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Community-based environmental education and mobilization in marginalized urban communities for equitable watershed governance

Archived Content


Funded by: Social Science and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Canadian Environmental Issues - Public Outreach
Lead Investigator: Ellie Perkins

This project will utilize existing university-community partnerships to develop, test, improve and disseminate arts- and science-based methods and materials for increasing democratic watershed management and civic engagement amongst adults and senior citizens in marginalized communities in Canada. Building on the results of an earlier SSHRC-funded project titled: “Youth education and mobilization in marginalized urban communities for equitable watershed governance”, this project will employ a participatory methodology focusing on urban watershed issues and challenges as identified by community members. The methods and materials developed in community-run workshops, and environmental and civic engagement initiatives with adults and seniors in neighbourhoods near York University, will be disseminated nationally and internationally via community organizations’ websites as well as academic and professional publications. Expected policy outcomes include the potential for improved environmental governance through increased participation by civil society; greater knowledge and understanding of practical ways to meet the challenge of public ignorance and apathy about the importance of watershed governance; contributions to community cohesiveness and resilience, confidence, and leadership in marginalized communities; and tested, practical strategies for advancing sustainable development in Canada.

Environmental awareness and civic engagement workshops will be developed for adults and seniors in local community programs, such as multicultural women’s groups, parenting groups, and recreational seniors programs. Using the Workshop of the Future methodology which is an arts-based participatory method that facilitates community-based leadership, this project will test and document a four-step process that involves the identification of urban watershed challenges, the articulation of community members’ desired solutions, the development of an action plan, and the implementation of that plan. This process will be documented using photojournalism/digital storytelling, and the results will be disseminated on community organizations’ websites. Faculty participants will assist with documentation, academic dissemination, and links to the theoretical implications of this work.

The training and knowledge mobilization aspects of this project, therefore, are of three types:

  1. Adults and senior citizens will mobilize around specific local environmental issues that they identify; they will also learn about methods to politicize their concerns and work cooperatively to advance their individual and collective agendas for positive local change.
  2. University graduate and undergraduate students will develop confidence and gain hands-on experience with community development and practical environmental education techniques.
  3. Faculty and professional participants will be able to increase their familiarity with grassroots civic engagement in environmental issues, and help to disseminate the results of this research.

This project will extend and expand several well-established partnerships between York University and community organizations that serve communities in the area of the University. Through several past and ongoing projects York University students and alumni have been working for a number of years with the after-school and summer youth programs of two local social service and community development organizations, Doorsteps Neighbourhood Services and the Jane-Finch Boys and Girls Club. They have facilitated arts-based programming, field trips, environmental remediation projects with youth, and tree-planting and environmental monitoring of benthic invertebrates in Black Creek led by the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority.  A recent international project linking York University with university and NGO partners in Brazil generated a range of materials and methods for community-based watershed education (see supporting documentation to this proposal) and inspired a number of innovative approaches to conducting such programs. This project will build on, expand and deepen the preceding work by extending the programming to different population cohorts, while also widely disseminating the results of this research.