Incoming Student Élyse Comeau Receives Prestigious Award

Congratulations to Élyse Comeau (incoming Planning Ph.D. student) on being awarded the 2021- 2022 Kimel Family Graduate Student Scholarship in Pediatric Disability Research, Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital. Under the supervision of Professors Tim Ross and Ron Buliung, Élyse proposes to study the disabling experiences of public transit in the City of Toronto.

GeoPlan 2021: The Department of Geography & Planning Annual Newsletter

GeoPlan, our department’s annual newsletter, is out now!

Read more about our new faculty, program updates, alumni activities, and excellent faculty by clicking here

Image of the GeoPlan header - including department logo and the dates 2020-21

Geography & Planning Students Support Toronto’s Growing Community Land Trust Movement

As Toronto’s housing crisis intensifies, many tenants face rent increases and evictions that displace them from their homes and communities. This dire situation calls for alternative solutions – an issue several Geography & Planning students have turned their attention to. The Affordable Housing Challenge Project (AHCP) at the U of T School of Cities brings together students as well as researchers from across the university who are researching the housing crisis and affordability – many of whom, through their work, have supported community initiatives and successful alternative housing solutions in Toronto.

One of these alternatives is the Community Land Trust (CLT) model. Over the last ten years, the CLT model has attracted considerable attention, as it foregrounds principles of permanent affordability, community democratic control, and development without displacement. In Toronto, between 2017 and 2021, the Parkdale Neighbourhood Land Trust, the city’s first neighbourhood-based CLT, successfully preserved a community-owned agriculture site and two at-risk rooming houses with over fifty units. Since its inception, there has been a growing movement among Toronto community members and organizers to implement similar initiatives. It is within this momentum that the AHCP’s CLT Team, coordinated by PhD Planning student Kuni Kamizaki, works to support emerging Community Land Trusts in the city. Under the supervision of Professors Susannah Bunce and Alan Walks, our CLT Team has been working with the Kensington Market CLT, the Friends of Chinatown Toronto’s CLT Initiative, and the Toronto CLT Network.

Kensington Market CLT was established in 2017 in response to rapid gentrification and the more recent increase of short-term rental units. In 2019, the landlord of 54-56 Kensington Avenue – an iconic building in the neighbourhood – attempted to “renovict” his tenants. The building residents, KMCLT, and community advocates fought back together, successfully acquiring and preserving the building with the support of an acquisition grant of $3 million received from the city in May 2021. Our CLT Team has supported this community-led preservation effort. Sinead Petrasek (PhD Geography Candidate) has led website and communications development, as well as a fundraising campaign currently underway. Chiyi Tam (MScPl 2019-21) spearheaded the planning and financing of acquisition from feasibility analysis to its closing. We continue to support KMCLT in building its strong organizational base for future projects, including an RFP response to the City to redevelop a nearby parking lot into more community-owned affordable housing.

In the adjacent neighbourhood of downtown Chinatown, our team has collaborated with the Friends of Chinatown Toronto (FOCT), a grassroots group fighting for community-controlled housing and racial justice. In 2020, we partnered with the UofT Planning program, and commissioned a research project to a group of students in the PLA1106H Workshop in Planning Practice course. The group – including Chiyi Tam – released a research report that offered strategies for combatting displacement pressures including a CLT for Chinatown. Building on this report, our CLT team and FOCT have recently launched a one-year community-based action research project titled “Who Owns Chinatown? Mapping Ownership and Precarity to Mobilize a Community Land Trust” with the support of the SSHRC-funded Balanced Supply of Housing Node project at the University of British Columbia. Our participatory research aims to identify existing affordable housing stock that is vulnerable to speculation, upscaling and eviction threats, as well as to develop community-led strategies for housing preservation.

These CLT initiatives, from Kensington Market and Chinatown to Parkdale and most recently – Little Jamaica, are making up the growing CLT movement in Toronto. A common challenge for start-up CLTs is the need for resources and technical expertise required for housing acquisition, preservation, and stewardship. To this end, our CLT team has been assisting the development of the Toronto Community Land Trust Network, currently housed in the Parkdale Neighbourhood Land Trust, to foster collaboration and support between established and emerging CLTs. In particular, we are conducting action-oriented research – led by Laura Vaz-Jones (PhD Geography Candidate) – to explore a networked approach support system. The networked approach is inspired by existing Community Land Trust initiatives in the Bay Area, New York City, and Boston. This approach is sometimes called the “central server” model that involves centralizing some CLT functions within the network to achieve greater economies of scale and relieve some of the technical and financial burdens from individual neighbourhood-led organizations. A central server approach enables CLTs, particularly those just starting out, to focus more of their resources and energy on community organizing and democratic management.

In face of worsening housing security and the financialization of housing – where housing is treated as a commodity rather than social good – the Community Land Trust model has garnered support from housing movements, community-based planners, and housing policy makers who understand it as an indispensable strategy for a just recovery. Our overall aim of this community-university partnership is to support the flourishing of a strong CLT movement and thereby broader struggles for community-led affordable housing and equitable development in the city and beyond.

Written by: Chiyi Tam, Kuni Kamizaki, Laura Vaz-Jones, and Sinead Petrasek

Health and Place: A look at Health Geography Research across the UofT Tri-campus

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, maps showing spread of the virus and vaccination rates by location have become fixtures in national and international news media. These figures have sparked important debates about geographical inequalities and have made many of us think more about the relationship between health and place – a concept that has long been central to the work of health geographers.

