bookmark_borderVictoria Takes Moncton! 

Tuesday 

Today, I embarked on my first research trip. I was headed to Moncton, New Brunswick to conduct interviews with planning practitioners and immigrant settlement organizations as part of my Master’s research. This was my first time visiting New Brunswick as well as my first time flying by myself (both very exciting!).  

Ever since I was little, I have loved airports. Something about the systematic process, the fun of the moving sidewalk, the (seemingly) endless number of places to eat, and the hundreds of people all headed in different directions is so enjoyable to me. I’ve always been particularly fond of watching the arrival gate and witnessing families reunited with loved ones. From big hugs to people crying with joy to little children with big signs that say, ‘welcome home,’ it’s all very heartwarming.  

As I sat in a restaurant, sipping a Brickworks Cider and waiting for my flight, I watched so many people on their own eating dinner. Some were working, some were on the phone with a friend, others were making light conversation with those around them. The airport is a place of connection in more ways than one. For some, they are connecting to a new home. Today, the airport had a different feeling for me, as I embarked on a trip that so many others have made. I was thinking about families who have taken this flight to Moncton, unbeknownst of what their newfound home would be like. A combination of excitement and uncertainty, the minute they step off the tarmac. 

While boarding my flight, I was overcome with excitement for the adventure that awaited me. I landed in Moncton at around 1:00 A.M. (AST) and headed to bed, ready to see what my first day in New Brunswick would have in store. 

Wednesday 

Today, on the agenda, was my most nerve-wracking interview. I was heading over to City Hall to interview a municipal planner on evolving growth policies in Moncton. This interview took me some time to secure and I was so excited that I had the opportunity to do it. I spent the morning getting my materials organized and practicing my interview questions. After some preparation, I decided to do a bit of exploring in the downtown core.  

I quickly learned that the layout of Moncton is quite unique. I had a hard time figuring out where the heart of downtown was actually located. Unlike many similar-sized cities in Ontario, Moncton’s downtown was small, with few stores located in close proximity to one another. I made my way to a local bookstore called ‘Reads Books and Coffee’ where I got my hands on some second-hand Agatha Christie books and a warm cup of tea. I was able to chat with someone in the store about the work I was doing and was directed to pick up a book called ‘The Monctonians’ to help provide some context into how the city had evolved. Very helpful!   

Luckily, my interview that afternoon went well, and I was able to get some more information on the challenges and opportunities that Moncton faces as a city. Given that Moncton was identified as Canada’s fastest growing CMA in 2022, we discussed the various ways that Moncton is working to manage this unexpected growth through improvements to their housing, transit, and social infrastructure. I was able to develop a better understanding of why this population growth may have occurred and how the city is positioned to manage it. Afterwards, I returned to my hotel, poised to take on my next set of interviews and prepare for the busy day I would have on Thursday. 

Thursday 

Today was settlement organization day and I would be conducting interviews with two of Moncton’s four organizations! I woke up early and prepared myself to meet with my first interviewee at a local coffee shop called Epoch Chemistry.  I was particularly excited for these discussions to begin as I would really be getting to hear about how current infrastructure is impacting people on the ground floor.  

The first interview was incredible! We chatted for two hours and I quickly learned that the settlement community was very close-knit. In fact, my second interviewee was actually a close friend of my first interviewee! Our conversation lasted over two hours, and I received a variety of new contacts that might be worth reaching out to for more information. I learned a lot about the challenges that new immigrants face when settling in Moncton and where there is a need for infrastructure improvement. After our conversation, my interviewee mentioned that they were heading for lunch with some people from the local refugee legal clinic and asked if I would like to join. Of course, I said yes! We were able to enjoy some delicious sandwiches at Notre Dame de Parkton and I was able to develop a better understanding of some of the legal challenges that accompany supporting new immigrants in a small city. I was also starting to feel like I understood the city a bit better. 

In the afternoon I met up with the founder of another settlement organization and continued to grow my knowledge of how current policy has been impacting new immigrants. The passion and drive I felt from both of these interviewees was astounding. While I was unable to conduct interviews with immigrant families directly, given time constraints, I was fortunate enough to hear many stories of opportunities and challenges experienced by newcomers to the community. I returned to my hotel, feeling grateful for the opportunity to highlight these experiences through my research.  

Friday + Saturday  

Today was my final day in Moncton before I started my journey home. My main goal for the day: Try Atlantic Cod! I made my way to the Tide and Boar Gastropub where I ordered a Parmesan-Crusted Haddock for lunch. When I say this was probably the best fish I’ve ever tasted, I’m not kidding! I shouldn’t have waited until Friday to get my hands on it!  

The final leg of my journey involved taking the train back to Montreal where I would spend the weekend, before proceeding home. The Ocean Train, run by VIA Rail is an overnight train that runs from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Montreal, Quebec. My journey from Moncton to Montreal took 17 hours, giving me lots of time to reflect on my trip.  

I thoroughly enjoyed getting to experience Moncton first-hand. While I could have conducted these interviews virtually, without having to travel across the country, I knew that doing it in person would be that much more meaningful. I was able to connect with people in a way that would not have been possible online. We shared meals and chatted about what life was like living in this community. When I heard about a certain area of the city in conversation, I was able to go visit it. When interviewees discussed challenges with transit and walkability, I was able to experience this myself. I think that it has helped add a richness and depth to my research that might not have otherwise been present.  

As I continue to write my report and analyze my findings, I hope to keep these experiences in mind. I’ll see you on my next adventure! 

bookmark_borderThe Windy City’s Neighbour

As I depart YYZ for ORD for the ACSP 2023 conference (ACA [academics love acronyms!]), I can’t help but be excited. I am going to Chicago to present a poster, learn about planning, and explore an interesting city! Conferences are a very cool way to expand your horizons and what better place to do it than while looking at the Lake Michigan horizon. However, this trip is not only exciting as I get to better understand planning through presentations and in-depth conversations, I will also get to experience successful planning with my own eyes. Following the conference, I will be heading to Bloomington-Normal, Illinois (or as locals call it Blo-No), to visit family and check out what the area has to offer. Blo-No is located in Central Illinois, approximately 125 miles southwest of Chicago. Notably, in 2023, the Bloomington-Normal Metro Area was ranked as the second-best metropolitan area in the nation to “live, work, and have fun”. Specifically, I was intrigued by the mention of fun, thus inspiring me to experience this for myself and blog along the way!

