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Influential geography award goes to U of T President Meric Gertler

Gertler reflects on how urban expertise contributes to his role at the university

Understanding the qualities of economically successful cities lies at the heart of President Gertler's most cited work (photo by Allen McGregor via Flickr)

The Association of American Geographers (AAG) will confer their most prestigious distinction on President Meric Gertler next spring, awarding him the 2014 Distinguished Scholarship Honor for outstanding contributions to the advancement of geography.

“Meric Gertler is an unusually creative scholar whose large body of published work is wide ranging and widely cited,” said Richard A. Marston, chair of the Committee for Annual Honors of the AAG. “His papers have been genuinely path-breaking, providing a firm analytical and empirical foundation for understanding the evolution of Canadian and American regional systems over the 20th century.”

Marston added that no other single author had as many articles in the top 25 most-cited articles in economic geography from 1982 to 2006.

“When I look at my work that’s been most highly cited, it’s that aspect of my research that is trying to understand the qualities of economically successful cities and how they spawn and support innovation-generating activity,” said Gertler. “My work in that area seems to have really resonated with people.”

It’s been a big year for Gertler, who took on the role of university president in November, and says that this honour from the AAG is a meaningful recognition.

“The great thing about these awards is that there’s no higher praise than the praise of one’s scholarly peers,” he said. “The AAG is the largest and arguably most prestigious scholarly association in my field in the world, so to win their top honour for scholarship is just hugely gratifying and humbling.”

Gertler says his interest in urban innovation is especially relevant in his new position as president.

“One of the great things about this job is that I will often be able to address issues as president that I was interested in as a scholar. I have studied and written about the role of the university in urban economies and in the cities in which they are situated, and I was interested in how each benefits the other – how a strong university helps make a city stronger and how a great city enables a university to be even greater.

“That kind of symbiotic relationship has always been of interest to me, long before I stepped into the corridors of academic administration. Now I’m moving from being a scholar who studies this from a slightly detached position to someone who is a participant observer and, indeed, an active agent of change. So that will be a lot of fun."

The president added that he also hopes to use his role in affairs of the city and university to showcase the work of the impressive cohort of urban experts at U of T.

“It looks like there might be some opportunities to help organize the large community of scholars who are interested in things urban at the University of Toronto. I would like to give them more profile and to make it easier for them to contribute to urban policy debates and questions, not just locally but globally as well. I hope I can shine a light on the expertise we have and help them make their mark in the city and beyond.”

Gertler is set to receive the award in a ceremony on 12 April in Tampa, Florida, at the AAG annual meeting.

Brianna Goldberg is a writer with University Relations at the University of Toronto.

December 18, 2013