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Who Will Next Receive $50,000 Solutions Focused Award?

Meet the man who last year won the first UBC Margolese National Design for Living Prize.

By David Beers 15 Jul 2013 | TheTyee.ca

David Beers is editor of The Tyee. To find out more about applying for the UBC Margolese National Design for Living Prize click here.

"The fabric of our lives." This oft used phrase speaks to everything from the layout of our neighbourhoods to the healthiness of our workplaces to the ways we get around. If our days are spent wrapped in a fabric woven of myriad decisions made by others, then why not confer recognition on one person, each year, whose genius and commitment have helped make the fabric of our lives more resilient, more comfortable ... more beautiful?

For those who brilliantly design the fabric of our lives, there really ought to be a prestigious Canadian award. And now there is.

The $50,000 annual University of British Columbia Margolese National Design for Living Prize was bestowed for the first time last year. We'll meet the "shocked" inaugural recipient in a minute. But first, a bit more about the prize.

As the UBC School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (SALA) website explains, "The UBC Margolese National Design for Living Prize was created by a generous estate gift made to the University of British Columbia by Leonard Herbert Margolese. The prize will be awarded to a Canadian who has made outstanding contributions to the development or improvement of living environments for Canadians of all economic classes."

Nominations for the award are now being sought; the application deadline is October 1, 2013.

Broad definition for who may qualify

As a Margolese Prize media partner, The Tyee is privileged to help spread word of this opportunity to the widest possible pool of applicants. We are excited and intrigued by the flexibility inherent in the definition of who is eligible. The next Margolese winner could be an architect or planner, certainly, but also someone whose "design" creates new social arrangements, advocates for solutions, educates, or fashions public art in ways that make life tangibly better. The Margolese Prize is itself a challenge to how we imagine the creation of positive change. The broadness of its criteria has the potential to catalyze much richer and complex thinking about who is a "designer for living environments" and what can be done to improve people's daily experiences. Think of the Margolese as Canada's own Nobel Prize for Better Living.

Now meet the first recipient, Eric Miller, who has spent most of his adult life figuring out how to make it easier for you and me to hop on public transit, avoid traffic jams, or not get poisoned by exhaust. Miller is a professor of Civil Engineering at the University of Toronto whose research (as the SALA site says) "has been on the cutting edge [examining] the interactions between humans, urban land use, transportation and the environment.

"His work in the modelling of vehicle emissions, pollutant dispersion, and their exposure to human populations has helped to develop a more comprehensive understanding of these fundamental urban planning issues. Currently, his Integrated Land Use, Transportation, and Environment model (ILUTE), considered a world-leading contribution to the science of urban simulation, continues to contribute to the increased sustainability of living environments both internationally and here in Canada."

If that comes across as intellectually daunting, Miller is "not a big ego person" as he puts it in his typically down to earth manner. When Miller first learned of receiving the Margolese Prize last year, he says, he was "of course, totally surprised and shocked."

"As the initial surprise wore off I felt, and still do, a great appreciation for and gratitude to the colleagues who had thought enough of me to nominate me for the prize and to the prize jury for awarding me the prize. One of the greatest feelings in life is to know that you have the respect and appreciation of your peers and colleagues."

Prize gave work, spirit a big boost

Miller says winning the Margolese was an exhilarating boost professionally and also personally. "It says that all that work has been worthwhile and that it has had some impact. It also provides incentive to continue 'to fight the good fight.' I take great pride in being a Margolese Prize winner. And it certainly can't hurt when it comes to grant applications!"

The Margolese Prize money's lack of strings attached "has allowed me to focus more on 'pure' research activities rather than more applied and/or consulting work," Miller says gratefully.

He is continuing his work on his two major research areas: urban simulation modelling and working with transportation planning agencies on improving their travel demand modelling capabilities.

"With respect to the first," he explains, "I am working closely with IBM Canada and SOSCIP (Southern Ontario Super Computing Innovation Platform) to move my ILUTE urban simulation model system into a high performance cloud computing environment so that it can be run much more quickly and so be used much more effectively for research and policy analysis applications. With respect to operational travel demand models, I run the "Travel Modelling Group" at UofT which is funded by Toronto region municipalities, Metrolinx and the Province of Ontario to work closely with these agencies on improving their operational models.

"I am also leading a national consortium of universities, industrial partners and public sector agencies (government and NGOs) in an application to the Tri-Council Networks of Centres of Excellence program to establish a major national research network in urban informatics (iCity), i.e. the application of data science, information technology, etc. to the solution of major urban problems. If successful, I will lead this network over at least a five-year period."

'Huge potential to advance the urban agenda'

Miller believes "the Margolese Prize has a huge potential to advance the urban agenda by attracting attention to very serious and important questions related to the planning, design, operations and financing of our urban regions. Despite the fact that 80 per cent of Canadians live in urban areas, we generally do not pay sufficient attention to the role of cities in our economy and in the determination of our quality of life. The Margolese Prize can potentially help shine a light on urban questions and advance the level, quality and impact of the urban debate.

"It can also reward and highlight the work of urban researchers. Awards exist for artists, entertainers, politicians, etc. If properly promoted, the Margolese Prize can significantly raise the profile of the great urban researchers and professionals in this country, provide due recognition of their many exceptional contributions to the quality of Canadian life and, by doing so, again, promote the evolution of more sustainable, resilient and high-quality urban areas within the country."

The Tyee is proud to be helping in that mission to promote the Margolese National Design for Living Prize. We congratulate Eric Miller, and urge you who read this to email, Facebook, tweet and otherwise share news of this tremendous opportunity to confer recognition on those who expertly weave the fabric of our lives.  [Tyee]

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