Q&A with Professor Andréanne Doyon: building a more just and sustainable world, one city at a time

October 05, 2022
Professor Andréanne Doyon is the director of SFU’s Resource and Environmental Management Planning Program and works with partners to support community-centred climate innovation.

For Simon Fraser University (SFU) Professor Andréanne Doyon, studying cities around the world has fueled her passion for sustainable and just urban planning.

As an undergraduate and graduate student, she studied in Beijing and Jakarta, and spent time in Singapore. She earned her PhD in Planning from the University of Melbourne, Australia. She then worked for RMIT University in Australia, where she collaborated with the Western Alliance for Greenhouse Action and local governments contributing research to support the transition of Melbourne’s west towards a low-carbon economy. She also examined the effectiveness of the City’s building and planning regulatory systems in delivering sustainable cities—research featured in The Conversation. Locally, Doyon worked with the City of Burnaby on a resilience study as part of their official community plan, and researched how Canadian municipalities incorporate equity in their climate action plans for the City of Vancouver.

Experiencing how international cities—large and small—approach urban planning and development informs Doyon’s role as the director of SFU’s Resource and Environmental Planning Program (REPP), where she is also a professor and researcher. One of her current research projects is exploring how British Columbia municipalities can use nature-based solutions to mitigate extreme heat—as was experienced in the province last summer. 

REPP is a professional accredited planning program—and the only planning program in Canada—that specializes in interdisciplinary training in policy, natural science and social science applied to natural resource and environmental planning. It takes into consideration the environmental, economic and social aspects of urban planning with attention to sustainability, socio-cultural factors, Indigenous/First Nations perspectives as well as justice, equity, diversity and inclusion (JEDI) considerations. Graduates can work in planning within all levels of government, in the private and non-profit sectors, and can have their credentials recognized in the United States, Great Britain and Australia.

SFU is known as a world leader for our commitment to sustainable cities and communities—SDG 11 of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In the 2022 Times Higher Education Impact Rankings—assessing universities’ support for the UN’s SDGs—SFU ranked within the top 10 in the world for SDG 11 and within the top 10 in the country for climate action (SDG 13) and peace, justice and strong institutions (SDG 16).

SFU and Doyon are a perfect match, as through her teaching, research and engagement she continues to lay the groundwork for building more sustainable cities and communities—work that is urgently needed to address climate change while creating more just and equitable societies. With SFU, she is leading the way in community-centred climate innovation.

We spoke with Professor Doyon about her work.

One of your research areas is justice, equity, diversity and inclusion (JEDI) in urban planning. Tell us about how cities can better address questions of climate justice and justice in sustainability transitions through their planning and governance. 

As part of my research, I am interested in advancing new approaches and narratives around sustainability and climate change. An important part of that is centring justice, equity, diversity and inclusivity.

Cities need to look at both climate change impacts as well as their actions. Are their actions leading to a more just and equitable outcome? Or have their actions exacerbated or created new equities? How would they know? How do they respond? Climate justice at a local level is about recognizing the impact and implications of climate change within a city and across individuals and populations within a city. Responding to climate change from a justice perspective is about responding to vulnerabilities and risks and recognizing existing capacities.

Cities can better address questions of climate justice by prioritizing equity in their work, by collecting and monitoring data, and acknowledging different forms of knowledge. If we only manage what we measure, we need to measure climate justice and equity outcomes.

SFU is recognized as a world leader for our impact on sustainable cities and communities. Please share where you think SFU is leading in this area.

I think where SFU leads in this area is around community-centred climate innovation and engaged research. Entities and initiatives like SFU Innovates, SFU’s Partnerships Hub, SFU’s Knowledge Mobilization Hub, the Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue, SFU Public Square and the Community-Engaged Research initiative (CERi) are leading the way with innovative practices, partnerships and presentations. They are doing really important work on knowledge translation and connecting the public to research—and to researchers.

When is comes to practical research on sustainable cities and communities, Renewable Cities and the ACT – Action on Climate Team are amazing initiatives pushing the boundaries of university research centres with their fingers on the pulse and working with partners on real-world change.

In terms of more traditional research activities, researchers in the School of Resource and Environmental Management like Sean Markey, Tammara Soma, Meg Holden, Jonn Axsen and Mark Jaccard are involved in projects related to nature-based solutions, food security, infrastructure, sustainable transport and energy transitions.

Research at SFU offers expertise in the redesign and retrofitting of community infrastructure, along with technologies, policies, practices, people and business models to enable change. Please share more about SFU’s involvement in community-centred climate innovation, and a particular project you are involved in.

Energy systems modelling has done a good job considering the technical challenges in energy transitions when designing development pathways. In recent years the field has expanded to include climate, land, energy and water systems—the so-called CLEWs nexus. However, it has yet to incorporate JEDI considerations in modelling. The energy justice and justice in transitions fields have done significant work on incorporating JEDI considerations in community engagement and energy transitions, but has rarely adopted any technical or numerical modelling or analysis in their work. 

As part of a CERi-funded project, I have been working with Taco Niet from the School of Sustainable Energy Engineering to bridge this gap between energy systems modelling and energy justice to bring these research communities together to build stronger, more equitable, energy systems into the future. As part of this project, both sets of researchers are learning about the literature and methods of the other field and incorporating this into their work. Our goal is to develop a new research agenda in energy studies that encourages more transdisciplinary studies.  

Please explain more about how JEDI should be incorporated into energy systems modeling. Why is this important?

Justice considerations need to be central to energy research and transitions. We need to ensure that system transitions are not only more sustainable, but also more just. The focus tends to be on the technical considerations, but people are heavily impacted by any changes in energy systems. When it comes to energy justice, we are interested in the benefits and burdens people experience related to energy systems. We seek to investigate where injustices emerge, who is affected or ignored and what processes exist for remediation to reveal and reduce injustices.

What makes Simon Fraser University unique in our community-centred approaches to building sustainable cities?

I think what makes SFU unique is the emphasis and support for working with community partners. I have benefited from others in the university recommending me and my expertise and connecting me with local governments. I have had great experiences working with municipal government on research projects and supervising students engaged in collaborative research. I have the time to develop relationships with First Nations partners before starting projects, because this type of work is encouraged, and longer timelines are understood. At SFU, research can be another form of service, which is a unique way to think about community-centred approaches to building sustainable cities and the role of universities and researchers.

Please share more about your work in sustainable cities and communities, and how SFU is making an impact.

I recently received a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council grant to explore the current use and future potential of nature-based solutions (NbS) to mitigate extreme heat—like the heat we have experienced in B.C. these past two summers. NbS—such as more urban green spaces—can help address climate change and biodiversity loss, reduce the urban heat island effect, address social issues and supply human services. However, little is known about the use of NbS as a method for managing extreme heat in the province.

My team is researching how to apply NbS by examining the capacity of municipalities to implement them, while looking at existing policies that promote these solutions for mitigating extreme heat. The findings from this project will be used to develop recommendations and propose policies to increase NbS and make our cities more resilient to extreme heat.

Learn more about how SFU is committed to building sustainable cities and transforming our communities at sfu.ca/sustainable-cities.

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