With Your Woman Wednesday: Sophie Angoh

Photo credit: Rachelle Tavas and LMG

This week on With Your Woman Wednesday we’re speaking with Psychology student Sophie Angoh. With her industrious and compassionate spirit, Sophie hopes to someday become a lawyer. In the meantime she is is flexing her business muscles as a shop consultant for shop.com.

You are currently a shop consultant for the e-commerce site shop.com. Tell us a little about shop.com, and what exactly sets it apart from other e-commerce websites.

Shop.com is a revolutionary company that is trying to change the way people shop and also the economy. Its focus is mainly on the consumers and giving them cashback from their purchases as a form of an “annuity”.

Shop.com partners up with different top producing companies and offers them an alternative to mass advertising that may cost them a lot of money. By saving the companies their money, shop.com is able to negotiate a cashback system for the consumers every time they purchase something online.

Shop.com has shop consultants like me who use word of mouth marketing to help direct traffic to our partner companies’ online websites. Word of mouth marketing is probably the most effective and inexpensive way to build your clientele. In return for helping the companies save money, Shop.com is able to create a cashback system.

To illustrate the concept, imagine walking into Walmart and spending $100. After your purchase, you take your products and go home. Now imagine, going to Walmart online and buying the exact same thing, spending the exact same amount of $100 all in the comfort of your home without the hassle of the bus, car or weather and on top of that, receiving 2% cashback every time. Which would you prefer?

Naturally, this company is a way to make an income, but what are some non-monetary aspects of working for this brand that you find rewarding or satisfying?

I have never been part of a company like this that has amazing individuals/partners that help and support you in any way they can and make sure you’re achieving the goals you set out for yourself. The team and culture that the company has is probably the most rewarding and satisfying part of it. Work never feels like work.

Tell us a little bit about the structure around shop.com involving training and payment.

It sounds a lot like individuals who decide to become shop.com partners can be creative with the job. They can blog about the merchandise, hold parties where people can sample different products, and more. What skills are you hoping to acquire or build on through your work with shop.com?

Being part of the company, I’ve developed a lot of different skills where I was able to constantly put into action. My favourite one would probably have to be customer service skills. Being able to interact with people and find out what they truly need, instead of stuffing products in their face, makes it such an easy process. Also, being able to create a lasting relationship with the customer where they come to you for all their shopping needs and advice is always rewarding.

Your ultimate goal is a career in law. Do you have an idea of the kind of law you’d like to specialize in, and what particular issues you would like to tackle with that legal education?

Currently, I have no idea what I would like to specialize in. I’ve always wanted to go into law because it has the ability to help a lot of people. One of my dreams would be to offer low-income families free or inexpensive legal services to help them in their current situation.

What is your preferred spot (or spots!) for getting things done in the city?

To be honest, one of my favourite spots to getting things done is in my kitchen when no one is home. The lighting is perfect, the work space is just right, and I have my dog who likes to keep me company no matter how boring it gets.

With Your Woman Wednesday: Ana Laura Vianei

This week on With Your Woman Wednesday, we’re featuring citizen of the world, Ana Laura Vianei. Born in Brazil and raised in the U.S. as an undocumented migrant, she moved to Canada in 2012 to pursue a degree in International Studies. She shares with us how she found her current passion amidst the uncertainty that comes with pursuing a liberal arts degree, her experience volunteering at a refugee and migrant house in Mexico, and her straightforward networking advice: Just do good work and people will notice.

I imagine the career paths youve considered have changed over your four years in university. What industry are you leaning towards as you approach the end of your undergraduate degree?

