Insight: Talking About Cities

“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest”
– Benjamin Franklin

The research agenda of undergraduate students is often overshadowed by the achievements of Masters and PhD student thesis and dissertations. But, investment in undergraduate students, not just financially, but through supporting research opportunities is a way for a university to further the development of its students. Promoting and creating research opportunities for undergraduate students — both inside and outside of the classroom provides a fundamentally important experience that not only benefits students, but also everyone involved.

This past Friday, March 22, 2013 the first Talking About Cities: an Undergraduate Conference took place in the Robarts Library at the University of Toronto. Initiated by the Urban Studies Program at Innis College and the University of Toronto Libraries, and supported by the Martin Prosperity Institute, the conference sponsored a day of undergraduate research presentations. Organized and executed by Dr. Shauna Brail, Director of the Experiential Learning Program in the Urban Studies Department, the conference allowed undergrad students to share and discuss their research with each other, faculty and the public. Before the big day, students were provided with skills training from professionals in regards to abstract writing and presentations. Presentations were followed by panel discussions with the students and moderated by professors and instructors, including Richard DiFrancesco, Andre Sorensen, Kevin Stolarick and Scott Sams.

The event started off with a keynote address from Rahul Bhardwaj, the President and CEO of the Toronto Community Foundation. Rahul discussed the TCFs “Vital Signs” report and discussed the importance of happiness to the Toronto region. A few examples of the research that was presented include: waterfront revitalization; alternatives to the automobile in urban transportation; the criminalization of homelessness; and recreation trails and community health. There were numerous research presentations that also looked at different cities and countries, including Los Angeles, Juarez, Singapore, and others. Presenters ranged from numerous departments and programs across all three of the University of Toronto’s campuses. A poster session during lunch allowed for even more students to engage other with their research. The different presentation topics varied in scope, as there was great diversity of knowledge within the exhibits.

The University of Toronto appreciates and celebrates the research achievements of its students and faculty, and encourages them to take advantage of the “boundless” opportunities available. We here at the Martin Prosperity Institute share this notion, as young minds need encouragement and development to ensure the future prosperity of our cities. This Insight has highlighted the efforts of the undergraduate students and organizers of the 2013 Talking About Cities conference. We hope that this event, along with others like it, continues to provide students with an opportunity to develop and present their research.

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The Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto‘s Rotman School of Management is the world’s leading think-tank on the role of sub-national factors — location, place and city-regions — in global economic prosperity. We take an integrated view of prosperity, looking beyond economic measures to include the importance of quality of place and the development of people’s creative potential.