Jan. 24, 2019

Community gardens, LRTs, and bike lanes - what's the connection?

Certificate in Sustainability Studies undergrads conduct their own research and win a scholarship to do it
Joshua Wong and Sara Haidey, along with Professor Noel Gerard Keough, present their research findings during the Housing-Transportation-Food Nexus Research Symposium in September 2018.

Joshua Wong and Sara Haidey, with Professor Noel Gerard Keough, present their research findings.

Sarah St. Clair Skett

Are Calgary’s community gardens close to LRT stations and bike lanes? What communities are they located in and what are the demographics, median incomes, unemployment rates and diversity percentages of those neighbourhoods? These are just some of the questions that undergraduate students Sara Haidey and Joshua Wong set out to discover when they were awarded the 2018 TD Sustainability Project Grants while taking UCalgary’s Certificate in Sustainability Studies.

“Not many undergrad students have the opportunity to conduct research during their bachelor degree, let alone receive a scholarship for it, so that’s why this is so attractive,” says Dr. Noel Gerard Keough, PhD, associate professor, Faculty of Environmental Design, who oversaw the research project. “This is a really good opportunity.”

Haidey, a fourth-year urban studies student, and Wong, an economics major with a minor in sociology, spent their spare time throughout summer 2018 conducting research to determine if Calgary’s community gardens were close to active transportation routes and if The City of Calgary needed improved policies to guide better gardening opportunities for low-income neighbourhoods. In addition, they also conducted door-to-door surveys around the Bridgeland community to determine residents’ opinions about active transportation and their sense of community in this area. The survey built on the same research conducted in 2014 by the Sustainable Calgary Society, and Haidey and Wong wanted to compare results to see if any behaviours, attitudes and opinions changed and whether the improvements and implementations since 2014 were effective.

“In terms of the Bridgeland survey, our research showed a positive increase in feelings compared to 2014 — overall, most statistics increased positively,” says Haidey. “Implementations such as additional bike lanes and traffic-calming measures proved to be successful based on the comparison of 2018 to 2014 survey results.”

For the community gardens, Haidey and Wong conducted a statistical analysis to see the correlation between each variable. “Most variables had little to no correlation,” says Haidey, “Bike lanes had no correlation to median income, so it was difficult to make any direct conclusions. However, we found that many community gardens were typically located within neighbourhoods with a $50,000 to $70,000 median income bracket, but there was a lack of gardens located in communities below the $50,000 median income bracket.”

In fact, out of the 88 community gardens that Haidey and Wong researched, they found the following:

  • 25 per cent were in $50,000-$60,000 median income neighbourhoods

  • 17 per cent were in $60,000-$70,000 median income neighbourhoods

  • 15 per cent were in $70,0000-$80,000 median income neighbours

  • The lowest amount of community gardens were in neighbourhoods where income is below $50,000

  • Twice as many gardens were found in neighbourhoods with a $100,000 median income

As for next steps, Haidey and Wong presented their findings to City of Calgary planners with the goal of positively influencing future policy developments. Both hope that other UCalgary students will continue this research in the future to gather more data, while giving others the opportunity to participate in undergraduate research and local sustainability initiatives.

To be eligible for the annual TD Sustainability Project Grants, undergraduate students must be enrolled in UCalgary’s Certificate in Sustainability Studies. Those who have completed SUST201 and SUST401, will have the chance to compete for this year’s TD Sustainability Projects Grants at the end of the winter 2019 semester.

For any undergraduate students who have the unique opportunity to conduct research during their bachelor’s, Wong definitely recommends it. “For me it was exciting because this was the first time I got to do any type of research. Being able to go out to a community and do a survey — that was something that was brand new to me. Even if you’re nervous about it, it’s definitely a great opportunity and for undergraduates who are interested in research, it really shows you what you’re getting yourself into. You can experience what it’s like to go collect data instead of hearing about it from people. I can tell you it’s great, but you wouldn’t know until you go and do it yourself.”

From a faculty perspective, Keough encourages his peers to also consider undergraduates for research opportunities. “This is one of the first times I’ve worked with undergrads and lots of professors don’t always do this, so I think it’s really important to contribute to undergrad education and have that experience working with undergrads. I encourage academics to look to that avenue for researchers as well.”