After flirting with going to law school or grad school, I gave up trying to figure out what I was going to do and hoped that I would have an epiphany before graduation. Thankfully, that epiphany finally came after I got off my butt and did some real work. Through the international internship program at my university, I was able to travel to Mexico and work at a migrant and refugee house and that experience absolutely changed my life and my perspective on what success means. It also made me more eager and engaged in the classroom, so the thought of law or grad school no longer seemed like such a soul-sucking cop out. Considering my personal history with migration and now my work experience, I feel like I have finally found the fuel to chase something I know will make me really happy and professionally fulfilled. But this wasn’t random. I started by looking for internships that interested me and that were in fields I wanted to learn more about. Thankfully, there were ideal circumstances: The university provides a grant that pays for interns’ living expenses, so I didn’t have to worry about making money, and I also had a free summer. Following that experience, I am now certain that I want to work in the nonprofit sector, ideally focusing on migration.

Our current job landscape involves a lot of networking not just to advance a career, but also to simply start one. What aspects of the university experience have proven helpful in this regard, and in what areas do you feel our institutions are lacking in terms of preparing students for the workforce?

My most important contact to date is someone I met during my internship at the migrant and refugee house in Mexico. It was a complete coincidence, and I was fully unprepared to meet this person that may potentially offer me a job post-graduation! What wasn’t a coincidence was my ability to impress him enough to warrant his request for my e-mail. I did my little job in that little refugee house very well, and I made the best out of my internship. I could’ve had a completely crappy experience filing papers for three months. Instead, I got out of it exactly what I put into it and what I put in was a lot of hard work, initiative, and enthusiasm. This showed to everyone I encountered during my time there, and it is what prompted him to approach me. So I think that’s the most important networking advice that no university or student leadership group can teach you – do your job, however menial it is, well, and people will notice. What I think universities, and my program in particular, are missing and could do more of is to help students meet alumni that can aid them with their careers. I would have really loved to meet people who graduated from my program and to hear stories about where they are now and how they got there.

Many students are unfamiliar with the ways in which they can leverage their degree by obtaining specific qualifications that position them to work in certain fields such as project management or supply chain management. Have you considered any post-graduate certificate programs?

I have very seriously considered project management as a really versatile and incredibly useful post-graduate certificate. I think it would give me an edge and make me more employable, but beyond that I think I would gain actual skills. Though I value my degree very much, especially after travelling and working abroad, I realize the need for practical skills and acknowledge my lack of them. Before my internship, I had decided that in the event I didn’t get a job straight out of university, I would pursue a post-graduate certificate in project management. I still think it’s a good option, but with my newfound enthusiasm for the academic field of migration and refugee studies, I may also consider graduate school.

Has your experiences living in different cities made you eager to pursue an international, perhaps nomadic, career or do you feel a desire to establish yourself in one city?

When I moved to Toronto I loved it so much that I never wanted to leave. After two years here, I cried like a baby after I decided to leave for a two month long Spanish course in Mexico. Then I fell in love with Mexico and cried like a baby when I had to go back to Toronto. I realized that I loved new places and I loved travelling for long periods of time. I want to spend enough time in a place to know it intimately in a way I wouldn’t be able to as a tourist. Having said that, I do want to establish a home base at some point, but who knows when that will be!

Is there a specific problem youd like to tackle either through your professional work or on a volunteer basis?

Movement from place to place in the search for food and safety has been characteristic of our species since the beginning of time. Borders, and the fences and officers they come with, are a recent invention of the ever-cruel human mind. Because of pretty serious national security concerns they have become a necessary evil, but that does not mean that nations need to close their doors to those fleeing violence, poverty, or both. We see the consequences of this kind of public policy every day on our Facebook feeds and are beginning to become numb to it. My own history as a migrant and my experience working with migrants and refugees makes me want to help reshape immigration policy on a global scale.

What is your preferred spot for getting things done in the city?

I love the Glendon Library! Its big windows let in lots of light and offer a beautiful view of the Manor gardens.

Learn more about Toronto Discursive’s new Q&A series At Your Man’s House Mondays and With Your Woman Wednesdays here.

