RU Sustainable?

If you’re anything like me and you spend most of your time looking out windows and wandering around then perhaps you’ve seen the boards up along Church Street just south of the interior design building. Those boards are sealing off the old parking lot that once occupied that land to allow for the new inhabitant to materialize. Who is this new dweller? It is the newest addition to Ryerson’s building family, the Daphne Cockwell Health Sciences building, which is set to break ground this month. Towering 27 storeys above Church Street, this will be the new home and learning commons for some of Ryerson’s existing health science related programs, such as public health, midwifery, nursing, and nutrition (just my luck). The new building will also mean new housing for students, more parking, and new administration offices. Also, keeping with Ryerson’s thirst for innovation the building will be full of sustainability features and be the first building with comprehensive sustainability goals.


Given that this new health sciences building was an  opportunity for Ryerson to further promote their sustainability efforts they didn’t hold back. The new building is targeting a minimum LEED silver certification, will have a green roof, and the parking won’t just be for traditional cars, there will also be electric car charging stations and over 180 bicycle parking spots. Additionally, a roundtable with Capital Projects & Real Estate (the developers) and the Ryerson community was held in 2013 to share ideas on what long term sustainability goals this building should have. A range of topics, such as waste, lighting, design, energy, and food were discussed and in time we will see what Ryerson has in store for its future students. Don’t get too excited yet though, the opening is not set until Fall 2018. So again if you’re anything like me this building won’t be ready for learning until you’ve graduated (just my luck all over again).

The Campus Facilities and Sustainability department oversees the environmental stewardship efforts that the university employs to ensure that future generations are not hindered by our decisions but aided. Their vision  is that Ryerson will intelligently and continuously pursue opportunities to improve the sustainability on campus, leveraging the contributions of the entire community and serving as a catalyst for broader transformation. The sustainability program that Ryerson promotes was developed by Sustainability Matters which is part of the Campus Facilities and Sustainability department. Sustainability Matters works with the Ryerson community to make it a more environmentally friendly place to work and study. They offer resources, hold events, collaborate, and spread awareness throughout Ryerson to accomplish their goal of helping faculty, administration, and students become more sustainable. Sustainability matters even offers a certificate to campus organizations that want to change their operations. The RU Sustainable Certificate Program provides a framework for planning a group’s sustainability efforts and offers access to the Sustainability Matters support team to aid with goal development and implementation. Overall, Sustainability Matters wants to provide the Ryerson community with resources that help make simple and big sustainability problems resolvable.

With all the work that is being put into this building and all the future thought, has anyone wondered who Daphne Cockwell is? I do. Not only is her name going to be forever installed on a landmark building but her name also graces the School of Nursing. She even has a gallery named after her at the Royal Ontario Museum. Who is Daphne Cockwell? You might think that she was the principle donator to Ryerson for this building, she wasn’t. You may think she was a former student who went on to promote Ryerson, she wasn’t. As it turns out she is a 93 year old woman living in South Africa. Daphne Cockwell worked as a nurse and devoted her life to helping others. She also happens to be the mother of a very powerful Canadian businessman named Jack Cockwell. With 28 million dollars in donations to Ryerson, we certainly have a lot to thank the Cockwell family for, not just a new building. Especially considering the fact that the Cockwell’s never even attended Ryerson, they simply enjoy and agree with how the university is run and what it stands for.

With all the environmental work that is being done by Ryerson and the attention they garner from powerful benefactors, it sometimes makes me wonder how thoughtful I am of the environment. Mother nature is someone who is consistently forgotten in some circles and as a result we are having to fix and restore what was destroyed by our predecessors. I am thankful that Ryerson is taking the initiative to advance the protection of our environment, even if the changes are small and few, they are doing something. We all play a role in the protection of mother nature and we should all want to, after all doesn’t sustainability matter?

Eat Think Vote: The Politics of Hunger


On September 23rd, The Good Food Centre and Rye’s Homegrown put on Eat Think Vote:  The Politics of Hunger as part of DisOrientation 2015.  The topic of the event was food security and framing it as an issue for the upcoming federal election.  Despite being one of the wealthiest countries, food insecurity has remained high and stagnant over the past decade.

