Hamilton’s Newest Innovation Hub
Redeemer partners to launch an innovation centre for experiential learning in downtown Hamilton.

In a new learning environment at the former Canadian Football Hall of Fame building, Redeemer students and faculty, City staff and community stakeholders will co-create solutions that serve the Hamilton community.

Redeemer is partnering with McMaster University, Mohawk College and the City of Hamilton to launch CityLAB, a pilot program that will run for the next three years. Redeemer formally signed the agreement with Mohawk, McMaster and the City this past March. The program launches December 4 and welcomes its first cohort of students in January. Redeemer is working with CityLAB to develop interdisciplinary projects for students’ Core capstone course. CityLAB also plans to increase partnership between the City of Hamilton and Dr. Darren Brouwer, Dr. Edward Berkelaar and their students’ water quality monitoring projects.

The concept for the pilot drew ideas from a successful predecessor: CityStudio Vancouver. CityStudio was co-founded by Simon Fraser University’s Dr. Janet Moore and by designer and sustainability educator Duane Elverum. “During our years of teaching and developing curriculum,” Moore and Elverum reflect for The Globe and Mail, “we grew frustrated hearing the same plea from students over and over again: I am ready to contribute and make real change now but I’m not learning how to do it in my classes.” Moore and Elverum’s students certainly needed their classroom learning. They also craved experiences that would teach them how to become changemakers, innovators and social entrepreneurs for a city facing the demands of population, energy, resource depletion and climate change.

In response, Moore and Elverum submitted a project school, which they dubbed CityStudio, to Vancouver’s “Greenest City Idea Slam.” Of 800 ideas, CityStudio was voted into the top four — mostly by students — and launched as a pilot project. Since the studio’s launch in 2010, City staff, community organizers and the students of seven surrounding post-secondary institutions have collaborated on ideas for fresh water, outdoor education, local food, transportation and zero waste. Since 2011, the learning hub has offered 100,000 hours of training, research and collaboration, engaged 75 staff and 4,000 students and completed 215 projects.

“These projects activate and energize changemakers and innovators inside city hall, universities and communities, nudging them to launch their own initiatives.”

Undergraduate students, say Moore and Elverum, “can do far more than we ask them to do in their classes. They can take on real world challenges and create positive change in our cities. The real learning is in the how — they co-create with multiple stakeholders, facilitate dialogues, manage projects, raise funds and implement pilots to demonstrate longer-term viability.” But the benefit isn’t just for students. “We have also learned,” the co-founders continue, “that these projects activate and energize changemakers and innovators inside city hall, universities and communities, nudging them to launch their own initiatives.”

The model has been so successful that it has been reinvented as CityStudio Victoria, CityStudio Waterloo, Guelph Lab and now as CityLAB. Hamilton, too, needs the social innovation students can provide and Redeemer, McMaster and Mohawk students want to leave their city better than they found it. At CityLAB students may repurpose past industrial and commercial buildings, reimagine alleyways and parking lots or integrate art into public spaces.

Like Hank de Jong ‘99 and EduDeo, they may plan a multipurpose community hub. Or perhaps, like Graham Cubitt ‘01, they will innovate solutions for community food and a affordable housing. Maybe, like Justin Eisinga ‘15, they will advocate for increased access to public transportation. As students work on projects that address the City’s challenges and priorities, CityLAB will engage these students’ hearts and minds. Like Redeemer alumni, our students are connecting their sense of calling with their work and service to their community, becoming difference-makers for an ever-changing world. With initiatives like CityLAB, Redeemer is building bridges across disciplines and across the city for the benefit of our neighbours and the environment. “CityLAB is another great opportunity for Redeemer to live out its mission,” says interim president Fred Verwoerd. “Through this partnership with the City, McMaster and Mohawk, we will further position students to have a tangible positive impact on our city.”

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