Knowledge Café

2022 Knowledge Cafe logo

What? Why? For Whom?

The Knowledge Café at the School of Cities is a monthly speaking opportunity for the tri-campus community of UofT faculty and researchers to present analysis and highlights of their research on a theme that is important and relevant to cities. It provides a platform for faculty as well as students and researchers who are working to uncover solutions to creating more just, equitable, sustainable and prosperous cities. 

With the Knowledge Café, the School of Cities aims to bring the research led by a diverse group of urban-focused academics and researchers to a discursive platform to inspire multidisciplinary conversations around urban themes, paying special attention to the themes of climate, justice and belonging in cities.  

This year our 2022/2023 Theme is Belonging, Migration and Thriving! We’ve lined up 9 expert speakers from departments across the tri-campus community, ranging from Arts History to Industrial Engineering - Learn more about our speakers on our events page.

Knowledge Café is open to everyone! If you are interested in speaking at the Knowledge Café, contact us at 




2022-23 conversations:

Indoor air quality, public health and COVID-19: a new guide for community spaces

Headshots of speakers of first session of Knowledge Cafe
“Reducing transmission of COVID-19 through improvements to indoor air quality: a checklist for community spaces." is a peer-reviewed, plain language, step-by-step guide outlining how community spaces can use indoor air quality measures to help reduce transmission of COVID-19.  In this session, you’ll learn how to use engineering expertise to create safer spaces for workers, residents, visitors and communities. You’ll also learn how interdisciplinary and applied Knowledge Translation can help fill gaps left in public health practice and contribute to positive and material change.

Outsourcing Repression and Everyday State Power: China's Urbanization in Comparative Perspective

Headshot of Lynette Ong
Lynette Ong | Professor of Political Science at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy

During this session, Lynette Ong explores how the Chinese state engages nonstate actors to implement its ambitious urbanization policies. How do states coerce citizens into compliance while simultaneously minimizing backlash?

Lynette's publications have appeared in Perspectives on Politics, Comparative Politics, Foreign Affairs. Her research interests lie at the intersection of authoritarian politics and the political economy of development.


2021-22 conversations:

The Unintended Consequences of Climate Change Mitigation

Karen Chapple Headshot
Karen Chapple | Director, School of Cities and Professor, Department of Geography and Planning

Local and national governments are channeling significant funding into mitigating climate change in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These investments -- on urban greening, infill development, transit, and active transportation -- may cause land values and housing costs to rise, thereby displacing low-income residents. Yet, researchers continue to disagree about the extent and nature of this displacement. In this talk, I explore these questions through the lens of a decade of research on the displacement impacts of California climate change mitigation portfolio. Our mixed methods approach reveals that climate change mitigation has unintended – but small – consequences in terms of household mobility. I conclude by proposing tools to empower local communities to keep residents in place.

Natural Climate Solutions for Canada

Danijela Puric-Mladenovic Headshot
Danijela Puric-Mladenovic | Assistant Professor,
John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture Landscape and Design

Natural climate solutions (NCS) or nature-based solutions are cost-effective actions aimed at managing, restoring, and creating forests and other natural carbon-storing and sequestration conditions to mitigate climate change. However, NCS for urban and peri-urban areas are much broader than carbon storage and involve using vegetation either in the form of an urban forest, green areas, residential gardens, street trees, green belts around cities, green walls, green roofs, woodlands, hedgerows, and other available space to mitigate climate change and its effects, as well as improve the urban environment, ecological functions, human health, and biodiversity.


Urban Climate Justice: Rights and resilience in Southeast Asia

Joanna Kocsis headshot
Joanna Kocsis (she/her) | PhD Candidate, Department of Geography and Planning

This presentation will connect theoretical developments around rights and resilience in the field urban climate justice to practice by grounding the literature’s key arguments in the experiences of five-year project based in Southeast Asian cities. The project consisted of a network of researchers working closely with civil society stakeholders to understand and influence urban climate resilience. It will explore how researchers can better support transformative resilience that advances rights and justice, by understanding researchers’ knowledge production and mobilization efforts as an active part of the transformation process. Bringing together epistemological and methodological insights from political ecology and action research, it will discuss three practice-oriented concepts that can support research for transformative resilience.


