Interview with Alexandra Flynn

How did you get interested in City Studies/Human Geography?
As a scholar and lawyer, I am fascinated by and dedicated to questions of urban governance. My focus is on reimagining local governments as responsive, reflective bodies that are relevant to the people within their boundaries. There are many studies that show how city governments make a profound difference to residents in regard to issues like housing and transportation. While this is true, I also believe that issues that seem unimportant – gardens, bike lanes, parking pads – are exactly those that matter when we conceive of and understand governance. Far from being mundane questions unworthy of legal study, I believe that they reflect the very fabric of belonging that underpins our neighbourhoods. Local government is precisely the forum to examine the efficacy of Canadian democracy. I hope that my research helps the City of Toronto and all Canadian cities reimagine richer and better local institutions that are responsive to community needs, and which foster inclusive participation.

What are you working on right now?
I have just completed a multi-year project on the formal and informal bodies that govern local (or smaller-than-city) spaces in the City of Toronto. I am using the research from this project to publish academic articles on the implications of community councils, ward boundary review, and community bodies like neighbourhood associations and business improvement areas. In addition, I recently began a SSHRC-funded project examining Indigenous–municipal relationships in the land-use planning process, and how these relationships can and should inform a possible municipal duty to consult. This two-year project will explore the meaning of “consultation” within and among Indigenous and municipal communities. This project asserts that Indigenous capacities, knowledges, and legal orders must be acknowledged in municipal planning processes. In addition to these academic projects, I contribute to the University of Toronto’s Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance and Spacing Magazine on city governance-related issues.

What do you bring to the undergraduate class room?
The “class room” can be understood as the literal walls of the assigned room at UTSC, but also the City of Toronto and other municipalities in Canada and around the world. In my classes, these cities provide a rich opportunity to learn about local politics, urban governance and municipal finance, with policy examples that are used to understand theoretical frameworks and academic literature. As such, I include tours of City Hall, assignments like briefing books and issue notes, and have guest speakers share their experiences with students. I believe that the undergraduate classes that I teach are not just mine, but must be open and inclusive spaces of learning and participation for all those within them.

What is one helpful tip you’d like to share with your students to help them succeed at UTSC?
Attend class! You’ll learn more, meet other students, and make UTSC feel like home.