Emerging from the field of medical geography, health geography began to gain traction in the late twentieth century, following a growing movement in health scholarship away from a biomedical model and towards a more socio-ecological one. By studying “the dynamic relationship between health and place”[1], health geography research reveals the social, cultural, and political aspects that shape health and the built environment, offering a more holistic approach to the subject. This approach also enables the coverage of a broad range of topics and methodologies, as is clear in the health geography research done across all three campuses of our department. Below we highlight just some of the recent research pursued by our faculty and graduate students, including studies on food access, exposure to air pollution, the disabling experiences of urban life, and community and policy responses to health inequalities. There is also the work of our undergraduate students who have begun to explore health geography and whose projects show the potential for significant contributions to the field. While spanning an array of subjects, these research projects and initiatives all reveal the significance of place, offering important insights and possible solutions for improved health and well-being.

Access to Food

Our food environment, including geographic access to food retailers, has important implications for food behaviours, diet, and health. Professor Michael Widener, Postdoctoral Fellow Lindsey Smith, and PhD student Bochu Liu have been using GPS and time-use data to consider access to food retail across different neighbourhoods in Toronto. In particular, they look at how time-use dynamics play out in space, noting that time and space work together to impact food and service access. For instance, as Dr. Widener notes, the suburbanization of poverty creates conditions in which people must commute longer distances across space which in turn takes time, leaving less time for food shopping, preparation, and other health-related tasks. In similar studies, exposure and health outcome measures have largely focused on the individual, however in their work, Widener, Smith, and Liu argue that social factors, including shared responsibilities for food shopping and household shores, need to be accounted for when measuring access. By using both GPS tracking and diaries in which participants document their time-use, their research reveals both the ‘unseen’ exposures or obstacles made visible by mapping and the lived experiences of their participants.

Access to Food Study GPS & Time-Use Data: Six weekly patterns of activity and location sequences for the Toronto 2019 sample






















Exposure to Air Pollution

Dr. Egide Kalisa, a postdoctoral fellow working with Dr. Matthew Adams and Dr. Vincent Kuuire, is seeking to understand children’s air pollution exposure at schools in Kigali, Rwanda. Using air pollution monitors (as seen in the picture, where Dr. Kalisa is setting them up) they have observed that air pollution concentrations in the area can be worse than one might experience in Ontario Highway 401 rush-hour congestion. Their goal is to understand the sources and risks of the pollution better to provide support in reducing children’s exposure. As part of this work, Dr. Kalisa organizes workshops for students to teach them about air pollution risks, provides hands-on training with air pollution monitors, and teaches students to recognize environments where air pollution could be high and thus should be avoided.


Egide Kalisa, a postdoctoral fellow, working with Drs. Adams and Kuuire, is shown setting up air pollution monitors in Kigali, Rwanda.













Senior Social Isolation and Loneliness

When the first COVID-19 lockdown began in March 2020, PhD student Amber DeJohn realized her plans to study social isolation and loneliness among older adults was as important as ever. Working with senior centers, she recruited 24 older adults for a phone survey and interview, focusing on how their lives were changing in lockdown and how technology bolstered connection or created new isolations. As a health geographer, she was interested in their thoughts on place and how the adoption of new technologies had modified enjoyment of their homes and previously in-person activities. On the heels of this work, she collaborated with Dr. Widener and Bochu Liu to collect data about older Chinese migrants. More specifically, they were interested in their health, socializing, and time use during the pandemic, and whether there were spatial dimensions to social connectedness and health. While data collection is ongoing, they have been able to survey over 90 older Chinese migrants in the GTA with the help of Mandarin- and Cantonese-speaking research assistants from UTM. This cross-cultural research has been possible only through discussions with cultural insiders both in Toronto and abroad in Beijing, where another research team had already has already implemented their survey.

The Disabling Experiences of Urban Life

“Disability” is not a health condition or a clinical issue, but similar to the above mentioned aspects of health, it is produced by societal and environmental barriers and limitations. Teaching and research about the varied geographies of disability receives considerable attention in the department’s graduate program. Along with his graduate students, Graduate Chair, Professor Ron Buliung’s research program focuses on the disabling experiences of urban life. Recent examples form his research group include a study about the extra time disabled children spend traveling by bus, and how this extra time spent on the move erodes opportunities for social and curricular contact. While a student in our Doctoral program in Human Geography, Dr. Naomi Schwartz undertook research into the relationship between disability and food access and insecurity. Dr Schwartz’ work was conducted in close partnership with the Centre for Independent Living Toronto (CILT), and demonstrated how and why disabled persons are at greater risk of experiencing food insecurity. While this work was completed prior to the pandemic, there can be little doubt that the current context has exacerbated the problems identified in Dr. Schwartz’ research.

Responding to Health Inequalities

Over the last few decades, inequalities – including health inequalities – between neighbourhoods have increased significantly, while pressures on low-income residents (such as gentrification) have also increased. With a team of undergraduate and graduate student researchers, as well as partners from the City of Hamilton, the Hamilton Community Foundation, and local community organizations, Dr. Sarah Wakefield has spent almost a decade researching how municipalities can best support community-led health interventions.  This research shows the potential of residents to intervene to improve their neighbourhoods. However, it also demonstrates that significant barriers to resident organizing exist, from limited access to meeting space to challenges in engaging and representing the diversity of residents in low-income and racialized neighbourhoods.

COVID-19 has further exacerbated such inequalities – creating new and revealing existing, complex and inequitable challenges to communities over the past year and a half. PhD Candidate and Course Instructor Rae Jewett has been a part of a network of Canadian and international health geographers responding to these issues by providing expertise in several aspects of spatial epidemiology and health services research. This includes location-based opportunities for the transmission of COVID-19, inequitable neighbourhood risk factors, regionalized non-pharmaceutical interventions and policies, and ensuring a fair vaccine rollout across diverse and dynamic urban, suburban, rural and remote places. A uniquely geographic and place-based challenge is the complex nature of organization, collaboration and cohesion within and between organizations and communities to respond to the crisis, organize resources, promote resilience and ultimately protect peoples health and wellbeing. Rae Jewett’s work over the last year has focused on the Canadian and International regionalization of activities and policies that facilitate social cohesion, productive relationships between local communities and government, and promote community resilience with the common goal of improving community-led health priorities. This work included contributions to 1) the United Nations Research Roadmap for the COVID-19 Recovery, led by Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Institute of Population and Public Health, published in the Intl Journal of Health Services; 2) Strategy for Patient Oriented Research (SPOR) Evidence Alliance report to Health Canada on COVID-19 testing protocols and organizations across different communities; 3) and two publications on the regionalized public health sector response to COVID-19 in Ontario and Canada.