With Your Woman Wednesday: Erin Kanygin

Photo credit: Andrew Stripp

This week on With Your Woman Wednesday we’re talking to Erin Kanygin. Born and raised in the small fishing town of Prospect Bay in Nova Scotia, Erin moved to Toronto to study at the Randolph Academy of the Performing Arts before embarking on a cross-country (then international) journey and eventually returning to Toronto to obtain her Specialized Honours BA in International Studies. She is currently living in Australia and preparing to start law school at the University of Melbourne.

Past education:

Study abroad experience in Brazil through NACEL Canada while in high school

Two-year intensive Musical Theatre college program at the Randolph Academy for the Performing Arts

International Studies program at Glendon College, York University

Tell us a little bit about yourself and the journey that led you to where you are now.

After graduating from Randolph in 2008, I moved out west to Vancouver (then considered to be Hollywood North) in order to chase the dream. I lived in Vancouver for two long and difficult years and managed to find some successes, however, by the end of 2009 I was already realizing that I did not want to be an actress for the rest of my life. This was a massive epiphany for me as I had always identified myself as an actress and the decision to change my career path (even though I was only 20 years old) felt like breaking up with a part of myself.

I decided I wanted to go to university and started researching programs online. I had a feeling I wanted to live in Toronto again, and when I read about Glendon’s bilingual International Studies program, it felt like the perfect fit. Glendon was the only university I applied to.

In the meantime, I got a job at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, which was not only an incredible experience, but also a lucrative one. I had just turned 21 and I had a bunch of money in my pocket. I was waiting to hear back from the University, and nothing was holding me to Vancouver, so I decided to move to London, England. Almost the minute I landed, I got my acceptance letter from Glendon College. I was elated, however I knew that I did not want to leave London so soon, so I deferred my acceptance and lived in London for nine wonderful months. I was working like crazy at a restaurant, travelling all over Europe (I never had a plan – I just flew to whichever city was cheapest that month) and falling in love. It was an amazing experience that had to come to an end so that I could begin my studies in January 2011.

During my third year of studies, after returning from another four months in Brazil, I decided that I wanted to apply for law school, instead of pursuing a Masters degree. One month after writing the LSAT, I was accepted to the University of Melbourne’s Juris Doctor Program and recently moved to Australia in order to start this new chapter of my life.

You’ve worked with the Two Brothers Foundation, an NGO that promotes education and social services in Brazil. You’ve done quite a bit of volunteer work that includes time spent at the Women and Trans Centre at Glendon College where you earned your Specialized Honours BA in International Studies. The thread that seems to run through all of your work is a commitment to social causes, particularly on a global level. So what came first: An interest in making the world a better place and then the decision to pursue law, or the decision to pursue law followed by a desire to use law as a tool for improving the world?

Ever since I was a little girl, my plan had always been to become an actress. I had been in a number of professional productions at Halifax’s Neptune Theatre, including Gypsy and Evita, and I had dreams of finishing theatre school in Toronto and then moving on to Broadway or perhaps even film and TV. When I graduated from theatre school and moved to Vancouver, I quickly realized how unfulfilling the life of an actress was for me. This was mainly due to the fact that it all felt so self-involved. After living in Brazil and seeing the massive financial gap that exists between the rich and the poor, I felt as though even if I did ever make it big as an actress, I would not be contributing towards society in a way that I felt mattered.

This was the epiphany that pushed me towards applying to university. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine becoming a lawyer or even applying for law school, mainly because my impression of lawyers was that they were money hungry and good liars. The fact that many of them also use the law to defend those who are defenceless was not something that I had considered. My mother was a social worker, so when I thought of the people who help others I associated them with that career. It was not until going back to Brazil in 2013 and working with the Two Brothers Foundation that I saw how useful an understanding of the law could be. So, to answer your question, first came my interest in social justice, and much later my desire to learn the law in order to apply it as a tool to help people.

This may be an irritating question to ask someone entering law school since the point of the program is to introduce you to different areas of law, but do you have an idea of what type of law you’d like to specialize in?

