Hamilton’s CityLAB now a permanent hub for post-secondary students tackling real-world challenges

A CityLAB Hamilton 2019 spring showcase event revealing projects created by local post-secondary students in the first two years of the initiative. Lisa Polewski / 900 CHML

A win-win collaboration that pairs students up with Hamilton staff and community stakeholders to support the city’s strategic priorities is now a permanent program after a multi-year pilot project.

CityLAB Hamilton, a collaborative with McMaster University, Mohawk College and Redeemer University and the City of Hamilton, is expected to continue producing solutions to real-world challenges following a successful initial five-year run.

The pilot, extended to five years from three due to the pandemic, has been pairing post-secondary faculty, students and staff with community partners precipitating more than 160 projects since 2017.

“Typically, our challenges come from city staff members themselves … looking for help on things they’re working on that are directly related to the city’s strategic plan,” CityLAB’s project manager Patrick Byrne told 900 CHML’s Good Morning Hamilton.

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“They share them with us, and we work with our partners at all three schools to find the best fit for students who are going to be able to help.”

For students and faculty, CityLAB provides invaluable experiences working directly with Hamilton staff on real-life projects while the city saves on consulting fees by taking on students who’ve completed a curriculum in a particular field.

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Byrne says partnership examples in the past five years include making policies to reduce renovictions, optimizing performance metrics in Hamilton parking lots, water quality monitoring, and bridging the digital divide through device recycling and accessibility programs.

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The city’s closing of King William Street to cars for pandemic patio expansions in the summer of 2020 was an example of a direct idea spun out of a CityLAB collaboration.

“Now there’s … infrastructure being built with a gate that’s going to be closing off (the street) for periodic cooling. So things like that sort of take off and have a life of their own,” said Byrne.

CityLAB became permanent June 1 after an agreement was reached between the schools and city councillors. Permanent annual funding for CityLAB was approved in late March via the 2022 tax-supported operating budget.

“It is a winning collaboration that warranted a five-year pilot program that is now becoming a permanent endeavour,” Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger said in a statement on Wednesday.

“I’m confident that CityLAB will continue to engage our brightest students and foster continued innovation within our community for years to come.”

Byrne says the next steps are to put together another strategic plan, potentially for the next five years, matching people with projects for the fall semester.

Areas of interest for future campaigns include sustainability, climate change and transportation.

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“We’ve done a number of traffic studies, bike lane assessments, different pieces to sort of understand, you know, how people move around better in the city. So definitely looking at all those areas, ” Byrne said.

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