Michael Kushnir, the Vice President of Services with CESAR, described food as “central to every community on earth” yet 4 million Canadians lack access to sufficient and healthy food.  This includes 1.5 million children who are disproportionately affected by food insecurity.  This works out to 1/10 Canadians and 1/6 children being food insecure.  Post secondary students are also disproportionately affected by food insecurity.  In the 2013/2014 school year, 2500 Ryerson students accessed food banks, which have become a staple on university campuses.  With food insecurity being such a prevalent issue in Canada, why has the issue been absent since an election was called?  Eat Think Vote set out to make food insecurity an election issue… as it should be.

The upcoming federal election is being called one of the most important elections, and will greatly affect the path Canada takes and its future.  Eat Think Vote included discussions by two of the candidates running in the Toronto Centre riding on the issue of food insecurity.  While the Conservative and Liberal parties were not in attendance, Linda McQuaig of the NDP party and Colin Biggin of the Green Party shared their personal and party views on food insecurity.  As this is such an important issue to take into consideration when casting your vote in October, here are the platforms on food insecurity presented at Eat Think Vote:

Colin Biggin- Green Party:

Biggin described how the food many Canadians eat comes from places like California as opposed to the surrounding areas.  While this works for economists, it’s not working for us.  Canada is not as self sustainable as we should be and should strive to be considering the cost of oil and the droughts in areas we get our food from.  Biggin discussed the current situation of farmers in Canada; many are unable to sustain themselves on farming alone, are being pushed out by industrial farms and have no one to carry on their work once they retire.  Biggin’s discussed the Green Party wanting to support younger farmers, small farms as opposed to industrial size and support helping people onto the land such as immigrants.  He noted the Green Party opposes the temporary worker program and would like to see participants in that program be able to immigrate here fully and paid good wages.

Biggin also connected the issues of food insecurity and with other issues in the Green Party’s platform.  He discussed the need for families to be able to afford food.  The Green Party plans to respond to this issue through a number of policies including a guaranteed income which would allow people to afford food.  This would be done through an amalgamation of several social programs and a top up program.

A question from the audience lead to a discussion of Northern, remote and Indigenous communities.  Biggin would like to see food in those communities made more affordable by encouraging more businesses to go into that area (there is currently one) and by subsidizing transportation costs.  Biggin also mentioned that a national school nutrition program is included in the Green Party’s platform.

Linda McQuaig- NDP Party:


McQuaig began her presentation on food security by describing how striking it is that one of the essential basics to our well-being is invisible as an election issue.  She described her career as an author and journalist, focusing on income inequality, and drew many connections between inequality and food insecurity.

McQuaig showed concern about the increasing inequality in Canada and how food insecurity is a big part of this inequality.  She went on to say that a reliance on food banks is not a secure way to access food and that the quality of food in food banks is not healthy.  She also endorsed a school nutrition program policy as food is key to children’s health and ability to learn.  She went on to discuss how seniors are greatly affected by food insecurity.

McQuaig presented a variety of NDP platform policies that would decrease food insecurity in Canada by addressing inequality.  These policies include putting $400 million dollars towards the Guaranteed Income Supplement which would lift 200 000 seniors out of poverty.  Second, the NDP plans to implement a $15 federal minimum wage which would lift 100 000 people out of poverty.  She claimed this would set a national standard and put pressure on the provinces to raise their minimum wages.  Third, the NDP plans to introduce a national childcare program at a maximum of $15 per day.  This would alleviate poverty in allowing women to work and earn an income as opposed to staying home due to not being able to afford childcare.  The NDP would also create a universal drug program, invest in affordable housing and restore the 36 billion dollars that has been cut from public health care.  The NDP plan to pay for these programs by raising corporate taxes which would result in an extra 7 billion dollars per year.

McQuaig went on to discuss her concerns about the environment.  She believes Canada has been an obstructionist in world talks on climate change and thinks we should be a key player in these talks.  She has concerns about preserving water ways, farmer’s land, fisheries, and feels we need to address the issue of climate change for any type of a sustainable future.

A question from the audience raised the concern of post-secondary students and growing food insecurity in the face of rising tuition fees.  McQuaig and the NDP recognize the problem and would consider earmark funding to provinces specifically for reducing tuition and reducing the student debt burden.  In this discussion, she raised the point of post secondary institutions resorting to private philanthropy in the face of reduced funds resulting in the rich having influence in shaping post-secondary education.

