Train resilient city experts

This text is part of the special Higher Education notebook

Urban planning students at the University of Quebec at Montreal (UQAM) do not just come to acquire knowledge. From the baccalaureate, they work on the major transitions at the heart of current concerns in the sector. Concrete challenges are also the reason for the Resilient City Cluster, which brings together researchers and other stakeholders within the university to find solutions.

“The baccalaureate in urban planning is constantly connected to contemporary issues and the content of our courses adapts to the concerns of the environment, which we help to evolve,” explains Michel Rochefort, professor in the Department of Urban and Tourism Studies at the UQAM. Sustainable development has been introduced into classrooms for around twenty years. “But what marks our baccalaureate today is the desire to go even further towards the ecological transition and resilience with an innovative practice,” says the professor.

The notion of “resilience umbrella” must be as broad as possible for this urban expert. “It is our ability to predict and limit risks, but also to reduce vulnerabilities and strengthen our capacity for action to achieve normal or renewed functioning. We don’t necessarily want to find what we had before: we can evolve and that’s what’s interesting! » says the man for whom the bachelor’s degree in urban planning is at the forefront of legislative and social changes and the democratic transition, which gives an important place to citizens in the development of living environments.

Practical workshops from the first year

“I invite many professionals to my courses and the students will consult multiple players in the field such as elected officials, citizens and economic players,” indicates Michel Rochefort. The three years of baccalaureate training integrate theoretical courses and practical workshops around different areas. “The first year is mainly focused on the analysis of the city, the second year on the tools available to urban planners and on the way in which they can take a critical look at them. The third year is focused on proposing a concrete project on the scale of a living environment,” describes the professor.

Michel Rochefort has also seen the motivations of his students evolve. “We feel that they are aware of certain issues or that they want to find solutions that will improve our cities,” he notes. They are also more willing to specialize. “They seek to respond to a specific issue and we equip them so that they can subsequently enrich their knowledge and adapt to the rapidly evolving world of urban planning,” says Michel Rochefort, who underlines the importance for students to integrate a certain professional deformation into their lives. “When they visit a city or territory, they have the right tools to analyze what they feel and apply their intuitions to achieve improvements. This approach seems to me to be just as educational as our practical workshops,” he believes. The baccalaureate also offers an international concentration with stays abroad.

A hub for co-creating knowledge

“Often, researchers have a knowledge transfer activity, but at the Resilient City Cluster, we co-create knowledge,” rejoices Michel Rochefort. The objective of this center, set up by UQAM in 2021, is to find innovative ideas to improve living environments, limit the effects of the urban environment on natural ecosystems and deal with possible crises or extreme events. Fifteen partnership research projects bringing together researchers, community stakeholders and citizens have already been launched. One of them, carried out in collaboration with the Quartier des Spectacles Partnership (PQDS), studies for example the functioning of the neighborhood’s potted trees, the stressful conditions to which they are subjected and their beneficial effects on the quality of life Population.

“The university is a big machine in which researchers are used to operating by department, but the center is innovative in its ability to break down fields of expertise to generate better thinking,” underlines Michel Rochefort.

The Resilient City Cluster clearly illustrates the interdisciplinarity inherent to the profession of urban planner, which must mobilize certain essential skills. “We tell our students that they have several roles to play,” says Michel Rochefort. They are experts, but they must also be listeners, moderators and mediators. »

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