During the winter of 2023, the School of Cities awarded 13 new Urban Challenge Grants to research projects that tackle the interactions of migration, belonging and thriving. Over 20 Principal Investigators from 18 University of Toronto departments – spanning the humanities, social and natural sciences – are leading research teams that crosscut these areas of study.

Communities form and reform ways of handling difference and of thriving. The social and physical infrastructure of cities can either support or divide communities; it can either cultivate diversity or foster segregation. How we understand and design environments and institutions shapes our ability to thrive. Researchers across disciplines are engaging with the idea of thriving, seeking to support vibrancy in cultural, natural, and economic life. From science and engineering to health and the humanities, research focuses on the attachment to place and community, along with the struggle to belong and express differences.

Mark Campbell, Assistant Professor, Department of Music, UTSC; Myrtle Millares, Research Associate, Afrosonic Innovation Lab, UTSC 

The Government of Canada has recently announced a plan to welcome 1,450,000  immigrants between 2023 and 2025. Most (60%) are intended to boost economic growth while families, refugees and protected persons, and those admitted on humanitarian, compassionate, and other grounds make up the remaining categories. By 2041, it is estimated that immigrants will comprise 29.1% to 34% of Canada’s population. Most newcomers settle in urban centres, particularly Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver, such that diversity is now embedded in the social and economic fabric of the country’s most populated cities. 

Though immigration and settlement are essential to Canada’s growth, hate crimes motivated by violent opposition towards individuals’ ethnicity, race, and religion, continue to rise. Canada’s Department of Justice estimates that most hate crimes are not reported (possibly as high as 95%) and that inconsistency in the determination of crimes of this category also contribute to under-reporting. 

Beyond Equity, Diversity and Inclusion asks “what strategies do individuals deploy to belong and to thrive in new cultural settings?” and “does belonging and thriving in a sub-culture cultivate a sense of belonging and thriving in broader civic life?” Understanding what strategies are successful or show promise can determine what institutional resources and supports must be entrenched in policy for successful and sustained engagement in civic life.  

To answer the research questions, seven hip-hop artists will be queried for narratives of belonging and thriving. Individually-bounded research sites, such as hip-hop communities, allow closer participant-researcher collaboration, which is essential for the data triangulation and validity required by the ensuing narrative methods of inquiry. It is expected that results will provide rich descriptions of processes of belonging and thriving within hip-hop communities, and without, as participants’ practices connect to other sectors of civic engagement. Seven Toronto hip-hop artists will be interviewed for their narratives of migration to Canada and their involvement in hip-hop culture. In addition, their artistic works will be used to generate questions that allow for thick description of their experiences of belonging and thriving within this subculture. In the process, they will be asked about the relationships between processes of belonging and thriving within hiphop and without, i.e. in broader circles of civic engagement in Canada. 

Irina D. Mihalache, Associate Professor, Faculty of Information; Christoph Becker, Professor, Faculty of Information & School of the Environment; Lena M. Mortensen, Associate Chair, Department of Anthropology, UTSC

In arrival cities like Toronto, population diversity does not guarantee inclusive, resilient, and thriving communities. Social and spatial inequality affect all facets of city life. Rapid development displaces marginalized communities from places they call home, reproduces systemic forms of exclusion, and disrupts relationality and belonging. In these ongoing processes of displacement, neighbourhood histories and immigrant cultural heritage are often lost, and the lived experience of community members ignored. The dominant approaches of policymakers and city-building professionals to understanding the dynamics and complexities of immigration typically centre data-intensive quantitative frameworks based on statistical aggregates and geographic comparisons.

Policymakers must centre the perspectives of marginalized groups in order to better understand how to meaningfully engage with diverse communities and contribute to equitable and inclusive city- and community-building. Just as significantly, in order to thrive, immigrant communities need better tools to leverage their own knowledge, on their own terms, to achieve greater agency over the direction of development of their neighbourhoods. In this project, we reverse the conventional hierarchy between lived experience and data-driven policy by piloting a community-led co-design methodology for Curbcut Toronto, a new urban visualization platform that combines diverse forms of data to facilitate city building. Through a collaborative and community-centered approach, we aim to demonstrate how both community knowledges and public data can be equitably harnessed for community-self-advocacy as the basis for social change in immigrant neighbourhoods.

