The School of Cities works in partnership with other faculties, schools and departments at the University of Toronto to offer a series of seminars for graduate students enrolled in Masters or PhD programs at the University.  Multidisciplinary Urban Graduate Seminar (MUGS) courses – formerly known as the Graduate Multidisciplinary Urban Project (GMUP) – focus on issues related to urban policy and practice, and students work in multidisciplinary teams from different academic fields, using their learned perspective to review problems faced by cities and find innovative solutions. 

Current and upcoming MUGS courses

Course name: Planning and Designing for Community Power
Course code: PLA1516H1F
Course instructors: Keisha St. Louis-McBurnie and Chiyi Tam
Location: St. George Campus
Dates of course: Tuesdays (Fall term)
Times of course: 12 pm – 3 pm

This course examines how planning and urban design can help create alternative futures that centre community control and power. We begin with an introduction to how settler colonialism and colonial knowledge systems have established our present-day understandings of land, private property and ownership. And in turn, how this has tangibly affected planning and design outcomes and processes. Students will be invited to deconstruct this history to understand what anti-capitalist planning and design could be in relation to land and property.

The task is to use your skills and motivations for planning and design towards eroding intersecting systems of oppression through practice. This class will introduce students to case studies, core tools and alternative techniques in community-based facilitation, narrative storytelling, co-creation and design engagement. Assignments will emphasize practicing these skills while speculating what liberatory planning and design practices could look like by developing an understanding of intersecting systems of oppression. Students will also learn from guest speakers, including designers and architects, planners, community organizers and community engagement specialists.

Students who are not in the Faculty of Geography and Planning should apply by completing this form by August 31, 2024.

Course name: Hip-Hop and the City
Course code: MUS 1149F
Course instructor: Kofi Hope and Shad Kabango
Location: St. George Campus (in person)
Dates of course: Fall 2024
Times of course: Wednesdays, 1 – 4 PM ET

This course is offered in collaboration with the Faculty of Music.

Hip-Hop, now 50 years young, has gone from house parties and outdoor DJ battles in New York City, to being one of the world’s dominant cultural and artistic movements. Along this journey from the South Bronx to sitting at the center of global pop culture, Hip-Hop has remained a quintessentially urban art form. Hip-Hop was a form of artistic expression birthed by low-income, Black and Brown young people responding to the urban issues of their day: urban decline and underinvestment, police brutality, mass incarceration and the war on drugs. As it spread globally it continued to be a voice for the city, shaped by the new urban landscapes that adopted it and at the same time also shaping the economic, social and cultural growth of the cities it took root in. 

This is a multidisciplinary graduate course that will use Hip-Hop music and culture as a lens to explore historical urban issues; as a medium to think about how urban issues shape cultural expression and how culture shapes cities; and finally as a platform for students to develop innovative solutions to critical urban challenges of today. 

Students who are not in the Faculty of Music should apply by completing this form by August 31, 2024.

Course name: Destroying the City: Vandalism Past & Present
Course code: ENG 7105HF
Course instructor: Professor Nick Mount
Location: TBD (in person)
Dates of course: Fall 2024
Times of course: Wednesday, 12-2 PM ET

This course is offered in collaboration with the Department of English.

Marking walls, defacing monuments, burning books, blowing up statues, breaking windows…for as long as humans have created things, they have also willfully defaced and destroyed them. What is vandalism? Who does it, and why? Does vandalism also create? Can a transhistorical, interdisciplinary approach to vandalism offer new perspectives on old and new forms of vandalism that period-specific historians and social scientists may have missed? These are the working questions of my current research. Focused on the urban sites past and present in which most vandalism has occurred, this interdisciplinary seminar will explore theories and representations of vandalism in both “fact” and fiction. Our topics of conversation, and potentially of your own research and essays, will include such things as state-sponsored vs. citizen vandalism, cultural vandalism, political vandalism, the vandalism of art, art as vandalism, vandalism for fun and vandalism for profit. 

Students who are not in the Department of English should apply by completing this form by August 31, 2024.

Course name: Social Prescribing in the City
Course code: CHL7001H
Course instructor: Professor Kate Mulligan
Location: TBD (in person)

This course is offered in collaboration with Dalla Lana School of Public Health and is taught by Professor Kate Mulligan. 

This weeklong intensive course will introduce graduate students from across disciplines and professions to the theory and practice of social prescribing for healthy cities. Social prescribing provides a new way to understand and organize intersectoral approaches to healthy cities and healthy urban populations. The practice involves health professionals working collaboratively with participants to prescribe non-clinical services that help address the social determinants of health, from social isolation and wellbeing activities to better access to housing and food. 

The course will include guest lecturers from across Canada and around the world along with visits to social prescribing programs focused on urban health in the Toronto area. This course will be in-person only. 

Enrollment for the 2024 session is now closed.

Past courses

Course name: Understanding the Wildfires: Redefining housing and communication resilience in Yellowknife, Canada
Course code: GGR 1149H
Course instructor: Professors Aditi Mehta and David Roberts
Location: Yellowknife, NWT
Dates of course: Orientation June 11 & 13, field visit June 24-28

This course is offered in collaboration with the Department of Geography & Planning.