Undergraduate Research in Health Geography

The department offers several undergraduate courses relevant to health, including GGR340 Health Geography, taught by Professor Sarah Wakefield and GGR372 GIS and Public Health taught by Professor Michael Widener. The former encourages students to think about the processes in space that influence health outcomes and to question whether we can modify built environments for better health and equitable access. In the latter, students explore how spatial technologies and methods can be used to understand spatial distributions of health and to help with identified challenges. In GG273, another GIS-focused course taught by Lindsey Smith this past winter term, students created Esri StoryMaps, with many considering neighbourhood amenities in the context of the pandemic. Students reflected on their personal experiences, mapped safe routes for active travel, and identified access (and barriers) to local health-promoting environments including supermarkets and greenspaces. Utilizing such skills learned in her GIS courses, undergraduate student Kathy Yang developed an app to examine COVID-19 resiliency in Toronto communities at the start of the pandemic. Her project won first place in the Esri Canada Centres for Excellence (ECCE) App Challenge, an opportunity made possible from a recent partnership between the university and Esri Canada.

Through such collaborations, education opportunities, and the excellent research of our faculty and students, the department continues to foster health geography research that addresses some of the most pressing social and health issues of our time.

[1] Kearns, R. A. (1993). Place and Health: Towards a Reformed Medical Geography. The Professional Geographer, 45(2), 139–147.

Recognizing and Reflecting on Anti-Black Racism for Anti-Racist Futures – Human Geography Awards, UTSC

This academic year 2020-2021, the Department of Human Geography at UTSC launched the Anti-Black Racism Awards to invite students to reflect on the events of summer 2020 and the murder of George Floyd. Such public depravity haunts us. Additionally, such hauntings are also evidenced by the way Black people continue to suffer disproportionately from COVID-19 across the world from South Africa to the US and Canada and to Brazil and on and on. These deaths, like that of George Floyd, are in part the ongoing consequence of systemically racist disparities in professions that are mandated to care for all. The ongoing pandemic and racial injustice reminds us how race and racism, in its variety of formations and intersections (coloniality, white supremacy, Islamophobia, Transphobia, sexism and misogyny, heteronormativity; ableism) are central to the constitution and ongoing formation of our societies. At the same time, such injustices through awareness, political and social will, expose the urgency to create more equitable and just pathways forward.  As such, UTSC students from across the campus were invited to ponder: Why is it important to recognize and reflect on anti-black racism as a pathway to our collective anti-racist futures?

We received a diverse set of submissions ranging from poems, spoken word, political commentary and scholarly essays. The department would like to honor the following awardees: Kibati Femi, Michael Clement, Anthia Waugh, Tala Lambu and Justin Rhoden. Each student will receive a monetary award and recognition on the department’s website later this summer. We are grateful for the creative and scholarly participation of our students in this Inaugural Year of the Anti-Black Racisms Awards in the Department of Human Geography at UTSC.

Written by Professor Sharlene Mollet (Associate Chair, Graduate Geography)


Following the Monarch: Columba Gonzalez-Duarte on Butterfly and Human Migrations

At the end of every summer, millions of monarch butterflies travel from Canada and the northeastern United States to a forest in the mountains of Central Mexico where they settle for the winter. Their journey is one of the longest insect migrations in the world, covering close to 3,000 miles over a three-month period. During their hibernation, the butterflies fill the forest with the audible sound of their beating wings, and paper it in orange as they rest in clusters on the ground and tree branches.

It is in this forest, now the Monarch Biosphere Reserve, that recent postdoctoral fellow Columba Gonzalez-Duarte first began her research. While the monarch has long been a source of fascination to both scientists and artists alike, Gonzalez-Duarte brings a new perspective to its study, as she observes the connection between the butterfly’s journey and human migration. Using what she calls a multi-species ethnography, Gonzalez-Duarte studies not only the ecology of the monarch, but also the relationship between the butterfly and people, and its affective and symbolic weight. Through this work, she too began to travel the butterfly’s trajectory, from her home in Mexico, to the U.S. and then Canada, engaging in research that collapses the borders of multiple disciplines and countries.

Gonzalez-Duarte’s  work comes at a crucial time: the population of the monarch butterfly is in sharp decline. This is in large part due to the decrease in the prevalence of milkweed, the butterfly’s host plant, which was once available in abundance in the U.S. and Canada. Gonzalez-Duarte traces this decline back to the North American Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that paved the way for an increase in agro-ecology, including genetically modified corn crops and the development of pesticides that kill plants such as milkweed. What Gonzalez-Duarte also points to is that NAFTA and the expansion of the GMO corn economy also saw the displacement of Mexican farmers that could not compete with large scale agriculture. With this came the subsequent increase in Mexican labour migration North, following a trajectory much like the monarch’s.

In the case of NAFTA, the symbolic weight of the butterfly was also significant. “NAFTA itself was the first one that mobilized the monarch,” Gonzalez-Duarte explains, pointing out how the butterfly was used by NAFTA as a symbol of breaking down trade borders (while enforcing migration borders). It was also used as a logo for one of NAFTA’s initiatives – The Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC).

