Monday, April 14, 2014

What's Happening at Tabaret?

A landscaping truck sits in front of the Tabaret building

The University of Ottawa recently announced that construction is beginning on the Tabaret / Grand Allée project. Essentially, the whole project is an extension of the Grand Allée (or the Grand Alley in English but no one really calls it that).

This image shows the grand allée at uOttawa

There are a lot of good things about the project and a few sad things about it too. A recent article in the uOttawa Gazette spoke about the "makeover" of the space and some of the features. But I feel that more should be done to explain some of the details about the project. In fact, the project is more of a restoration than a makeover. So here is our contribution to what is happening in front of Tabaret.

As it stands right now, the Grand Allée extends from the FSS tower all the way to Laurier. This new segment would include the other side of the street betweet Tabaret and Academic Hall, essentially bringing the space in front of Tabaret to the same standards as the rest of the Grand Allée. And it kind of needed it, I mean the space was getting pretty worn down.

First things first, some trees got cut down!
I have seen a lot of things go back and forth on social media about this and a few things need to be said about why this happened. First and foremost, there is preventative foundation repair work that needs to be done on the Tabaret building. It is over 100 years old and work needs to be done to ensure that the foundation is properly sealed (aka water-proofed). This necessitated the take down of the trees along the East side of the building.

Although work won't officially start for another couple of weeks, the trees needed to come down ASAP to prevent migratory birds from establishing nests. New greenery will be planted that is more in line with the heritage designation of the building. The same thing goes for the vines along the East side of the building, which are also going to be compromised as maintenance takes place on the facade of the building.

The next thing is the amount of hardscapping in front of the building (there is a lot of new hardscapping in the new plan).
One thing to note about the Grand Allée is that is was not properly aligned in front of the Tabaret building. Realigning the path requires moving the path a little closer to the Tabaret building.

the image shows how the Grand Allée is not aligned in front of the Tabaret building

But the big thing is the accessibility of the space. The Tabaret building has 4 exits on the East side of the building that are overgrown and that need to be wheelchair accessible. Adding hardscape will open up the space and allow for access to the statue of Tabaret (currently hidden among the trees).

This image shos some of the emergency exits of Tabaret

There are also a bunch of other accessibility features being added to the space, including braille signage, better curb transitions around Laurier Avenue, and way-finding tools for the blind.

This kind of leads into another aspect of the project, the sustainable transportation link. The space was designed with the City of Ottawa's extension of the Laurier Bike Lane in mind (which will eventually link Vanier to Westboro). The space is much more pedestrian friendly, with a wider pathway and no more uneven paving running through the alley.

As an added bonus, parking lot A (located at the North-West side of the Tabaret Lawn), will be shut down. The plans have not been finalized about what will be happening with the space but a few options are being batted around.

This image shows the outline of the Tabaret parking space

There are many more details about the project that add to the complexity of the program, (including the measures to respect the heritage status of the space, the removal of some infected trees, or the programming of activities for the space) but I won't go into all of them. This project fits in with the University's masterplan process and helps launch a rethink about how land on campus can be more functional and beautiful.

However, if you do have more questions about the project, Richard Hould (, the project leader, is happy to talk about more of the details.

~ jon - campus sustainability manager
photo credit - jonathan rausseo

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Dressing up at the Free Store: Clever Treasures for a Student's Wardrobe

Free store fashion logo

Each spring, I end up looking at my wardrobe in complete desolation.  I never know how to dress when the weather gets too warm to wear my winter coat and boots, but not warm enough yet to wear my favorite summer dresses and skirts.  Adds to my desperation when I sort through my stuff and find clothes that I haven’t worn in years…

So this year I decided to see things differently.  Rather than keeping all of my old clothes, I decided to bring everything I didn’t want anymore to the Free Store.  And over there, I was able to find some great pieces that could easily be paired with accessories and basic pieces that I already owned in order to create new and fun outfits.  With the help of other students working and volunteering with the Office of Campus Sustainability, I was able to organize a photoshoot to show you where a little creativity can take you.
As the weather gets warmer, sweaters often get pushed over to the top shelf of the closet, never to be seen again… But you can keep wearing cozy sweaters when you pair them correctly.

two students pose in front of the living wall

Left: Lindsay picked up a sweater, scarf and skirt at the Free Store, and paired them with some boots and a hat that she owned to create a polished look.

Right: Mija found a great but slightly oversized sweater at the Free Store, so she tucked it under a small belt in order to give it a little shape, and chose form fitting jeans to go with it.  To complete the look, she added some necklaces and a great pair of shoes.  

