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End of the year message from Professor David Roberts, Director of the Urban Studies Program and Associate Professor 

What a year. It is hard to describe the challenges of teaching, learning, and trying to maintain a vibrant Urban Studies community during a pandemic. It is also essential to recognize that while this has been a collective experience, the way that COVID-19 has impacted and is impacting our lives varies immensely, and is, in many ways, deeply personal. That said, we have strived to make the most of an extremely challenging situation while maintaining the quality of our program as best as we could.

In the classroom, this has meant employing an even more compassionate and caring pedagogy as well as engaging in innovative approaches to community engagement – like those used by Professor Aditi Mehta in her qualitative research course (INI342H1F). She and her students partnered with seniors at long-term care facilities in Canada and the USA to explore a wide range of urban topics. You can read more about this course and the fruitful bounds that emerged

As a community, it has meant becoming much more familiar with meeting and engaging with each other through digital formats. We also took the opportunity to reconnect with alumni (and friends) who, as experts in city building representing a wide range of perspectives and sectors, offered their insights and perspectives on the path forward for the City of Toronto and what needs to be done to facilitate building the city back better as we recover from the pandemic. You can watch that conversation here: 

While the infection numbers at the moment clearly indicate an extremely scary third wave, there are also signs of light at the end of the tunnel as the vaccine is being rolled out. Planning is underway to welcome students and the community back to campus once it is safe to do so – and we hope to do so soon, but there are a lot of hurdles to negotiate before that is possible. That said, there are exciting things happening within the program and I want to briefly highlight a few:
  • This summer, we are offering three exciting courses - Urban Studio: Public Participation in Policy Making (INI432H1F), Monuments Must Fall: Re-imagining Public Space through Art and Action (INI337H1S), and Conflict in Cities: Urban Conflicts in Divided Cities (INI338H1S). There are still a few spaces in all three.
  • We are in the process of hiring a new, full-time, permanent faculty member. Details here
  • This fall, we will be launching a new course (INI338H1F) – in partnership with the City of Toronto and other institutions of higher education in the city - City Challenges, City Opportunities in a 21st Century Toronto. Half of the course sessions will be led by senior City of Toronto staff with students from across the city in attendance while the other half will be taught by a faculty member in the student’s home institution. Special thanks to Joe Mihevc for spearheading this initiative and inviting the Urban Studies Program to join the partnership.

Keep your eye on your email and our social media for other exciting news and opportunities. And, as always, keep in touch – we are always looking for new ways to engage with students, alumni, and the community. We would love to hear from you if you have any ideas of initiatives that you would like to explore with us.

Have a safe and restful summer,
David Roberts
Director, Urban Studies Program

The “15-Minute City” Isn’t Made for Disabled Bodies

The “15-minute city” is an urban mobility concept that states anyone should be able to access essential services within 15 minutes of walking or biking from their home. This concept is the foundation of many urban planning discussions, yet the question of who the “15-cinute city" is built for is rarely discussed. This article explores how this popular urban planning model is neglecting the mobility needs of those who can’t afford to live in mixed-use dense neighbourhoods. Click here to read more. 

Study Finds Ride-Sharing Intensifies Urban Road Congestion 

Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technologies finds that US road congestion increased by almost 1 percent while the duration of congestion rose by 4.5 percent. Researchers at the Future Urban Mobility Interdisciplinary Research Group at SMART found that ride-sharing has showed increased congestion due to the benefits of on-demand shared mobility. Click here to read more.

City of Toronto Transportation Staff Debate E-scooters, Concerns Over ‘A Missed Opportunity' 

E-scooters are currently prohibited on Toronto streets and public spaces, and city transportation staff have recommended that Toronto should remain the current status quo. Jennifer Keesmaat, Toronto’s former chief city planner argues that the city should look towards integrating e-scooters into the transportation landscape. Keesmaat argued that e-scooters help rethink mobility modes and are a sustainable transportation alternative. Click here to read more.

