UBC offers free online course on ecodesign for cities and suburbs

No longer content being just a distinguished practice professor of planning at UBC, Dr. Larry Beasley aims to spark a revolution in the way city-dwellers worldwide think about their neighbourhoods. In collaboration with Dr. Jonathan Barnett of the University of Pennsylvania, he has created a new course titled “Ecodesign for Cities and Suburbs.” 

The course is currently offered for free on edX — an online platform that offers free courses and programs in an aim to increase accessibility to education, based out of Harvard and MIT — in partnership with UBC.

The course aims to teach students from around the world how ecodesign can help adapt our built environment to both a changing climate and a rapidly growing world. Although climate action and sustainability are at its core, Dr. Beasley was careful to distinguish ecodesign from sustainability movements of the past. 

“What has happened in the movements of sustainability over the last 25 years was [that] often times … what was needed was being created without thinking too much about consumers,” said Beasley. As a result, according to him, consumers have largely turned their backs on the sustainability movement, with a majority living in what Beasley called “very unsustainable suburbs.”

Ecodesign hopes to overcome this consumer aversion by putting consumer interests at the forefront of city planning.

“Our view is that in a free, democratic, free market economy, consumer practices and consumer trends … can be as powerful as laws and regulations … in shaping our cities. Right now, those consumer patterns and movements are shaping the city in a very unsustainable way, in a way that is putting more and more pressure on the natural environment,” said Beasley. “But if we can design cities [by] bringing back the natural systems … but also making them so attractive, so appealing and so delightful, then consumers and their trends will actually help us to achieve what we need to achieve.”

To help students understand the positive possibilities of ecodesign, the course uses countless real-world examples to demonstrate its potential. By offering these positive examples to a global audience for free through edX, Beasley hopes they will spread to people “struggling all around the world to try to build decent cities [and] correct the environmental damage that has been done,” and help them achieve their goals. 

“Ecodesign for Cities and Suburbs” is offered under what will soon be called the department of UBC Extended Learning (ExL). In a recent interview with The Ubyssey, Associate Provost of Academic Innovation Hugh Brock said that the goal behind the redesign of Continuing Studies into UBC ExL is to offer faculties the highest quality of administrative support and help UBC “contribute to the worldwide effort to make learning more effective, more fun and more relevant.”

Beasley and Barnett’s course hopes to personify this goal — as Beasley said, he has to “really give UBC a lot of credit” for the amount and quality of the administrative support they have offered. 

“We’ve had a wonderful team of advisors that have been helping us design the course, critics to help us as we’ve put the course together. We’ve had a team of people helping us to put together the assignments and to put that all on the web,” he said.

“Ecodesign for Cities and Suburbs” offers a hopeful glimpse into the future of Continuing Studies as a largely administrative unit.