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Innovation & Job News

University of Toronto steps up its city-planning game

While most Canadians were enjoying Canada Day off, Professor Shauna Brail, a senior lecturer at the University of Toronto's Geography and Planning department, was preparing to start her new role as a special advisor to UofT President Meric Gentler. 

She and John Brodhead, the executive director of Evergreen CityWorks, were appointed in June to advise President Gentler on city-building. Part of their mandate is to help better facilitate the sharing of city-building knowledge between different researchers at University of Toronto and with other communities in Toronto. 

"We have strengths in so many fields at UofT—architecture, engineering, geography and planning—and we’re starting to really understand the impact that all of these fields play on the way our cities develop and the way decisions are made," says Professor Brail. "If we can work together even better collectively, then we can have an even greater impact on the result and possible outcomes both for creating new policy, thinking about new problems in different ways, developing innovative ideas and further promoting student learning." 

Professor Brail and her colleagues will look at how issues like economic development and urban land use affect prosperity and economic inequality in cities. 

As for how the university will measure the success of the initiative, Professor Brail is honest enough to admit that she's not sure yet. 

"I do think the answer is a bit tricky, and I don’t know that I have a fully fleshed out answer, but I hope to do soon," she says. But, she has high hopes for what can come from these new advisory roles. 

"If as a result of these roles we can help to share data in a more effective way, and if we can better leverage our own research funding to better support communities,  policy development that help make life better for many people better within the city, then that’s a real strength and something that we can specifically point to," she says. 

At the very least, Professor Brail sees this an opportunity to become even more involved in the community she's been engaged in throughout her career. 

"Academics typically have had the luxury of retreating back into academia when people disagree with their finding," she says. "Even though that’s a luxury, it’s probably something we should not take advantage of; in fact, it’s something we need to rally against."
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