This is not an irritating question at all, however I do not have a precise answer for you yet because I truly have no idea what law school will bring, and I want to keep an open mind. For now my areas of interests are International public law (human rights law, immigration law) and also International private law (commercial law – how do businesses interact between states?) I have a massive interest in learning about commercial law and I imagine that straight out of law school, I will most likely work for a commercial law firm in order to pay off my debts. I do not see this as selling out. I think it is important to learn how the devil operates if you are ever going to take it down.

Did you consider graduate school as a way of pursuing your career goals? What ultimately made you decide on law school?

I absolutely considered grad school as a way of pursuing my career goals. I was considering programs like International Development or something policy related. After working for the Two Brothers Foundation and living in a favela (the word used for Brazil’s slums) for four months, my mind changed. I saw how effective NGOs could be, but I also saw their limits. I also saw how terribly exploited the residents of the favela were, and I felt that this was mainly due to the fact that they did not know their rights. Then came yet another epiphany in my life that I myself did not have an understanding of my own rights, so how could I ever help others if I did not have a true and deep understanding of the system? This thought, paired with the fact that I had taken some amazing legal philosophy courses at Glendon (Law & Social Thought and Law & Morality) brought me to the conclusion that I wanted to apply for law school. I had no idea what I was getting into or how challenging the whole application process would be, but from the moment I decided to apply, I knew deep down that it was the right decision.

You’ve dedicated quite a bit of time to drawing attention to different social issues, particularly in Brazil, on social media. How do you manage to stay, if not optimistic, then proactive when it comes to working towards positive change? There’s the risk of becoming cynical, I think, and it can be hard to maintain hope that things can get better especially when we are taught about the large-scale systems behind so many of the world’s problems. How do you combat this?

I think that I maintain a strong belief that there is possibility to create a better world. Especially today, our world is a constantly changing and evolving place. There are a lot of horrible things happening, but also so many glimpses of good. I am not delusional in the sense that I don’t think that I am going to single-handedly “change the world”, but I do believe that I can make a small and positive impact. In my mind, cynicism is pure laziness. It is so easy to be dismissive and say that it’s all shit and there is nothing anyone can do. It is also empirically false – there is so much that can be done and as easy as it is to make this world a worse place, it is possible to make it a better place. It can be daunting when you consider that there are so many supra powers operating way out of reach of general society’s grasp, but that is why it is okay and even a good idea to start small. I surround myself with engaging, intelligent, driven people, and I think that is one step I take to keep me driven and inspired.

I also love to do community work and see the way people are working with each other to leave this world a little better off than when we found it. My concern right now is giving people access to justice, and I am so excited to learn more about how to do that. I am sure I will confront many challenges along the way, but nothing good ever came easy, and I will continue to take on the next chapter of my life with an open heart and a positive outlook.

Australia. You are literally a day away. In summary, you’re from Halifax, went to school in Toronto, and have also spent a significant amount of time in Brazil. The decision-making process overwhelms a lot of people who consider making big moves, and when it comes to school, there is concern about how their qualifications will be weighed. How do you ultimately decide on a new location? Is it a gut reaction to a beautiful place? Is there some sort of strategy you’ve developed involving an assessment of career and life goals? A combination of those two, perhaps?

Well Neya, honestly, most of my decisions have been based on the heart coupled with a desire for adventure. I don’t over think things and for the most part, I have moved places without having much of a plan. It is impossible to plan for the unknown, so I tend to just go with the flow.

The choice of applying to the University of Melbourne was based on a few things; I have always wanted to visit Australia and not just for a three-week vacation. I have met many Aussies whilst travelling, whom I have loved and who call Melbourne home. After the past two winters in Toronto I knew I emotionally could not handle another bleak and depressing 6-8 months. Finally, the University of Melbourne is currently ranked the eighth best law school in the world.