Michael Widener, Associate Professor, Department of Geography & Planning; Amaya Perez-Brumer, Assistant Professor, Dalla Lana School of Public Health  

As immigration continues to drive population growth in Canada’s cities, it is crucial to understand the factors that impact newcomers’ ability to live healthy lives in their new homes. With housing costs increasing across Canadian cities, newcomers are faced with the challenge of finding and paying for appropriate housing. While true for all newcomers, there is a need to better understand the experiences of migrants arriving from Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. Despite recent growth and being disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, scant research has been conducted with this community. 

In this mixed-methods project, the team will explore the role of housing and neighbourhood environments on health, with a focus on the Latinx immigrant population in Toronto. The team will work with the Hispanic Development Council (HDC) to execute two analyses. First, the research team will conduct an analysis of dissemination area-level data from the 2021 Census to help establish where Latinx immigrants live in Toronto, details about the housing stock and costs in those neighbourhoods, and access to amenities known to influence health. Second, the research team will work with the HDC and a community researcher to conduct interviews of Latinx newcomers and key informants to understand the role housing and the neighbourhood environment play in facilitating health.  

Girish Daswani, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology 

This project will study Indian international students in Singapore and Toronto, exploring similar themes within two cities with large Indian migrant populations and distinct socio-urban contexts. We seek to understand the role of different “educational infrastructures” in shaping the terms and extent of belonging amongst Indian international students. The University of Toronto (U of T and its campuses, residences, and surrounding neighbourhoods) is a place where international students live, study, and work, and, thus, is an important space for understanding migrant (un)belonging. Universities provide education infrastructures that can either support or divide student communities and are key sites for asking important questions about the possibilities for, and limits of, social thriving.  

This collaborative project recognizes the need to move beyond “global” branding of the University to understand how education infrastructures impact the social and inter-personal lives of Indian international students in Toronto. In Canada, the COVID pandemic exposed international students’ precariousness and the country’s disjointed education and immigration systems, which left students disillusioned amid a patchwork of support that relies on the goodwill of schools, employers, and local communities. U of T, therefore, becomes a place through which to understand how Indian student-migrants experience “international student life” amidst the challenges they face and the complexity of experiences that define their dual lives as students and newcomers in Canada. 

Karl Gardner, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Department of Political Science

This project deepens current research on sanctuary cities and migrant inclusion in Canada by exploring the ways in which undocumented migrants survive and resist their socio-economic exclusion through entrepreneurship. Specifically, this research project asks: how does undocumented migrants’ entrepreneurship contribute to their thriving––both economically and socio-culturally––and feelings of belonging?

Focusing on Toronto, this research was designed by and will be conducted in collaboration with Vivimos Juntxs, Comemos Juntxs (VJCJ), an inspiring organization operated by and for undocumented migrants living in the city. By using a combination of focus groups, qualitative surveys, and participant observation, our data collection will safely and ethically engage a population that is invisiblized in discourse and policy concerned with immigrant integration and diversity. As such, the research focuses specifically on urban strategies of survival and thriving among undocumented migrants. This community-based and migrant-led research will provide a timely analysis of the contemporary realities of migrant life in Toronto, which has shifted significantly
since the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic. In doing so, this research will also offer
valuable insights to policymakers, scholars, and advocates interested in (re)creating cities that
are more inclusive and welcoming of all residents, regardless of immigration status.

Sherry Yu, Associate Professor, Arts, Culture and Media, UTSC & Faculty of Information 

This research program responds to parallel and isolationist journalism practices of mainstream and ethnic media, and the resulting consequences that divide communities in our urban centres. Mainstream media continue to be monitored for issues concerning under/mis-representation of ethnocultural minorities. Ethnic/diasporic media, despite their long history in Canadian journalism dating back to the 1800s, continue to operate in the margins of the news industry. That is, while these media deliver news about broader society to their respective communities, their news about ethnocultural communities does not properly reach broader society. Such a void in public information, critical for meaningful intercultural interaction and reciprocal learning between immigrants and non-immigrants, between migrants and settlers, and between minority and majority, is alarming. This is particularly true for Canadian urban centres where over 90% of immigrants reside alongside non-immigrants and where ethnic/diasporic media are concentrated.  