 U of T Community Roundtable Focuses on Anti-Asian Racism

The University of Toronto’s Faculty of Arts & Science recently hosted a Community Roundtable on Anti-Asian Racism and Intersectional Violence webinar in the wake of the March 16 shootings that skilled six Asian women in Atlanta, GA. The event was organized by the Faculty of Arts & Science’s Women & Gender Studies Institute and the department of sociology and drew more than 500 registrants and subsequent viewers on YouTube. Click here to read more. 

Richard Florida Outlines His Vision For A ‘Post-Pandemic City’ 

Professor Richard Florida, the author of The Rise of the Creative Class and The New Urban Crisis, laid out his vision for how central business districts can bounce back from economic setbacks due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Click here to read more.

The TTC Partners with Transit Planning Mobile Apps, Rocketman and Transit

The TTC has partnered with transit trip planning mobile apps, Rocketman and Transit to provide real-bus occupancy information to help TTC riders plan more efficient commutes. These apps allow customers to see the volume of passengers on vehicles approaching to help choose which vehicle they are most comfortable boarding. Click here to read more. 

Reflections: TTCriders Student Team 2020-21 

The 2020-2021 TTCriders student placement team reflects upon this year’s learning experience. Working with TTCriders has allowed students to explore interests in equity and transit-related issues and community engagement. Through the placement, students: Selam Eyob, Jasmine Mohamed, Chinoye Sunny, Saja Elshaikh, and USP students Lindsay Blainey and Daria Jaczy facilitated online events such as deputation training sessions, which helped prepare transit users to speak at City Hall meetings and lead webinars and hosted story circles. The students also participated in networking opportunities through attending meetings with City Councillors, meeting with organizations and the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC). Click here to read more about the TTCriders student team’s reflection. 

USP Summer Course Offerings

View the Arts and Science Summer 2021 Timetable here


INI337H1S - Studies in Contemporary Urban Problems: Monuments Must Fall: Re-imagining Public Space through Art and Action

Instructor: Alan Webb

Public space in North American cities is facing a reckoning brought about by the confluence of support for Black Lives Matter, Indigenous recognition, and related calls for wider representation, inclusivity and safety. Climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, rapid densification and privatization bring additional pressures to bear on our conventional urban design models and understanding of urban public space, in both interior and exterior environments. In examining contested public space through the frame of monuments, public art and public actions, how may we begin to imagine new design models for flexible and resilient spaces? In facing an unknown future, how may public art inform design practices to support an open, social and welcoming urban environment?

INI338H1S Advanced Topics in Urban Studies: Conflict in Cities: Urban Conflicts in Divided Cities

Instructor: Anwar Jaber

This course investigates the urban fabric of contested cities in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. It focuses on the everyday dynamics of the urban communities in these cities and their response to extreme levels of conflict that may destroy, divide or reformulate their cities and urban lives. Although such ‘divided cities’ have their own unique characteristics, histories and urban contexts, they could nevertheless offer a lens through which we can understand the wider socio-political dynamics as well as the role of the urban environment in conflict. The course introduces spatial research approaches to cities facing extreme levels of ethno-national, political and religious conflicts. It raises the question of mapping as a political tool that can be abused, as well as the question of urban forms and architectural interventions in such highly-charged cities like Jerusalem, Belfast, Berlin, Beirut, Nicosia and others.

INI432H1-F  Urban Studio: Public Participation in Policy Making

Instructor: Daniel Fusca

This course will provide a broad overview of the roles of both the citizen and the professional practitioner in advancing effective and meaningful public participation in the policy-making process, particularly as it relates to city planning. Through an examination of a mix of theoretical frameworks and case studies from Toronto and elsewhere, you will gain an understanding of the ways in which effective public participation can contribute to the maintenance of a healthy democratic society while also exploring some of the key challenges and opportunities faced by public participation practitioners today. The course has two key objectives: to give you a practical understanding of all of the elements of an effective public participation process, and to explore how public participation processes can be designed to be more inclusive and effective. In addition, students will be able to apply this knowledge towards the development of a project or report for a client. You can read more about the course and examples of previous community engagement projects on the U of T News article regarding Rail Deck Park. (Prerequisites will be waived for Summer 2021; students from associated disciplines are encouraged to enrol).

