Research at SFU Urban Studies

What is urban research at SFU Urban Studies?

Urban research is inter- and multi-discipinary. Below are brief snapshots of a few of the many research projects that Urban Studies faculty and students are leading. 

Employer Transit Subsidy Study

How do transit subsidies affect the commuting choices of workers at downtown Vancouver hotels? Partnered with the City of Vancouver, TransLink, Unite Here Local 40 and participating hotels, SFU Urban Studies professors Peter Hall and Anthony Perl investigated the effects of commuting choices for Vancouver hospitality and tourism workers when provided with subsidies worth 15 to 50 percent on their monthly transit passes. Researchers collected study data in 2018 and 2019, in order to understand any changes before and after the transit subsidy was provided to hotel workers. They then used statistical analysis, combined with other data sources, to produce 12 findings, the highlights of which they discussed in a public presentation, which took place on December 15, 2020.

Working Waterfront

The (Re)claiming the New Westminster Waterfront Project was a three-year Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council-funded research partnership project led by Professor Peter Hall. The partnership included faculty and students from Simon Fraser University, the New Westminster Museum and Archives, pensioners from Local 502 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, individual community members (including teachers in New Westminster schools) and international waterfronts experts. The research partners collected stories from the men and women who worked on the waterfront in New Westminster between the end of World War II and 2015—a period of intense industrial and urban change. These stories and memories, as well as recorded public lectures, mapping and other work conducted by the project team, are archived on this project website.

Community Housing Canada

Faculty members Yushu Zhu and Meg Holden are part of the Community Housing Canada research project, They are co-leads of the sector of this project that addresses the housing needs of vulnerable populations. Community Housing Canada is funded by a joint Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council partnership grant for 2020-2025. The organization aims to advance understanding and operationalization of community housing as a key component of fulfilling the right to housing across Canada. This research group includes student researchers, as well as community housing partners and promotes a better understanding of and solutions to housing challenges faced, in particular, by vulnerable groups.

Hey Neighbour Collective

The Hey Neighbour Collective is a group of researchers and practitioners interested in the domain of social connections and neighbourliness in urban housing. Faculty members Meg Holden, Meghan Winters and Atiya Mahmood are the lead researchers, along with partners at Happy City. HNC works to build capacity and understanding within a growing range of pilot initiatives and new programs across the housing sector, to facilitate sociability, emergency preparedness, access to services and a host of other forms of neighbourhood-based work and social infrastructure. Survey-based, participatory and action research forms are underway as this project gains momentum.

Township of Langley Development Process Review

The Township of Langley has the fastest rate of population growth in Metro Vancouver, averaging about 2% per year. In 2019, the Township initiated the Mayor’s Standing Committee on Development Management Process Review (DMPR), with the mandate of providing a full analysis of the municipality’s development application review process. The Township of Langley approached SFU Urban Studies to provide research to the committee. The research used a mixed-method approach including surveys, interviews, focus groups and case studies soliciting feedback from both those applying for development permits and municipal staff in the Township of Langley. We also compared Langley with Surrey, Coquitlam and Abbotsford. 

For Research Assistant Steve Kim, work on this project was a lesson in how contentious the analytical and presentation choices made with data can be around a multisectoral committee table. The experience also raised other questions: should the relationship between development applicants and municipal regulators be collaborative or oppositional? Is balance and integration of diverse views of preserving the public interest and moving toward community goals even possible in politically-charged situations? 

One surprise from the process of researching in the “real world” was how important it is to consider the political dynamics of a situation when research has immediate impact on practical things like people’s jobs, residents’ homes, and organizations’ budgets and balance sheets.