As of 2022, Blo-No had a population of 167,699 and a median age of 30.3. Older adults, those above the age 65, comprised only 9% of the population, 8 percentage points less than the national average. Being a mid-sized metropolitan area with a relatively small older adult population, I was especially interested to explore what older adult-oriented opportunities for fun exist within Blo-No…and I only had two days to do it.

To start off, I was able to observe environments specifically catered for older adult independence and recreation. This includes the Blair House, an all-inclusive independent retirement community, and the Activity and Recreational Center (ARC), an older adult recreational center. Although I was only able to drive by the Blair House, I was impressed by the website’s mention of amenities such as barber shop, theater, garden, and activity room – extending beyond the basic amenities of an ordinary apartment building. Next, only 1.5km away, I was able to get a guided tour of the ARC due to a very kind and chipper volunteer. Rebuilt in 2016 and currently one of the largest senior services centers in the state of Illinois, the ARC serves roughly 4,000 residents above the age of 55 for a steal-of-a-deal $30 annual membership fee. The low cost is thanks to the region’s Silver Sneakers initiative to provide free fitness and wellness opportunities to older adults on eligible Medicare plans. Within the ARC, I saw a large range of activities, amenities, course offerings, and happy older adults. Some personal highlights include food court social chatter, keen older adults saving seats an hour before bingo is set to start, and the computer lab with opportunities for technological assistance.

Looking beyond the institutions specifically serving older adults, I was curious how general built environments supported this population. To explore this, I was able to visit and observe the comings-and-goings at Uptown Normal, the Normal Public Library, and the YMCA. To start, Uptown Normal spans a handful of blocks with many local businesses and attractions, revolving around Uptown Circle. Uptown Circle, as pictured below, is an urban mini park encircled by a stormwater-cleansing water feature and native plants. This area is a well-loved relaxing and playful spot for locals to hang out and children to play in the water. Uptown Circle is also used for events such as concerts and farmers markets. In my time spent in the area, I was able to observe a solo older adult reading a book in Uptown Circle, intergenerational family fun at the local ice cream shop, and an older adult couple going into the retro and cool Normal Movie Theatre (built in 1937!).As this area is considered an “18-hour downtown” due to its frequency of use throughout the day, it is clear this does not exclude older adults as the variety of opportunity and flexibility of space seemed to equally apply this demographic.

Next, I visited Normal Public Library (NPL), one of the two public libraries in the metro area. While here, I was able to observe people of all ages as well as read the very cute and creative Fall 2023 Activity Guide. This package presented lots of opportunities for all ages such as the Knitting Club, Geneology Meetup, and Taxes in Retirement. In addition, the NPL book highlighted pop-ups that will be going to both the ARC and Blair House for three days within the season. Lastly, when in the YMCA to swim with my cousins, I stumbled upon an energetically guided water-aerobics class containing many older adults. The class was a real joy to observe as the older adults appeared to be seamlessly mixed in with the younger adults. The commonality of older adult recreation intertwined with public recreation seemed to be a good indicator of fun reaching all ages as well as community cohesion.

Lastly, looking beyond the formal and informal infrastructure serving older adults, I was hoping to have the opportunity to speak with someone in this community to understand their experience living in Blo-No. As my family was checking out at the grocery co-op, we were greeted by their old babysitter and friend, 60-something-year-old, Veronika. Veronika was dressed in a creatively colourful outfit matching a piece of art, self-titled an “art-fit”, and exuded an extremely vibrant and downright whimsical energy. While chatting with Veronika and asking what she does for fun, she responded with abundant joy and a very long list. Many of these recommendations included parks and trails as well as creative classes in the local area. Veronika shared how she personally has fun through writing, designing, and sharing poems within the community. One of her three distribution points was in the grocery co-op where my aunt shared that she picks up the poems weekly and often engages with Veronika. To her, Veronika was a staple of the community. After hearing about this activity and reading some passages, I was in awe as although Veronika is retired, she dedicates a lot of time every week to spread art and support community connections.

From an outsider perspective as neither a Blo-No local or an older adult, I am happy to report that my observations showed older adults included in the “fun” of Blo-No. While I’m sure there are aspects I have missed, from my quick two-day visit, the power of community was clear with the success of programs such as the ARC and encouragement of local artists such as Veronika. The Blo-No sense of community appeared strong and supported great attitudes, creating a positive cycle of well-being and cohesion. In all, the exciting and flexible opportunities for recreation highlighted the charming-nature of the mid-sized community to support residents of all ages to “live, work, and have fun”.

bookmark_borderGrant Applications – Tips & Tricks 

In November 2022, I embarked on the journey of applying for my first research major research scholarship. While I had previously applied for scholarships during my undergraduate degree, this was my first time applying for something that was research-based. After attending the School of Urban and Regional Planning’s research grant information session in October, I felt ready to start working my way through writing applications for the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council’s (SSHRC) Canada Graduate Scholarship and the Ontario Graduate Scholarship (OGS). This was an intimidating process that involved asking a lot of questions, talking through ideas with my lab and classmates, and spending many nights crafting my proposal. Yet, the end result was very much worth it! I was successful in earning both the SSHRC and OGS grant, opting to accept the former this past June.  

Thinking back on this process, I wanted to share some of the things I found useful as I navigated my way through writing my application. I have asked some fellow Pop Place members who have also been successful with research grant applications to provide some input as well. No matter what grant you are considering applying for, I hope that this post provides some helpful tips to guide you on your way. 