The CEC declared five sanctuaries for the monarch butterfly in Mexico and three protected areas including Ontario’s Point Peele National Park – another area significant to Gonzalez-Duarte’s research. Here too she uncovers the important ties between the patterns of people’s movements and the monarch’s, including the increase of Mexican migrant workers living adjacent to the park in Leamington, and the Anishinabek community that was displaced from the land in the early 1900s. “The Anishinabek communities which I have worked with in Point Peele say that they also used to move across borders in similar patterns as the monarch butterfly does”, Gonzalez-Duarte explains. This human mobility or seasonal migration, which became impossible after the establishment of US/Canada borders, once ensured that the land and resources would not be exhausted and served to protect the habitat and its species.

Through her conversations with Indigenous communities across North America, Gonzalez-Duarte traces the negative impacts on butterfly migration to the start of colonialism. It becomes clear, as she notes, “that land displacement and the displacement of knowledge ends up affecting other species as well”. For Gonzalez-Duarte, the potential of restoring Indigenous land and knowledge could have a positive impact on the survival of all species, butterflies and humans included. “The idea of territory in more fluid terms,” she says, “is something that we should definitely explore as a form of finding solutions for our ecological crisis.”

Indeed, by following the monarch’s migration, Gonzalez-Duartehas observed many hopeful moments for positive change. This includes migrant rights groups using the symbol of the butterfly in resistance to anti-migration policies, and butterfly enthusiasts growing milkweed in their yards and speaking out against industries contributing to climate change. Sometimes these groups come together, such as at the Minneapolis Monarch Festival – an event that promotes milkweed cultivation, migration as a human right, Indigenous culture, and the consumption of Mexican native corn. These events reveal the interconnection of many political, natural, and social systems, but for Gonzalez-Duarte they also show the strength of meaning and sense of relationship that humans feel for the Monarch butterfly.

This observation of feeling, or affect, plays a significant role in both Gonzalez-Duarte’s research and teaching. While a postdoc at the department, she developed and taught a first-year seminar course called “Tracking Insect Life”, where she encouraged students to explore how they felt about and perceived different insects. She and her students asked themselves questions such as Why do we fear insects? and Why do we perceive a butterfly one way, a cockroach another? Through these discussions students gained insight about complex ideas and systems in our world, exploring topics such as race, class, and gender, in a way they could feel connected to.

As for Gonzalez-Duarte’s own personal and emotional relationship to the monarch, it’s this act of reflection that she believes makes her a stronger researcher:

“… once I found myself following this butterfly and at certain moments acknowledging that we were … migrating in the same pattern – that it was possible that a monarch that was born in Pointe Peele in late Summer probably would be, as I was, going to be in Mexico next Winter… Those sort of connections between my own positionality and the way this insect migrates [made me realize] that I have an affective relationship with this butterfly… [and] that has enhanced how I think as a scholar.”

Gonzalez-Duarte’s journey has now taken her to Halifax, where she is Assistant Professor at Mount Saint Vincent University’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology. There, through her research, she continues to follow the geographies of the Monarch.

Columba Gonzalez-Duarte gained a postdoctoral fellowship at the Department of Geography & Planning at the University of Toronto and the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity from 2019-2020. In the Spring of 2020 she joined Mount Saint Vincent University’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology, in Halifax Nova Scotia, as assistant professor, while continuing her research project, Convergent Migrations. She has recently published an article critiquing the UNESCO reserve model and a popular piece on a recent Indigenous uprising in this reserve.

Written by Natalia Zdaniuk
Based on interview with Professor Columba Gonzalez-Duarte


Interview with Professor Ian Burton – Recipient of the 2021 BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Climate Change

For the first time since its inception in 2008, the prestigious BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in the category of climate change is recognizing the social sciences, specifically the work of three geographers: Neil Adger, Karen O’Brien, and Ian Burton – U of T Professor Emeritus from the Department of Geography & Planning. While previous award recipients mainly worked in the physical sciences, Burton and his colleagues have brought to light the social conditions that shape vulnerability and response to climate change, and the necessity of incorporating adaptation strategies, in tandem with mitigation, in climate change policy and action.

Known as the “Father of Adaptation”, or now, as he jokes – “The Grandfather”, Professor Burton has long observed the merits of geography for studying climate change. In his extensive research on risk assessment of “natural” hazards, he has shown how these events are shaped by humans and looks at the array of responses – or adaptations – made through infrastructure, planning, agriculture, architecture, and economics. Professor Burton has applied a geographic perspective to the climate change problem in both his scholarly and policy-oriented roles. From 1989-96 he served for the Canadian Federal Government as Senior Policy Advisor in Environment Canada’s Corporate Policy Group and as Director on the Environmental Adaptation Research Group in the Atmospheric Environment Service. During that time, he began his ongoing work with the United Nations as Head of the Canadian Delegation to Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), where he and several other geographers have continued to place an emphasis on adaptation in response to rapidly increasing climate change.

In our interview, Professor Burton shares more about his work and research, his thoughts on geography, as well as his own hopes for the future and some parting words of advice for geographers studying climate change.

Your research and advocacy for adaptation have had a significant impact on climate change action and policy.  What made you realize that this was the thing you wanted to focus on most? (Was there a particular event or discovery that inspired it?).

Your question is rather flattering. As I have noted many people were involved, and the timing was right! There has been no particular event that inspired my focus on hazards, risks, and adaptation. Rather, it emerged through a long personal history going back to my childhood when both sets of my grandparents in England lived in houses subject to flood. I experienced floods as a child, and then wrote my BA thesis at the University of Birmingham on the agricultural geography of the flood plain in the middle Trent valley. This prepared me for my introduction to the well-known American geographer Gilbert White under whose mentorship I worked on my PhD at Chicago.

