MES students win coveted scholarships

 This story was written by Maxwell Brem, FES director of external relations.

Two master’s students in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies have received high accolades from the Canadian Institute of Planners (CIP), the national professional institute and certification body for the planning profession in Canada.

The institute annually awards four scholarships to students who submit outstanding research proposals on a subject of planning interest. This year, two of the four recipients are master’s students in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies: C. Andrés Vélez Guerra and Francis Kwashie.

The students, selected out of a field of 32 candidates, submitted their MES major research paper proposals for the competition. They are working toward completion of this research as the culminating activity in the MES program.

Guerra’s research deals with land tenure issues in an urban slum district in his native Colombia. Kwashie focuses on the challenge to planning posed by pluralistic, multicultural communities such as the Jane-Finch neighbourhood in Toronto.

Their winning proposals, which were deemed by the CIP jury to be innovative and methodologically sound, explore issues at the forefront of Canadian and international planning practice and development. The jury comprised five professional planners from a cross-section of provinces and sectors in Canada.

Adam Legge of PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, member of CIP and president of the CIP Student Scholarship Trust Fund, said the proposals submitted by Guerra and Kwashie “were very well written, with thorough insight and consideration of the issues. The jury was most impressed by the quality of their submissions.”

The MES students each received $2,000 plus travel expenses to receive their award at the annual CIP conference and banquet in Halifax this week.

Said FES Professor Liette Gilbert, who is supervising both students’ research: “These are highly competitive scholarships and it is wonderful that both Andrés and Francis got them.”

Synopses of the winning proposals:

Andrés Vélez Guerra (right), born in Colombia, has focused his research on how local government land policies and urban planning initiatives responded to illegal lot subdivision and “land invasion” on the outskirts of the Colombian city of Cali.

The Aguablanca district of Cali, home to thousands of landless families who live in extreme poverty, was the scene of the largest spontaneous, unauthorized land settlement in Colombia’s history.

In Latin America, insecurity of land tenure in slum areas surrounding big cities is one of the most serious problems that policy makers face. There are few legal tools to grant land tenure to slum dwellers who have subdivided land and to encourage “normalization” of their settlement. These areas grossly lack public services.

Guerra’s paper documents the political, social and technical strategies surrounding the programs and policies involved in the land tenure struggles in the district. Since the late 1980s a consortium of public and private institutions and organizations has attempted to address these issues. He hopes his research will provide some insight for the planning of urban rehabilitation programs in similar marginal settlements in Latin America.

Francis Kwashie (left), originally from Ghana, also addresses issues of marginality – specifically, issues of planning under multiculturalism in Toronto’s Jane-Finch community. With its prominent black population, the Jane-Finch area has become a test-bed of multiculturalism.

“Planning for multicultural urban areas has become a challenge for the planning profession,” Francis wrote in his research proposal, “because multicultural diversity and urban space mutually structure each other in spite of the multidimensionality and shifting nature of this relationship.

“This new urbanity has implications for a planning practice that has been traditionally based on universalistic frameworks regarded as neutral, unbiased to people of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. It also has wider implications for public policy, immigration and national integration.”

Kwashie’s research addresses such questions as:

  • Who sets the agenda for planning in the Jane-Finch neighbourhood?
  • How are the multiple stakeholders involved in the process?
  • Does ethnicity, culture, race, or income determine the way planning is carried out in the neighborhood?
  • Who gets what, where and how in regard to resource provision and allocation?
  • How do planners perceive the Canadian Multiculturalism Act and how does it influence their work?

Kwashie wants to inform how planning can be done equitably, both in a procedural sense and to address the needs of multicultural urban neighborhoods.

Guerra and Kwashie worked in the planning field in their home countries before applying to study in the MES program at York. They are student members of the Ontario Professional Planners Institute and the Canadian Institute of Planners.