Finding Your References: 

  • Ask professors who know you best. When you are beginning to think about who the best person might be to ask for a reference letter, ensure that you are choosing people who know you. Did you get a good mark in a particular class? Did you take multiple classes with a certain professor? Perhaps, you worked as a research assistant? Someone who has a good sense of how you work will have a much easier time providing a good reference letter. 
  • Provide ample time for writing. Standard practice is to provide at least two weeks’ notice when you are making a reference request. It is important and respectful to ensure that your reference has enough time to gather the necessary information and write your letter at their leisure. This will also ensure that as the deadline approaches, you are not stressing about getting everything submitted on time.  
  • Share helpful resources. When submitting a reference request, it might be a good idea to forward the recipient some helpful documents that can better inform their writing. This could include your CV, research proposal, relevant projects/papers that you have worked on and other necessary materials. It is good to ensure that you are providing your reference with sufficient background information so that they have an accurate understanding of your capabilities.  

Perfecting Your CV: 

  • Highlight relevant experience. CV templates can sometimes be quite constraining, especially if the grant you are applying for is requesting a specific format. While writing your CV, it is important to ensure that the experiences you choose to highlight, reflect your capabilities as a researcher. It’s a good idea to look through the grant website to see if they have specified what qualities and skills they are looking for in an applicant. From there, you can gauge what experiences you might want to discuss more in depth in your application. 
  • (Rachel Barber) Get involved! Many research-based scholarships consider your previous research contributions, such as publications or conference presentations. If you know you’ll be applying for a scholarship well in advance and already have some research completed, consider submitting an abstract to a conference, or collaborating on a manuscript. Research contributions are great, since they remain on your academic CV forever – this is especially useful if you’re expecting to apply to other scholarships in the future, or if you’re planning on pursuing an academic career. 

Crafting Your Research Proposal: 

  • Think big, be practical. Writing your first research proposal can seem like a daunting task. There are so many possible routes that you could take. A great way to approach this is to think big. Get all of your ideas out, no matter how far-fetched they may seem. Then, sit down, and figure out what would actually be practical given your time and resource constraints. Is your idea feasible to complete within the scholarship timeframe? Do you have access to the people, tools, and skills you would need to undertake this research? 
  • (Rachel Barber) Have your draft reviewed by as many people as possible. In the earlier stages of your draft, consider having it reviewed by your supervisor, previous winners of the scholarship you’re applying to, or other professors, as they can provide useful insight into the structure of your proposal. As you are finalizing your proposal, ask a few people outside of your field of study to review it, such as colleagues, friends or family members. Since selection committee members come from various backgrounds, it is important to ensure the proposal uses terminology that is understandable to those who don’t work or study in your field. 
  • (Ellory Vincent) Talk your ideas over. Writing your proposal is, by far, the hardest part of the process. Even though at this point you know what you want to research you now have to explain it to someone else, worse, you have to explain it to people who are reading dozens of other proposals for the same grant. You want to stand out but you also want to be able to communicate your research in a clear and concise manner.  It’s not easy. It is best to talk over your idea with someone you trust and whose opinion you respect. Make sure this is someone who will be able to give you honest and direct feedback. As you begin to revise your writing, make sure that your proposal stays true to what you want to study and conveys your genuine interest in the subject – a proposal that demonstrates charisma through writing is the strongest. 

General Advice: 

  • Leave yourself enough time. While it may seem like a small task, you do not want to leave this task for the last minute. You may run into challenges with articulating your ideas and scaling them down. It is also important to ensure that you have enough time to go through multiple rounds of editing with multiple people. In order to put your best foot forward and ensure your ideas are presented in the best way, leave yourself plenty of time to work with your writing.  
  • (Marley Gryfe) Seek out examples of successful or unsuccessful applications for the same grant. Consider reaching out to upper year students in your program or a professor/supervisor to get their input on what works well and what you might want to avoid. This is a great way to orient yourself before embarking on the writing process.  
  • (Marley Gryfe) Review all grants for which you might be eligible. The same application can often be used for multiple awards with a few minor tweaks, thus increasing your chances of obtaining funding! Even if you are unsuccessful with your first application, you now have a complete research proposal that you are ready to submit somewhere else.  
  • (Ellory Vincent) Stay cool and pursue your research, with or without the grant.  

As Ellory highlighted, the most important part of this process is your research. It is important to go into the scholarship-writing process with clear objectives and an open mind. If this scholarship doesn’t work out, you now have a polished proposal that, with some minor adjustments, could be submitted to a variety of other scholarship programs. While the process of applying for research scholarships and fellowships can be stressful, it is a great opportunity to start organizing your ideas and establishing your research goals. And, as Dr. Maxwell Hartt, Director of the Population and Place Research Lab likes to stress, make sure that you are having fun!  

bookmark_borderThe Journey Within: Embracing Experiences and Growth in Canada

Time flies, and with a sense of gratitude, I reflect upon the fact that I have already spent six months in Canada, immersed in an enriching journey. This period has provided me a brand-new experience, both academically and personally, as I travel through this foreign land, embracing its culture, and engaging with its people.

My name is Jianing Sun. I am a PhD candidate at Chongqing University in China but I am spending one year as a visiting PhD student in the Department of Geography and Planning at Queen’s University. I consider myself exceptionally fortunate to join Dr. Hartt’s research team as a member of the Population and Place Research Lab. Over the past six months, I have actively participated in various activities, such as seminars, fostering meaningful discussions with my fellow classmates and labmates, and sharing my research. I have also noticed some differences between Eastern and Western educational paradigms, which has fostered an appreciation for the unique advantages and inherent value of both approaches. Furthermore, I am deeply honored to collaborate with Dr. Hartt on our research topic: Age-Friendly Shrinking Cities in the Global North. This collaboration has further enriched my international perspective, providing me with a comprehensive understanding of the complex demographic shifts on a global scale.

