational exercise in Hamilton as it works with the City's young residents to imagine and develop a plan for the City's future.

No.9 hopes to continue expanding IMSC to more schools in Hamilton in the coming years, providing the City with a vision for its future as seen through the eyes of Hamilton's youth.

For more information and to learn about our progress and work in Hamilton, please visit our blog:

Emily Foster, OCT is an education coordinator with No.9: Contemporary Art and the Environment.


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By highasageorgiapine (registered) | Posted May 07, 2015 at 10:54:07

This is a great program, and I wish I would have had the opportunity to participate in something like this when I was young.

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By Dylan (registered) | Posted May 12, 2015 at 17:54:42

Sounds like a wonderful program. However, I would think kids of that generation would be better served learning how to create digital 3D models rather than tangible ones.

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