If I had to identify one source of inspiration it would have to be Gilbert White. In his classic dissertation “Human Adjustment to Floods” Gilbert showed how a much broader range of adjustments was theoretically available, including land use planning and zoning, building codes and standards and elevation requirements, forecasts and warnings and evacuation…and under certain conditions – insurance. In fact, many of the responses that now fall under the label of adaptation were identified by Gilbert White as human adjustments. Gilbert and his students, including Bob Kates and myself, went on from floods to other hazards. I worked with them and others on natural hazards and risks for many years in Canada and internationally. So, when the climate change problem came along, I was already on the adaptation side. At the time I was working as a Senior Policy Adviser in Environment Canada and immediately championed adaptation. And the rest, as we say, is history, or at least a footnote to history!

Initially your advocacy for climate adaptation was met with resistance by those who worried it would undermine the work of mitigation. What do you think finally allowed for the incorporation of both adaptation and mitigation?

Put simply it was the evolution of the understanding and perception of the problem. Climate change happened more quickly than the general circulation models initially predicted, and the protests against mitigation led by the fossil fuel industries ironically drew more attention to the dangers. The activism of the adaptation research and advocates also played a role.

[Initially] in the text of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the 196 nations or Parties that ratified it recognized that in climate change they have “common but differentiated responsibilities”… It included, almost as an afterthought, recognition of the need for adaption. This came about largely as a result of pressure from the developing countries, especially the least developed, and the small island states. They argued that they were most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change; had the lowest per capita emissions and had contributed the least to the creation of the climate change problem.

The case for adaptation grew stronger as climate change and its impacts began to be directly observed, and were seen to be taking place at a faster rate than the atmospheric science models had at first suggested. The case for adaptation also increased as resistance to carbon emission reduction proposals grew stronger especially from the fossil fuel industry and its supporters and beneficiaries. After almost two decades of neglect and resistance to adaptation the situation began to change… Underlying the change was the research and promotion by a group of individuals working mainly through the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).

In your work on natural disasters you have witnessed how current economic development processes push vulnerable populations into harm’s way, specifically into unsafe geographies that are more adversely affected by climate change. Could you tell us more about this?

First, let me take issue with the expression “natural disasters”… Disasters may be triggered by extreme events in nature, but the actual magnitude of the loss of life, morbidity, economic losses… result from human behaviour and choice… Now it is evident that even geophysical events can no longer be labelled as “natural”… Floods, droughts, tropical cyclones, and other extreme geophysical events are now increasing in magnitude and frequency by anthropogenic climate change!

A widely adopted formulation for disaster risk is R = E x V; where R = Risk, E = Exposure, and V = Vulnerability. The increase in exposure results from any decisions that lead people and property to be in places where extreme natural events occur… These decisions can range from the individual and local, to national, and international, and can be made in the public or private sectors. [These decisions] can be shaped by planning or its absence. Where planning is nominally in place it may be poorly implemented and/or influenced by corruption. National level decisions by public and private decision makers may increase the level of exposure by locating or encouraging development in hazardous places. In all cases such decisions may be facilitated by short-term thinking which assume that the extreme event and the associated disaster are unlikely to occur in the near term, or while the decision makers remain in their positions of authority. Changing any of these decisions (and sometimes policies) which increase exposure is a complex and usually slow and incremental process

The issue of vulnerability is still more complex and difficult to address. Vulnerability can result from many factors or variables. To name a few; poverty, lack of employment or income, social discrimination such as against a particular gender, or ethnic, cultural and religious background. Vulnerability may also be increased by age, health conditions, handicap, and so forth. Many efforts are underway at all levels to reduce vulnerability under the banner of disaster risk reduction, (DRR). Close examination of the issues and processes has increasingly shown that DRR is being exceeded by processes and decisions that can be identified as disaster risk creation, (DRC). Vulnerability and exposure are both increasing faster than DRR.

How can economic development processes be changed to improve the conditions of the most vulnerable?

If I have described the situation clearly enough and portrayed it accurately, there can only be one answer! “Fundamentally!”.  What is required and will have to occur sooner or later, is a transition or transformation to a fundamentally different world and a different system. The debate about what that will be, or can be, is underway now, but there are no clear answers and the dominant characteristic of the times is uncertainty, very high uncertainty.

Do you think there is something specific about geography as a discipline that enables studying climate change from this perspective?

Don’t get me started! Of course, there is! …It is the whole character of the discipline and its history. I am a generalist and an inter-disciplinarian. From my earliest days, I can remember that I resisted being driven towards specialization by the educational system in the UK… I was [interested] in science, but I could not stand the prospect of studying only chemistry, or only physics or biology. One of the great attractions of geography was that I could keep my hand in the sciences through climatology and geomorphology.

There has long been a battle in the field of academic geography between those who wanted to make it into a “real” or “hard” or “proper” discipline, and those who cherished its diversity. One of the strongest and most persistent claims to disciplinarity has been the idea of geography as spatial science…I always resisted such ideas. I did welcome the introduction of statistical methods into geography. I taught the first course in statistics at the Geography Department at the University of Toronto in 1961-62, and then published my paper “The Quantitative Revolution and Theoretical Geography” in the Canadian Geographer in 1963. I broke ranks with some of the quantifiers when they identified quantification exclusively with spatial analysis, and made spatial analysis the raison d’etre of all geography.

When “environment” began to emerge as an interdisciplinary topic in the late 1960’s and early 70’s I quickly embraced it and wanted the Geography Department to play a leading role in its development.  I was not successful in this ambition, and so turned my attention to the development of environmental studies across the campus. I helped in the creation of the Institute for Environmental Studies and served as Director (1979-84). If I had my way the Department would have become the Department of Geography and Environment…

Whatever the hyphenation, geography is by tradition and evolution a jumping-off point and a basis for research and activism in climate change generally, and for adaptation specifically. I cannot conclude my response without expressing my regret that some geography departments have in recent years dropped the physical sciences of geomorphology (including some hydrology), climatology, and bio-geography from their curriculum and their faculty appointments.

There really is something general and very special about geography. In recent years I have turned towards explaining it to those who ask, that it is the first post-discipline. May it ever remain so!