I have developed a fondness for the city of Kingston, where life moves at a more relaxed pace. I take pleasure in leisurely moments spent by the sunlit shores of Lake Ontario. Exploring the delicacy of this city, I have found new gastronomic delights in various restaurants. Weekends are an opportunity to immerse myself in the world of cinema, although it presents a slight challenge as Chinese subtitles are not available. The people in Kingston are friendly and enthusiastic. I am constantly moved by the genuine gestures of kindness, such as bus drivers warmly greeting to me, others proactively offering assistance, and individuals attentively listening to my imperfectly spoken English. Additionally, my travels to Toronto and Ottawa have allowed me to visit numerous renowned landmarks. One of the most memorable experiences was being participating in the celebrations for the coronation of His Majesty King Charles III at Queen’s park. Through my travels, I have had the privilege to intimately explore Canadian culture, deepening my respect for its diversity. Furthermore, I’ve started experimenting with making desserts and Chinese cuisine, which is a novel and delightful experience. Making delicious food has proven to be a remarkably enjoyable activity, allowing me to engage in the pleasures of culinary creativity and the gratification of savoring the results of my labor.

As life continues its course, and I remain committed to embracing new experiences and fostering personal growth in Canada with hope and curiosity.

bookmark_borderFrom Music City to the Métropole francophone des Amériques

The first half of 2023 has kept me very occupied. From finishing my Master of Planning thesis, to submitting articles, to preparing for my upcoming PhD studies, there hasn’t been a dull moment so far. The most memorable and exciting part of the last few months was presenting the findings of my thesis at multiple conferences. In March, I was a virtual speaker at the American Association of Geographers (AAG) conference. At the end of April, I had the pleasure of speaking at the Urban Affairs Association (UAA) conference in Nashville, TN. Just two weeks later, I found myself in Montréal, QC, presenting at the Canadian Association of Geographers (CAG) conference. In this blog post, I will share and compare my experience at my first two in-person academic conferences.

Urban Affairs Association Conference – April 25-29, 2023

I was so excited to hear my presentation abstract was accepted for UAA last November. I had only travelled to the United States once before (a lovely vacation in Louisiana) and was looking forward to not only discovering another part of the US, but to have the chance to experience Nashville for the first time. Being a singer-songwriter myself, I know the impact Nashville can have on bolstering music careers – I actually have many friends and acquaintances that have lived in Nashville to either record music or gain exposure. Speaking at UAA meant I could also quench my curiosity surrounding Music City.

However, leading up to the conference, it became clear that I wouldn’t know anyone once I got there. I was the only person attending from Queen’s University and had yet to be acquainted with anyone else attending the conference. I reached out to a PhD Candidate from the University of Toronto, who I noticed would be speaking at both UAA and CAG. We later connected at the conference, and he introduced me to other students from U of T, helping me to feel a little less alone in a sea of 600 conference attendees.

The conference itself was a fantastic experience. My presentation went well, and attending other sessions on similar research topics to my own felt similarly rewarding. One of my favourite sessions was “Small Cities Across the U.S.: An Economic and Community Development Perspective”, which discussed economic development and typologies of American neighbourhoods in small cities, as well as the entrepreneurial ecosystem of Dayton, Ohio. While I would’ve appreciated more socializing opportunities for all conference attendees (as breakfast and reception tickets had to be purchased separately), I still had the opportunity to connect with many people, including attendees from Czechia and Belgium. I even had the chance to meet a professor who’s work I had cited previously.

I really enjoyed sharing my research findings and engaging in further discussion with the other speakers in my session!

As for Nashville, I had the opportunity to explore the downtown core with some (new) friends. The main attraction, Broadway, lives up to its hype, especially at night: bright neon signs, music coming from every direction, bachelorette parties, and sidewalks densely packed with honky-tonk enthusiasts. While I’m happy to have had the chance to experience it once, one experience was probably enough for a lifetime. If I were to return to Nashville, I would want to venture past the downtown core and explore residential neighbourhoods and resident-favourite cafes and restaurants. Though, the party atmosphere in downtown Nashville was the perfect place to find out I’m the recipient of a major doctoral-level scholarship (to be announced later this year)!

A few photos from my visit:

Canadian Association of Geographers Conference – May 8-12, 2023

Only 9 days after returning home from Nashville, 8 days after moving to a new apartment, and 3 days after successfully defending my thesis, I hopped on a train to Montréal to attend the Canadian Association of Geographers conference. Despite it not being as big as the UAA conference, I was really looking forward to this conference for one major reason: I would be presenting in French. Translating findings to a different language and later presenting them is no easy feat – even as someone who holds a French-language undergraduate degree – as urban planning terminology is quite different in both languages. However, I was excited to tackle this challenge, and to share my research as a proud franco-ontarienne at a Québécois venue.

I got to Montréal a day before my presentation and decided to take advantage of the beautiful evening to visit Vieux-Montréal. I picked up some Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, and enjoyed it on the riverfront, which has become a tradition whenever I visit Montréal. With several hours left in the day, I decided to go to a café to work on my laptop. I ended up finding an incredible study spot called Milton B, which is open 24 hours a day, has plenty of indoor and outdoor seating, and a very large selection of drinks, warm meals, and pastries.

The next day, I presented my research to a small group at CAG. The one thing I hadn’t anticipated while preparing my presentation was the fact that not everyone at the conference would understand French. With 2/3 of my audience being English speakers, I found myself translating parts of my presentation to English on the fly. If I were to present at CAG again (or at any conference with English and French as presentation languages), I would make sure to have notes prepared in both languages in case a question is asked in the language I didn’t present in.

My favourite session of the conference was “Mapping Accessible Mobilities”. The last two presentations showcased new accessibility maps at McGill University and Vancouver Island University. These were followed by a workshop on how to create accessibility maps for our own universities. This exercise made me realize that Queen’s University’s campus maps can be substantially improved, which is something I would like to explore further.

A crucial part of my experience at CAG was running into my friend who attended UAA, who then proceeded to introduce me to even more students from U of T. For the rest of my time in Montréal, the small group of us encouraged each other, learned from one another, went on many adventures and ate too much ice cream. I experienced many “firsts” with them, including eating Venezuelan food and going to a cat café. While we hope to see each other again soon, I really look forward to attending more conferences with them – some of us will be at the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning conference in Miami in October, and others expect to attend next year’s AAG conference in Hawaii and UAA conference in New York – to continue sharing our passion for various geographic topics with one another.

