The Learning Exchange: a Shared Space for the University of British Columbia and Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside Communities


  • Angela Towle UBC Learning Exchange
  • Kathleen Leahy UBC Learning Exchange


Physical environment, Emotional environment, Intellectual environment, Asset-based community development


The Learning Exchange was established by the University of British Columbia (UBC) in 1999 in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES). The challenge has been to create a shared space for learning exchanges between two very different communities: a research-intensive university and an inner city area most commonly depicted as a place of hopelessness. The Learning Exchange provides an interesting model for how shared spaces can work to bring benefits to both to individual community members, students and faculty, as well as to the university and community organizations. It provides a place in the community where UBC students and faculty, and DTES residents and organizations connect, pursue common interests and learn from each other with a long-term goal of bringing about social change. Examples are given of the ways in which attention is paid to the physical, emotional and intellectual environment and the synergies that occur in shared spaces. Based on our experience and lessons learned we identify important principles for creating successful university-community shared spaces. 

Author Biographies

Angela Towle, UBC Learning Exchange

Angela Towle is the Academic Director of the UBC Learning Exchange. She is also an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Medicine, Senior Scholar in the Centre for Health Education Scholarship and Co-Director of Patient and Community Partnership for Education. Her scholarly work has focused on the involvement of patients in the education of health professionals, including research into community-university partnerships.

Kathleen Leahy, UBC Learning Exchange

Kathleen Leahy is the Managing Director of the Learning Exchange. She has over 25 years’ experience in community development through non-traditional forms of education in Montreal and Vancouver, working with groups of people experiencing marginalization. These experiences of working across boundaries in community-based settings have greatly informed her community-university engagement work at the Learning Exchange. 


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