Urban Minds Opportunities

Urban Minds is looking for two volunteers to fill the following positions. Apply by May 9, 2021. 

Outreach Manager - To lead outreach efforts, build relationships with existing and potential clients, partners and other stakeholders. 

Program Coordinator - Support the 1UP Youth City Builders program, working with high school students and municipalities, civic organizations, and architecture/planning firms.

 Click here to apply.

Evergreen Brick Works Volunteering

Through volunteering at Evergreen, you can take action and make your city better. Evergreen’s volunteers are city builders who support a host of projects and programs at Evergreen Brick Works (Toronto). Evergreen volunteers have opportunities to provide input and to grow, with opportunities for leadership roles. Click here to learn more about the volunteer opportunities at Evergreen.

ASSU Graduating Student Leadership Scholarship

Eligibility Criteria:

Awarded to a full-time graduating student in the Faculty of Arts & Science.

Students require demonstration of academic excellence (GPA 3.7 or higher), financial need (OSAP or out of province loan) and outstanding extra-curricular leadership.

Recipients must enrol in a graduate program at the University of Toronto, Faculty of Arts & Science.

Award and Payment Info:

The value of the award is equal to the annual income from endowed funds, approximately $4,500. 

The award is paid upon enrolment and registration in a graduate program at the University of Toronto, Faculty of Arts & Science. After the deduction of tuition fees or residence charges owing, the award will be directly deposited into the student’s Canadian bank account. Please allow 6-8 weeks for notifications.

Click here to access the ASSU Graduating Student Leadership Award Application, please submit this form by May 3, 2021 at 11:59 EST to

Late or incomplete submissions will not be accepted.

Level UP

Level UP is an innovative work-integrated learning program powered by Riipen and sponsored by the Government of Canada to prepare students in post-secondary education and employers (or organizations) to thrive in their future careers.

How Does it Work?

Students, individually or in groups, connect with organizations for short-term paid projects that help them gain relevant work experiences, build professional networks, gain career clarity, and develop their skills. 

Eligibility Requirements:

Students registered in Canadian post-secondary education institutions, with no age limit; and
Canadian citizens, permanent residents, or persons to whom refugee protection has been conferred under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act; and
legally entitled to work in Canada in accordance with relevant provincial or territorial legislation and regulations

For more information and to get started click here. 

USP Monthly Profile: Caroline Tam, Urban Studies Program Communications Assistant

Q: Tell us a bit about yourself and your work-study role.

I am an incoming fourth year who is extremely passionate about cities and urban planning. I am pursuing a double specialist degree in Human Geography with a Focus in Planning, Urban Studies and a minor in GIS. 
My role as the Communications Assistant for the USP this year has been an amazing experience. I worked closely with Jannie Chien and Professor David Roberts and assisted the program in creating communications material.  Further, I was also responsible for managing the USP's social media outlets. This year, I worked with Jannie in creating the Urban Studies Student community via Facebook to help foster community and student connections during the pandemic. I am extremely proud of the great turnout of students who have joined the community and I am excited for the community to continue to grow! Throughout this semester, I conducted interviews with Urban Studies faculty members and learned about their research interests and roles in the department. I could not have asked for a better work-study experience! 


Q: What made you decide to pursue urban studies as part of your undergraduate degree?

Growing up in Vancouver, BC, I have always been interested in the workings of a city. Throughout high school, I always had a strong interest in geography and city planning, and I eventually found my way to the urban studies program at the University of Toronto. Throughout my undergraduate degree, I can say that the Urban Studies Program has complemented my interests in city planning and human geography really well. Additionally, I was attracted to the small class sizes and multi-disciplinary approach to all of the courses offered by the program. 

Q: Which aspect of urban studies are you most interested in?

Community-building is an aspect of urban studies that has been at the forefront of my interests. An integral part of urban planning and cities is the thought and processes behind creating thriving communities both physically and socially. I have enjoyed taking the core urban studies courses such as INI235 and INI236 which first introduced the fundamentals behind community-building in planning.

Q: What is the most valuable thing you have learned so far from the USP?

