Urban Studies Program
Aditi Mehta is an assistant professor, teaching stream, in the urban studies program at Innis College. Aditi earned her masters in city planning and her PhD at MIT. Her research interests include technology and civic engagement, participatory planning, community development, and issues surrounding racial and ethnic diversity. Aditi’s work bridges academics with community involvement and facilitates the exchange of ideas between the two.
What is your hometown? Needham, MA.
What do you call “home” now? Well, most recently, home was Cambridge, MA, but Toronto is home now!
What is your favourite street/public space there and why? In Cambridge, MA, my favorite public space/area was Central Square because it was such a diverse neighborhood with something for everyone. I am still exploring Toronto, and while this may sound cliché, I really did enjoy wandering through Graffiti Alley.
What is your favourite food? I love noodles.
Where can you find the best of that food? I think the best noodles I ever ate were in Thailand, but I really enjoyed a noodle dish I had at Pai Northern Thai Kitchen here in Toronto.
Which Toronto neighbourhood do you want to explore next? Next semester, I am going to teach a course jointly with the non-profit Regent Park Focus, a youth media organization, so I am looking forward to exploring Regent Park.
You’ve been engaged in urban studies as far back as your undergraduate years at Cornell University. How did you first cultivate your passion for the study of cities? When I was in high school, I thought I wanted to be a journalist. I participated in a summer journalism program in which we reported about different issues throughout Boston and published our own newspaper. My story was about the struggles of businessowners in Boston’s North End Italian neighborhood due to the Big Dig, a huge mega-highway construction project in which the interstate was put underground with the replacement of 2.4 km of parks and public spaces aboveground. The pollution and noise from the improvement project negatively affected many businessowners and residents in the North End with little help from the city government. I found the urban politics of the megaproject so fascinating, and this led me to pursue urban studies as an undergraduate rather than journalism.
Your background in teaching and research emphasizes “storytelling.” what – or whose – stories do you hope to tell, here in the Urban Studies Program at U of T? I hope to help my students tell their own stories inside and outside of the classroom about the places they have lived, worked in, and travelled to, and I want students to learn from each other’s stories. Additionally, I hope to help students figure out how to find hidden or untold stories about places/communities of interest, and also make sense of stories that contradict one another (especially in this age of fake news).
Your research has taken you from Boston to New York to New Orleans to Kirkee, India and back again! Now you’re a Torontonian. Can you point to a major challenge facing our urban communities that you hope to explore from your new home at Innis College? In each of the places you listed, as well as in Toronto, homelessness and access to affordable, healthy housing is a key issue. I am very interested in learning more about Sidewalk Toronto, and how Google Sidewalk Labs and the City of Toronto will engage the diverse surrounding communities to address innovative affordable housing solutions. Amid all the excitement regarding big data, technology, and “smart cities,” how are leaders of the project and decision makers going to address the issue of wealth and power distribution? Cities tend to invest in neighborhoods (public transportation, new developments, public spaces, etc.) without actually activating precaution measures for how these improvements then affect the overall market, and if they do act, it’s usually too late!
Do you have any advice to give to urban studies students who are passionate about community building? The best way to learn about community building is to work on the ground in a neighborhood with a local organization that deeply understands its constituents’ needs. When working out the in the field, be open to having your assumptions and expectations challenged, and work hard to form relationships and build trust with community members.
Interview and photography by Shayla Anderson, Innis College and urban studies student, on September 4, 2018.