We have entered the age of planetary urbanization, but a more accurate description is planetary suburbanization, as much of this growth has occurred, and will continue to occur, at the periphery of cities. This will generate immense pressures on our social and environmental systems, including gross inequalities in mobility, health outcomes, economic vibrancy, access to opportunities, and exposure to transport externalities such as congestion, pollution and traffic deaths. To address these challenges and exploit specific suburban opportunities, cities globally will require a complete understanding of the complexity of how human and environmental systems are uniquely intertwined within suburban contexts.
The proposed Suburban Mobilities cluster at the University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC), will address these academic and policy challenges by leveraging investments in the GTA-RISE institute, as well as the Mobility Lab (ML), a strategic partnership between the School of Cities and the University of Toronto Research Institute. At the tri-campus level, the ML will mobilize the scale, scope, and strengths of UofT’s interdisciplinary transportation research resources to lead a concerted response to urban mobility challenges and opportunities. Suburban Mobilities will be the expert collaborative network focused on mobility within suburban contexts. It will inform decision makers, and engage with multi-sector stakeholders in and around Scarborough. It will be a globally prominent strategic resource developing innovative solutions to suburban mobility and accessibility challenges.
Suburban Mobilities’ overall goal is to generate knowledge about suburban contexts that will allow communities to solve holistic transportation challenges facing the suburbanized world in the 21st century. In an effort to produce innovative understandings and solutions to complex suburban mobility challenges, we strive for intellectual diversity through multidisciplinary, multisectoral, and multi-method collaborations, harnessing UTSC’s deep expertise and unique relationships to community, government and industry partners.
As a pillar of the GTA-RISE institute, the cluster will develop an integrated UTSC approach to collaborative research, while leveraging faculty resources and university institutions across the tri-campus, such as the Innovative Mobility Lab, The School of Cities, and the University of Toronto Transportation Research Institute. Taken together, support from the CSPP will form the foundation for the creation of a self-sustaining research cluster that will surely enable team members to compete successfully for external funding and raise UTSC’s ability to attract leading scholars, rising stars, and the world’s finest graduate student talent.
In the near-term, the cluster initiative will support training opportunities for 10 graduate research assistants per year, 6 UTSC undergraduate students per year, and a fulltime postdoctoral research fellow. We will also have a significant training impact on HQP external to the university through our partnered research approach and commitment to stakeholder inclusion. The cluster will create novel interdepartmental mentoring opportunities for junior UTSC cluster faculty. Combined, these training opportunities will be put towards cross-cutting research culminating in dozens of outreach events, policy reports, journal articles, and conference presentations across the domains of: transportation, geography and planning, sociology, political science, economics and management, operations research, and public health. This initial list reflects the diversity of expertise in the cluster and is likely to expand as the cluster develops over the three-year period and more scholars and external resources are acquired by the team members.
The broader outcomes of this initiative will have a long-lasting societal impact by improving quality of life in the local community through partnerships with stakeholders, government and community organizations. Four public meetings will be held every year to collaborate with stakeholders, and for us to report back to the community in an effort to be accountable and respectful of the community’s contributions to our partnered research. In addition, the cluster’s commitment to equity, inclusion and diversity is evidenced through the inclusion of these groups in an advisory role within the cluster’s governance and administrative structure, supported by the UTSC Community Development and Engagement Department and the emphasis on urban inequality as a research theme.
The derisive moniker Scarberia paints a picture of vast suburban monotony, an emptiness, and peripheral insignificance. This could not be farther from the truth. Scarborough is a complex mosaic of ethnic enclaves, home to nationally significant cultural capital. Geographically, it exemplifies a carefully planned suburban morphology with a mix of residential densities alongside industry, parks, and educational institutions. It also exhibits disparities in accessibility to local and regional destinations and opportunities (work, healthcare, education, etc.). On top of these static depictions of Scarborough, we must layer the rapid pace of change occurring due to socioeconomic dynamics, migration, intensification, and transportation infrastructure investments (Scarborough Subway, GO Service Expansion, Durham BRT among others).
The interplay between the geography of Scarborough and the abovementioned dynamics presents both specific challenges and opportunities for mobility innovation and retrofitting. This necessitates an interdisciplinary approach to understanding how transportation serves to interconnect this complex of social, economic, and environmental systems. Furthermore, capturing how transportation simultaneously enhances and inhibits wellbeing in different places and for different people requires a multidisciplinary systems lens. Our approaches will inform how we can best shape the future of Scarborough, and many suburbs worldwide, by bringing comprehensive lessons learned to communities and decision makers.
Taking Scarborough as a case study positions the Suburban Mobilities cluster to engage in transformative, interdisciplinary, partnered research and to lead in understanding how suburban social, environmental and economic contexts and dynamics fit within, and indeed define, a new global paradigm in urban transportation.