May 13, 2019Print | PDF
Taking a risk can pay off. It certainly did for a group of Wilfrid Laurier University students in the Capstone Urban Studies Project (CUSP) course.
Each year, teams of students in the fourth-year Geography and Environmental Studies course participate in an in-class competition to create solutions for projects identified by the City of Cambridge. It’s an opportunity to merge classroom learning about urban planning with practical consulting skills. The first-place team receives a $2,000 award, funded through private donations.
The student team Evergreen Consulting won this year’s competition for its response to the city’s request for proposal to develop net-zero energy homes in the west end of Cambridge. Net-zero energy homes produce as much renewable energy as they consume and free homeowners from future energy bills.
But research conducted by Evergreen team members Madison Antonangeli, Isaac Francis, Sarah Laws, William Morrison and Samantha Yeung suggested net-zero energy is a concept that area home buyers are not ready for.
“Our students have valuable knowledge to contribute to the project from their previous classes. The project also provided an experiential learning opportunity for students to connect academic learning to the real world and develop skills for their futures.”
— Laine Young, CUSP course instructor.
According to the students’ research, the cost of a net-zero energy home is five to 10 per cent more than a traditional home. For buyers, that means an additional $30,000 or more added to a home’s purchase price – a price area residents surveyed by the team said they would not be willing to pay, despite the benefits. As an alternative, the team suggested the city consider developing hybrid homes. This would provide homebuyers with sustainable housing options at a more affordable price while still allowing the city to offer green tax incentives to builders.
“It was definitely risky to tell the city that we felt net-zero energy homes were not a viable option at the time,” says Francis, the team’s project manager. “But sometimes you have to step outside the box and stand out from the crowd. That’s what our team did.”
The team’s response impressed April Souwand, manager of policy planning for the City of Cambridge and CUSP competition judge.
“The students of Evergreen Consulting showed bravery by going out on a limb and explaining why they felt the City of Cambridge should consider an alternative to the net-zero energy development,” says Souwand. “They took a very realistic approach in their work.”
CUSP course instructor Laine Young says focusing on a net-zero energy development was well suited to students in the CUSP course.
“Our students have valuable knowledge to contribute to the project from their previous classes,” says Young. “The project also provided an experiential learning opportunity for students to connect academic learning to the real world and develop skills for their futures.”
Antonangeli, the Evergreen Consulting team’s graphic designer, says participating in the CUSP course helped her develop career-focused skills.
“Because of the course format, I felt like I was already working in a planning role. I was managing my own time and project work,” says Antonangeli. “A project like this also requires a lot of communication, both written and in-person, which has helped my public speaking skills and my self-confidence.”
Since 2015, CUSP students have worked with the City of Cambridge on projects including the heritage properties register, the adaptive reuse of underutilized places of worship and increasing awareness of the city’s heritage sites.
Through the generosity of the City of Cambridge, Paul Puopolo (BA ’73) and Louise Puopolo of Polocorp Inc., Christopher Coupal (BA ’95) of Coupal Markou Commercial Real Estate Inc., Stephen Rhodes (BA ’88) and Wanita Rhodes (BA ’87) and Laurier’s Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, the Capstone Urban Sustainability Project provides students the opportunity to use their skills as Geography and Environmental Studies majors and gain comprehensive knowledge about the consulting process.
CUSP is part of the Faculty of Arts’ C3 Innovation Labs (C3IL), which offers experiential learning opportunities to students across the “three Cs:” campus, city and community. C3IL includes courses, internships and other experiential learning opportunities for Laurier students, enabling them to engage in complex social challenges on campus and in the community and apply their education to create and test innovative solutions. C3IL programming is open to all Laurier students.
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