Every now and then, the Free Store receives items that you would not believe have been donated, and other times it’s hard to imagine how to use some articles we find.  So we decided to pair some of those items together to see what happens.

three students pose in some of their Free Store picks

Left: A ripped up plaid-shirt arrived at the Free Store a few weeks ago.  It may be a bit too edgy for some, but Lindsay kept it under control with a black belt, skirt and tuque (all from the Free Store) and some of her own necklaces.
Centre: Rochelle is rocking this Free Store faux leather jacket and printed skirt with even crazier printed tights of her own!  She added a little color and fun with a scarf and a graphic tee-shirt found in the Free Store’s men section.
Right: There’s nothing more boring yet versatile than a plain tank-top.  The Free Store has many, and in many colors, but Nadia thought this grey one would go great with this Free Store cardigan and tuque.  Paired with a pair of jeans borrowed from a friend, this look costed absolutely nothing!

Guys, I haven’t forgotten about you.  Even if the Free Store’s men section is slightly smaller than the women’s, it still holds a bunch of good finds. 

A student poses in front of the Free Store

In this look, Chris wanted to showcase as many Free Store items as possible.  Since the Free Store has a bunch of mittens, scarfs and tuques, he simply picked his favorites.  He also managed to grab this great plaid shirt and graphic tee shirt, as well as shoes his size.  Why not add a Free Store tie?
The Free Store is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10 am to 3 pm, and will be closing for the summer starting April 11th.  That leaves you very few days to go grab some clothes and revamp your wardrobe!  So go crazy for Free Store clothes but stay wise: donate what you’re not using and try not to binge! 

~ frédérique - volunteer and outreach coordinator
photo credit - jonathan rausseo

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

When it comes to clean water, the enemy of my enemy is my frenemy

Colourful Moving Bed Biofilm Reactors

A little while ago I was working at an information table for sustainability and so I had to gather information about the cool research we do here on campus. I asked a whole lot of uOttawa professors about their research regarding sustainable development, and I thought that the coolest out of all of them was that of Professor Robert Delatolla’s. What is so incredibly neat about Professor Delatolla’s research is that he uses miniature spaceships. Sold yet?

These honeycomb pasta like plastic thingies are mini-houses for bacteria that clean waste water. MBBRs (Moving Bed Biofilm Reactors – BUT FEAR NOT: you won’t need to remember this) are little bits of plastic that are designed to allow bacteria to grow in a community called a biofilm. These biofilms, or bacterial communities, filter the sludge in water by removing ammonia and nitrates.

There are a couple of reasons why I think this particular project is brilliant.

  1. We are using what bacteria use against us against them – muahahah! 
  2. This system has some serious staying power – literally. You can blast it with a fair amount of force, and it will stay. 
  3. It can handle our frigid Canadian winters. 

Using our enemy’s weapons against itself: 

As with anything, bacteria too are stronger in numbers. Bacteria living in biofilms can handle quite a bit of drama: extreme temperatures, antibiotics, agitation…which they could not do if they were living alone.  The thing is that generally speaking, biofilms usually complicate our lives. They can be found in sinks, sponges, teeth and in the worst examples, in catheters and implanted heart valves.

Biofilms create a slimy mess that is hard to clean up. But here is the trick; biofilms are the reason MBBRs work as well as they do. The bacteria want to stay in this community. So, the biofilms keep the bacteria inside the tank while polluted water runs through it with force and speed. Essentially, we just need to give them their daily dose of dirty water, and the bacteria are as happy as they can be and so are we with our ammonia-free water.

Here to stay: 

Biofilms are robust. They can withstand shock loadings. As the effects of climate change become more and more apparent in our weather patterns (I don’t know about you, but back in my parents’ day, spring began in March!), periods of drought and heavy rainfall seriously mess with the sewage system. The water that enters the treatment plants, as with our weather, becomes very moody. It can have too much sludge, not enough, and can come all at once. Biofilms can handle these fluctuations in both pollutant concentration, and water flow rates.

Cold times:

Most bacteria, just like you, have a sweet spot for the temperature they like to work at. Maintaining this ideal temperature becomes a problem if you live in the frigid snowscape we call our home. MBBRs are able to fix the ammonia at temperatures as low as 1°C, which is impossible in conventional systems. We don’t have to invest as much money into keeping the tank warm; and no one needs to supervise the bacteria every day to make sure they are doing their work (once in a while is probably good though!). In the end, we are reducing our carbon footprint and using less energy with systems using biofilms than others.

This is all to say that I’m happy that uOttawa is paying attention to our little frenemies, and that bio-engineering is paving the way for these brilliant sustainable practices!

~ rochelle - sustainability outreach coordinator

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Coop : Bien plus qu’un apprentissage professionnel

A coordinator presents to a classroom full of students

Bonjour, je m’appelle Frédérique, j’ai 22 ans et… je suis étudiante coop.

Lorsque j’ai choisi d’ajouter l’option coop à mes études, c’était dans le but de découvrir.  Découvrir le monde du travail, découvrir mes forces, mes faiblesses et mes goûts, découvrir ce à quoi je pourrais être utile plus tard…car je dois avouer que mon avenir professionnel était (et est encore) très flou dans ma tête.  Je crois tout de même en avoir appris bien plus sur moi-même et sur le monde qui m’entoure en quelques mois de stage que je ne l’aurais fait en 4 ans de Bac.

