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.


Although the byline states Madison Empey-Salisbury, this post is actually a collaboration (the first one on Aging Playfully!) between Madison and Rachel Barber. We are excited to tell you a bit about our experience at the OPPI (Ontario Professional Planners Institute) & OALA (Ontario Association of Landscape Architects) 2GETHER Conference back in September. Before we get started, if you have not had the opportunity to read our colleague Ellory’s post about this conference, we highly recommend take a look as she does an excellent job recounting the conference and our trip to Regent Park one day earlier. Now let’s travel back in time to late September…

September 20, 2022
One more day until OPPI. What better way to distract yourself from being nervous than to spend your morning exploring Regent Park and visiting the World Urban Pavilion, where we had the opportunity to meet a long-time member of the community. After listening to a series of presentations at the World Urban Pavilion, we broke into smaller groups and explored all that the space had to offer. On one wall, there was an exhibit showing the history of Regent Park and those that lived therein. It included photographs, sourced from old newspaper articles, showing how Regent Park has changed over the years. It was a beautiful homage to the community and to everyone who has ever called Regent Park home. On the other side of the room stood a model of the Regent Park community, equipped with existing and proposed buildings, green spaces, and roads. To say this model had our classmates in awe may be an understatement. This experience is exactly what we needed to set the tone for the days ahead.

September 21, 2022 (Rachel Barber)
I woke up with butterflies in my stomach, knowing I would be presenting at the conference later in the day. Many people are confused as to why I get nervous public speaking – it certainly isn’t my first time in front of a crowd, given my experience as a solo musical artist. For me, the two experiences are incomparable. With music, I’m performing music that I’ve been showcasing for years. If I decide to perform something new, I have the opportunity to practice it many times before I go on stage. When preparing a spoken presentation, I still have the opportunity to practice, but there are some things you can’t practice for, like the Q&A session after the presentation. Needless to say, I was pretty nervous a few hours before my first conference presentation.

After breakfast and a few welcoming remarks was the Opening Keynote. Wanda Dalla Costa, the director and founder of the Indigenous Design Collaborative at Arizona State University and the first First Nation woman to become an architect in Canada, presented “Walking Backwards into the Future: Indigenous Design Thinking”. I was particularly drawn to the urban design examples she gave that are centered around value systems that have been instrumental to Indigenous social practices for generations. One example was the Te Aranga Māori Design Principles, developed by Māori people in New Zealand and which are now part of the Auckland, NZ Design Manual. These design principals include belonging, conserving the environment, and holistic hospitality, to name a few. In Western culture, we tend to focus on applying the urban planning “rules” we’ve become accustomed to for all our projects. Wanda’s presentation made me realize that this mindset is causing us to forget some of the key values that shape our society.

Instead of attending the following sessions and the Networking Lunch, I made my way to a meeting with Dr. Patricia Collins and her team to discuss the status of the “Communities Left Behind?” project. Since I worked with Dr. Collins over the summer on this project, I presented an update of my quantitative findings regarding school closures impacts at the neighbourhood level. While I was nervous prior to this presentation, the feeling melted away once I began presenting – I felt confident with my findings and was excited to share them.

This feeling of newfound confidence followed me to my conference presentation. After watching my colleague Ellory present – and crush it, of course – I went to the podium and gave my presentation. There was no room for nervousness as I passionately shared my findings. I looked forward to providing the planners in the room with important information regarding the disproportionate impacts of school closures on shrinking cities. My hope is that my presentation provided them with the same sense of urgency I felt while conducting this research, so that alternatives to school closures are considered and community recovery plans are created to mitigate social, economic, and cultural impacts if a school must close. Although I was dreading the Q&A session, I felt adequately prepared to answer the audience’s questions – or, if I didn’t know the answer, I found the correct words to express it. Ultimately, I couldn’t imagine the presentation going more smoothly than it did.

Rachel Barber presenting at the OPPI & OALA Conference (Rachel managed to get a photo of her hometown in there!)

With my presentation completed, I was able to relax and enjoy other sessions for the rest of the afternoon. One session I attended was called “Cross-sector collaboration between school boards and municipal planning departments”, presented by the Thames Valley District School Board and the City of London. While the level of collaboration between these entities was admirable, I, along with other audience members, were surprised that no mention was made of collaboration when school closures are being considered. In my opinion, although I think it’s essential to establish protocol for collaboration when contemplating school closures, it was also clear that London schools are dealing with the opposite issue: finding space for children in growing schools. I’m interested in learning more about enrolment projections in London and the demographic change they are facing that is causing their schools to become overpopulated.