I always knew that I wanted to do my Bachelors degree in Canada and then my Masters somewhere abroad, however originally I was thinking the U.S. or the U.K. When I started looking into it though, Australia was more affordable not only in terms of university fees, but also as a citizen. With my student visa I am permitted to work 20 hours a week and minimum wage here is 20 dollars (AUD) an hour. A living minimum wage! Imagine that! The U.S. and the U.K. simply can’t compete with that.

As far as how my qualifications will be weighed, it’s not something I am too worried about right now. I also have a gut feeling that I will not be calling Canada “home” again for a very long time.

For a lot of undergraduates, balancing multiple extracurricular activities, course load, and a part time job is quite the task. For those who have to take care of rent and living expenses, even more so. As I understand it, in your last two years of your undergraduate degree, you were working, organizing the International Studies Symposium (a conference on a chosen country organized and run by students at Glendon College), working on your senior thesis, and preparing for the LSAT. What are some concrete steps you took towards time management and, most importantly, staying committed?

In the last two years of my undergrad, it’s safe to say that I bit off almost more than I could chew. I have always been highly ambitious and as I mentioned previously, I tend to go with my gut, so when I take on projects it’s because they feel “right” to me. Staying committed has never been an issue, since I don’t commit to something unless I am genuinely interested. To say that I have “balance” though would be a lie. I missed many nights of sleep during my undergrad and totally ran myself into the ground. The only way I was able to get through it was because I was genuinely passionate about the work I was doing. I chose to do my thesis because I cared about the subject matter. I chose to apply to law school because I knew it was the right choice for me to get to where I want to go. Working was something I had to do in order to pay rent. I do not do anything half-assed, and if I feel uninterested or uninspired in the work that I am doing, it tends to show. I think the key for me is to just “get ‘er done”. The longer you put a task off, the more daunting it becomes. I am not saying that I don’t procrastinate – I do – but I am getting better at it. I also learned to prioritize. In other words, whatever project was worth the most would be the project that got more of my time. Earlier in my undergrad I would study ten hours or more for exams that were worth 15%. It was not worth my time. I over studied. As I got busier and busier, I no longer had time to make those mistakes. I allotted the amount of time I felt each project deserved, and I tried to accomplish tasks that were given to me right away so they didn’t get lost in the storm of chaos that was my life. I also gave myself strict deadlines, made lists, and always kept an actual agenda. I write everything down or else I will forget it.

What are obstacles you’ve encountered while pursuing your studies, and what did you do to overcome them?

I have encountered many challenges during my degree. Probably the biggest one was a health issue that presented itself in January of 2014 and was directly linked to stress. I have an autoimmune disease called Psoriasis that was triggered by stress. Psoriasis not only affects you physically (which was devastating), but also left me utterly exhausted and greatly impacted my ability to focus. This was all made even more difficult by the hospital visits I had to make twice a week for six months, which would leave me very drained and in severe pain.

This was also the year that I helped run the International Studies Symposium, wrote my thesis, applied for law schools, and wrote the LSAT all the while going through some pretty serious emotional trauma due to my sickness. My big mistake was that I didn’t talk about it and only began to open up about it AFTER it started affecting some of my work. I should have been more open with my professors about what I was going through because I think I missed out on a lot of support trying to fight the battle alone.

That being said, being sick also forced me to really start taking care of myself. I had to totally revise my diet, my sleep and my life and the stressful way I was conducting it. I think that because I got so severely ill, I will manage myself in law school in a healthier and more balanced way to avoid ever becoming that sick again.

You are no longer living in the greater Toronto area (our loss), but when you were here what were your preferred spots for getting work done?

When I was living in Toronto I was lucky enough to have an incredible home that I shared with my two best friends in Kensington Market. I spent a bunch of time working in our bright, naturally sunlit kitchen and beautiful living room. When I wasn’t at home though, my favourite spots to work were;

  1. FIKA Café, on Kensington Avenue in Kensington Market
  2. Pamenar on Augusta Ave. in Kensington Market
  3. Voodoo Child on College St.
  4. The Green Grind on College St.
  5. Boxcar Social at Yonge and Summerhill

Learn more about Toronto Discursive’s new Q&A series At Your Man’s House Mondays and With Your Woman Wednesdays here.

