Alumni Profiles

Charling Li

As a mechanical engineer by training, Charling found that completing a master’s degree in urban studies helped her develop new and broader approaches to sustainability challenges in the built environment.

“Before the Urban Studies Program, I was very much focused on the environmental side,” Charling explained. “I felt like something was missing, because I didn’t have much exposure to the social sciences through my undergraduate degree. I would wonder - if energy efficiency makes sense, why people weren’t doing that? Now, I have a much broader understanding of sustainability and resilience. There are so many other factors - like habit, history, cultural influences and policy that influence decision making at all levels. There are so many other reasons why sustainability solutions that may seem obvious from a technical or economic perspective aren’t being taken up.”

Charling had already been working in the sustainability field after earning her engineering degree at the University of Waterloo. She was working as a green buildings design and construction consultant, but her desire to round out her perspective led her to the Urban Studies Program, and then, post-graduation, to consulting at Stantec. “The Urban Studies program helped me understand that a technocratic approach is not sufficient to address the multi-layered and complex challenges in sustainable development. You can’t just throw money or engineering into solving issues that deeply involve people’s daily lives– you need a deeper understanding of the social and institutional structures that drive decision making. I don’t think these opportunities would have been open to me prior my urban studies degree.”

Charling also enjoyed the intellectually stimulating environment she found in the program. “The other students were great. I went in wanting to learn about one thing – sustainable development - but I learned about so many different related urban issues because that’s what other students were interested in.” She also ended up working, and even travelling to Europe, with one of the program’s professors, as part of a research project on ecourbanism.

“I left the program with so many more questions about sustainable development than I went in with; but this has made me a more critical systems thinker and more effective practitioner and better equipped to deal with the evolving challenges with sustainability,” she said.

After several years in consulting, Charling recently took on a role as a renewable energy planner at the City of Vancouver, supporting the growth of the City's False Creek neighbourhood energy utility, which provides low-carbon heat and hot water. This was an opportunity for her to return to a subject she is passionate about, as district energy planning was the topic of her master's research. She is happy to be contributing to urban sustainability from a practical implementation perspective.

Connect with Charling on LinkedIn.