Thursday, July 23, 2009

Building Cities That Work

By Pat Doherty

Professor Eric J. Miller, well known for his contributions to the Department of Civil Engineering over the years, is moving. Since his appointment as Director of U of T’s new Cities Centre,
Professor Miller has been juggling various projects and commitments working from his SF office and from home, and is looking forward to immersing himself in a workplace dedicated
to interdisciplinary urban research.

Why take on this additional task with the Cities Centre? Eric states, “I will maintain my ties with the department, continuing to teach and supervise graduate students. And my research
at the Urban Transportation Research Advancement Centre is ongoing. But the mandate of Cities Centre is very close to my heart: to promote and undertake university-based,
interdisciplinary research across the spectrum of urban issues (physical infrastructure, social infrastructure, economic development, urban design, governance, finance, health, environment,
etc.); to network together the diverse strengths of the very broad spectrum of disciplines, departments and programs that exist within the University to provide a holistic approach
to major urban planning, design, development and management policy issues. These things are key to much of my life’s work.”

More Space
A visit to 455 Spadina shows that renovations move apace. Grace Ramirez, Cities Centre Administrator and Registrar, oversees the renovation work generally, keeps close tabs on the financial side of things and apprises Eric of the latest developments. She is quick to praise the re-designed space of the former Centre for Urban and Community Studies (CUCS, now folded in to Cities Centre). “Our renovated space will provide work space for research associates, visiting scholars, post-doctoral fellows, and graduate students,” says Grace. “Now staff, research associates, and visitors to Cities Centre, as well as students in the Community Development Collaborative Graduate Program, will have access to updated amenities such as new network
wiring—the old cabling was obsolete—a library, and a proper meeting room.”

Where the majority of the space was previously cut up into small offices, many of them windowless, now natural light will flow through glass-panel walls and doors from the outer perimeter of the building to an open-concept work area in the centre. “It’s going to look fresher, and definitely a lot more welcoming” adds Grace.

More Collaboration
“This kind of space, where interaction happens naturally and easily, is excellent for collaborative project work,” Eric enthuses. “We hope that it will provide an environment conducive to knowledge transfer, debate and innovative thinking.” Cities Centre has 23 UofT partners and has been a sponsor of interdisciplinary events and meetings in its brief existence so far. In the current academic year, 18 events featuring 52 speakers from 15 disciplines have received Cities Centre’s support.

“Cities Centre works hard to make these public events accessible to as wide a cross-section of UofT scholars and the community at large as possible. Most of the issues addressed are the
burning issues of the day: why our federal politicians should pay attention to our cities, or, how big box retailers impact on our neighbourhoods. We are honoured to join with our partners
in assisting with these public presentations.”

More Research
Eric envisions that Cities Centre will act as a technical Centre of Excellence for analysis, modeling and visualization, with respect to the urban region database and its management. Several
large research proposals are in the works, and a few smaller ones have already borne fruit. The “City Indicators Facility” funded by The World Bank has as its principal investigator Cities Centre Senior Advisor and Director of the Global Cities Program at the Munk Centre, Patricia McCarney. David Hulchanski, Associate Director of Research at Cities Centre, heads up a multi-year CURA grant entitled “Community Gentrification and the Concept of Building Inclusive Communities from Within: Toronto’s West-Central Neighbourhoods as a Case
Study.” Hulchanki’s recent paper “The Three Cities Within Toronto” received much attention, from the media and from concerned citizens and policymakers who will use the published
research findings to influence policy change.

The Future
Physical renovations of the Cities Centre’s physical space will be accompanied by a virtual rehaul of its website in the next few months. A fresh look, in person and online, will soon greet
you at Cities Centre. All visitors are most welcome!

Keep in Touch
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