John Brodhead and Shauna Brail (photo illustration by Elaine Stam)

Urban advisers to forge stronger links between U of T and city, expand opportunities for students

Sharing research expertise, increasing collaborations and partnerships on city issues

The University of Toronto, home to some of the world's leading experts on city building, is appointing two new urban affairs advisers to President Meric Gertler: Shauna Brail and John Brodhead.

“Members of the university community have expressed tremendous support for the idea that we should play a larger and more visible role in city building,” said Gertler.  “We need to build stronger linkages to the communities around us, while enhancing the connections among urban scholars across our three campuses.”

While city experts at U of T include such well-known researchers as David Hulchanski, Emily Paradis, Deb Cowen and Eric Miller, the advisers will have access to faculty and students across a diverse array of disciplines, Gertler said.

“Together Shauna and John will work in close partnership with me to leverage the university’s knowledge and research expertise to address important urban issues, develop and strengthen working relationships with civic organizations, and increase collaborative research opportunities between the University and the Cities of Toronto and Mississauga,” said Gertler.

Brail, a senior lecturer in urban studies at Innis College, will be the presidential adviser on urban engagement. She will work with faculty and students on city-related projects, expanding opportunities for collaboration and connecting them with the broader community through U of T initiatives.

As special adviser to the president on urban issues Brodhead – who remains executive director of Evergreen CityWorks – will help U of T build better ties with city agencies, urban advocacy groups and civic leaders.   

The appointments take effect July 1 and are already making headlines. (Read the story in the Globe and Mail; read the story in the Toronto Star.)

While researchers and professors across the three campuses are already working on urban issues, these appointments reinforce U of T’s commitment to being an integral partner with the city and surrounding region, said Gertler, who has emphasized that city building is a top priority of the university.

Brail and Brodhead said they will work closely with Gertler to identify opportunities where the University’s knowledge and research expertise can help address important urban issues. 

“Our urban strengths encompass divisions across the university and span all three campuses,” Brail said. “We also have resources – through research programs and institutes, teaching-related initiatives, faculty and students and these can be better leveraged both within and outside of the institution to encourage greater sharing of ideas, knowledge and talent.

“By further focusing our efforts on improving collaboration amongst urbanists across the university, creating and expanding learning opportunities for students and acting as a convener for critical debates and discussions on key urban issues, we can strengthen existing relationships and create new opportunities for urban engagement.”

Brail will continue as a senior lecturer in urban studies, where her work involves placing students in internships related to urban issues. She said she hopes that connecting with faculty across vast disciplines such engineering, political science, computer science and education, will mean more experiential learning opportunities for U of T students.

Brodhead is the first executive director of CityWorks, an initiative by the non-profit organization Evergreen to work with policymakers and the public to change how we design cities. He will continue his full-time work with Evergreen while advising President Gertler on urban issues. 

Already, he can see many areas where the two worlds will intersect: He says CityWorks has focused on housing and transportation – two areas where U of T has also done significant research. CityWorks is working on prototyping tower renewal even as U of T Scarborough campus has been working on the issue with its nearby community for some time. 

“I think this is great news for the city and the region,” Brodhead said. 

“The university has always vigorously contributed to the civic debate in areas like transit, housing, energy and more,” he added. “The role I am taking on is designed to build upon this legacy and find new ways for the University to contribute to city building. My goal is to be a connector between great organizations in the city and the University – to help cultivate new partnerships that lead to tangible progress for this region’s residents.”

Brail holds a PhD in geography from U of T. Her research lies broadly in economic geography with a focus on the social, cultural and economic changes associated with the shifting strengths of cities. A co-investigator in the Neighbourhood Change Research Partnership, Brail also develops and manages relationships with multiple organizations as part of the urban studies program’s acclaimed experiential learning initiatives.  

As part of her teaching, she has placed more than 500 U of T undergraduate students in internships and service-learning placements at urban-focused organizations across the city over the past 10 years. Before joining U of T, Brail worked in management consulting and as a senior policy advisor to the Ontario provincial government.   

Before joining Evergreen CityWorks, Brodhead was deputy chief of staff for policy and cabinet affairs for Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty. He was also vice-president for strategy and communications for Metrolinx.  Brodhead is currently an executive fellow at U of T’s Mowat Centre for Public Policy, a senior fellow on urban poverty for the Maytree Foundation, and was one of the Toronto Foundation’s Vital People for 2015. 

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