Exploring Vieux-Montréal with my friends from U of T!

Here are a handful of the hundreds of photos I took in Montréal:

Two Unique Experiences

Looking back at both conferences, I feel as though my priorities were different for each of them. For UAA, once I had the opportunity to explore downtown Nashville, I was looking forward to what I would learn at the conference itself, and to the connections I would make throughout the week. For CAG, I quickly discovered that Montréal was a place I wanted to thoroughly explore, and while I still attended the conference, the thought of strolling through the city took precedence. In my opinion, that’s one of the great things about conferences – the ability to choose your own adventure and decide what sessions to attend, what to see in the city, what to eat, and who to share those memories with.

bookmark_borderA Turn of the Century…Village

Day 1

When I was two years old, I went on my first airplane: Toronto to Fort Lauderdale. I was visiting my grandparents in their brand-new condo in Century Village East (CVE), an age-restricted community in Deerfield Beach, Florida. With a suitcase filled with pencil crayons, plush toys, and Polly Pockets (the original three P’s), I swiftly arrived in the Sunshine State. Although I remember absolutely nothing about this trip, I feel very lucky to have been back to visit more than a dozen times. For 20 years of my life, I have been a semi-regular visitor to the senior living community, becoming well acquainted with the unique culture and many subtle charms. Today as I board my flight to once again return to Florida, I can feel that something about this trip is different. Rather than just spending quality time with my grandparents and soaking in the sun, I am going as a researcher. In this super-saturated, older adult specific environment, I will be observing traditional play interactions with the built environment specifically looking at the pool, path, and pickleball courts (the new three P’s)!

Day 2

A wonderful perk of this research is having the unwavering and ultra-enthusiastic support of my grandparents. Since I told them about this project, they have been collecting information all about CVE. Upon arrival, I was greeted with hugs and pamphlets. I feel very lucky to already be well acquainted with the area and have the best built-in tour guides. On my second night in town, my grandparents even got us tickets to attend a show. This was quite exciting as I have never been inside the clubhouse due to the 18+ rule. We saw 71-year-old David “Dudu” Fisher who is an Israeli cantor and performer, best known for his Broadway performance as Jean Valjean in the musical Les Misérables. With a theatre filled with 1500 older adults and an area dedicated to parking mobility aids, this was quite a unique experience that further contributed to the general observations that I couldn’t help but already have started to mentally note.   

Day 3

The first day of my study of older adult play spaces was a blisteringly hot one. But I had no complaints considering the heavy snowstorm happening back home in Ontario. Although I was adjusting to the UV index of seven, the older adults were not fazed. Throughout the heat of the day, this active community showed its tenacity with full tennis and pickleball courts, along with constant movement from bikers, runners, speed walkers, and swimmers. Just another day in CVE, and a day I’ve been a part of many times before. However, when starting my research at the tennis and pickleball courts in the morning, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit awkward being alone as an observer and being new to field research. I positioned myself in the most-of-the-least incognito benches in the area and got right to the task of looking around, assessing the vibes, taking notes, and documenting play types of older adults in action. Once I got the hang of it, the observations were quick, although, I did feel awkward taking pictures or getting too close in fear of inadvertently impacting ongoing activities. Despite debating whether I was getting side-eyed or looked at to avoid direct sunlight, I finished the morning shift and headed home with a handful of pages filled.

For my next set of field research in the afternoon, I was lucky to be by the pool. Not only to have the wonderful opportunity to go swimming before I began but also to be observing a little bit more casually. This observation shift took a while due to the high volume of people in the pool area, but it was much easier once I found my groove. And again, once it was done, I went for a swim. The night concluded with observations on the main recreational path. For this, I situated on a nearby bench, set my timer, and subtly but closely watched people as they passed. This felt a little strange as it was the night but luckily, I was already in the swing of things. This shift went by quickly as I observed the ebb and flow of busyness and quietness along the path. In all, I was pleased with my first day of field research!

Day 4 and 5

Straightforward, sunny, and successful! All shifts went off without a hitch. Fear of being noticed subdued once I realized everyone was truly in their own habitat. I was also able to substitute the need for some photos that would be both awkward and likely useless with detailed notes. Personal highlights of the days included watching morning water aerobics to 1980s hits like “It’s Raining Men” by the Weather Girls and witnessing a mini-golf tournament with the level of focus of a Masters Tournament.

Day 6

As I pack up to go home, I reflect on my trip and my first solo fieldwork experience. The way I feel about CVE has not changed but has been enhanced. I see it has something for everybody – or at least everybody who chooses to be here. But I am also more aware of the business and management side. Having done research beforehand, I recognize the behind the scenes activity that I have never considered prior to the visit. This reminded me that although this is a caring community, it follows the triple bottom-line model of people, profit, and planet (the actual three P’s). As both a visitor and observer, I was comfortably in the middle of knowing this intention while enjoying the benefits. Even when not officially observing, I was taking mental notes and a plethora of pictures. I thought more about everything I saw. About everything I was a part of. I was constantly doing double takes and having clinical thoughts about the couples on nighttime walks with flashlights, the walkers lined up outside the pool, and the man rollerblading in the heat of the afternoon. This in-between and fly-on-the-wall-like position was slightly overwhelming at times but ultimately led to some comprehensive and interesting results. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this unique opportunity to study CVE’s environment created to enjoy life and age playfully! Stay tuned for the next steps in this project!

bookmark_borderCan OpenAI’s chat bot solve gentrification?