The Power of Tower Retrofits: Exploring concurrent improvements to inhabitant experience and energy efficiency

Marianne Touchie headshot
Marianne Touchie |
Assistant Professor, Department of Civil & Mineral Engineering

There are thousands of post-war residential towers in and around the City of Toronto and many other metropolitan regions around the world. Despite their material- and space-efficiency, these towers are similar in energy-intensity to detached homes and also face a slew of occupant comfort and wellbeing challenges. I’ll begin by describing the numerous performance issues which plague this building type, including transmission of airborne contaminants (e.g., aerosols containing COVID-19, cannabis and tobacco smoke), thermal, acoustic and visual discomfort, uneven heating and ventilation, summertime overheating, and limited controllability for occupants. Then, we’ll explore some of the current research related to improving occupant comfort and control through innovative retrofit approaches also intended to reduce energy consumption and associated greenhouse gas emissions. Current projects examining the impacts of building retrofits on inhabitants and community wellbeing will also be shared.


Written in the Land: Do You Know Where You are Standing?

Jill Carter headshot
Jill Carter | Assistant Professor,
Centre for Drama, Theatre, and Performance Studies Faculty of Arts and Science

“Written in the Land” offers a brief overview of several exercises in somatic archeology and land-based dramaturgy through which buried histories might be unearthed and seemingly neutral plots ofterra nullius might be represenced as sites of violence wherein the destructive power that was exerted continues to reverberate through Indigenous blood, bone and memory today. Within this work, the researcher’s body becomes a site of re-encounter, as place re-engages with an unearthed story to initiate a call and to activate response from within that body.

If we cannot read the land upon which we stand, we cannot know where we are standing. We cannot story that land. We cannot respond to its call. If we do not know where we are standing, what then are we acKNOWledging?

Social Housing: Lessons from the United States and Canada

Dr. Prentiss Dantzler headshot
Dr. Prentiss Dantzler |
Assistant Professor Sociology

The largest payments people make monthly are housing expenses. Everyone needs a place to lay their head. This is most apparent in larger cities in which rising housing costs are causing many people to wonder if they will be able to afford to stay in their homes. Many countries have tried to address housing affordability by providing subsidized housing units or financial assistance to those who cannot pay their monthly housing expenses on their own. Typically, these units are managed by a local government agency. Because the government serves as the landlord and its legacy of racist housing practices, many have questioned whether or not the government should supply housing for those who cannot afford it.
This presentation discusses the historiography of housing assistance in the U.S. and Canada including its contentious beginnings and ongoing debates. It also includes recent research on housing assistance, neighbourhood change and residential mobility among housing assistance recipients. It ends with recommendations that promote residential stability and housing justice for all.

Training and Education for Climate Resilience

Karen Smith headshot
Karen Smith | Assistant Professor,  Department of Physical and Environmental Science, UTSC

With the growing recognition of the cascading consequences of climate change, there is an increasing demand for graduate education in climate change impact assessment (CCIA). The goal of the professional Masters program in Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation at UTSC is to help students rapidly transition from undergraduate learners to work-ready professionals.

Instructors in the program are challenged to balance conceptual content with continually evolving and often technical real-world application. One approach to this challenge is making use of new online climate data platforms for non-technical end-users. Many of these platforms provide pre-processed data and off-the-shelf climate indices or variables, allowing students (and professionals) to conduct CCIA without first building sufficient understanding of how such data resources are generated.

In this presentation I will share the work we have been doing at UTSC to develop training resources for CCIA that balance teaching the application of projected climate changes with developing understanding and proficiency in the scientific and technical aspects.

Towers in the Park: A Prospect for Equitable Resilience

Fadi Masoud headshot
Fadi Masoud | Assistant Professor, John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture Landscape and Design

Towers in the Park: A Prospective for Equitable Resilience looks at the untapped potential of the "parks" in "Towers in the Park". Many of these tower neighbourhoods were built between 1950-80's based on universal modernist principles of site planning and building layout. One of their most critical ambitions was the provision of ample open space as developments responded to surrounding natural areas such as ravines, creeks, and networks of green open space. The "park" portion of the "Tower in the Park" has been deemed problematic, anti-urban, and undervalued for decades. The significance of these tower neighbourhoods and surrounding open spaces are becoming increasingly valuable as Toronto begins to experience more acute climate-related shocks (such as flooding and extreme heat), as well as chronic socio-economic stresses (such as rising inequality, mental and physical health). As such, this project aims to evaluate, measure, assess, and quantify the social and environmental value of public and private open space assets, including parks, and right-of-ways, as they relate to the city's overall resilience goals. It will also explore the potential for integrating adaptation and mitigation strategies in these tower neighbourhoods to pursue overall socio-environmental sustainability strategies.

