According to the United Nations, approximately 55 percent of the worldʼs population currently live in urban areas or cities. This figure is set to rise to 68 percent over the coming decades. While this kind of statistic may appear mundane, the implications of such a vast transition to urban living are far-reaching.

Often, as in many Canadian cities including Winnipeg, urban regions are marked by complex social diversity, striking contrasts of wealth and poverty and a challenging array of planning and environmental dilemmas. Therefore, as more and more of the world moves to urban living, knowing how cities function, their social, economic and political complexities, the current and future concerns of their residents becomes more and more important.

This is where Booth University College’s new Community and Urban Transformation Studies program comes in, however, with a slightly different focus. “We are emphasizing a transformational approach,” explains Dr. Aaron Klassen, Assistant Professor of Sociology. “Not only will we be encouraging students to study and experience cities, to understand issues like poverty and health, we want them to be able to contribute some kind of change.”

Urban Studies is a vibrant and growing area of study in many universities. Booth UC’s Community Urban Transformation Studies program will be a four year, interdisciplinary Bachelor of Arts degree. Courses such as the Social Life of Cities, the Indigenous Experience in Winnipeg’s Inner City, and Perspectives on Theology of Social Justice will cover a myriad of topics. There will also be applied options which will allow students to work in the field in various communities of Winnipeg.

“Being located in the heart of downtown Winnipeg gives Booth UC a particular advantage for an Urban Studies program,” says Dr. Michael Boyce, VP Academic and Dean. “If your starting point is a complex inner-city neighbourhood as diverse as ours, you can’t help but learn from such a dynamic environment.”

Winnipeg’s inner-city is home to many people, neighbourhoods, cultures and communities. Yet, it also faces many poverty-related conditions like lower graduation rates, higher unemployment, homelessness, and systemic barriers. Children and youth make up a large portion of the population, as do Indigenous, recent immigrant and low-income families. Urban Studies students will be challenged to think critically about the political and economic decisions being made that directly effect the inner-city.

“It’s pertinent,” concludes Dr. Klassen. “In the last 20 years, there’s been so much development, and while development is good for the city, a lot of times it’s being done in the guise of making things better, but we need to ask who that ‘better’ is for?”

Booth UC’s program will aim to connect students with the people and organizations who live and work in the inner-city, teach students about the stereotypes, barriers, and marginalization experienced by the community, and give students the opportunity to build relationships and help bring about change and reconciliation.

An example of this kind of connection is the partnership Booth UC has with the Mosaic Newcomer Family Resource Centre. Some of our students, including alumna Christiane Voss (BA/20), have done field placements at the centre. “The opportunity to meet and help people from all over the world was priceless,” says Christiane. “I met a woman who used to live in a refugee camp with her family. It was a blessing to see how grateful she was to be in a safe environment, making plans and looking forward to a successful future. These experiences, as well as our discussions in class, added meaning to my understanding of hope and justice.

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Photo: The North End Community Renewal Corp

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