The most important perspective that I have learned so far from the USP is analyzing cities through a multidisciplinary lens that considers the various factors behind city-building that go beyond physical infrastructure. Further, taking INI432 last summer was an eye-opening experience in learning about the importance of public engagement and participation in city-building and policy-making processes. 

Q: How has your work-study experience been this past year and do you have any tips for students looking for work-study positions?

I could not have asked for a more fulfilling work-study experience. Working for the USP has allowed me to enrich my interpersonal skills as a young professional. I learned so many important skills such as multitasking, professional communication and engagement. For students looking for work-study positions, make sure to get involved in student organizations on campus. This is a great way to build your resume and gain soft skills that are crucial in landing future opportunities. Further, make sure that your cover letter and resume are personable and relevant to the position that you are applying for. I would also advise students to apply for work-study positions with departments/faculties that interest them, work-study was an enriching experience for me and allowed me to become more connected with USP professors and students. 

Q: In the future, do you plan on pursuing a career related to urban studies?

Yes, following my undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto, I plan to pursue a Masters in Planning (M.ScPl) and to become a Registered Professional Planner (RPP). I am specifically interested in land use planning and urban design. 

UTAGA and TUGS: Affordable Housing in a Post-Pandemic World

The University of Toronto Association of Geography Alumni (UTAGA) and the Toronto Undergraduate Geography Society (TUGS) are hosting a panel discussion that focuses on the housing affordability crisis in the GTA, with emphasis on causes, effects and possible public policy responses. The panelists include professionals and scholars who approach the issue from a variety of perspectives including those from the real estate market analysis and affordable housing planning industries, from academic planning and human geographic sectors on rights to the city and equity and the perspectives of housing economics. Click here to register.

Panellists include: 

Jennifer Keesmaat, Partner, Markee Developmenets/CEO, The Keesmaat Group/ Former Chief City Planner, City of Toronto 

Nemoy Lewis, Professor, School of Urban and Regional Planning, Ryerson University 

Jason Mercer, Chief Market Analyst & Director of Service Channels, Toronto Real Estate Board

Abigail Moriah, Professional Planner & Founder, The Black Planning Project

Diana Petramala, Senior Economist, Centre for Urban Research and Land Development, Ryerson University 

Eli Singer Founder & CEO, NearNow

Global Urban Network Seminar 4: The Resilience and Sustainability of Global Systems of Cities: an Urban Science Perspective

The School of Cities’ Global Urban Network Seminar is being held on May 17 11:00 to 12:00 PM. Urban science has undergone a tremendous increase in scoping incorporating insights, perspectives and methods from sustainability science and complexity science to better understand urban systems and urbanization processes. The presenters will discuss recent developments in urban science and how international collaborations can strengthen it scientifically and make it relevant for those working towards the transition to sustainable urban development. Click here to register.

Speakers include: 

Professor Jose Lobo, Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation, Arizona State University

Professor Céline Rozenblat, Institut de géographie et durabilité, UNIL, Université de Lausanne

David Birge, Research Scientist, MIT Norman B (Moderator)

Global Urban Network Seminar 5: Governing Complex Urban Regions in the 21st Century

The COVID-19 pandemic, the growing urgency of the climate emergency, and important social justice movements have led to momentum to re-examine and remake urban decision-making models that were once thought to be rigid and immutable. Scholars globally will discuss the complexities inherent in this challenge and pathways towards more effective responses to change and uncertainty. Click here to register. 

Speakers Include: 

Professor Crystal Legacy, Informal Urbanism Research Hub, University of Melbourne

Professor Graham Wilson, Initiative on Cities, Boston University

Professor Jiannan Wu, China Institute for Urban Governance, Shanghai Jiao Tong University

Moderated by: Professor Robyn Dowling, The University of Sydney School of Architecture, Design and Planning

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Copyright © 2021 University of Toronto,
Urban Studies Program

Room 223E, Innis College, University of Toronto
2 Sussex Ave, Toronto, ON M5S 1J5
Prepared by Caroline Tam, Urban Studies Communications Assistant
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Urban Studies Newsletter · 2 Sussex Avenue · Toronto, ON M5S 1J5 · Canada

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