This research explores challenges and opportunities for building an intercultural journalism system in urban centres through mainstream-ethnic media collaboration that aims to create a sense of belonging among its inhabitants that gives them the opportunity to develop their capabilities, participate and thrive. This research advances theoretical debates on ‘collaborative journalism’ and ‘information producing communities’ by bringing understudied mainstream-ethnic media relations into discussions in the field.  

Samar Sabie, Assistant Professor, Institute for Communication, Culture, Information and Technology, UTM & John Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Design and Landscape; Steve Easterbrook, Professor, Computer Science & School of the Environment; Robert Soden, Assistant Professor, Computer Science & School of the Environment 

Cities are places where we are in the presence of difference. This stems from the multiplicities of race, language, religion, standards of living, customs, cultural traditions, and ideals of government and moral conducts present in cities. As economic opportunities, better services, climate change, and zealous militant conflicts continue to drive mass migrations from one country to another and from the countryside to the city, urban contexts have become even more different, diverse, and culturally heterogeneous.  

In the city, philosophers and urban sociologists have argued that certain factors make it more challenging for its dwellers to engage with difference in ways beyond casual interactions. One factor stems from the socio-spatial complexity of urban contexts which induces a physiological reaction that pushes city dwellers into aversion and antipathy towards the outside world as a form of mental self-preservation. A second is the emphasis of contemporary design paradigms on removing complexity and resistance through standardization, user friendly interfaces, and friction-free interactions. Such ubiquitous seamlessness leads to mental laziness that manifests in multiple ways, including by shying away from that which requires mental and emotional work, such as engaging with difference. A third factor comes down to how the urban public is further “eclipsed” by corporate interests and technological advances that have connected too many communities together so the massive scope of issues and actions hinder meaningful engagement across communities of strangers. 

Taking these factors collectively, our project is broadly motivated by the question: how do we support communities largely comprised of strangers in engaging with difference despite the blasé-ness urbanism exerts, the mental numbness induced by designed worlds, and the disarticulations of large-scale issues on contemporary life? Here, we turn to (participatory) design practices and theories from Human Computer Interaction (HCI) and other fields such as Urban Planning to respond to this challenge. 

Given the centrality of open design spaces to creating avenues for engaging with communities around difference, our project is driven by the question: how can we infrastructure a design space at U of T that allows participants from the University and community to engage with their differences and work towards shared futures that support mutual thriving? The objective of this project is to identify the socio-material infrastructure needed to establish a design and community hub that supports a wide range of future research explorations around urban differences on campus. 

Emine Fidan Elcioglu, Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology 

Over the past three decades, Canada has experienced sharp growth in majority minority ridings, and racialized Canadians have become critical players in the nation’s key political battlegrounds, including the Greater Toronto Area. Cognizant of this trend, the Reform Party of Canada and, later, the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) engaged in “ethnic outreach” to attract immigrant voters and racial minorities. Existing research suggests this outreach was successful, and Canadians of colour—including immigrants and their children—are veering to the right. 

However, what remains unclear is why immigrants and their second-generation children might vote for center-right parties, given the many exclusionary immigration policies implemented between 2006 and 2015 by the Harper Conservative government. This study aims to identify why second-generation visible-minority immigrants in one of Canada’s most politically influential parts—the GTA—support the right. The answer to this question is important because it will uncover second-generation Canadians’ needs, interests, and political views and how their lived experiences shape their understandings of party discourse. The project thus speaks directly to the interplay between migration, belonging, and political behavior. 