With the conference sessions complete for the day, Queen’s University professor Dr. David Gordon invited us and all Queen’s University School of Urban and Regional Planning alumni to a 50th anniversary celebration. I had the opportunity to spend time with two planners from the Thames Valley District School Board, a planner from Owen Sound, and an urban designer from Ottawa. The discussions we had were incredible – an enlightening mix of school board planning, school closures, shrinking cities, and aging cities. We also came to the conclusion that we’re all Habs fans!

Finally, with the evening to ourselves, a few people from SURP and a planner from the City of Kingston went downtown to enjoy some drinks and appetizers. The walk there allowed us to take in the pedestrian-oriented streets and the amazing murals spread across downtown. From presenting, to networking, to simply enjoying London, this day will be one to remember.

September 22, 2022 (Madison)
After two jam-packed days of travelling, networking, and exploring, it was finally my turn to take the podium at the OPPI conference. When yesterday’s SURP reunion came to an end and people began going their separate ways, I decided to turn in early myself. I managed to snag some office space at the hotel to get some extra rehearsal time in before the big day. I called my partner over zoom and delivered the presentation (several times I might add – massive shoutout to him for being such a good sport). Sometimes no matter how many times you practice and how well you know your material, you are still going to wake up feeling nervous. Fortunately for me, these nerves turned to excitement as I walked from our hotel to the conference hall. I arrived around 8am, which left me about two hours before my presentation was set to begin. To pass the time, I grabbed a light breakfast, walked around the exhibition floor, and then headed over to my first session of the day. Before sitting down, I found myself analyzing the room. First thing I saw was the podium, which was situated directly at the front of the room, in perfect view of both the cameras and the audience members. Then, I noticed all the people. There were a lot of people here – I wondered how many more were watching online. I wondered how many people were going to watch my session. A million thoughts and questions, which were thankfully interrupted by the start of the presentation.

An hour passed and suddenly, it was time for my presentation. I made my way to the room where I was greeted by my colleagues Stephanie and Grace, who were set to present right before me. Grace and I made ourselves comfortable at a table at the front of the room. I then watched Stephanie and Grace both crush their presentations and before I knew it, it was my turn to do the same. As I headed up to the podium, I realized that I have never actually used a microphone before. 24 years on this planet and somehow, I have never encountered a microphone (I should really do more karaoke). This realization made me laugh and that, combined with the fact that so many of my classmates were supporting me in the audience, rid me of any lingering nerves.  

Madison Empey-Salisbury presenting at the OPPI & OALA conference .

Before I knew it, 15 minutes had passed, and it was time for questions. For me, the question period is often more stressful than the presentation itself. In the days leading up to the presentation, I tried to come up with answers for as many potential questions as I could. The funny thing is, I did not accurately predict a single question that was asked to me during the question period. However, I was confident in every answer I gave, which awarded me with a sense of accomplishment larger than any level of preparation could have. After the session was finished, I was greeted with kind words from planning students and practitioners from across Ontario. These interactions are what the 2GETHER conference is all about.

Now that I was finished presenting, I could relax and enjoy the rest of the conference. I had the opportunity to attend some fantastic sessions, including one regarding parking lot pop-ups, which I found especially interesting. When the conference came to an end that day, I found myself reflecting back on my experience. This was the second OPPI conference that I have attended (the first being in Toronto in 2019), but the first I had the opportunity to present at. I am proud of how far I have come since my first conference, and I cannot wait to see where I am at by the next one. Until next time OPPI.

bookmark_borderLondon Calling: The OPPI & OALA Conference

I’m very happy to say that this past week, I attended (and spoke at!) my first in-person in over three years. If you read my previous post on how the AAG Annual Meeting, you will know how much I enjoy conferences. I’m pleased to share that the OPPI (Ontario Professional Planners Institute) & OALA (Ontario Association of Landscape Architects) conference did not disappoint. The theme of the conference was ‘2GETHERtwo days, two disciplines. It was the first joint conferences the two associations have hosted together since 2003, and the excitement and eagerness upon entering the conference centre was palpable. Stepping up to the breakfast buffet I felt in my element.  