With Your Woman Wednesday: Michelle Kearns

Photo credit: Clare Scott

This week on With Your Woman Wednesday we’re speaking with Michelle Kearns. Michelle is a suburbanite-turned-city dweller who is pursuing an MSc in Planning at the University of Toronto. While we complain about the city’s problems, she’s going to school to figure out how to solve them. Talk about developing street smarts!

To start, what is your educational background?

I just graduated from the Glendon Campus of York University with an Honours BA in Environmental and Health Studies. I also wound up going on exchange to Maynooth University in Ireland during my third year, and to the University of Saskatchewan in spring 2013 on a quest to learn French (I know. I got placed there. It was wonderful, however.)

Oh, and I have a year of nursing school under my belt. I was a misguided 17 year old coming out of high school and nursing looked like a sure shot at financial stability. I hated it.

What made you decide to pursue a Master’s degree in Planning? Were you simply drawn to it as an area of study based on your previous academic work, or were there specific issues regarding cities that you noticed in your everyday life and were eager to address?

I’d always been very aware of urban form growing up. We moved from pre-WWII transit-oriented East York where you could walk everywhere to the traditional sprawl of Ajax when I was little. My mom, being the city dweller she’s always been, didn’t want to buy another car. I vividly remember attempting to traipse through open fields with her trying to find a pedestrian shortcut to a shopping complex, only to be stopped by a huge fence. Or waiting an hour for a bus that only went in one direction and took us through every single subdivision north of the 401 before reaching our destination. As a kid, I had major anxiety about being outside on the empty sidewalks with my mom, walking. “What if someone else sees us?” “People keep staring.” “This is so lame.” “Can’t we just buy a car?”

When I got older, I realized how much I was affected simply by the design and culture of the suburbs. I took a lot of classes at York about urbanism, the history of cities, and the socioeconomic pressures that result in places like Ajax. I got to travel and see how other cities deal with the same problems of sprawl, transit, traffic, walkability, etc.

Honestly, when I applied to various planning programs, I only had an abstract idea of what “planning” was. I knew it would entail zoning, and I’d read a lot of articles about cool things some cities were doing, but I had no real idea. Thankfully, my first semester has gone well and now I somewhat know how to explain it. Somewhat.

What does an MSc in Planning entail?

It’s a two-year master’s program, as is every master’s program that’s officially accredited by the Canadian Institute of Planners. The program is class-based, meaning you don’t do a typical thesis that you have to defend. In your second year, you research and write a “Current Issues Paper” – which I believe is like a thesis, just shorter and/or without the defense. In the summer between first and second year, you need to secure some sort of internship. This is where all the stress comes from during first year!

Planners can get professional accreditation. You don’t necessarily need to be a “planner”, but some jobs require it. You have to go through a few years of logging your hours and connecting with a mentor, but I’m planning to pursue accreditation. You also have more pull when testifying at the Ontario Municipal Board when you’re accredited.

Is there a deliberate reason the program is referred to as Planning and not Urban Planning?

I’ve started to notice that the entire profession is just called “planning”. This makes it incredibly difficult to search for jobs on LinkedIn, by the way. You can be a social planner, community planner, rural planner, environmental planner, transit planner, policy planner, urban planner – it’s a very fluid sort of program. There are probably more that I’m forgetting. I usually just say “urban planning” when I’m being introduced to new people, because “planning” could literally be anything to most people. My boyfriend had a good laugh when he found out that Toronto’s top document guiding development is simply called the Toronto Official Plan.

What are your career goals? What area of planning do you want to be involved in, and what steps do you have to take in terms of academics and networking in order to get there?

Right now, I’d love to get some experience with land use planning from the private side. We had a great assignment in my land use planning class that took us through a theoretical planning rationale for a plot of land. It was so difficult to get through, but I learned a lot. Land use planning looks at what is the highest and best use of land on a site. You need to take into account current bylaws, area precedents, shadow effects, infrastructure concerns, community resources, the history of the area, and so much more.