To my fellow post-secondary students, we have a voice and a vote.  Two out of four parties in Toronto came out to a student-led and mostly student-attended event to say that food security should be an election issue and provided policy ideas to decrease food insecurity.  On October 19th, go out and vote!

The volunteer vamp – Why I give it up for free

I’ve spent almost eight years of my life working for free. Not because I wanted to, but because my professors told me it would pay off and land me a job after graduation.

You see, I’m a volunteer vamp. You read that right – I’ve had over twenty volunteer positions between my journalism and nutrition degrees – kinda disgusting, right? But when I graduated from the School of Journalism a few years ago, my volunteer experience totally paid off and it wasn’t long before I scored my first paid contract. One reason why I was hired was because of my hard work as an unpaid intern.

Volunteering is awesome because it lets you apply the skills you’ve learned in class to a real-life setting, and you get a sense of what the average day might be like in that particular profession. But it can also bite the big one – think mindless tasks and sucking up to pretentious supervisors. Not to mention it’s hard on the wallet – I’ve clocked in over 300 hours of unpaid labour over the last three years and I haven’t banked a single cent.

Despite attributing much of my professional successes to volunteering, a lot of students don’t see this growing trend the same way I do. Over the last twelve months, students have been raging against the internship machine, with some suing for wages they feel are owed to them. And because unpaid internships are a relatively new area of exploitation in the workforce, there’s no law protecting us against the bigwigs we’re slaving away for. Although student organizations, like the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA), are demanding tighter enforcement from the government, unpaid internships aren’t going anywhere. In fact, these positions are a hot commodity in almost every industry.

So what’s a girl to do – keep turning tricks in the volunteer circuit or cut the cord and demand compensation for my contributions? Unfortunately, I’m not in the least bit political and I need these unpaid gigs to get the highly coveted dietetic internship – just one in five nutrition students gets it annually – and my volunteer experiences play a key role in the recruitment process, which is why I’m not putting up a fight.

But even if I wasn’t put in this position – where volunteering is a quasi-obligation – I would still do it. It can be an extremely enriching and eyeopening experience, and I would recommend that every student give it a shot because of the amazing people you meet and the sense of fulfillment you take away.

If you’re looking to become a volunteer and you’re not sure where to start, visit to learn more about the Toronto-based organizations who need a helping hand.



Are you ever worried that once you graduate, job acquirement may not be so easy? are you concened with the reinvented workforce of Generation X job remodel and its potential to squeeze you out of the job market? Keep Calm and Read This Blog On New Student Advanced Training and Placement In Ontario.


Career training is a difficult thing to get started, especially for recent grads. No one will hire you without experience and getting an internship during your summer months is difficult due to their temporary length and obstruction from part time employment during the school year. To solve all these employed inadequacies, the Government of Canada is proposing new legislation that is not only for students of this province but made by us as well. A new national budget is soon to be in effect thy will allow student a to get both training and placement in their field of study.


​Financial Mister Jim Flaherty has given Parliament a new budget as of March 21st where student job placements are the main focus. Flaherty acknowledges the slow economy that we are currently experiencing and I introducing this financial support as an unemployment counter. However, the $2B planned for this project initiative will draw from existing funds already allocated to additional initiatives. This student placement program will be run by the Provinces. This idea was fuelled by a meeting between Flahery and national economic forecasters who advised him that the economic growth in Canada is now expected to be slower than they had earlier predicted. Flaherty stated that he is focused on balancing the budget in 2015 and that through this new student placement program, “We remain on target.”


What is most intriguing about this new venture is the inclusion of student input into the budget ruling. Inthe budget process, Flaherty met with a group of students to encourage them to become more active and engage in decisions that affect young people today. Students were encouraged to participate in a student budget consultation to advise Flaherty on specific areas that effect student’s long term and short term. Flahery did accept the proposals from the students, commenting that it was the first time the Canadian Government has reached out to students for an issue regarding the national budget.


With news of more students to be hired on placement with continued job security, perhaps the Canadian student future is brighter than we think. While the funding still seems a bit shaky, as a student I am in full support. It is good to see our national government making steps to brighten the future of our generation. Shout out to Flaherty for this one. Student futures first. Now there is something I can appreciate. See. Til you to keep calm.