The three main project objectives are: to discover why second-generation Canadians – a group that has traditionally been the stronghold of the Liberal Party since 1965 – are moving to the right or left of the party; to determine whether and how these reasons vary across the two largest visible minority groups in Canada: second-generation Chinese and South Asian Canadians; and to understand whether and how political understandings and behaviors vary across visible minority and white children of immigrants. 

Laura Rosella, Associate Professor, Dalla Lana School of Public Health & Ilene Hyman, Adjunct Professor, Dalla Lana School of Public Health 

Immigration is a significant contributor to population growth in Canada. Yet, our understanding of immigrant communities is limited in urban areas, where 90% of newcomers settle. Better data is needed to measure the social and placed-based dimensions of immigration and integration, including inequity and wellbeing. Individual-level wellbeing indices focus on objective measures (e.g., health status, percentage of the population with a regular doctor, etc.) at coarse geographic scales. However, data on subjective immigrant experiences at the community level, where social and civic integration occurs, is critical for understanding immigrant wellbeing and flourishing. 

We aim to identify the social and physical characteristics of communities that promote community wellbeing (CWB) and flourishing among immigrants in the Greater Toronto Area. Aspects of CWB include social membership, integration, shared emotional connection, one’s environment, and aspects of life that are experienced together. 

Using an exploratory sequential mixed-methods community-engaged approach, we will conduct focus groups to understand how community characteristics promote CWB and flourishing throughout immigration, settlement, and integration processes; and use these findings to develop a survey that measures a community’s social and environmental characteristics, quantifies the associations between these characteristics and CWB, and identifies barriers and promoters of flourishing among immigrant communities. Our work provides emerging insights into the complex relational and place-based dimensions of CWB, focusing on the needs of immigrant populations at the community level. We will create immigrant-informed CBW indicators to support municipalities in developing and implementing policies and programs that support immigrant integration and inclusion. 

Nadia Caidi, Professor, Faculty of Information 

This project addresses important themes through the lens of heritage language acquisition and maintenance, and specifically young people’s engagement with reading for pleasure, and aims to support libraries, archives and museums in devising new and innovative approaches for connecting with bilingual/multilingual youth. Through a better understanding of their engagement with reading in their heritage language, we are inviting these youth to reimagine the future of library services – one that can better support and facilitate their intertwined and complex identities as members of linguistic, cultural and reading communities.  

Multiculturalism and multilingualism are often hailed as some of Canada’s greatest strengths and points of pride for Canadians, with urban centres as the focal points for that diversity. However, the noble rhetoric is not always supported by professional practices, educational approaches, social engagements, and workplace designs in our cities. This leaves many environments and institutions culturally and linguistically homogeneous; and libraries, archives, and museums (LAMs) – which play such a crucial role in communities as spaces of gatherings, learning, memory and culture – are no exception. Collections and programming in Canadian LAMs are oriented, primarily, toward English-language patrons and celebrating Canadian identity decoupled from the complex multicultural and multilingual backgrounds that many Canadians have. Ironically, the same standard of inclusion does not apply to French language and Francophone communities in Anglophone-majority settings, despite official Canadian bilingualism. Francophones (broadly defined to include French speakers and French learners) in Ontario are a very diverse community, with a large proportion in recent years hailing from the global diaspora, and especially from African countries. In this work, we will partner with diverse Francophone youth in the GTA (and beyond) and several community-based organizations to conduct participatory research that will reimagine LAMs, their physical and virtual spaces, contents, resources, activities, and collections. The aim is to discover and understand the connections between reading, identity, and community engagement for young Francophones and French-speaking youth and use this understanding to help us reimagine and suggest improvements to LAM services. While we commence this work through an Official Language Minority Community lens, we see this only as a starting point for a re-envisioning of LAMs as multilingual and multicultural places that reflect Indigenous and other world languages and the rich diversity of Canada. 