My mentor, whom I’ve been connected with through our program’s alumni committee, is a land use planner at a well-known firm. Academically, I’m taking courses on real estate development and infrastructure, on top of my land use planning course first semester. A lot of it is about interpreting various policies at the municipal and provincial levels and how they work together. Hopefully I can score a relevant summer internship in this field!

What are your side hustles? By side hustles I mean jobs you are working in order to support your studies. More importantly, how do you find ways to incorporate your area of study into your part-time work?

A side hustle that actually makes me money is being an Invigilator. It’s a CUPE job only open to grad students. I love it. The scheduling system for shifts is so great for grad students, as you do your shift selection each week online. I’ve also got the chance to meet grad students from all over U of T doing a variety of really cool work, which is something I have not had the chance to do otherwise.

Side hustle that is actually 110% relevant to my program: Research Assistant at the Toronto Cycling Think and Do Tank. I love biking. I love research. I’m learning so much in regards to actually designing, performing, and analyzing a study.

I have dropped the ball on being a keener in my program, however. At Glendon, I was part of so many on-campus things – here at U of T I’ve gone a bit slack. I didn’t even run for any positions on the program’s student society. I sort of regret that.

How competitive would you say your field is in terms of the availability of jobs?

It’s a bit worrying, as there are three planning schools in Toronto at the graduate level (Ryerson, York, U of T), and one at the undergraduate level (Ryerson). THREE! So there are lots of people looking for jobs.

Condos and developments keep happening, however, so hopefully things will be okay when I graduate in 2017. The second years in my program don’t seem too worried. They’ve seen the year before them graduate and end up in good places.

What is your favourite theory of urban planning?

Can I do an anti-favourite theory? Or my favourite “OHHHHH, THAT’S WHY IT LOOKS LIKE THIS” moment?

In my theory class, we talked about Le Corbusier’s “Towers in the Park” style of modernism. Modernism aimed to separate and organize the traditionally intertwined “street ballet” (see: Jane Jacobs) of city life. We ended up with blocks of huge, menacing towers, with huge setbacks from the sidewalk. You can see the influence of this style of planning all over Toronto (St. James Town, for one).

Name a favourite planner or academic in the field.

I’ve been doing a lot of research on walkability, and Paul Hess has written some wonderful articles on the subject. He’s actually the director of my program at U of T, but he’s currently on sabbatical. You can see his Google Scholar profile here.

If you had VIP connections, and it was simply a matter of being qualified for the job, what urban planning project would you want to work on or position in the field would you like to occupy?

I would love to work on some sort of rejuvenation/infill project for certain areas of Toronto’s inner suburbs. Just driving around southwest Scarborough you can see so many empty, overgrown lots surrounded by broken fences. Ideally, a developer would buy a lot and have me on the planning team to figure out what is feasible and ensures respect and benefits for the community.

In your opinion, what is the most frustrating urban issue in Toronto?

Funding. There are so many things we know we can do to improve TTC service and get people out of their cars or at least provide a practical option to, but there is not enough money. People commuting to Glendon (at Lawrence/Bayview) from Ajax, for example, have to pay both GO and TTC fairs. For a three-hour class, it’s easier just to drive in, if you have that option available to you. All those wonderful, grand ideas, for building bike superhighways and improving safety fall by the wayside when there is no funding. Plans can be commissioned, people can get excited about changes, but years later still nothing is changed because there is no funding. It’s incredibly frustrating.

What are your favourite spots for getting things done in the city?

There’s a little cafe by my house on Dupont called Cafe Con Leche that’s chill and has great WiFi. I’m also a big fan of my department’s computer lab. Boring, I know.

Learn more about Toronto Discursive’s new Q&A series At Your Man’s House Mondays and With Your Woman Wednesdays here.