! Building your financial portfolio and giving it a moniker is possible when one first creates a solid foundation. Saving and investing, though often thought of as going hand in hand, are quite different in their traits. Students frequently run on a low budget, due to the inconvenience of being able to work little to no hours as a result of full time enrollment. So how does one survive the weekly hunger pains, work 15 to 20 hours per week (at most) and manage to put away a cushion big enough to the make the right investment when the time comes? Look no further. Welcome to Grow Your Wealth 101.

It has often been said that is not how much you earn that determines your wealth but how you spend it. Working a part-time job, tedious as it may, can become the foundation of your lifelong financial base. The following is an outline of key steps students can use to their advantage in order to begin their fiscal legacy.



! Most do not realize it, but whether you make $200/month or $2000/month, the ability to budget will determine whether one sees their balance drop into the negative every month or not. Budgeting consists of two things: the ability to cover expenses and the ability the save. The latter is the one most neglected, which explains why those who don’t budget accurately never have that extra need-be money in case of emergency expenses. Reassessing how much you earn on a weekly, biweekly and monthly basis will often put your expenses into perspective and give you a better understanding of your financial priorities. Think of it like this: If you make roughly 1000 dollars per month, plan as though you made 800. That way, the two hundred dollar gap can be used for saving while remaining absence from your mind so as to avoiding spending. People often budget exact to the dollar. Be careful. Doing this does not leave room for unexpected weekly occurrences that may push your finances over the edge. Just remember, less in reality, is more.


! Setting spending caps on both essentials and occasional frills helps you balance the income-expense see saw. Knowing what you are allowed to spend allows one to ensure he/she never goes over that limit and, in the event that they do, knowing how much they now need to cover in order to once again, balance the books. Groceries, transport, hygiene, accommodation and leisure are big ones but what about simple things like morning coffee? Weekly haircuts or hair treatments? Your monthly cell phone bill? Setting a limit on even the smallest purchases can make the biggest difference when you’re looking for that extra 20.



! Knowing when and when to and when not to spend will inevitably determine your ability to grow your finances throughout your life. Containing your spending habits to essentials plus a little more is a lot less stressful when you need to use that pillow. Setting key dates throughout the week when you will purchase specific things gives you a sense of purchase priority. Impulse buying only further in debts your accounts and hinders your ability to have after the fact. Now this is life. Sometimes, you just have to make a purchase you know you will get maximum benefit from and not an opportunity to buy. I understand. However, finding ways to overcome the situation without buying is always a recommended first.


! Using what you know now, I highly advise everyone to come up with, if not already, a weekly budget plan. It does not have to be anything grand scale. Start off simple. The best plans are often, those that need vey little management because of their simplistic design and easy-to-use step process. Achieving financial success does not happen overnight but over your day-to-day spending and saving habits. Try it out. See if you don’t notice a difference in your ability to keep a steady account balance that gradually increases with a pattern of saving consistency. You’ll be amazed at the power of a dollar. Or Two.

Vancouver Travelogue: This City Bikes

The trek of Toronto to Vancouver, I discovered, is longer than the quick flight down to Florida. A whole 2 hours more fly time. It seems pretty incredible that our great nation is so vast – traveling at over 800km per hour, it still takes 4 to 5 hours to get from Toronto to Vancouver. And there seems to be as much distance between the cultures of these cities, too.

I have had the pleasure of visiting Vancouver once before, last year during the balmy month of July and fell in love. The City of Vancouver is progressive, innovative, and subscribes to people-first values.

This is apparent in the way the city has grown. Granted, Vancouver – especially its downtown – is constrained by its geography, where once the land area is built out, the city can only redevelop upward. Yet Vancouver, with its population of over 600,000 people, has not allowed great hulking glass towers to completely obliterate its residents’ view planes. Building heights in the city are regulated and the city planning department has implemented strong regulations to keep Vancouverites connected to their natural setting by protecting 27 significant view corridors. (In comparison, the current City of Toronto Official Plan has no mention of protected view corridors like it once did).

My favourite part of Vancouver, though, is its cycling amenities. According to the City’s website,

“You can ride your bike on almost all Vancouver streets, and the City has an extensive network of designated bike routes to help you get around.