Rachel Silvey, Professor, Department of Geography & Planning and Director, Asian Institute, Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy 

This project focuses on the role of employers of migrant domestic workers in shaping migrants’ social networks in the United Arab Emirate of Dubai. A large body of research examines the effects of labour and immigration laws on the working conditions of transnational migrant domestic workers – less thoroughly researched are the roles of individual employers in mediating these laws and their effects. This project will analyse the role of employers in constraining or enabling migrants’ social networks—and therefore their sense of belonging—in the UAE. Research has found that social networks, both virtual and in-person, are vital to migrants’ well-being and their sense of belonging or exclusion from a city. Employers are central to creating the conditions under which migrants can craft and sustain these social networks, often under the radar of the law. The social networks migrants build and the services they offer one another through them can offer clues to policymakers aiming to contribute to migrant workers’ senses of belonging and thriving.  

This work will complement the research of Yasmin Ortiga and her team (Patrick Chang and Charlotte Setjiadi) at Singapore Management University, in that we both plan to focus on the employers of domestic workers. Our collaboration will enable us to develop a comparative analysis of the ways that employers navigate and respond to the distinct legal and social contexts of Singapore and Dubai.  The two places are considered two of the destinations that provide the least effective legal support for temporary foreign workers. As such, the role of employers in both places is particularly important for understanding how the conditions of work are produced for migrant domestics. Attention to these places that represent regulatory extremes also has the potential to illuminate points of leverage that could be effective for migrant worker advocacy in less restrictive contexts.  

Migrant domestic workers, and low-wage women workers more generally, have been drawn increasingly into low-wage temporary labour as “servants of globalization” in global cities (Parrenas, 2001). A large body of scholarship on migrant domestic workers has focused on the experiences of the domestic workers – their precarity, low wages, vulnerability to abuse, and isolation within their host societies (Constable 1997; Parreñas 2021; 2001; Silvey and Parreñas 2019). However, there remains scope for examining the meso-level actors and institutions that delimit or enhance workers’ agency and affect their access to social networks.  

This project focuses on the intermediaries, including employers and employment agencies, to better understand how they intervene in shaping migrant domestics’ social networks and therefore their conditions of work and their sense of belonging. Employers and labour intermediaries play a crucial role in determining the conditions of work for migrant domestic workers, yet little is understood about how intermediaries operate across different cities, and specifically how they influence the social networks of the migrants who work as domestic servants for them.  

This project aims to contribute to the scholarship on labour migration and domestic work. It is situated in the literature on the globalization of care work and the feminization of international migration (Sassen 2007; 2012). There exists a solid understanding of the ways that “sending countries” recruit, train, and promote the out-migration of women to work as domestics abroad (Rodriguez 2008). These studies provide insight into the socialization of workers, but they tell us less about how employers themselves make sense of their roles.   

Singapore and the UAE are similar in several ways that we expect will enrich the comparison. First they are both small, paternalistic states that host large foreign migrant populations, including high numbers of both middle class professionals and low-wage labourers. Second, their governments have similar sets of laws for migrant workers.  However, the qualitative experiences of legal servitude in the two sites are neither equivalent nor uniform. That is, in the UAE, undocumented workers have access to a robust underground economy, health care in the informal economy, and communities of undocumented co-nationals. In contrast, Singapore has a highly punitive policy regime that inhibits community survival for undocumented workers.  In Singapore, working in legal servitude is a better option than living under the threat of imprisonment or deportation as an undocumented worker, whereas in the UAE, the choice is not so clear.  

Rob Gillezeau, Assistant Professor, Economic Analysis and Policy (UTSC), Rotman School of Management & Alexander Persaud, Assistant Professor, Department of Economics, University of Richmond 

The Pew Research Center reports that roughly 10% of the Black population of the United States are immigrants, largely originating from the West Indies and Africa. West Indian Black immigrants are not new to the country, though. In the first half of the 20th century, large numbers of Anglophone Black West Indians immigrated to the United States, and the scale and importance of immigration to the United States from the West Indies is relatively well understood. 

However, the quantitative story of how this migrant population integrated into the United States, intermixed with the existing Black population, and experiences discrimination has primarily been the purview of historians and has received little attention from economists. In particular, it is important to consider how West Indian immigration to the United States changed the composition of the Black population, what immigrants’ economic outcomes were, and how these outcomes may have diverged from the existing Black population. We focus on the New York metropolitan area due to its large Black immigrant population: in 1920 and 1930, West Indians and their children formed almost one quarter of the Black population in the five counties of New York City. 