A sociolinguistics survey of Lingala, Kirundi and Tshiluba in Toronto

Suzi Lima headshot
Suzi Lima | Assistant Professor, Linguistics

list of Africans languages complied to a mapWhile the City of Toronto (Social Atlas Map) reports that over 80 African languages are spoken in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), additional information about the vitality of these languages in Toronto is not available. For instance, information is lacking about the domains of use of these languages, the level of proficiency among second-generation speakers, community members’ attitudes toward their languages, and intergenerational language transmission (UNESCO 2003:7). This presentation discusses the ongoing efforts to fill this gap for three languages spoken in Toronto (Lingala, Kirundi, and Tshiluba). I will present the sociolinguistics survey that will be shared with speakers of each of these languages who live in Toronto in the Greater Toronto Area. I will discuss how this kind of project could potentially be informative to local governments.

Nurturing Indigenous Community Partnerships

Danielle Kwan-Lafond headshot
Danielle Kwan-Lafond | Assistant Professor, Sociology (UTSC)

This session is aimed at non-Indigenous people who seek to build relationships and/or community partnerships with Indigenous people for university-related projects. Topics will include how to approach Indigenous people respectfully; ideas for shared project planning; issues related to payment and compensation; a review of OCAP principals, and other topics depending on participant interest.

The discussion is led by Asst. Prof. Dani Kwan-Lafond (UTSC Sociology). Dani will be joined by Isaac Crosby, Indigenous Agricultural knowledge keeper and community partner at the UTSC Campus Farm who will add to the discussion and be available to answer questions.

The Value of Cleaner Waterways

Yue Yu headshot
Yue Yu | Assistant Professor, Economics, Department of Management, UTSC and Rotman School of Management (cross-appointed)

Every year, billions of dollars are spent on cleaning up urban water pollution worldwide. Nevertheless, it is unclear whether cleaner waterways can raise local property values or boost local businesses.

This presentation will explore recent research on the Black-and-Smelly Water Program in China as a natural experiment. First implemented in 2016, this program has cleaned up almost all the heavily polluted waterways in the 36 most developed cities in China. Through comparison of property values and neighbourhood revitalization factors, researchers can provide causal evidence of the value of cleaner waterways capitalized into real estate properties.


Lived, not ideal: Planning resilient water infrastructures at the street-level in middle India

Nidhi Subramanyam headshot
Nidhi Subramanyam | Assistant Professor, Geography & Planning -  Environmental Planning Concentration Advisor, MScPl Program, University of Toronto

As climate change affects water availability, concepts of climate resilience are increasingly shaping practices for water infrastructure planning and service provision. Critical scholarship on climate adaptation and water security argues for politicizing resilience practices to address deep-seated inequalities. It urges us to look beyond technological solutions to examine how institutions and water provisioning practices contribute to users’ resilience. Building on this emerging scholarship, this talk advances ideas for planning resilient water systems in water-scarce cities of the global South. I draw on sixteen months of ethnographic research on water governance in Tiruppur, a fast-growing, secondary city in southern India. In contrast to perspectives that either focus on engineering technological solutions or those that focus on community- or household-scale coping measures, I argue for centering the largely invisible, everyday practices of ‘street-level actors’—the people who deliver water from infrastructures to homes and their everyday operations of infrastructures as a critical site for rethinking resilience. Through their embodied knowledge and everyday acts of improvisation that respond to water users’ needs and infrastructural relations, these street-level actors keep a chronically stressed water system in working condition, thus, averting social chaos. In conclusion, the talk discusses how lessons from the street-level can help us reimagine resilient water systems when large-scale infrastructural investments are underway across urban India. I also reflect on the material and discursive limits to improvisation at the street-level and outline some reforms required for transformative resilience.