"Students in the Spotlight" is a conversation series with members of the SofC Urban Leadership Fellowship and Academy program
What are your research and engagement interests?
My research centres on the intersection of global migration and public engagement in urban planning processes, especially as it relates to how the integration of newcomers can be facilitated by way of fostering their inclusion in public collective decision-making. Through the use of case studies in municipalities throughout the Greater Toronto Area, I am currently exploring how municipal practitioners can meaningfully incorporate newcomers into the planning process, how the process needs to evolve in order to best accommodate migrants’ strengths and adapt to their particular needs, and how the engagement of newcomers in these types of public participation activities can result in decision-making outcomes that are more effective as well as more just.
What has motivated your interests and journey? How do you hope to make a difference?
My own lived experience—as a newcomer who had to navigate the intricacies of the integration process following my arrival in Canada as a child with my family—has played a significant role in shaping my current research interests. I have also held a deep fascination with how exercises of public engagement are carried out since my youth, and I was able to study this topic further for my Master’s thesis within the Greater Toronto Area. In addition to this, I deepened both my understanding and my passion for both themes through several positions that I held with various organizations in the public and non-governmental sectors. Drawing upon my personal, academic, and professional background, I am hoping to shed new light on the ways in which the overall resettlement and integration experience can continue to be improved for Canadian newcomers.
What’s the latest project you have been working on that you would like to share with the SofC audiences?
My most recent research explores how the policies and programs pursued by municipal governments can support or impede multicultural celebration and newcomer settlement. I focus on three localities in the Greater Toronto Area—namely, the City of Brampton, the Town of Markham, and the City of Toronto—and employ an in-depth content analysis of their public records to examine the language that they use in order to assess the extent to which they are fostering a multicultural environment to facilitate migrant settlement. In tracing the historical trajectory of their policies and programs, I concluded that local governments can adjust course within the span of only a few years to embrace a more welcoming attitude toward newcomers and offer recommendations on how municipalities can shape their policy frameworks to better reflect their increasingly diverse populations.
As a student, researcher and or activist, what have you learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and its global impact? How do you envision post-pandemic recovery? What do you hope for?
As is the case with essentially every aspect of society, the realities of global migration and civic engagement have been significantly affected by the conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic. International migration flows have been severely disrupted, while exercises in public engagement, which generally already suffered from offering limited means of entry, became even less accessible. Nevertheless, the upheaval that has been experienced since the early months of 2020 through to the present day has served to increase awareness around the socio-economic challenges that newcomer populations have always confronted, as well as to underscore the deficiencies of our public decision-making models. While a more profound appreciation of these issues will naturally inform how we plan for future pandemics, there are also immediate implications for the short-term recovery as we emerge from the pandemic in the months ahead. Such suggestions could be to employ more innovative approaches, for example: using technology to identify and remedy urgent social or economic issues or to capture a diversity of voices more comprehensively to elicit public participation.
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?
The scholastic and uplifting environment created by the Urban Leadership Fellowship and Academy Program at the School of Cities has been exceptional. I have found the program assistance to be very enriching, especially through participation in spaces to meet like-minded scholars with whom to collaborate or share experiences. The generous financial support has also been highly beneficial in helping me to carry out my research. Being able to advance my dissertation work under the auspices of the program, especially with the thoughtful attention and dedicated mentorship of Professor Marieme Lo, has been a highlight of my academic experience at the University of Toronto.
Shervin Ghaem-Maghami is a second-year doctoral Planning student in the Department of Geography and Planning. His research interests centre on public participation in urban planning practice and newcomer relocation and settlement in the Greater Toronto Area. Shervin holds a Bachelor of Environmental Studies in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of Waterloo and Master of Public Administration from Queen’s University. His prior professional experience includes positions in the Government of Ontario—including at the Ministry of the Environment, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, and the Ministry of Transportation—as well as roles in local government and the private and non-profit sectors.