What does the recognition of geography and its focus on adaptation mean for the future of climate change research and initiatives?

It is clear that adaptation is here to stay…but the meaning of adaptation itself is changing. In the early days of the convention negotiations a frequently used mantra was “Mitigation is global; adaptation is local”. It is now well understood that mitigation is also local. What individuals and communities do is an important component of the efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Buy a hybrid or electric car; reduce travel by air; use public transport; reduce your level of home heating and cooling; seek energy supplies that do not come from fossil fuels; put solar heating on your roof; withdraw investments from the fossil fuel industry; demand more serious action by governmental authorities and the private sector, and so on. It is not yet so well recognized that adaptation too must become global. Farmers can adapt by changing crops, or varieties or times of planting and harvest, and irrigation.  This is mostly local action. Little research has yet been done of the impacts of climate change on world food supplies, and trade in agricultural products. That there are large risks is clear, but what actions might be taken, and what international cooperation will be needed is not yet on the adaptation agenda. Adaptation is still mostly local. While it is difficult to be precise about future research and actions, the general direction is clear; there is a growing need to understand that mitigation and adaptation to climate change will be part of a large transformation of human society and its relationship with the natural environment on all scales from local to global. We are in the Anthropocene and that must be reflected in climate change research and action.

You describe yourself as “cautiously hopeful” about climate change, citing today’s youth movements, and certain private sector changes, as positive. Is there anything specific that has happened recently that gives you hope?

If I were to say, “the Corona 19 virus and its variants” that would probably not be­­ specific enough! I do take hope from the pandemic that it is teaching the world, (governments and peoples alike), that fundamental and transformational changes are afoot; are essential; and can be achieved. I think we are learning both from our modest successes in dealing with the pandemic so far (April 2021) and perhaps even more from our failures. We need to prepare more for lower probability and high consequence risks. I would include major nuclear disasters; more pandemics; undetected impacts pollutants; short-term irreversibility of climate change and others. I would also include risks that can be effectively denied by those that benefit from their creation. The cigarette tobacco companies long denied that smoking causes cancer, although they knew that it did / does. The fossil fuel industry has long tried to deny climate change.

What are recent specific hopeful events? Decisions by some wealthy and private universities and pension funds to withdraw their investments from fossil fuel (coal, oil, and gas) companies. The lead being taken by a few entrepreneurs to build and market electric cars. The unintended benefits of the pandemic in reducing air traffic and car driving and thus lowering (at least temporarily) carbon dioxide emissions.

What advice would you give to current geography and planning students, especially those focussing on climate change right now?  

Maintain and strengthen your hopes and enthusiasm with and for yourself; your family, friends and colleagues, the community where you live, your province, country, and the world as a whole. Be both a generalist and a specialist. If climate is your area of interest, or research, focus on a topic where you can contribute either in adaptation or mitigation, or science. Whatever your focus remain engaged in the broader context, and participate in the debate about the great transformation that is now underway. You might enjoy reading The Parliament of Man by Paul Kennedy.


Welcome new faculty members!

Over the last two years we have been pleased to welcome the following faculty members:

Harald Bathelt (Professor, UTSG)

The focus of Professor Harald Bathelt’s research and teaching activities is in economic geography. A relational approach, which emphasizes economic and social processes in spatial perspective, provides the analytical framework for his research. This rests on the basic propositions that economic action and interaction are (i) shaped by the context of social and institutional relations, (ii) path-dependent and (iii) at the same time contingent. The agenda behind Harald’s research is to better understand regional economic development, especially how jobs and income opportunities can be created and sustained in an equitable fashion. This research is interdisciplinary in nature and focuses on the following areas: First, he has established a research program that scrutinizes the causes and consequences of interregional inequality and regional economic development. This research pays attention to the effects of regional, interregional and international networks that are created through flows of people and investment activity. A second ongoing research project explores knowledge generation processes over distance and the importance of temporary proximity, particularly the role of international trade fairs and conferences in the global economy. Finally, he has an active research agenda that investigates the dynamics of regional economic clusters, especially their emergence, institutional basis and ability to overcome political/economic crises, as well the formation of global networks of clusters.

Natalie Oswin (Associate Professor, UTSC)

Natalie Oswin is an associate professor at UTSC, with a focus on queer geographies. Her previous work examined the post-apartheid LGBTQ movement in South Africa, and the sexual politics of Singapore’s colonial and postcolonial development processes (see her 2019 book Global City Futures: Desire and Development in Singapore). She is currently engaged in research on the work experiences of LGBTQ people in Sudbury and Windsor. Her work emphasizes putting queer theory into conversation with postcolonial, critical race, and feminist theories to examine how heteronormativity (as a raced, classed, gendered, and sexualized logic) takes place. A second area of research examines urban mobilities, with publication on the lives of street vendors in Sa Pa and Hanoi, Vietnam, and work in progress on the importation of the ‘Singapore model’ of urban development to Hanoi. She is also managing editor of the interdisciplinary journal Environment and Planning D: Society and Space and the Society and Space Magazine.

Hulya Arik (Assistant Professor, UTSC)

Hulya Arik is an Assistant Professor at the Geography Department at the University of Toronto. She received her Ph.D. in 2015 from York University’s Geography Department in Toronto with a dissertation title: Secular Bodyscapes: Corporeal and Emotional Intersections of Security and Secularism in the Turkish Military. Prior to her position at UofT Arik was a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Gothenburg Cultural Sciences Department where she conducted research on the cultural and creative geographies of secularism and Islam in Istanbul, Turkey. Arik published several articles in academic journals such as Gender, Place and Culture, Social and Cultural Geography, and Security Dialogue.

