Design innovations move student engineers to civic action

Matt Giamou (left), Jenny Qian, James Minor and Andrew Ferrazzutti present their proposal to improve the city’s push-pedal bins at the University of Toronto’s 2011 Praxis II Design Showcase on April 12. (Davies – Design for TorontoE)

Matt Giamou has a better way for Torontonians to dispose of their garbage. With a little help from a few of his engineering classmates, he’s designed a new push-pedal bin that, unlike current “street furniture” models, doesn’t rely on downward bodyweight to open.

“In general, the (existing) pedal function is awful,” Giamou said. “I’m a bigger guy and can only imagine the effort someone smaller has to put in just to use the garbage bin. I feel like the bins were a very large waste of city resources and money.”

Giamou is one of 240 budding engineers at the University of Toronto displaying their proposals for an improved city, today, at the 2011 Praxis II Design Showcase. Underthe theme ‘Design for Toronto,’ first-year engineering science students presented their solutions to urban problems ranging from ambulance response times to environmental contamination from roadside drainage.

But for Giamou, Jenny Qian, James Minor and Andrew Ferrazzutti, it’s the daily irritation of sticking bin pedals and pushing flaps by hand that inspired their garbage disposal makeover. The student team’s retrofitting of Astral Media’s current design includes a return to panel ads, a feature the group says is central to its idea of sustainable improvement.

“If you have ads on a garbage bin, it virtually pays for itself,” Giamou said.

Jason Foster, course instructor, said Praxis II students work with a relatively modest budget of $150,000 to $250,000 to learn to identify issues that are not only manageable, but may be overlooked.

“What we’re looking for are problems that are small enough that a large organization, like the City, might not see them,” he said. “Somewhere between $150,000 and $250,000 on a multi-billion dollar, City budget isn’t that much, but for a community, it can really make a huge difference.”

Foster said that in addition to receiving feedback from such public agencies as the TTC and the Ministry of Industry, ‘Design for Toronto’ encourages students to become more civically engaged and to apply engineering skills developed in the classroom, to their everyday lives.

“We’re trying to teach our students that engineering isn’t something you turn on and turn off,” he said. “It’s a way of seeing the world, a way of thinking and a way of working, that is with you all the time.”

For more details about this year’s design solutions, see Praxis II Design Showcase.