Students in the Spotlight - Christine Balt

August 25, 2020 by School of Cities Staff
"Students in the Spotlight" is a conversation series with members of the SofC Student Academy and Urban Leadership Fellowship program.


Grayscale image of a smiling caucasian woman

  • What are you currently working on? What are your research and engagement interests? 
    I am currently working on my PhD in Curriculum and Pedagogy in the Department of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning at OISE. My research is looking at the impacts of gentrification, development and rising housing costs on the lives of middle and high school students in Toronto. I’m particularly interested in how young people feel they have a stake in the city as these disruptive changes continue unabated. How do they negotiate a sense of home, or attachment to place, space and community? What is the impact of these changes on their emotional wellbeing and investment in school and education? I use drama as part of my research methodology, which is mobile ethnography. In the fall, I will be collaborating with drama teachers at three schools in the Toronto District School Board on a film-making project in which students will create short films about their relationships to the city using their mobile phones. The COVID-19 crisis has made this work even more pressing: we’ve learned during lockdown that access to safe, green, public space is a crucial equity issue in Toronto, particularly for lower-income apartment-dwelling families, and that is something that I would like to explore in my research as well. 
  • What has motivated your interests and journey? How do you hope to make a difference?
    Like many Torontonians, I am constantly amazed at, and disappointed about, the rising costs of living and housing in the city. Holding onto a sense of belonging – of feeling ‘at home’ – in such a precarious environment is challenging. Much of the coverage surrounding housing in Toronto has omitted the voices of young people, and that’s something I’m really interested in, particularly as someone who is also a teacher. As for drama-based research methods, I have also worked as a theatre artist and performer and have always been interested in how creative practices can be leveraged to provide interesting data in qualitative research, such as ethnography. I hope that my research can provide teachers, parents, school administrators and city councilors with insights into how youth are responding to the changing nature of the city, and how best to accommodate them during this destabilizing time.

  • What’s the latest project you have been working on and would like to share with the SofC audiences?
    In the middle of the COVID-19 restrictions in April, I became curious about the changing nature of public space in Toronto. For a while, cars on the road were scarce (they’re back now, unfortunately!). The sounds of birds and nature became more prominent. The change was striking and stayed with me (as I’m sure it did for many others living in the city). I imagined what it would be like if we could preserve some of these changes, and perhaps think of more creative and radical versions of  ActiveTO measures that were put in place, back in the spring, to accommodate physical distancing and access to public space. I came up with The Alternative Maps Project as a kind of sandbox for these ideas, prompted by the questions: “What if the city could be re-mapped by artists? What alternative versions of a post-COVID-19 Toronto could artists contribute towards?” The Alternative Maps Project is a virtual gallery that will host these ‘alternative maps’ conceived of by artists from all backgrounds. So far, I’ve collected photo essays, alternative audio-guides, and paintings, and the call for contributions is still open, so please reach out to me ( if you are interested in adding to this collection!

  • As a student, researcher and or activist, what have you learned from the pandemic and its global impact? 
    I suppose The Alternative Maps Project is a container for all of my learnings from this pandemic. I think that the pandemic has been a necessary push for us to re-think public space in cities all over the world. How can we use the momentum generated by this crisis to make cities healthier and more sustainable? What changes can we implement to ensure that all urban residents have a genuine stake in the future of cities?   

  • Please share with us your experiences at the SofC. How do you think being a member of the SofC Urban Leadership Fellowship and Academy Program has contributed to your scholarship and added to your experience as a student? 
    I am particularly excited by interdisciplinary research and am a strong advocate for creating space for cross-disciplinary collaboration in the academy. The SofC Academy Program has been a truly invigorating space for this. I enjoy learning about my peers’ research and how it has evolved with the changing times. Listening to other students working in different disciplines and sectors has brought much to bear on my own work. It has pushed me to think about how to make my work readable to audiences outside of my own disciplinary bubble. For that I am grateful.

  • Any final words/ message?
    I would like to thank Professor Marieme Lo for facilitating the SofC Urban Leadership Fellowship and Academy Program. She has been an exemplary guide throughout this whole process, as well as a valuable co-thinker in all of our projects. 



Student Bio:

Christine Balt is a third-year doctoral candidate who holds a Master of Arts in Dramatic Arts from Rhodes University in South Africa, in which she examined intersections of site, ritual and embodiment in post-Apartheid theatre and performance. Christine has worked as a performer, an applied theatre facilitator and practitioner, and a high school drama teacher. She has taught in classrooms across South Africa, Japan, South Korea and China before settling in Toronto, where she graduated from the Master of Teaching program at OISE. Her current doctoral research uses drama as a research tool to explore the attitudes, feelings and experiences of young people in the midst of urban change, development and gentrification in the city of Toronto. Using site-specific and place-based performance as tools for teaching and research, this project aims to examine how young people find and make ‘place’ in destabilizing urban environments.