Where Living & Learning Meet

April 5, 2018
Hilary Leighton
CityStudio Learning Elements

Thank you, Ann, for taking the first steps to creating the SES Research, Field Notes & Good Reads blog and for suggesting I write something about our Graduate Certificate in Sustainable Community Development.

Eighteen months ago, I was asked to revise our existing graduate certificate and I happened to have just been at a meeting where our academic vice president was calling for ideas on how the university might best participate in the mayor’s new learning initiative, CityStudio – a classroom space in the heart of downtown Victoria for post-secondary and community programming.  I was also moving offices at the time and while unpacking boxes, it struck me, as I held Ann Dale’s 2001 excellent book, At The Edge: Sustainable Development in the 21st Century in my hands that there was something here begging to take shape…CityStudio, leading edge research, grand challenges facing the city we love and graduate students! I picked up the phone and called Ann with an idea to combine our shared passions for research that makes a difference and a more conscious approach to building sustainable community vitality. Soon after our esteemed colleague Bill Dushenko joined us to complete the teaching triad.  

Liveable, sustainable cities -- cities that aim to cultivate meaningful community connections and wellness, engender leadership and learning, facilitate cultural diversity and social inclusion, promote the arts and embrace aesthetic spaces, uphold civic engagement and freedom of expression, value radically collaborative approaches to partnerships and creative problem-solving, use systems thinking, empathy and innovation in planning and design, communities that consider the ethical rights of all sentient beings, foster kindness and care, promote stewardship for conservation, communities with an eye for future generations and for economic, ecological and social prosperity – these are the kinds of places we all want to live. Yet modern cities are so often overwhelmed with ‘messy, wicked’ insurmountable problems while under-resourced, lacking the energetic and/or economic capacity to address even half of the challenges they face, let alone thrive.

Writer and theologian, Frederick Buechner (1973) wrote, “…calling is where our deepest gladness and the world’s hunger meet” (p.118). This certificate has felt like a call to action and service from that first moment holding Ann’s book. To summon best collective practices and practitioners, leading theories and research in response to some of the pressing needs of this city, invites student teams to craft first-rate practical and applied action plans for implementation at the local level in their final presentations to mayor and council. Former students tell us they were drawn to the program because of the rare opportunity to work alongside and learn from key players on real projects of social and lasting value and most of all, they just loved the chance to contribute positively to change while gaining experience and knowledge they could take back home to their own communities…and maybe even leave this place a little better than when they found it.


Buechner, F. (1973). Wishful thinking. San Francisco, CA: Harper Collins.