This important immigrant group, while so actively considered in historical literature, has largely been ignored within economic history and in the long-term analysis of Black economic mobility and outcomes in the United States. Using full-count census data, we propose to disaggregate the Black population and consider Black West Indian immigrants’ role in the New York City metropolitan labour market in the first half of the 20th century. We ask the following overarching research question: did Black immigrants from the Caribbean and their children converge to or diverge from the economic outcomes of native Blacks during the first half of the 20th century? And if so, why? 

The questions of convergence and divergence in this period remain unanswered, so we test the longstanding hypothesis that Black West Indians performed better than native-born Blacks. Model (2008) synthesizes much of the prior work and outlines competing explanations for possible divergence: immigrant selection, culture, or differential treatment by the white population. While we do not address culture, our research question answers the underlying issue—is there divergence?—and can then address selection and differential treatment. Convergence is consistent with racial discrimination in labour markets pooling Black residents, irrespective of origin. Divergence is consistent with positive self-selection among immigrants and/or differential treatment by the receiving population. Traditional economic theory points to human capital and self-selection as key drivers of outcomes for immigrants (Borjas (1987)). The inclusion of possible racial discrimination, but not a language barrier with immigrants from British colonies, helps to disentangle some of the issues in studying immigrant and native groups.  

We pose a second question that logically emerges from the first: are gaps between native-born Blacks and whites different than conventionally measured? Especially if there is divergence, what are the implications for long-run changes in the Black-white wage gap, education gap, and so forth? In asking this second question, our approach connects this project to long-run economic mobility and racial disparities in the United States, including wages, education, and wealth accumulation through homeownership. 

Our research complements newer research, mostly in sociology, on the outcomes of Black immigrants in the United States. It also addresses how native-born Blacks interacted with and shaped—or did not shape—the economic and social integration of foreign-born Blacks. 

Carmen Logie, Professor, Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work; Amaya Perez-Brumer, Assistant Professor, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, Department of Anthropology, Women & Gender Studies Institute; David Meyer, Assistant Professor and Hart Professor of Global Engineering, Department of Civil & Mineral Engineering 

There have never been more forcibly displaced persons, surpassing 89.3m illion at the end of 2021. Most (83%) are hosted in low and middle-income countries (LMIC), and 41% are under the age of 18.  Urbanization of forcibly displaced persons is growing globally, whereby two-thirds of internally displaced persons, and 13% of refugees, live in urban contexts. 

Uganda is Africa’s largest refugee hosting nation and the 3rd largest refugee hosting nation globally, with 1.5 million refugees. Kampala, Uganda’s capital city, hosts 107,000 of Uganda’s refugees, as of 2022. Many refugees in Kampala live in informal settlements, including slums, and experience living conditions characterized by poverty, overcrowding, violence, and poor sanitation that elevate food and water insecurity. 

Food and water insecurity are among the biggest threats to human survival and wellbeing. Despite growing urbanization among refugees, water and food insecurity among urban refugee youth are understudied, particularly at the nexus of climate change: youth experiences from LMIC have been absent from the creation of sustainable, contextually relevant, and strengths-focused solutions to planetary health issues such as food and water insecurity. 

We identified in prior cross-sectional analyses with urban refugee youth living in Kampala’s informal settlements that 65% reported food insecurity, and food insecurity was associated with sexual and gender-based violence and depression. Yet key knowledge gaps remain regarding urban refugee youth: risk and protective factors associated with increased and reduced trajectories of food and water insecurity; longitudinal associations between water insecurity and food insecurity with health and equity outcomes; and urban refugee youth perspectives from LMIC on age, gender, and contextually relevant solutions to climate-related issues such as food and water insecurity. Our proposed project will address these urgent knowledge gaps by evaluating structural drivers (ecological; socio-economic and gender equitable norms) and the association of food and water insecurity with poorer mental health; substance use; sexual health; reduced equity; and protective factors.