On November 30, 2022, the San Francisco-based artificial intelligence (AI) research laboratory OpenAI launched the ChatGPT chatbot. ChatGPT is a software application developed to mimic human conversation based on user inputs. ChatGPT is trained using machine learning and can simulate ongoing dialog, respond to follow-up questions, admit mistakes, challenge inaccurate or incorrect statements, and reject improper or inappropriate requests. Former OpenAI board member Elon Musk called the chatbot “scary good”. There have been and continue to be plenty of hesitation and ethical concerns over AI-driven innovations, but it’s innovation and potentially lucrative promise appeal to many. Population and Place Research Lab affiliate Justin B. Hollander “sat down” with the ChatGPT to gauge it’s thoughts on gentrification. Justin found the chatbot to be helpful, creative, clever and very friendly. However, it is clear that, like many people, it struggles with the idea of gentrification. Here is their conversation:

JH: How can city governments prevent gentrification?

AI: City governments can prevent gentrification in several ways. The most common strategies include investing in neighborhood infrastructure, making more affordable housing available, providing incentives to small businesses, increasing public safety and access to resources, and encouraging investment from local residents. Additionally, cities can create zoning laws that limit rent increases and reduce the number of luxury buildings being built.

JH: But won’t local businesses resist these efforts?

AI: Local businesses may be resistant to some of these efforts if their profits are affected. In order to gain support, city governments should make sure to involve local businesses and other stakeholders in the process and create a plan that is beneficial for everyone. Additionally, they should provide incentives to businesses that support the gentrification prevention plans, such as tax credits and increased access to capital.

JH: Where will the money come from to pay for all of this?

AI: City governments can fundraise to pay for the initiatives to prevent gentrification by implementing taxes on luxury dwellings, asking the state or federal government for funding, or encouraging local businesses and residents to contribute financially. Additionally, cities can use grants or other resources provided by foundations and nonprofits.

JH: If you tax high earners too much, won’t they just leave the city?

AI: Yes, if cities tax high earners too much, some may choose to leave the area. To minimize this risk, cities should look into creating tiered taxes that are based on income or property value. Additionally, cities can offer incentives for high earners to stay in the city, such as tax credits or deductions. This can help ensure that wealthier individuals remain in the city and contribute to economic growth.

JH: You want to give high earners tax credits? You just said the answer to paying for anti-gentrification policies is to increase taxes, which is it?

AI: Cities should consider implementing both tax increases and incentives for high earners. Higher taxes on luxury dwellings can help raise revenue to fund anti-gentrification initiatives, while tax credits or deductions can help to keep wealthier individuals in the city and stimulate economic growth. It is important to strike a balance between these policies in order to maximize the benefits for the city and its residents.

JH: So you tax them and lower their taxes at the same time?

AI: City governments can implement both taxes on luxury dwellings and tax credits or deductions for higher earners at the same time. This can help generate more revenue to fund anti-gentrification initiatives while also retaining wealthier individuals in the city who can contribute to economic growth.

bookmark_borderHow to Crush Your First Poster Presentation

This past November I had the opportunity to present at the poster session at the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning (ACSP) Conference in Toronto. When I received the email saying that I was accepted to present, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to showcase our research to planning researchers and professionals from all over the world. With this being my very first poster presentation, I was nervous and unsure of where to start. I spent a lot of time scouring the internet for resources and hoping to find a tell all on how to make the best research poster possible. While there were a lot of great resources out there, I found they did not always apply to my type of research and the setting in which I was presenting. In this blog post, I will be sharing some tips that I found useful and that will help you crush your first poster presentation.

Preparing the Poster

  1. Know the requirements for your poster. The first step in designing a poster is understanding the poster requirements (size, orientation, content, etc.). In my case, this information was available on the conference website. Otherwise, you could email a representative from the organization to confirm the requirements prior to starting your poster.  
  2. Decide what story you want to tell and how you are going to tell it. Now that you understand the poster requirements, you must determine what information you want to include on your poster. Tip: keep the writing concise. A picture is worth a thousand words.
  3. Consider the software and applications you have available to you. You will need to make a decision regarding which software or application you intend on using to design your poster (e.g., PowerPoint, Canva, Adobe InDesign, etc.). When making this decision, you should take into account how much time you have to allocate to poster design. Should you use a program you are familiar with, or do you have time to learn something new? If you choose to learn something new, be sure to watch different tutorials and explore the software to determine what works best for you.
  4. Search for inspiration! Take some time to look at other academic posters that appeal to you to get inspired. You can create similar designs or search for templates to jumpstart the process. If your research is part of a specific project, consider using designs and colour schemes from past presentations to establish a more uniform and recognizable look.
  5. Get creative and do not be scared to change things up. Spend time playing around with different designs and layouts until you find something you are happy with. Some useful design tips to consider: (1) Ensure the font is clear and large enough that it can be read from six to ten feet away; (2) Select unobtrusive/neutral backgrounds that do not distract from the text and images in the poster; (3) Use images, colours, and other design elements to separate different sections of the poster
  6. Seek feedback. Ask your friends, family, and professor to look over your poster and provide you with some feedback. Having additional sets of eyes is incredibly helpful and they may notice things you did not. It is better to find mistakes now than to have someone point them out when you are presenting!
  7. Consider your options for printing. When researching different printing options, make sure to consider costs, turn around time, and poster finish. After seeing all the posters at ACSP, I came to the conclusion that a glossy finish looks much nicer than a matte finish. Do with that information what you will.

Presenting the Poster

  • Have a catchy pitch. Anyone can come up and read your poster, so you do not need to recite everything you have written. Think about how you can draw someone in to talk about your research in a more conversational manner. Tip: practice this beforehand! For me, I practiced with friends and family and even with other poster presenters in between presenting. This will help you build confidence and really master that pitch.
  • Take initiative. Do your best to start the conversation. Make eye contact, smile, and if they come closer, introduce yourself (be sure to exchange names and affiliations and shake hands if they are comfortable doing so). You can ask them if they would like you to walk them through your poster and if yes, it is your time to shine! If you need an idea of how to start your pitch, you could always ask “are you familiar with this field of research?” and carry on the conversation from there.
  • Present your research chronologically. You should discuss topics in the order in which they appear on the poster. Start with an introduction to your research and proceed chronologically through the remaining sections. This will provide the listener with a better understanding of your research topic/process.
  • Be prepared for questions. If you have followed these tips so far, chances are you have an awesome poster and people are going to want to talk about it. Allow time in between sections and at the end of the presentation for questions and feedback. Tip: bring a notebook to record any questions and feedback provided to improve your research moving forward.
  • Network. Poster sessions are about networking. You should take this time to make connections with people working in your field. Ensure you carrying business cards with you and if you make a connection, follow up with it after the event by sending an email, a message on LinkedIn, etc. Tip: attach some business cards to the poster for people to grab before/after the poster session when you may not be around to discuss your research in person.
  • Have fun! Most importantly, have fun. You have successfully made it through your first poster presentation, and you should be proud of yourself. So go have a good time at the event, you deserve it. Congratulations on crushing it. 

bookmark_borderEverywhere and Nowhere at the Same Time: A Summary of My Time in Toronto.