The City’s updated Transportation Plan will set the bar even higher for making bike routes even more comfortable and convenient for people of all ages and abilities.”

This is in stark contrast to Toronto! Vancouver has continuously updated its transportation plans, incorporating and accommodating safer, more convenient designated bike routes across the city, acting on the values of promoting cycling as a fast, affordable, and pleasurable /scenic way to travel around town. Vancouver has even developed a cycling trip planner similar to an online transit route trip planner that generates an efficient route using the many kilometres of separated and designated cycling route infrastructure. The positive culture that surrounds cycling there is really impressive (so are their giant hills! Cycling near a mountain range can really take your breath away in more ways than one).

I can attest to how great riding on two wheels through that city is – I was lucky enough to be lent a bike for a couple days on my last trip. I rode through Stanley Park, zig-zagged across town and coasted over one bridge to the next. Cars noticed me and kindly yielded when appropriate, and I was guided through intersections safely with bicycle only traffic lights.

Vancouver is tops when it comes to the extent of their support for cycling and related infrastructure. While Toronto removes badly needed bike lanes, Vancouver is always adding more to their already extensive and connected routes.

Reflecting on this, I am grateful to have renewed my faith in city governments, that they can support all citizens no matter their transportation mode choice. Toronto – are you listening?


The Built Environment – Part 2

Last week I talked to about the environment in which you live in that consists of both the natural environment and the synthetic, built environment. From this post, you learned about the impact the built environment can potentially have on decreasing your physical activity levels, access to nutritious foods, capacity for social interaction, and support. As well, it can contribute to downgrading the quality of the air you breathe and the water you drink, and increase your stress levels. What does this all mean? Taken together, all of these factors negatively affect your health and there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that the built environment can lead to serious health problems, such as asthma, heart disease, depression, and obesity. 1

When looking at health status, there are many imbalances. Population-specific differences exist in the presence of disease, health outcomes, quality and access to health care. In particular, those individuals living in poor economic circumstances have been shown to have a greater burden of illness associated with the built environment.2 These environments are associated with inadequate construction and maintenance of homes, overcrowding, higher rates of crime, and lack of social support resources. It all does sound so discouraging, you might be wondering  well what can be done to improve the situation? Perhaps planting a tree or adding in a bike path would not make much of a difference. However, each small step that is taken can make a big difference. Let me share with you one of my personal experiences in contributing to improving an impoverished setting.

On one of my reading week volunteer trips, I signed up with an organization called project serve Canada. The purpose of the program was to provide students with a community-based learning experience; an opportunity for students to understand and develop awareness about social justice issues and to recognize the role individuals can have in working towards change. The project I selected was working at Grandview Elementary School in the Downtown Eastside (DTES) of Vancouver B.C. The DTES of Vancouver is one of Canada’s oldest neighbourhoods and not only that, it is known as one of Canada’s poorest postal codes. This area is home to a large number of low income families living in neighbourhoods with high rates of crime, drug use, homelessness, and food insecurity. Additionally, there are a large number of Aboriginals that reside there, thus making it the poorest off reserve community in Canada.3

Grandview Elementary School is designated as one of the inner city schools in the DTES. Over half of the student population is Aboriginal, and many are from either single parent families or are raised by grandparents. Although the children in this school are struggling with challenging circumstances, their school is filled with livelihood, culture, and a real sense of community and support. The foyer of the school is painted in colourful murals and with students’ artwork, and a comfy leather couch and chairs are placed there, giving a living room like feel. Each morning there is someone drumming in the foyer as kids are dropped off. The principle and teachers work extremely hard, dedicating their extra time in the morning and in the afternoon outside of school hours to run programs for the children. Furthermore, the students and family members have created a vegetable garden and green space on the school ground, which began as a project in 2008, and continues to grow.

I spent the week working with a team of University of B.C. students and with grade 2 students to create an indoor garden. Each student had their own potted plant they got to decorate. As well, they were responsible for looking after and watering their plant each day. Additionally, I helped run the morning breakfast and lunch programs that they offered to the students

In this school, children and their families are provided with a safe, supportive, and culturally sensitive environment. A place they feel welcomed and feel encouraged to stay for and participate in after school programs. When children and their families have school and community pride as a result from a positive environment, they are more likely to experience a better quality of life. When students are more engaged and feel connected to their environment, their performance, health, and overall well-being is improved. The little steps that we can take to improve our environment do make a difference. These steps tend to grow over time as they garner more involvement, and thus affect increasingly lives in a good way!

