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Panel to highlight two suburbia research projects based in York Region

Panel to highlight two suburbia research projects based in York Region

A lunchtime panel featuring presentations by York researchers and urban planning professionals will wrap up two recent research projects tomorrow – "In-Between Infrastructure: Urban Connectivity in an Age of Vulnerability", based out of the City Institute at York University (City), and geography Professor Lucia Lo's "Infrastructure in York Region: A GIS Analysis of Human Services".

The panel discussion, "Suburbia in Transition: Infrastructure and Planning in Toronto's In-Between City", will take place Thursday, March 25, from 12:30 to 2pm in the 7th Floor Lounge of the York Research Tower, Keele campus.

Suburbia, long a feature of Canadian urbanization, has begun to change face. One of the pervasive features of the new suburbia has been its growing diversity in ethnocultural and socio-economic terms. Part of the challenge of coming to terms with this growing diversity has been the provision of hard and soft, technical and social infrastructures in a rapidly expanding region.

Between 2006 and 2010, York University held two Infrastructure Canada grants under their Peer Reviewed Research Studies program to study these challenges with specific reference to the suburbs of Toronto. At the same time, suburban communities such as Vaughan have begun to reassess their future development and have developed ambitious new official plan documents. This panel of researchers and planners will examine the pressing problems and emerging solutions in the new suburban infrastructural landscape and report back on recent research findings.

"In-Between Infrastructure: "Infrastructure in York Region: A GIS Analysis of Human Services" was funded by Infrastructure Canada and Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

"In-Between Infrastructure: Urban Connectivity in an Age of Vulnerability" was a three-year research project funded in large part by Infrastructure Canada with a contribution from Toronto Community Housing. It explored the infrastructure in what is called the "in-between city", the part of the urban region that is perceived as not quite traditional city and not quite traditional suburb. As a concept, the in-between city explodes the myth of the city and country divide, and opens new ways of understanding infrastructure needs in a globalizing Canadian urban region. A key goal of this research project was to explore the connectivity between different scales through the lens of urban infrastructure.

The project addressed whether it is possible to design a system of social and cultural infrastructure that has everything a community needs and meets global needs as well, and what the impact of economically driven decisions of hard infrastructure is on communities. The geographical area that was the subject of this project lies partly in the City of Toronto and partly in the City of Vaughan.

Another team of York University-led experts investigating the availability of infrastructure and services to recent immigrants, low income residents and seniors in York Region is finding that funding for services is not keeping pace with growth in the area. "Infrastructure in York Region: A GIS Analysis of Human Services" was funded by Infrastructure Canada & Citizenship and Immigration Canada. The findings of the project have implications for suburbs across Canada, according to principal investigator Lo. The York infrastructure project has catalogued services and surveyed residents of York Region over a two-year period to determine where the most vulnerable populations lie and to identify gaps in services.

Preliminary findings suggest a divide between the northern and southern areas of York Region, whereby rural areas are paradoxically better served on a per capita basis than the more urban south, but find services less accessible due to existing transit infrastructure. Similarly, better educated residents are more able to find and avail themselves of existing services, creating an environment where the most in need are the least served.

“There is a traditional belief among politicians and others that people who move to the outer suburbs, to those big houses, that they are fine,” said Lo. “That is a kind of myth. Given the want [by politicians] for urban intensification, a lot of the resources are being poured in to the traditional city.”

Situated north of Toronto, York Region is an archetypal suburban area where the population increased from 169,000 in 1971 to 886,575 in 2006 and is estimated to grow to 1,280,000 by 2026. Immigration propels this growth and seniors and low-income households are growing proportions of the population. The project addresses the infrastructure needs that have arisen during the region’s rapid transition from a low-density, ethnically and socially homogeneous suburban region to a diverse, rapidly intensifying suburb.

Roger Keil, CITY director and principal investigator of the "In-Between Infrastructure" project, will chair a panel with fellow project researchers York geography Professor Patricia Wood, York social science Professor Douglas Young and John Saunders, a resident faculty member of the CITY and the project's research coordinator. Other panellists include, Leigh McGrath of Urban Strategies Inc., who will present on the firm's recent work on the Vaughan Official Plan, and Lo, chair of York's Department of Geography, who will address some of the results of the "Infrastructure in York Region" project.

Saunders, who teaches in York's Department of Geography and the Urban Studies Program, will talk about "The Landscape of Citizenship in the In-between City: Downsview Park, Toronto".

Wood will discuss "Residents' Vulnerability and Resilience in an Anti-Residential Landscape". Her research focuses on diversity, identity politics and citizenship, particularly in cities. She does both contemporary and historical work in Canada, the United States and Ireland, and conducts research primarily with immigrant groups and indigenous peoples, with an emphasis on participatory, collaborative research practices. She is the author of Nationalism from the Margins: Italians in Alberta and British Columbia (McGill-Queen's University Press, 2002) and co-author of Citizenship & Identity (Sage Publications, 1999).

Young will talk about "Planning Challenges in the In-Between City". He has worked as an architect, municipal planner and developer of non-profit housing cooperatives and is co-author of a book on urban politics, Changing Toronto: Governing Urban Neoliberalism, (University of Toronto Press, 2009) and co-editor of the forthcoming book, In-between Infrastructure: Urban Connectivity in an Age of Vulnerability.

McGrath will look at "Social Services, Land Use Planning and Vaughan's New Official Plan". Her professional work has included a breadth of projects from implementing elements of Ontario's Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe to research and development of an Environmental Master Plan for the City of Red Deer, Alta. McGrath is a member of the Urban Strategies Vaughan Official Plan team, a project underway since 2007 that is expected to be completed later this year.

Lo will discuss "Vulnerability and Human Service Provisions in York Region". She is the former economics domain leader of the Centre of Excellence for Research on Immigration & Settlement (CERIS), now known as CERIS - The Ontario Metropolis Centre, and the transportation and commerce research thrust leader, as well as a member of the Research Management Committee of Geomatics for Informed Decision Making, a Canada network centre of excellence. Her current research interests include vulnerability in the suburbs and human service provision; immigration and banking; recession and return migration; and entrepreneurship in mid-size cities.

Refreshments will be served. Everyone is welcome.

For more information, visit the CITY Web site.

Republished courtesy of YFile – York University’s daily e-bulletin.