November is always a difficult month for me. At this point in the fall season the trees have lost most of their colourful leaves, the days are much shorter, and there is usually a pile of work to do as the end of the semester approaches. For all these reasons I was feel unmotivated and uninspired as I left Kingston for Toronto on the morning of November 3rd. I was set to present at ACSP’s (Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning) annual conference, and I would be staying in the city for a few days while I attended the conference. As my taxi pulled into the Kingston train station in the wee hours of the morning, the city was swept with fog. And I’m not talking about a little bit of morning fog, I’m talking about extremely thick cannot see ten steps in front of you fog. However, being an early riser, I had arrived at the train station 30 minutes before it even opened. I had no choice but to find a cold bench and sit in the dark fog and wait for my train—the environment felt eerie. The trip was off to an unusual start.

The fog followed me to Toronto. That first night, the city was blanketed in it. However, it did not stop me from exploring. Walking down Bay Street I was unable to see the tops of the skyscrapers, with a canopy of clouds above me it felt as though I was moving just beneath the surface.

I met up with my brother, a student at the University of Toronto studying biology. Over Chinese food we discussed schoolwork, tv shows, the impending future, and liminal spaces. During the summer he had worked in Europe and developed a fascination with abandoned buildings which transitioned into him developing an intense fascination with liminal spaces. He explained to me that liminal spaces are often “environments in transition”, they are places that are familiar and unfamiliar, everywhere and nowhere at the same time. He went on to give the example of an abandoned mall, an empty airport, or the highway at 4 am, as spaces where you would normally expect to see people, however, there is no one in sight.

My interest was piqued. The entire reason I was at ACSP was to present the conceptual framework I had been working on, demonstrating how play as an intervention can transform limiting environments into enabling ones. I had spent weeks thinking about what constituted a “positive” enabling environment or a “negative” limiting environment. I was always focusing on environments that were too much, or too little, I had never even given consideration to environments that were nothing at all.

I explained my morning waiting for the train, and sure enough my brother informed me that I indeed had experienced a liminal environment. He offered to take me on a tour of his favourite place in the world: U of T’s Robarts Library. A place, he explained, chock full of liminal spaces. Walking around what could only be described as a brutalist mega-library I was comforted and disturbed by the wealth of books and the lack of people (granted it was reading week). My brother was right, Robarts was a full of liminal spaces. I thanked my brother for the tour and set off back to the hotel, still surrounded by a thick cloak of fog.

Friday:  I was up early and excited to attend the sessions of the day and hear about the interesting projects from planning academics from across the world. I was especially excited for a session examining macroeconomic urban dynamics. One of the presentations in this session that stood out to me involved a study that was exploring U.S. hinterlands and how they had been disconnected from major metropolitan cities. Once again, I was confronted with images of liminal spaces. The presenter described U.S. cities caught between “what was” (in many cases industrial manufacturing hubs), “what is” (empty buildings and crumbling infrastructure), and “what’s next” (depends on who you ask).

There was a clear theme developing from this trip. After being in crowded meeting rooms all day, I decided I needed some air and went for a walk. I was surprised, for being Canada’s largest city—Toronto felt empty. Sure, I saw people on the street and in stores, but it was always concentrated in specific locations. One street would be bustling with activity, and on the next street over there would be no one at all. While I was astounded by the city’s beauty and architecture, I couldn’t help but to feel a bit lonely.

Saturday: The final day of the conference and the day that I was presenting. I woke up excited to share the conceptual framework that I had worked so hard on these past few months. Going through piece by piece I explained how an individual’s core components: their social and physical environment, and individual competencies, interact with one another to create a limiting or enabling environment. I then went on to explain how play as an intervention can promote positive interaction of the core components towards a n enabling environment. All-in-all the presentation went well, and while I had explained that environments existed on a spectrum, and that no environment was perfectly enabling or perfectly limiting, I was usure as to where one would begin to place a liminal environment on this spectrum. However, my mind was tired, and instead of entertaining this thought any further I decided to reward myself at the end of the conference by going to watch a movie. I looked up a theatre within walking distance and set out. Little did I know, I was about to discover the most liminal space in the city. Once again, me being always early, I arrive to the theatre before anyone else. Walking through the doors I discover that this is indeed an underground theatre, and upon descending two very sinister staircases I arrive in the foyer of the theatre. Looking around I can observe that the décor has not been updated since the late 80s or early 90s, that I am in fact alone, and the only sound is that of the fluorescent lights above the popcorn machine. Something inside me tells me to run back up the stairs and on to the street, but before I can move, I am greeted by a friendly staff member who takes my ticket and directs me to my seat. While I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, I was intrigued that just below the surface of the city laid this movie theatre that was a relic of the past. It was familiar and unfamiliar, everywhere and nowhere all at the same time.

Sunday: I had a big day planned for my final day in Toronto, I was going to go to Casa Loma, an early 20th century castle estate built in the midtown neighbourhood of the city. Originally built as a residence for financier Sir Henry Pellat, he lived in the residence for less than ten years before leaving it in 1923 due to financial difficulties. While the castle has served many uses since then it now operates as a museum. The multi-room estate is preserved in all its Victorian ornamentation, with some modern updates. However, underneath the estate runs an 800 m tunnel connecting the castle to it’s stables (that are the size of a small mansion) across the road. Despite all the whimsy of the castle what struck me most about my visit to Casa Loma was the empty horse stables still adorned with the names of beloved horses over a century old and long gone.