Michelle Daigle (Assistant Professor, UTSG)

Michelle Daigle is Mushkegowuk, a member of Constance Lake First Nation in Treaty 9, and of French ancestry. She has a joint appointment in the Centre for Indigenous Studies and the Department of Geography & Planning. Her research examines Indigenous resurgence and freedom within the global conditions of colonial capitalist violence. Her current project focuses on the renewal of Indigenous relations of care that emerge through Mushkegowuk mobilities, and how those generate decolonial possibilities. Over the past several years, she has also collaborated with Dr. Magie Ramirez, in an effort to build grounded theorizations of decolonial geographies. Before joining UofT, Michelle was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow and Assistant Professor at the University of British Columbia. Her work has been published in Antipode, Environment & Planning D, Political Geography and Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society.

Rachel Goffe (Assistant Professor, UTSC)

Rachel Goffe is a geographer and a licensed architect. Her research lies at the intersections of place-making, livelihood and the state regulation of space. Broadly speaking, her work aims to understand transformations of the postcolonial state by examining how formality (in relation to land and livelihood, for example) is differently defined over time. Her fieldwork focuses on the encounter between recent policy to curtail squatting and traditions of Black life that emerged through durable yet insecure possession of small parcels of land in Jamaica, where she is from originally. Dr. Goffe earned a Bachelor of Architecture from Temple University and a Ph.D. from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. She is an Assistant Professor of Geography at University of Toronto.

Christopher Higgins (Assistant Professor, UTSC)

Christopher Higgins’s research is focused on the relationship between form and function in cities. Using the tools and methods of GIS/geographic data science, he models the urban morphological properties of the built environment, transportation networks and the flows of people, goods, and information they facilitate, and the use of the city as an area or volume for engaging in activities. By providing a window into how the dynamic state of cities impacts and is impacted by social, environmental, and economic processes, his work seeks to better inform policy and planning interventions and promote more sustainable urban outcomes. Recent application areas include:
– Modelling transportation accessibility to food banks, vaccination sites, and essential services for different neighbourhoods and population groups
– Developing theory and methods for analyzing the volumetric properties of complex urban built environments
– Estimating the real estate impacts of changes in transportation accessibility and their extensions to land value capture

Zachary Hyde (Assistant Professor, UTSC)

Zachary Hyde is a new assistant professor in the Department of Human Geography at the University of Toronto-Scarborough, where he teaches in the City Studies Program. His background is in urban sociology and geography and his primary research and teaching interests are in urban politics, specifically housing, development, and gentrification. Zachary’s dissertation research looked at how city governments exchange density for affordable housing with developers. He has also conducted research on restaurants and gentrification in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and on the displacement of small businesses from the Honest Ed’s redevelopment in Toronto.

Damian Maddalena (Assistant Professor, UTM)

Damian Maddalena, is a new Assistant Professor, in GGE (51%) and IMI (49%) at UTM. Broadly, Damian’s research looks at agricultural sustainability in a changing climate at various scales. His background is in geospatial science, landscape ecology, and ecohydrology (including work in stable isotope hydrology). He is particularly interested in work using open source geospatial tools.  Prior to spending the last five years in the private sector working in agriculture, he did his postdoc at Oak Ridge National Lab, working with large data sets on the supercomputers there. Before obtaining a PhD, Damian was a public school teacher in the United States, and greatly values and enjoys the teaching that is part of his role at UTM.

Carolyn DeLoyde (CLTA Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream, UTSG)

Dr. Carolyn DeLoyde MCIP, RPP is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography and Planning and the Environmental Planning Concentration Advisor in the Planning Program.  She is a Member of the Canadian Institute of Planners and a Registered Professional Planner with 25 years of land use and environmental planning experience. Her research is in the field of urban planning and geography with a focus on the intersection of the natural environment and the built urban form; she has presented her work to major groups in the USA and Canada.  Carolyn has authored works in the International Encyclopedia of Human Geography (Elsevier) and a chapter for Routledge’s Handbook of Methodologies in Human Geography.  Carolyn has degrees from Laurentian University (B.A Hons. Geography), and Queen’s University (MPL Urban and Regional Planning, PhD Geography and Planning).

Sarah Peirce (CLTA Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream, UTSG)

Sarah Peirce joined the U of T faculty at the St. George Campus as a CLTA Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream in July 2019. Sarah teaches many of the physical geography courses including Geomorphology, Introduction to Soil Science, Canadian Arctic and Subarctic Environments, and Biogeography. Before teaching at U of T, Sarah was a Mitacs Elevate postdoctoral fellow investigating the performance and geomorphic monitoring practices of natural channel design projects in Southern Ontario. Sarah’s previous postdoctoral and Ph.D. work at the University of Waterloo and Western University, respectively, made use of physical models of rivers to examine sediment transport and morphological change.

Lindsay Stephens (CLTA Assistant Professor, UTSG)

Lindsay Stephens joined the U of T faculty at the St. George campus as a CLTA Assistant Professor in August 2019. Prior to joining the department, she held a lecturer appointment at the Department of Human Geography at UTSC.  Her interrelated research interests include social justice and social planning; accessibility and disability; community engagement, community engaged research and social change; micropolitics, emotion, affect and the body. Her current research focuses on developing participatory, community-based solutions to issues of accessibility. Lindsay teaches core curriculum in the graduate Planning program including PLA 1108 Communication in the Face of Power and PLA 1107Y Current Issues Paper. Lindsay holds both a PhD in Geography & Collaborative Program in Women Studies and a MScPl in Urban Planning from the University of Toronto.