Sick City?

A resident of Toronto for 6 years, I have grown to love this city. But our city is sick and needs our help.  Our transit system, once the envy of the continent, has not has not been expanded to keep up with growth. Our incomes have become incredibly disparate; low-income populations are increasing with more families on the waitlist for assisted housing growing daily. We residents, as individuals, are so caught up in the “free-market”, partisan political ideology, that we forget our collective greatness. Why?

Number 1: City Hall and our mayor. Canadian municipalities operate within a non-partisan, weak mayor system. The mayor has only one vote on city council representing the city at large, and he/she serves on council with elected representatives for the constituencies, each also with one vote. In theory this is a great system, if the mayor understands his/her role. What seems to be amiss here and now is that this system relies on a consensus-building mayor to balance the (often competing) interests of the constituencies. Toronto needs a leader that listens to the whole, not just the parts. A mayor must employ negotiation and compromise to satisfy the most residents possible, without neglecting the needs of the minority. It is crucial that the mayor work with council to craft ideal solutions to the issues before them. Yet, he needs to also to take a strong leadership position on issues that matter for the future of the city and its residents.

Number 2: Funding the daily operation of services provided by municipalities has become so challenging that municipalities’ budgets are cost-cutting exercises instead of vehicles to improve quality of life for residents. Municipalities are under great pressures to deliver services that are not effectively funded by their ability to raise revenue (ie: primarily property taxes). The era of downloading that occurred under the 22nd Premier of Ontario was a turning point. Municipalities are now responsible for more than was ever asked of them in history, and not given the correct tools for implementing these new roles. Things have only seemed to worsen over time. There are potentially fruitful pieces of legislation that allow larger municipalities, like Toronto (City of Toronto Act, 2005), to employ more and better revenue tools to fund the increasing services they are required to provide, but only great political will and leadership will see such motions pass through council (see previous paragraph).

Number 3: Letting the market dictate growth trends worsen Toronto’s symptoms. From the Federal level all the way down to municipalities, our representatives seem to have forgotten about us, the people that live and work here in favour of the market. We need more than just a thriving economy to have a great city/nation. Quality of life is more than having a house and a job. Both are necessary and important, but quality of life also means having the services and amenities that you need available and accessible. You can get anything in Toronto; but working two full-time jobs just to keep a roof over your head can have serious impacts on your ability to have choice in the location/type of housing, can consume time needed to balance costly child-care and household duties, and can give rise to unhealthy life choices. Many in this city that cannot obtain the quality of life that we expect from our tax dollars. Yet, instead of finding creative tax tools, our politicians spread individualist rhetoric and invite the market-economy to provide what we expect our tax dollars to pay for.

We forget that, as Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. said, “Taxes are the price we pay for civilization.” Civilization includes all of us.

This debate is crucial for us to have right now. What kind of life do Torontonians want? In my next post I will explore more of the issues at stake and offer some ways I think we can make it better.

Winning the War on Graffiti


Our esteemed mayor has finally decided to take it to the streets. Last month, he was seen with goggles and hose blasting some offending scratchings off the walls in an alleyway behind St. Clair. “We’re gonna go brick by brick right across the city, and we’re gonna get it cleaned up and that’s the bottom line,” Ford recently told CityTV. While this may explain why he’s not been at City Hall as much as he really should be lately, it should be obvious to  just about anyone he is waging yet another battle he is going to lose. Not only will graffiti artists continue to ply their trade on the surfaces of the city, I think the citizens of Toronto, so recently liberated of many valuable public services, will be less than thrilled to watch their tax dollars literally go down the drain.

My opinion is that Mr. Ford is letting emotion get the better of him. With his face cropping up all over the city, sometimes paired with his brother in a particularly good Tweeledee and Tweedledum caricature, and sometimes on his own with clever taglines, including my personal favourite “Remove Me”, I think this is a personal mission. Satire is the hardest form of criticism to swallow but whatever his motivations, I am absolutely certain it will have exactly the opposite of the desired effect. I believe his timing is off and the audience has gone home. Toronto has been working hard since the 1980’s on becoming an art town and in recent years, it has developed a maturity and a confidence that sees it generating good original work. Work that is no longer qualified by comparison to London or New York, although I do love the story about a developer putting a concrete pillar from a demolition site on Harbour Street into storage because it was sprayed with an image of a security guard holding a muzzled pink poodle by UK Graffiti guru Banksy. The image is a good one but the irony is priceless.