I collected my things and headed to Union Station. The fog had lifted, and the sun was shining. After experiencing a range of emotions and environments throughout my time in Toronto, I felt a renewed sense of curiosity, inspiration, and eagerness to explore. As I waited to board the train, I recounted my trip and was reminded of a poem by Sarah Kay on how cities like snakes shed their skin and I thought that perhaps in the midst of this continuous transition some places get lost, even in the biggest cities, forever liminal.  

bookmark_borderElliot Lake: The City that “Shocked” Me

Northern Ontario is geographically huge. But for those of us who hail from there, much of it is very familiar. Elliot Lake is a small community 4 hours from my hometown of Powassan, but I’ve been hearing about it since I was a child. From the mall collapse in 2012, to stories from family about visiting the town, Elliot Lake has always been “on the map” for me. It wasn’t until my undergraduate studies that I learned about the community’s incredible progression from a mining town to a retirement community. This fascination followed me to my graduate studies, where I discovered two theoretical concepts that can be applied to Elliot Lake: shrinking and aging.

Shrinking, because Elliot Lake lost a significant amount of population when the uranium mines closed in the 1990s. The residents were discouraged by the lack of opportunities in the area. And, with the city being located so far from other urban centres, Elliot Lake couldn’t even turn in to a commuter town, like other Northern Ontario communities have done in the past. Many people felt they had no choice but to move away from the once thriving community to seek employment or education opportunities. In the last 30 years, Elliot Lake has lost over 40% of its population, making it one of cities that has experienced the most population decline in Canada.

Aging, because the majority of those who decided to leave Elliot Lake were younger adults and their children. This left older adults who had retired or were ready to do so, and who preferred to age in place than to relocate. As the proportion of older adults climbed, the City of Elliot Lake used this to their advantage and began rebranding as a retirement community. The median age in Elliot Lake is now 60.4, making it the city with the second oldest population in Canada.

Before I started my studies at Queen’s University, I knew I wanted to do research on a subject that affects Northern Ontario. Shrinking and aging are two types of demographic change that are becoming increasingly prevalent in the North, making Elliot Lake a great case study community to explore these concepts. After a few brainstorming sessions with my colleagues and supervisor, I narrowed my focus on health care access for older adults in Elliot Lake – specifically the ability to commute to health care facilities via public transportation. In October 2022 I made my way up to Elliot Lake to complete the fieldwork for my thesis (and enjoy the fall colours). My goal was to complete a walking and public transportation audit centered around health care access. I would ride a lot of buses over the next few days.

I was surprised to find out Elliot Lake even has a bus service for its population of about 11,000. Northern Ontario communities of that size are lucky to even have taxis – West Nipissing has a similar population size and recently lost its only taxi service. Yet, Elliot Lake is able to provide public transportation on four routes every hour.

One of three buses in Elliot Lake’s transit fleet.

As I waited at a bus stop to start my first route audit, I was speaking with an older woman who only had a limited amount of experience taking the buses in the community. In fact, she had been attempting to avoid riding them altogether; she recalled the time there was no room left on the bus, so she was forced to sit on the ground. This wouldn’t have been terrible, she said, had the shock absorption on the buses been adequate. Once I got on the bus, I quickly understood what she meant. At every bump in the road – which are quite common on Northern Ontario roads – you could feel every vibration through your seat. The wheelchair-accessible seat at the rear of the bus also made a significant amount of noise each time the bus encountered a bump. On top of this, a few steep steps were required to access the bus, and the aisle was quite small compared to a regular-size city bus.

As someone who has only taken buses in mid-sized and large cities, I spent the first 5 minutes of my first bus ride in Elliot Lake trying to understand how people could be putting up with these conditions. However, while I’m sure everyone would appreciate a tad more shock absorption, I quickly understood that the older adults taking the bus weren’t just taking it to get to a destination – they were taking it to socialize. Quite often, when someone was getting on or off the bus, the bus driver and at least one passenger would greet them using their first name. I’m sure many (if not most) people in Elliot Lake know each other, considering it’s such a small town. However, it was during bus rides that I really felt a sense of community. By the end of the week, the bus drivers would wave at me as they drove past – it was as if, within a week, I became part of the community too.

The transportation audit took shorter than expected, and I look forward to sharing the results with the world through my thesis and other publications. The rest of the week was spent fishing, biking, and exploring, all while taking in the incredible views. I unfortunately didn’t catch anything, but I did see a baby bear, a fox and a coyote on my last night there!

Biking on Horne Lake trail

I also had the chance to try multiple restaurants in Elliot Lake, all of which reminded me of restaurants I went to growing up. Diana’s had some great pub food – I was particularly fond of the chicken fingers. Mum’s Place was a perfect option for breakfast. It specifically reminded me of TJ’s, a restaurant in Trout Creek that served many of my comfort foods. Maple is a Chinese Canadian restaurant, which felt so similar to the Chinese food restaurant in Powassan, Ontario. Elliot Lake Blossoms was amazing as well – the staff were incredibly friendly, everyone in the restaurant got a free smoothie sample, and their roasted red pepper soup was fabulous!

I was told Horne Lake was the best area to fish in Elliot Lake, but I wasn’t very successful!

All in all, I had a great time in Elliot Lake. I successfully completed my field work, enjoyed the spectacular views, and ate some delicious meals that reminded me of my hometown. If I were to return, I would probably opt to spend more time in nature, exploring the various lakes and trails – I did some exploration by foot and by bike, but have yet to explore by boat or by ATV! And, of course, I would spend more time with the residents to hear their interesting stories about what Elliot Lake used to be, what it is now, and what they hope it may one day become.

The Elliot Lake region contains over 4,000 lakes. Horne Lake (pictured) can be seen from the downtown core.