J’en suis présentement à mon deuxième stage, que j’effectue au Bureau du développement durable, après avoir passé quelques mois à la Faculté des sciences sociales.  En fait, c’est en travaillant à la FSS que j’ai découvert les initiatives du Bureau du développement durable (notamment les Matinées caféinées et la Gratuiterie).  J’ai été impressionnée et charmée par les activités et l’engagement du Bureau.

Lorsque j’ai vu qu’un poste était affiché dans le navigateur coop, je n’ai pas pensé deux fois avant de soumettre ma candidature!  Depuis, je suis comblée : je fais partie d’une équipe extraordinaire, dynamique et chaleureuse, et j’apprends tous les jours.

Les projets que j’ai effectués et les personnes que j’ai rencontrées lors de mes stages m’ont amené à  réfléchir à mes actions, mes projets, mes envies et mes ambitions, en plus de m’en apprendre sur ce qu’est la vie d’adulte, autant d’un point de vue professionnel que personnel.  Ce sont les rencontres que j’ai effectuées et les questions que j’ai posées qui m’ont permis de voir au-delà du cadre académique et de ses contraintes.

En cette Semaine de l’enseignement coopératif, je vous invite à réfléchir à votre façon d’appréhender vos études et vos actions sur le campus.  Il existe une foule d’activités, d’initiatives et de projets qui vous permettrons d’ouvrir vos yeux et vos esprits tout en développant vos aptitudes, connaissances et réseaux de contacts.  Vous ne savez pas par où commencer?  Pourquoi pas par le Bureau du développement durable…!

~ fred - coordonnatrice du bénévolat et engagement

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Une menace quotidienne : les dioxines

An employee stands in front of a mountain of plastic in a laboratory

Nous rencontrons une abondance de produits chimiques dans notre vie quotidienne. Certains, comme l'oxygène et l'eau, sont essentiels à la vie humaine, alors que d'autres, comme le monoxyde de carbone, sont toxiques. Mais où tracer la limite entre les produits chimiques toxiques et ceux qui sont sans danger? Qu’est qui rend une substance toxique?

Simplement dit, une substance est considérée comme toxique lorsqu’elle contribue à une réaction nocive pour l’organisme. Cette conséquence nocive peut être une réaction réversible comme l’irritation cutanée ou peut être beaucoup plus sérieuse comme la mort.

Une des catégories de substances les plus dangereuses pour la santé humaine est celle des dioxines. L’Organisation mondiale de la santé définit les dioxines comme étant « … un groupe de composés chimiquement apparentés qui sont des polluants organiques persistants dans l’environnement. » Les dioxines sont des sous-produits dans de nombreux processus comme l’incinération des déchets ou l’industrie des pâtes et papiers.

Le grand problème avec les dioxines est leur stabilité dans l’environnement, ce qui fait en sorte que ces substances restent dans l’environnement pendant des années, parfois même des décennies !  Par conséquent, elles finissent par se concentrer dans notre nourriture, et finalement dans nos corps.

Une fois déposées dans l’organisme humain, les dioxines causent plusieurs complications. Dépendant de la concentration et de la durée de l’exposition, elles peuvent causer la dégradation du système immunitaire, du système nerveux ou même le cancer.

Le corps n’a pas de mécanisme pour se débarrasser des dioxines, ainsi pendant notre vie on accumule de plus en plus de cette substance toxique.  Selon le dicton : c’est la dose qui fait le poison. Alors, même si la quantité qu’on absorbe dans notre corps est minime, petit à petit elle s’accumule pendant des années jusqu’à ce que la concentration devienne assez grande pour affecter le corps.

Mais comment peut-on se protéger de cette exposition aux dioxines ?  Malheureusement, il est presque impossible d’éviter complètement les dioxines. Mais on peut essayer de limiter les sources les plus importantes de dioxines comme la viande rouge, les produits laitiers et le poulet.

Bien sûr, éviter tous ces produits alimentaires est difficile pour la majorité de la population. Pour que le danger des dioxines diminue, on doit diminuer la production de cette substance. Puisqu’une source majeure des dioxines est l’incinération des déchets, nous devrions changer la façon dont on consomme et utilise les produits. Cela dépend plutôt d’un changement de mentalité de la population générale.

De simples actions comme produire moins de déchets ou recycler peuvent aider à diminuer le montant de déchets,  qui à leur tour ne seront pas incinérés, peut diminuer le taux de dioxines qui sera libéré dans l’environnement. Certes, même si une personne change ses habitudes de consommation, les concentrations de dioxines ne vont pas changer. Mais, si de nombreuses personnes changent leurs habitudes, ces changements vont être reflétés positivement dans l’environnement.

mija - coordonatrice du développement durable