Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream
Urban Studies Program
URB236H1S: A Multidisciplinary Introduction to Urban Studies II: Urban Challenges and Theoretical Application
URB338H1F: City Challenges, City Opportunities in a 21st Century Toronto
URB342H1S: Introduction to Qualitative Methods for Urban Studies
URB430H1F: The Changing Culture of Regent Park
Since 2018, I have served as an assistant professor in the Urban Studies Program at the University of Toronto, and was also a community-engaged learning faculty fellow at the Centre for Community Partnerships.
I completed my PhD at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, where I was awarded the department’s most outstanding dissertation prize for my investigation of the politics of community media in post-disaster cities. I was also awarded the Institute’s highest public service award for co-designing MIT’s first course located inside a prison, and for co-publishing scholarly work related to the course innovations.
Prior to academia, I helped develop data democratization projects and impact measures from grant-making at the Boston Foundation; conducted research in Mumbai about non-profit capacity in slums; and worked for a mission-driven affordable housing developer in Washington D.C.
I design courses and research projects in collaboration with community partners for the purpose of social change, and, through my pedagogy, reflect on the process of knowledge production. My research and teaching critically examine discrimination, inequality, resource divestment, and media bias as these affect marginalized urban communities, and identify promising new social and technological infrastructure developments that can help address these disparities. I use participatory methods to ensure that affected communities are not mere subjects of academic research, but, rather, are co-creators of public knowledge.
My research has two major streams, and sits at the intersection of environmental justice, community development, and technology.
First, I investigate how federal and local affordable housing programs in North America can help low-income residents better prepare for and recover from disasters.
Second, I explore how people produce and disseminate knowledge about climate change, environmental disasters, and public health through new media tools to influence policy in their neighborhoods — either through meaningful public participation with local officials, or via activism by organizing amongst themselves.
I have anchored this latter interest in a variety of contexts, including: 1) Toronto’s Regent Park, a rapidly gentrifying and predominantly Muslim neighbourhood where a local non-profit is teaching youth how to produce media about their lived experience and public health; 2) post-Katrina New Orleans and post-Sandy New York City, where residents used tech tools to combat harmful, dominant post-disaster narratives; and 3) prisons, which suffer from a variety of environmental justice issues and where access to new technology and information is limited.
I was recently awarded the Social Science and Humanities Research Council Partnership Engagement Grant for my participatory action research course in which U of T students and youth members of the non-profit FOCUS Media Arts collaborated to conduct research about how young religious and racial minorities in Regent Park experience rapid redevelopment and, more recently, the COVID-19 pandemic (see www.UofTxRPFocus.com).
My goal as an educator is to push students to be critical-knowledge consumers and producers, as well as to think analytically about the environment and their place in it.
I teach a variety of courses in the Urban Studies Program, including URB236: Introduction to Urban Studies, and URB234: Cities in Popular Culture, as well as participatory-action research seminars such as URB430: The Changing Cultures of Regent Park. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I re-invented my URB342: Qualitative Methods for Urban Studies, for online teaching, linking a low-income nursing home in Toronto and a vulnerable elder community network in Columbus, Ohio. Students in the course each partnered with an elder resident with whom the student built a relationship, in part through Skype interviews. Ultimately, students developed an oral history project about lived urban experiences. The joint learning process enabled my students and elders to co-create narratives of inequality and activism that have shaped and continue to form our shared present.
Have questions about USP?
Need more info? Want to discuss if Innis’s Urban Studies Program is right for you? Looking for help choosing courses? Jannie Chien, Innis College academic program coordinator, can help!