This course will leverage the School of Cities relationship with Canadian Urban Leader, Rebecca Alty, mayor of Yellowknife to offer students an opportunity to travel to and learn first-hand from Yellowknife and the surrounding communities about the climate crisis in Canada’s north.

During the summer of 2023, wildfires in the Northwest Territories forced the evacuation of over 20,000 people from Yellowknife. Due to climate change, wildfire risk continues to increase and Canadian cities such as Yellowknife must grapple with how to prepare, respond to, and recover from disasters while also prioritizing justice. With that said, what does it mean for a remote/rural city to be resilient to wildfires? Through site visits, interviews, and focus groups with municipal and provincial officials, community-based organizations, residents, and indigenous leaders, students will investigate how the housing crisis and climate change are intertwined, as well as explore how to build more resilient communication infrastructure in Yellowknife

Enrollment for the 2024 session is now closed.

Course name: Developing Affordable Housing from Start to Finish
Course code: PLA1516H1S
Course instructor: Jeanhy Shim and Mukhtar Latif
Location: St George Campus
Dates of course: Wednesdays (Winter semester)
Times of course: 12:00pm – 2:00pm

‘Developing Affordable Housing From Start to Finish’ is a multi-disciplinary course open to students from graduate programs in planning, business, architecture, urban design, engineering and related disciplines. Students should possess a basic knowledge of either housing, finance or design.

In this interactive, hands-on studio course, students will work in groups to prepare affordable housing development proposals for sites in Toronto owned by not-for-profit community groups.

This is a practical course where students will be assigned to groups and work together to experience ‘what it’s like to be a developer’ in addressing the challenges and complexities of planning and developing a site from start to finish for affordable housing. Students will gain an understanding and appreciation of the importance of close collaboration and interplay among several disciplines, including architecture, planning, business and construction, in order to develop a successful project.

Course instructors: Yinnon Geva and Amir Forouhar
Course name:  Bring Back Main Street
Course code: MUI2000H
Term: Winter 2024
Campus: UTSG
Dates of course: Thursdays (Winter semester)
Times of course : 10 am – 1 pm

Main streets, or principal retail corridors, serve as anchors of economic activity, social gathering, and cultural expression in Canada’s cities and towns. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, some main streets have struggled to maintain their vitality. Why do some streets thrive while others falter? What is the role of the sectoral composition of businesses, local built form, transportation infrastructure, characteristics of the surrounding residential community, the capacity of local businesses to organize, and/or specific federal, provincial, and local policy interventions?

Course name:  Building Happy Cities
Course code: PSY1210
Term: Winter 2024
Campus: UTSG
Dates of course: Tuesday (Winter semester)
Times of course : 10 am – 12 pm

Happiness has gained growing attention as a policy indicator. While Canada typically ranks in the top 15 in happiness charts, Canadian happiness has been dropping in the past 15 years. In this course, we will conceptualize cities as hubs to promote residents’ happiness through improvements in the built, natural, and social environments. Together, we will learn about the determinants, consequences, and policy relevance of happiness and develop knowledge mobilization projects aimed at promoting Torontonians’ happiness – as a starting point to reverse the worrying decline in happiness in Canada.

Course name: The Edible Campus
Course code: ENV1063H-F for the graduate course code and ENV463H1 for the undergrad course code
Course instructor: Michael Classens
Location: St George Campus
Dates of course: Wednesdays (Fall semester)
Times of course: 10:00am – 12:00pm

This course is offered in collaboration with the School of the Environment.

This course situates students and campuses within the context of broader movements for more ecologically rational and socially-just food systems. Topics include critical food systems pedagogy; the political economy of campus food systems; student food (in)security and health; campus food systems alternatives; campus food growing spaces; student/campus-based food movements; campus-community partnerships. The course is praxis-driven and will provide students with opportunities to engage in change-making on their campus, and beyond, through an action-focused project with a campus and/or community partner.

This course is offered in collaboration with John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design and is taught by Professor Michael Piper. 

New housing construction tends to be expensive and extractive. With affordability and environmental crises underway, one has to wonder why we don’t make better use of our existing housing stock and urban land. This course will explore strategies of ReHousing, or, repurposing existing single-family buildings as dignified multi-unit housing. Toronto is planning to pass zoning reforms that will allow up to five units of housing on all existing single-family lots. It is already legal to build three. The city’s policy and financial systems support the creation of new buildings in this context and design imagery often showcases refined materials of new construction. As an alternative, we will explore design techniques, policy frameworks, and financial systems to enable and encourage the recreation of existing housing stocks. We are partnered with two organizations who are focusing on how to make such renovation, conversion, or transformation more affordable, and equitable: Circle Community Land Trust and GoCo/Husmates. This course will build on work created with these partners during the previous semester but will have a distinct focus. Both returning and new students are welcome. 

