Ten years of research on Global Suburbanisms wraps up, and continues on

Warsaw, Poland | Photo by Roger Keil

After a decade of ground-breaking research, the Major Collaborative Research Initiative (MCRI) “Global Suburbanisms: Governance, Land and Infrastructure in the 21st Century,” led by Principal Investigator Professor Roger Keil (Faculty of Environmental Studies) is wrapping up. The project was funded with $2.5 million by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) under its—now defunct—Major Collaborative Research Initiative program, and drew another $1 million in support from partners, including York University. Housed at York University’s City Institute and the Faculty of Environmental Studies (FES), Global Suburbanisms was the first major research project to systematically take stock of worldwide developments in suburbanization. The collaborative project brought together over 50 researchers from around the world to study the emerging processes of extended urbanization and various “suburbanisms,” specifically suburban forms of life, through a total of 17 foundational, thematic and geographical projects.

Drawing on methodological and analytical approaches from political economy, urban political ecology, and social and cultural geography, project outcomes include a growing number of books in the ongoing Global Suburbanisms Book Series (University of Toronto Press).

Perth, Australia | Photo by Roger Keil

The project produced an extensive list of referred publications, textbook contributions, journalism and art. It received media coverage from standard network radio and TV, the daily press, online publications, a series of blogposts and podcasts.  Most importantly, perhaps, Global Suburbanisms laid the foundation for a growing research network of global scholars who continue to build upon the project’s existing work, further pushing empirical and theoretical understandings of the urban into the realm of the suburban.

Over the life of the project researchers partnered with government, the private sector and civil society. The Greater Toronto Suburban Working Group (GTSWG), co-ordinated by Sean Hertel and Roger Keil, was established in 2010 as a way to further collaboration among government and non-government actors within the planning and development arena of the Greater Golden Horseshoe region of Toronto. The GTSWG served as a forum for the exchange of information and ideas regarding present-day and future prospects for development, governance policies, and processes shaping the growth of suburbs across the region. The larger objective of the GTSWG was to apply wider perspectives and new knowledges to the

Zagreb, Croatia | Photo by Roger Keil

processes through which the suburbs are shaped, lived and worked in, and perceived. The GTSWG spearheaded a roundtable methodology to engage actors outside the usual trenches of political decision making. Hertel and Keil expanded this methodology further in their related work on transit justice in the Toronto region for the transportation agency Metrolinx. Group activities and a number of reports that came out of this engagement can be found on the project website.

Mississauga, Canada | Photo by Roger Keil

Global Suburbanisms included significant training opportunities for undergraduates, graduates and postdocs through field courses, workshops and research assistantships across the Americas, Asia, Europe and Africa. The FES Critical Planning Workshop, a graduate course for planning students taught by MCRI researcher Ute Lehrer offered a number of opportunities for experiential learning in the field. Groups of students have travelled to Leipzig, Germany (2011); Montpellier, France (2013); Shanghai, China (2015); Johannesburg, South Africa (2016); Florence and Milan, Italy (2018); Frankfurt, Weimar and Berlin, Germany (2019); and New York City, USA (2019). Undergraduate courses taught by Professor Keil were held across Canada in Toronto, Winnipeg, Montreal, Waterloo and Vancouver, exposing students to the ubiquity, nuance and differentiation of suburbanization first hand. Both graduate and undergraduate courses included lectures, field trips, and meetings with local academics, practitioners, and activists, offering students the opportunity to access some of the leading thinkers and actors in the field.

Gurgaon, India | Photo by Roger Keil

The project hosted various events, including two seminar series—SUBURBSTALKS and TOWARDS SUBURBIA—which brought many major international scholars to York University over the years. Global in scope and scale, the MCRI offered comparative insight on suburbanization through a series of thematic workshops covering topics of governance (Leipzig, Germany; 2011 & Montreal, Canada, 2015), land (Montpellier, France; 2012), infrastructure (Waterloo, Canada; 2015), and blue-green boundaries (Belo Horizonte, Brazil, 2016) as well as a number of workshops on regional geographies (Shanghai, China, 2015; Istanbul, Turkey; 2015; Johannesburg, South Africa, 2016; New Delhi, India, 2017). York University hosted both the project’s midterm conference, “A Suburban Revolution? An international conference on bringing the fringe to the centre of global urban research and practice” in 2013, and final conference “After Suburbia: Extended Urbanization & Life on the Planet’s Periphery” in 2017.

Kampala, Uganda | Photo by Roger Keil

The efforts of MCRI researchers continue on in follow-up projects—forthcoming books on North American Suburbanisms, Africa’s New Suburbanisms and the volume After Suburbia will be

Istanbul, Turkey | Photo by Roger Keil

published in the Global Suburbanisms Book series. During the final year of the program, Global Suburbanisms organized three workshops on suburbanization and health (Toronto, Canada), suburbanization and infrastructure (Seeheim-Jugenheim, Germany), and suburbanization and political ecology (Amsterdam, Netherlands). Papers assessing the state of the art in each of these areas are forthcoming in leading urban studies and geography journals and joint future research initiatives are being planned. Most significantly, already, the collaborative initiative on suburbanization and health has generated a major international cooperation under the leadership of Dr. S. Harris Ali (York University) and Dr. Mosoka Fallah (National Public Health Institute, Liberia) on “The Role of Social, Cultural and Environmental Factors in Improving Ebola Virus Disease Response and Resilience” funded by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC). Under this project, Global Suburbanisms researchers Robin Bloch and Roger Keil are responsible for research on the relationships of new forms of urbanization and the spread (and containment) of infectious disease in West Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Beginning this December, Samantha Biglieri starts a postdoctoral position under supervision from Roger Keil at York University’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, where she will deepen her research on immigrants living with dementia in Toronto’s suburbs. The workshop on suburban political ecology held in Amsterdam has generated a book on the topic and a separate joint research initiative is in the works. Celebrating the end of this research project, The Conversation Canada featured the Global Suburbanisms project with a feature, Suburban change is transforming city life around the world.

Authored by Roger Keil, Principal Investigator, Lucy Lynch, Project Coordinator, and Cara Chellew, Research Administrator.