I do not support the destruction of property and in many ways I long for the days when people could leave their doors unlocked and primary school children could walk to school unchaperoned. At the same time, I am also a huge fan of the urban art scene and have lived within it and watched it grow with eager enthusiasm for decades. Graffiti in Toronto has increasingly become an artistic and political outlet of expression that is no longer just meaningless tags. It too has developed a maturity and an artistic merit of its own. There is an alley in Parkdale near where I live which one blogger calls Graffiti Alley. I would have assumed that the alley running behind Queen West near Bathurst would be honoured with such a moniker yet walking down the Milky Way (as it is officially named), I can see that it really represents the engagement and running dialogue that is the purpose of graffiti. The invisible speaker who speaks for us all leaves hanging threads of ideas to be picked up and moved forward in a kind of public palimpsest that is constantly written over but carries tracings of the ideas that have gone before.

This morning, I took a short cut through Graffiti Alley and was rewarded with inspiration. I photographed some of the messages that resonated such as a tribute to Jack Layton, some clever schools of fish with frightened expressions and an apt expression for my day: “It is a Jungle Out There Sometimes”. My favourite piece however was a kind of accidental multimedia expression that reflected the idea of how textures and colours of nature intersect with the manmade textures and colours. Sometimes they clash and sometimes they co-exist peacefully but neither is completely erased.

Graffiti Blogger

Smollet, Ashleigh. CityTV News–mayor-rob-ford-battles-graffiti-critics


I’m 2 assignments – a paper and a presentation – away from completing my Bachelor of Social degree at Ryerson. While I’ve been thinking about graduation for some time, this only became real for me during class yesterday. Our prof distributed paint and canvases, and asked us to express our feelings about graduation through artistic expression.

I’ve never been much of an artist, and spent more time mixing paint colours together than creating a visual statement of my feelings. With a night to think on what my time at Ryerson means to me, and how it feels to be finishing up, I’ve formed a more in-depth reflection.

My undergrad has been a 5-year process; I started at Ryerson in Sociology. I loved the theory – Foucault, Durkheim, and Marx continue to influence me – but yearned for a more practical application of what I was learning. I switched into Social Work after a year, and I’ve never felt a stronger sense of belonging in my academic career.

During my first year, everyone around me was thinking and talking about issues that I was interested in, and the Faculty of Community Services and Ryerson’s Student Union ran a number of engaging events. The course work in first year reminded me a lot of Sociology – we only had one SWP (Social Work) class – but I relished the opportunity to become part of a vibrant community.

Second year was when things got real, with 6 courses each semester. My head was filled with Healy, Mullaly, Saleebey, and other emerging Social Work theorists. I chose mostly political courses for my electives and began to form my ideology that would later inform my modality of practice.

I opted into an International Placement for 3rd year, which occured during the Spring/Summer following my 3rd-year course work. I took the extra time I had during the Fall/Winter to start engaging more heavily in organizations that I felt I would be interested in working with in the future. I also learned a lot about Social Work Research in 3rd year, and have already started applying my learning to real life.

My 3rd year placement in Bulembu, Swaziland was an unforgettable experience and is the source of some of my most cherished memories. To have been able to take this trip, and receive school credit for it was an unbelieveable privilege. I would not trade those 3 months in for anything.

4th year, which I’m a week away from completing, has also presented me with an incredible placement experience. I’ve signed on to a research project into developing a program for serodiscordant couples – where one partner is HIV-positive and the other negative. The program this study will produce is set to be the first of its kind in North America – based on an early environmental scan (our literature review might reveal otherwise). In coursework, I’ve been able to build ever further upon the theory I learned in 2nd year.

Overall, Ryerson’s BSW program has left me feeling confident about my future as a social worker. I could not be more enthusiastic about the experience I’ve had at this university, and am thrilled (and a little scared) to finally enter the real world.