This course is offered in collaboration with the Master of Urban Innovation, UTM and is co-taught by Dr. Jeff Allen (cartographer and urban data scientist) and Professor Karen Chapple (Director, School of Cities; Professor, Department of Geography and Planning; Professor Emerita. City & Regional Planning, University of California, Berkeley). 

In this research workshop, the students will examine the impacts of the pandemic on main streets, as well as the policy interventions and contextual factors that have best supported their comeback. The resilience of main streets depends on a variety of factors – economic, social, organizational, cultural, political, design, regulatory, etc. Students will use cell phone mobility data linked to neighbourhood and business data to analyze main street activity patterns and predict the impacts of different policy interventions. At the same time, they will conduct interviews and/or surveys with stakeholders in the most resilient main streets to help determine which interventions are most effective – and why. 

This course is offered in collaboration with the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy and is co-taught by Professor Gabriel Eidelman (Director of Munk School’s Urban Policy Lab) and Don Iveson (former Mayor of Edmonton (2013-2021), Chair of Canada’s Big City Mayors Caucus, and Canadian Urban Leader at the School of Cities). 

This course compares how cities and city regions around the world organize themselves to deal with urban policy problems. The goal of the course is to highlight how different governance structures across North America, Western Europe, and other global regions shape policy making in cities, and the diversity of policy responses required by national, subnational, and local governments to address the toughest urban challenges. 

This course is offered in collaboration with John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture and Design and is co-taught by Professor Michael Piper and Sneha Mandhan. 

About half of Toronto and much of the GTA consists of a “yellowbelt” of single-family detached homes protected by restrictive zoning rules. With a housing affordability crisis and the GTA expected to increase by three million new residents in the next 25 years, the region faces a pivotal decision. Can the GTA’s municipalities open up their neighbourhoods in a way that is equitable and sustainable but also politically and economically viable? 

This course will focus on transforming single-family homes into multi-family housing through co-ownership and/or co-living strategies, for those who are being left out of the individual homeownership market. Given that practices such as co-ownership or co-housing are not mainstream, a number of new platforms and organizations have emerged lately to support ‘citizen developer’ types as they conduct feasibility studies, apply for unconventional mortgages, or negotiate complex approvals processes. Our goal for this course is to study these platforms, visualize scenarios for how they contribute to multiplex and garden suite creation and develop a Guidebook for Citizen Developers that focuses on the nuts and bolts of development and implementation. 

Working in alignment with the City of Toronto’s Expanding Housing Options in Neighbourhoods (EHON) initiatives, students will partner with organizations that offer services/platforms for alternative development scenarios, e.g., community land trusts that take housing units off of the private market and hold it on behalf of the community, who then shares ownership and governance of those housing units, and co-ownership development advisors and partners who help individuals manoeuvre the legal and financial systems to co-own properties with family, friends, or strangers. Students will work in groups on 4 primary components: 1) researching the services and platforms offering co-ownership or co-living options, 2) partnering with a service provider to understand the nuances of the opportunities and challenges of co-ownership/co-living, 3) consulting with the EHON team at the City of Toronto to understand the development process, permitting framework, and approvals, and 4) visualizing design and implementation scenarios of different types of co-living and co-ownership. 

This course is for students who have a strong interest in and passion for city-building and critical urban issues as they relate to the ‘Missing Middle’ of multiplexes and mid-sized developments in and around the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). 

Learn more about this course from the course syllabus and this presentation

This course is offered in collaboration with the Rotman School of Management and is co-taught by Adam Vaughan (Principal at Navigator, former MP & Toronto City Councilor), Cheryll Case (Early Career Canadian Urban Leader, School of Cities; Adjunct Professor, University of Waterloo; Founder & Principal Urban Planner, CP Planning) &  Jeanhy Shim (President, Housing Lab Toronto; Founder, Crosswalk Communities and TashDesign Co.; Board of Directors, Waterfront Toronto). 

In this studio course, students will look through the lens of their different disciplines and collaborate to prepare innovative, affordable housing development proposals for a community client. The goal of the course is for students to produce workable designs and financial feasibility analyses for affordable housing on a small development site of under 20 units, and a high-density development on a vacant parking lot. While testing out different architectural and urban design approaches, students will also develop innovative financial models for securing the affordable housing they propose for their site. 

Learn more about this course on the Rotman School website > 

Teach your urban-focused graduate course with us

MUGS partners with tri-campus postdocs and faculty who are eager to teach a graduate course with an urban focus, often related to specific and real-world urban projects.

We will be accepting new applications in Fall 2024.

What we provide for you

  • We will provide funding for a teaching assistant or faculty course buy-out (up to $10,000);
  • We will actively promote the course across the tri-campus;
  • We will provide support for, and work with you on, knowledge mobilization (e.g., policy brief, video, podcast, website, performance, or similar).

What we ask from you

  • We ask that you reserve at least half of your course seats for graduate students from outside departments;
  • We strongly encourage that the course take the form of a workshop with deliverables suitable for knowledge mobilization. This might take the form of individual or group projects on specific urban issues, often for a specific client, and with a product that can be disseminated to a wide audience.