Geography students take city hall

A team of Geography students recently received a high-profile lesson in public affairs by presenting their research to Lethbridge City Council.

As part of an Applied Studies project, five students from Gary Weikum's Geography 2535 Introduction to Planning and Geography 4500 Sustainability Issues in Planning classes spent the academic year conducting research on the sources and quantity of greenhouse gases produced by the corporate operations of the City of Lethbridge.

Craig Wiebe fields media questions with support from (l to r) Jordan Vine, Leo Chow, Andrew Malcolm and their instructor, Gary Weikum. Missing from the photo is Nicole Gergely. All students are in their third or fourth year of study.

Weikum, a sessional instructor at the University and former city planner, introduced the project to the student group as a means to complement their classroom knowledge with hands-on experience. He says the students demonstrated their commitment to the project and desire to promote the management of greenhouse gases even after the course was complete by presenting their findings to city council and discussing greenhouse gas issues with the media.

"This was a great opportunity for the group to put their knowledge to action and theory to practice by preparing a professional report for a real client," says Weikum. "The students can now go back to the classroom with an enhanced perspective and better context for classroom instruction."

Weikum adds that the project also benefits the students as they are exposed to potential work situations that may be available after graduation.

"The key elements acquired by the students include; the ability to manage large projects with firm deadlines, work in a team environment, and build successful relationships with a client," says Weikum. "They also participated in several workshops to examine their preferred working styles, and strengths and weaknesses of the project management component. These insights will help them refine their career plans."

Craig Wiebe, a team member who intends to pursue a master's degree following graduation next year, says the project will help him should he continue on as a community planner.

"Gary deliberately structured the project to be similar to one of the many projects he had worked on as a planner for the City of Lethbridge," says Wiebe. "He even included a presentation to council, which is common in projects that planners work on. Working on this project as a team, with the amount of
external data sources and research that we needed to collect and analyze gave us all important work experience. Members of our project team have already found employers to be keenly interested in the experience that we gained."

Weikum said that with the success of this project, he plans to initiate further client-based ventures that relate classroom study to community issues.

The student group conducted an extensive review of all City of Lethbridge operations to assess the level of the city's greenhouse gas emissions. The final report is expected to be used by city council and administration for future planning.

The students found that overall, city operations produce more than 130,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents from such activities as heating and lighting buildings, providing transit service, road maintenance, etc. It was discovered that the city-owned landfills (one operating site and two closed sites) account for more than 80,000 tonnes of the total. It was also noted that half of the electrical and gas demand for the wastewater treatment plant is supplied by the combustion of methane gas produced from municipal sewage.

"The most surprising item we discovered during our research were the enormous amounts of greenhouse gases – in this case, mostly methane – being emitted by the city's three landfills," says Wiebe. "Much of the methane emissions are produced by paper and cardboard, which can conveniently be taken to recycling centres throughout the city."

Wiebe says that landfills were included in the corporate survey, as they are the city's responsibility, but their share of greenhouse gas emissions is disproportionately high in their report, because the entire community contributes to the emissions.

"A community survey would likely find both transportation and landfills to be leading sources of greenhouse gas emissions," he says.

While the quantity of greenhouse gases produced by Lethbridge municipal operations are similar to other prairie cities that were benchmarked, the students were able to make several recommendations for future planning to reduce the amount of equivalent CO2 emissions. The recommendations included more detailed studies, public consultation and input into community greenhouse gas reduction and other similar suggestions.

This story first appeared in the Legend. To view the Legend in a flipbook format, follow this link.