However, I’m getting ahead of myself, let’s go back to a day earlier before the conference. The School of Urban and Regional Planning at Queen’s University (where I study) had arranged for a bus to pick up a group of students and transport us from Kingston to London, a drive that is 4.5 hours with no traffic. I didn’t mind though as I had an insurmountable number of readings to catch up on. However, I had helped to plan a short detour. The bus would stop in Regent Park in Toronto, a neighbourhood that was once Canada’s first social housing project that has recently undergone revitalization to include a mix of affordable, rent-geared-to-income, and market rate housing units. After learning extensively about the area last year it was rewarding to finally see it and get a sense of the neighbourhood in person. Our last stop before hitting the road again was the World Urban Pavilion in Regent Park, a dedicated “exchange hub” to promote the exchange of research, knowledge, and innovation in urban development from around the world. At the Pavilion we got to hear from a long-time resident of Regent Park who spoke to the initiatives within the community as well as their perspective on its revitalization. We also learned that the Pavilion is guided by the United Nations-Habitat Human Settlement Program, that is guided by a set of sustainable development goals (SDGs) to work towards a better urban future. As we left, I got sight of a phrase on the Daniels Spectrum building in Regent Park, it reads “ROOTED IN REGENT PARK CONNECTED TO THE WORLD”. I was touched by the phrase and prompted to think about how I was rooted in the places that I was from, but I was unsure of exactly how these places were connected to the world. However, in Regent Park there was an evident sense that it was a place that extended beyond its physical boundaries. However, in the blink of an eye it was gone, we were back on the bus continuing our trek to London. Yet the atmosphere on the bus had changed, as everyone was buzzing with excitement and sharing thoughts on what we had learned from our visit to Regent Park.  

Daniels Spectrum Building in Regent Park, Toronto

After spending a substantial amount of time in Toronto traffic we eventually arrived in London. Now all that was on my mind was my presentation tomorrow. Although I had many opportunities to present in class last year, I still had never done a conference presentation in person. The morning of my presentation I woke up bright and early to prepare. I arrived at the conference building to a large breakfast buffet, however, I had to make the tough decision of opting for only one cup of coffee to avoid the jitters for my presentation. I spent the rest of the morning speaking with planners and landscape architects alike, and I was able to sit in on some incredible panels and presentations. At lunch I sat with some alumni who shared their experiences and provided some insight on what life was like after graduation. But after lunch my time had come – it was time to present. However, I had an unusual feeling, usually I get quite nervous and uneasy before presenting, but on this day, I felt excited, invigorated, I couldn’t wait to have other eyes on the material that I’ve been working on for months. As I was presenting, I felt proud, not only of myself and my colleagues on the work we had done, but of the participants in the photovoice study who had undertaken the difficult task of reflecting on play and their perceptions of it in the environment. Seeing some of their photos of the screen felt deeply personal. I had always explained that we had decided to use photovoice as the research methodology as it allows for us as the researcher to get a look through the “lens” of the participant and their experience with the phenomenon being studied. However, having the photo enlarged and shared with a room full of practitioners more than 4,000 km away from where it was captured, actualized to me the power of photovoice. The room full of practitioners from across Ontario were almost peering into the world of that older adult, they were seeing what they had seen. And although everyone’s interpretation of that photo may be different, it still sparks a conversation. A conversation that I was happy to engage with during the questions period, where relevant topics such as planning and memory loss, access to transportation, and how to implement age-friendly environments were all discussed. As I walked out of presentation room, I felt satisfied, and I was ready to celebrate with my classmates.  

Presentation time!

The next day at the conference I was approached by a student who complimented me on my previous days’ presentation and explained that in their home country of Japan aging and social isolation is a major issue. After a wonderful conversation about the potential of play infrastructure, we parted ways, and I thought “ISOLATION: ROOTED IN VICTORIA CONNECTED TO THE WORLD” and then “PLAY: ROOTED IN VICTORIA CONNECTED TO THE WORLD”. Although these are sentences that my brain makes up subconsciously while I overfill my cup with coffee, it reminded me of a theme that I always forget to consider. It is that of ubiquity or universality. That all places are in a way connected to the world by way of human nature. That we as human beings all want similar things despite living in very different environments and conditions. The fact that older adults around the world are experience isolation and loneliness, also means that this can be improved on through play. And although play may look different from place to place, or even person to person, the desire, and the need to belong are still there rooted in the individual but connected to the world.   

As I boarded the bus back to Kingston that evening, I felt a renewed passion for the project and for play itself. I settled in for a long road trip nap, comforted by the fact that 2GETHER anything is possible.  

Queen’s University School of Urban and Regional Planning students at the 2GETHER Conference in London, ON