Zahra Ebrahim (Adjunct Professor, UTSG)

Zahra Ebrahim is a public interest designer and strategist, focused on shifting power to people who are typically underrepresented in institutions and systems. Her work has focused on deep, community-led approaches to policy, infrastructure, and service design. She is the Co-Founder of Monumental, an organization focused on supporting organizations’ work towards an Equitable Recovery from COVID-19. She is an Executive Advisor to Deloitte on Cities and Design, and a senior advisor to political and public interest initiatives across the country. Zahra has taught at OCADU, MoMA, and currently teaches at the University of Toronto Scarborough.  She was recently named Next City’s Vanguard “40 under 40 Civic Leader”, Ascend Canada’s Mentor of the Year, one of “Tomorrow’s Titans” in Toronto Life, and one of WXN’s Top 100 Women in Canadian Business.  

Kofi Hope (Adjunct Professor, UTSG)

Kofi Hope is a Rhodes Scholar and has a Doctorate in Politics from Oxford University.  He is the Senior Policy Advisor at the Wellesley Institute and the co-founder of Monumental, a new start-up focused on supporting organizations working towards an equitable recovery from COVID-19. He is an emeritus Bousfield Scholar and current adjunct professor at U of T’s Program in Planning. He was founder and former Executive Director of the CEE Centre for Young Black Professionals. In 2017 he was winner of the Jane Jacobs Prize and in 2018 a Rising Star in Toronto Life’s Power List.


The Planning Program Review 2020-21: Challenging Racism in Planning

Like many North American Planning programs, we at University of Toronto committed the 2020-2021 academic year to introspection—in the wake of the urgent social movements against racism in the summer of 2020, to an open student letter urging the program to reflect on how anti-Black racism and injustice manifest in planning education and practice (including our own), and to significant changes in our faculty complement and planning practice over the last decade. These events and changes inspired and necessitated a different approach to our periodic curricular and program review insofar aswe aimed to specifically address anti-Black racism in our Planning Program and the discipline more broadly.

From the outset we wanted to give due expression to the specialized knowledge and experience of our graduate students in the areas of BIPOC racism and related academic fields, including critical race studies, Indigenous studies, Black geographies and decolonial theory. Thus we selected paid “Special Student Advisors” to join a Planning Review Committee (otherwise comprised of faculty and student research assistants). The Student Advisors were Alicia Doering, Keisha St. Louis-McBurnie, and Sneha Mandhan. The team also included Research Assistants Hazel Valenzuela and Kuni Kamizaki. Abigail Moriah, a Black professional planner and program alumna, supported us in designing our process, developing analytical tools, and conducting consultations with students and BIPOC practitioners.

We aimed to develop a process rooted in discussions about first principles through which to evaluate, refine, and sometimes restructure our approaches, our program, our courses and our modes of communication. To that end, we reviewed and revised our mission statement. We prepared an anti-Black racism framework to guide our review—giving due attention to the specific violences and histories of anti-Black racism in Canada, in Toronto, and in planning, while also acknowledging the intersectionalities of multiple forms of oppression and the imperatives of afro-futurism, Black excellence, Black inclusion. Finally, we identified a range of competencies that we considered to be “missing,” both in our core curriculum and in the rubrics of the Professional Standards Board—for example, how to work with and in communities, including community engagement, community-based research, participatory action research, organizing, political strategy, participatory planning, anti-oppression thinking, decolonial thinking.

Data collected for the review was then read against these principles—through a phased iterative process involving mapping our curriculum, reviewing the core and concentration specializations of peer programs, reading all of our syllabi together as a committee, and finally conducting a series of consultations. This may have been the first time that planning faculty and students viewed together all of the Program’s core and concentration gateway courses in relational manner; this holistic and collaborative view allowed us to recognize strengths and inadequacies, as well as explore the opportunities for confronting anti-Black racism in a mutually supportive manner. The consultations provided an opportunity to engage with the communities that make us who we are—the students, faculty, alumni, community-based practitioners, and senior planning professionals in Toronto and around the world. Over the summer we will be preparing a report documenting changes to the program deriving from the review process. We look forward to sharing the outcomes, and soliciting feedback at a town hall in Fall 2021.

Written by Planning Program Director Katharine Rankin

2021 UTAGA Update from President Puneh Jamshidi

The University of Toronto Association of Geography Alumni (UTAGA), with the help of its caring and committed alumni and student volunteers, were able to navigate successfully through the pandemic. In a time where many feel isolated and removed from friends and family, our ability to meet monthly online has offered respite from the stresses of Covid-19. With our bi-annual leadership change in the start of 2020, we welcomed Puneh Jamshidi and Jenny Jung as our Co-Presidents, Zenon Godzyk as our Vice-President, and Alexander Gambin as our Outreach Coordinator. We were also able to build a stronger relationship with the Toronto Ungraduated Geography Society (TUGS) with help from Jasmin Kara, Teagan Sharrock, Caroline Tam, and Willow Cabral.

Before the pandemic, UTAGA was able to plan and host a Seminar Panel open to the public. The event was titled ‘Sidewalk Labs and the Public: Toronto’s Tech Utopia?’. The Sidewalk Labs Event opened the floor to speakers Alex Mather, Matti Siemiatycki, Shoshanna Saxe, Zhixi C. Zhuang, and moderator Eli Singer. Our speakers provided their insights on the future of “Smart Cities”, discussing the benefits and possible shortcomings, and how Toronto will incorporate these technological advancements in public and private spaces.

Currently, UTAGA is in the planning stages for a Trivia Night and a second Seminar Panel. The Trivia Night invites all alumni and recent graduates to partake in a night of competition and entertainment with questions related to the University of Toronto, the GTA, and Canadian geography. The Seminar Panel will host Jennifer Keesmaat, Nemoy Lewis, Jason Mercer, Abigail Moriah, Diana Petramala, and moderator Eli Singer. This panel of speakers will discuss the implications of Covid-19 with providing affordable housing in a post-pandemic world. Both the Trivia Night and the Seminar Panel event will take place in the fall.

For more updates and notice of our events, please sign-up for the department mailing list. If you are an alum from undergraduate or graduate studies at the department, UTAGA encourages you to join our meetings! To get involved please email