Former Toronto Mayor to new NYU-Poly Students: The World’s Biggest Problems are Urban, and Solutions can be Fun

Noted expert on sustainable cities makes his first formal appearance as Future of Cities Global Fellow by welcoming students at convocation

In his first formal appearance as the Polytechnic Institute of New York University (NYU-Poly) Future of Cities Global Fellow, former Toronto Mayor David Miller challenged the incoming students to tackle what he called the world’s foremost challenge:  innovating to solve urban problems.

His convocation keynote speech this afternoon to approximately 560 new first-year undergraduates publicly marked the relationship between NYU-Poly and Miller, a global leader in urban environmental sustainability, economic development and social integration.

Noting that recently the scales tipped so that most of the people of the world now live in cities, Miller told the students: “This fundamental change has an important implication for your studies. No longer will it be sufficient to simply study chemical or computer engineering, or any other technical field and become an expert – it will also be essential to understand the public policy context and challenges within which your research is being conducted.” Using real-world examples from his experience, Miller told the students that engineers and technology will play an increasingly important role in solving these urban problems. He also pointed to ways to have fun while creating solutions. He pointed to the example of the NYC BigApps Challenge, which employs open source code and open government information to create apps to make city life better for residents and visitors.

“We have faith in your capacity to learn and make the world a better place,” NYU-Poly President Jerry Hultin told students in his welcoming remarks. “Here at NYU-Poly, you will find a 21st-century toolbox of education and research. . . .With our faculty I challenge you to combine the traditional engineering disciplines in new ways, and to set a personal goal to make a difference.”

The convocation also featured presentations by Associate Provost of Undergraduate Academics Iraj Kalkhoran, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Joy Colelli, Dean of Student Affairs Anita Farrington, Alumni Association Executive Vice President Michael Urmeneta and Student Council Vice President Wilson Dieujuste Jr. 

This year’s convocation, delayed by a day for the tropical storm Irene, was part of an expanded Welcome Week at NYU-Poly. To introduce the NYU-Poly focus on i2e – invention, innovation and entrepreneurship – new first-year students later discussed the book they all read over the summer. The New York Times bestseller The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope, by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer, tells of a 14-year-old boy living in an impoverished village in Malawi who reads a book about windmills and builds a windmill that brings electricity to his village. In other Welcome Week activities, returning undergraduates also presented their summer research projects before convocation.

Miller’s role as Future of Cities Global Fellow will include other lectures, as well as teaching and assisting NYU-Poly and NYU in developing programs that connect technology and society to solve pressing urban challenges. Among other projects, he plans to co-instruct a studio class in which students work to increase sustainability in local parks. Urban technology is one of NYU-Poly’s highest academic priorities, befitting its mission as a comprehensive school of engineering located in one of the world’s great urban centers.

As Toronto mayor from 2003 to 2010, Miller became recognized for innovations that furthered the city’s environmental sustainability, economic development and social integration. Under his leadership, Toronto received numerous honors such as the low carbon leadership award from The Climate Group. It is acknowledged as one of the worlds' leading business destinations and as a city that respects social justice. From 2008-10 he led the C-40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, a consortium of the world’s largest cities fighting climate change. Miller is currently counsel, international business and sustainability, to the Toronto law firm Aird & Berlis LLP and president of Urban Green Jobs, Inc. 

His initial three-year appointment is supported by a generous gift from alumnus Michael Corey. Corey received a doctoral degree in industrial engineering in 1970 from what was then called Polytechnic Institute and has been a longtime supporter of the institution, serving from 1993 to 2009 on the Board of Trustees. He is a retired treasurer of J.P. Morgan. 

About Polytechnic Institute of New York University

Polytechnic Institute of New York University (formerly Polytechnic University), an affiliate of New York University, is a comprehensive school of engineering, applied sciences, technology and research, and is rooted in a 157-year tradition of invention, innovation and entrepreneurship: i2e. The institution, founded in 1854, is the nation’s second-oldest private engineering school. In addition to its main campus in New York City at MetroTech Center in downtown Brooklyn, it also offers programs at sites throughout the region and around the globe. Globally, NYU-Poly has programs in Israel, China and is an integral part of NYU's campus in Abu Dhabi. For more information, visit