This semester you are teaching INI430. What’s unique about this course and what are some of the key takeaways for students?
I am teaching INI 430: Youth, Arts, and Engagement in the City in collaboration with Regent Park Focus, a not-for-profit organization that was established to counter negative stereotypes about the community and provide media literacy and production programming for youth living in the area. Urban studies researchers across the world have been studying Regent Park’s billion-dollar redevelopment and how the newly “revitalized” mixed-income neighborhood has affected long-time residents. However, few of these studies incorporate the perspectives of youth or contribute to the future development of the community in meaningful ways. In my course, U of T students and youth members of Regent Park Focus from the Divas Girl Group work together to envision and produce their own media projects addressing revitalization and gentrification in Regent Park.
I am committed to using pedagogies that embody principles of “knowledge justice,” such as participatory action research (PAR) in which academics and community residents are collaborative partners in the process of designing an inquiry for the purposes of social change. Last year’s projects, which are profiled on the course website, https://www.uoftxrpfocus.com/ include a podcast which explores how the Rap and Hip Hop culture of the neighborhood disintegrated during redevelopment; a YouTube mockumentary that exposes how inaccessible the neighborhood’s new public amenities are to long-time social housing residents; a zine documenting subversive art and memorabilia of the rapidly changing neighborhood; a photography exhibition that counters mainstream media stereotypes; and an interactive timeline that embeds the life story of one Regent Park youth resident into the history of the redevelopment and its accompanying academic scholarship.
You have an extensive background in urban studies, what inspired you to pursue a Ph.D.?
When I was in high school, I thought I wanted to be a journalist. I participated in a summer journalism program in which we reported about different issues throughout Boston and published our own newspaper. My story was about the struggles of business owners in Boston’s North End Italian neighborhood due to the Big Dig, a huge mega-highway construction project in which the interstate was put underground with the replacement of 2.4 km of parks and public spaces above ground. The pollution and noise from the improvement project negatively affected many business owners and residents in the North End with little help from the city government. I found the urban politics of the megaproject so fascinating, and this led me to pursue urban studies as an undergraduate rather than journalism.
From, there I went on to work for an affordable housing developer in Washington D.C., pursue my Masters in Planning, and work in community development and philanthropy. Throughout all these professional experiences, I wanted to understand how to evaluate the impact of policies, programs, and grant-making. How do we know if certain urban interventions are making a difference? This led me to pursue a Ph.D. and learn how to design and conduct meaningful research.
What advice would you give to students who are thinking about pursuing a career in urban studies?
Urban studies is a broad field, and careers in the discipline can range from real estate developer to city councillor to social service worker to public artist. Students interested in Urban Studies should schedule informational interviews with different people in the field whose career interests them to figure out where they want to focus their learning while in university.
What is your favorite neighborhood in Toronto and why?
I am fairly new to Toronto and still exploring, but I think my favorite neighborhoods are all places with excellent cuisine. I enjoy Chinatown and Koreatown and love exploring the dense neighborhoods for dim sum and noodles. In the East End, I also really like the Greek food in the Danforth as well as South Asian food in Little India.