Notorious for its sub-zero weather, Edmonton is one of Canada’s coldest urban centres. And in the heart of the city is the University of Alberta, a place where we take pedways seriously – because we need them! When trudging face first into minus 35 degree winds and incessant blowing snow, the warmth that envelops you when entering one of our campus’ many pedways is glorious.
And because our campus is covered with snow for most of the academic year, this aspect of student life had political science and human geography double major Michael Vivian seriously thinking about pedways and their place within academia and Edmonton.
As a result, and along with the encouragement of his supervisor Judith Garber, Vivian applied for the 2013 Roger S. Smith Undergraduate Researcher Award, successfully securing one of 15 positions with his research proposal: +15 at -30: Understanding the past, present and future of Edmonton’s downtown pedway system. The award provides students within the Faculty of Arts $5,000 to conduct 15 weeks of research-based activity during the summer, culminating in a distinct and informative research paper.
According to Vivian, downtown Edmonton is in the midst of an exciting revitalization, a period of “renaissance” he declared. And with expansion and transformation beckons the need for inward reflection, an opportunity Vivian felt eager to address from a research perspective as a U of A student.
“My research is three-fold; I’m going to historically look at how and why Edmonton and other cities in North America have relied on pedways and how they’ve developed. I’m going to look at what their affects are on the spatial economy, civic life and urban design influences downtown and what the future holds for Edmonton’s pedway system,” he explained.
With the influx of public activity in the downtown core, expanding LRT services and burgeoning condominium projects, Vivian felt that opinions on the pedway system would be plentiful and diverse. To kick-start his project he began looking at city documents, pedway concept plans and current public policy. But most importantly, he investigated what the actual users of the pedway system have to say, interviewing a diverse pool of stakeholders which included business leaders, politicians and members of downtown community leagues. This conscious choice complimented his decision to compile a paper which showcased a myriad of perspectives and data.
“I wanted to interview 10 different individuals that have different stakes in downtown because a planner is going to have a different view than a member of a business community,” he said.
“You’ll see some papers where it’s just, ‘blow the pedways up,’ or ‘let’s get rid of the pedways,’ or you’ll see papers where they’re in support of pedways,” he explained. “My research paper is more of a central hub for all the differing opinions on pedways.”
Now nearing the end of the summer, Vivian has already completed about 60 per cent of his paper and plans to finish the remaining 40 per cent by mid-September. Once finished his project, Vivian will get to present his findings to The Edmonton Chamber of Commerce in October and he will also get to assist them with the development of new pedway policies in the near future.
Although Vivian hopes that his research will inspire an open dialogue around the future of pedways in both the city and the world of academia, he also hopes that his research can help to inspire other students to pursue their own research projects. For those interested in applying for the award in 2014, Vivian stressed the importance of pursuing a topic or field of study that generates both passion and excitement with real-world implications.
“Research something that you’re genuinely interested in, something that you have often questioned and something that actually matters to you because then the quality of your work will be that much better,” he stated. “It opens up a lot of doors and opportunities for your future.”
Be sure to stop by the Rutherford Library Galleria (hiding just beside the library’s east door) before October 31 to check out Vivian’s research poster, and the posters from the other Roger S. Smith Award winners.
And for more information on how you can apply for the award, stay tuned for the January 30 information session from 3-5 p.m. in HC 4-29. The deadline to apply is March 15, 2014.
Story originally appeared on the YouAlberta blog.