Sheldon Levy says Ryerson’s new look reflects his view that the university is a key part of city-building in Toronto.
He told a symposium last week that even small changes on the campus can have a large effect on the city.
“As we build and do things, we are doing things for the city because we impact people directly that are beyond Ryerson,” Levy said.
The event — Who Builds the City? — was held last Friday night at CBC’s Glenn Gould Studio.
“Everything you have to do, you have to think of the impact it will have on the city,” Levy told the audience.
The presentation focused on Ryerson’s campus, its development over the past 10 years and its overall contribution to making Toronto a better place to live and visit.
Levy spoke about changes on campus, safety in the surrounding area, and how small changes can have a larger impact — not just for the university, but for the whole city.
Levy presented three main principles that help adapt the university to the concrete jungle of Toronto.
The first is urban intensification. It is focused on making buildings taller rather than wider. This helps make a large and accessible space in a small section of land.
The second principle is putting people first and making pedestrian-friendly urban environments. Primarily, it focuses on the safety of the students.
“We need to be able to take our own resources and try to correct it,” Levy said. “If the city doesn’t act, then nothing gets done and it puts the students at risk, so we have to take the initiative.”
The last principle is commitment to design and excellence.
This principle focuses on the presentation of buildings and finding unique ways to make them appealing to the people who will directly use them or be around them.
During his presentation, Levy showed before and after photographs of the major developments surrounding the campus.
The closing of Gould Street was a huge initiative to make the campus more accessible and safe for students, he said.
“Street level should be owned by the people of Toronto. They’re the ones braving the streets every day. It helps to make a vibrant community,” Levy said. “Students love the energy, so if we care for our streets and what surrounds them, it can reflect on the people in the area.”
In his closing statement, Levy said that with the changes in the environment, students have a new and improved attitude towards their university.
More and more, students want to take initiative and build their own change, Levy said.
He showed a video of a flash mob that was choreographed by students in the Ryerson Theatre School.
They did this in conjuction with making a Virgin Mobile commercial in Young-Dundas Square that helped pay for school improvements.
As he wrapped up his presentation, Levy attributed much of Ryerson’s success to the university itself.
“If anyone thinks I was doing all of this or had a big role, I would stay modest,” said Levy, who will leave Ryerson next summer after 10 years as president.
“It was really in the DNA of the university, and all I did was allow a sense of freedom to do it,” he said.