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Creativity and cultural vibrancy is crucial to the success of future cities

Exterior image of the Ryerson Image Centre

Cities have long been a rich source of inspiration for artists, writers and photographers.

Ryerson faculty are focused on this lens of artistic expression in the city through various partnerships, buildings and centres. The opening of the Ryerson Image Centre in 2012 helped shine a spotlight on Toronto as a cultural hub. The launch of The Catalyst in 2018 provided a large-scale space for scholarly, research and creative activities to come to life in the Faculty of Communication & Design.

Merging technology and creativity, the new Future of Live Entertainment Lab uses boundary-pushing research to create new possibilities for live entertainment, starting with a partnership with Cirque du Soleil.

These are some of the initiatives driving social, cultural and academic pursuits at Ryerson, including that of Robert Burley, who has extensively documented and explored the lush ravines that wind through the city. His pictures are an important documentary record of a threatened landscape, but also a medium for understanding the human impact on natural urban green spaces.

On the streets of Toronto, writer Bill Reynolds has spent decades exploring the philosophy behind bicycles and cycling. His literary journalism looks at the transcendent nature of riding through the city on two wheels.

homeless man beneath the Prince Edward viaduct

A threatened landscape

Toronto is slowly rediscovering its ravines.

Once overlooked and neglected, this network of urban green spaces — one of the largest of its kind in the world — is making a comeback as a key part of the city's park system.

Over four years, photographer Robert Burley, professor in the School of Image Arts, explored and catalogued Toronto's ravines. The results were published in a book, An Enduring Wilderness: Toronto's Natural Parklands (ECW Press 2017), and exhibited at the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival.

In 2018, Burley was one of three Ryerson professors elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada's Academy of the Arts and Humanities for his role as one of Canada's most important interpreters of the role of nature in an urban context. Burley's leadership was instrumental in acquiring the photographic archives that helped establish the Ryerson Image Centre. Also that year, Burley's book, An Enduring Wilderness was recognized by the Canadian Institute of Planners with an award for Planning Excellence - Publications.

Burley's photos support the work of the City of Toronto's Ravine Strategy [10mb] as a documentary record of the state of the city's ravines and the human impact on these spaces. A collection of Burley's ravine photos were donated to the City of Toronto Archives for posterity.

"We want people to see Toronto's rich and fragile natural assets, while encouraging them to get out and explore them," says Burley. "But these spaces need special consideration so they may be preserved for future generations."

Partnering with the City of Toronto helped start a new dialogue with planners and the public around the future of Toronto's ravines. "The book communicates to the public in a very powerful way," says senior city planner Jane Weninger.

"As Torontonians, our green spaces are an important part of our identity. We are trying to reconnect people with the landscape."

Woman riding bicycle in city

The perfect machine

When the Canadian artist Greg Curnoe was killed riding his bike on a rural road near Delaware, Ont. in 1992, it piqued something in the mind of journalist Bill Reynolds. It wasn't until 10 years later, when he was lying in the road after being knocked off his own bike, that he realized what it was.

The School of Journalism professor spent several years writing and developing ideas that coalesced in a 2008 article published in The Walrus. Since then he's been riding in various cities to think about what he calls "the way of the bike" — a philosophy around seeing the world on two wheels.

"It's sort of like anthropological research about the city," he says. "How we all get along — or don't — is interesting to me. What it means to choose to cycle. The euphoria of cycling and why one does it in a hostile environment."

Cycling has exploded in popularity in Toronto and cities across Canada as car traffic increases and people look for a way to get around cheaply and quickly. About 12 million Canadians ride a bike at least once a year despite the potential for danger.

"For me, the ultimate goal is to try to live life through that filter of the bicycle wheel. The glide, the excitement, the freedom and the satisfaction — working up a hill and being able to glide down. All those little factors that come into play."

Bill Reynolds

For Reynolds, there is a magic about the machine — a frame, two wheels, handlebars and a crank — that is endlessly fascinating.

"There's a spirit to bicycles that I want to explore," he says. "The bike is so perfect, it's hardly changed. There isn't much to change. It works. It's not expensive. It's one of the perfect things in the universe, almost."

Traversing a city by bicycle, one builds up a mental geography of hills and glides, of safe streets and risky intersections. The time Reynolds spends in the saddle between his Parkdale home and his office at Ryerson is when thoughts percolate and crystalize.

"I like it when my mind wanders," he says. "I think about things and ideas pop into my head. It's an inspirational time … I think about it as time to let my mind wander."


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