University of Toronto

Innis Alumni & Friends

James Thoem

Class of 2011 – HBA, Innis, USP

James Thoem tells us a bit about his life after university and his most recent work with the No Casino Toronto campaign.

It wasn’t until I moved to Toronto on a work placement that it hit me, I love cities. I dropped everything I was doing and enrolled at the University of Toronto to pursue my Bachelor of Arts in Urban Studies and Geography. I haven’t looked back since. My passion for understanding urban landscapes should not have come as a surprise. Growing up, I always enjoyed wandering through alleys, along railroad tracks and through drainage ditches out of having a basic curiosity about by surroundings. It was these experiences, of exploring cities as a teenager, which sparked my interest to further study urban landscapes.

While majoring in the Urban Studies and Geography undergraduate programs at the University of Toronto, I researched, wrote and defended a thesis, under the supervision of Dr. Ron Buliung and Dr. Dana Wilson, examining a case in which youth were meaningfully engaged in the citing and design of a new skatepark in Waterloo, Ontario. A very positive experience in writing my thesis and a passion for sharing urban knowledge has since led me into related paid and volunteer work that continues to challenge my ideas of how cities and young people have the ability to significantly shape each other. While working with WalkTO I led various walking tours and wrote a researched based walking tour of Toronto’s Cabbage Town and Regent Park neighbourhoods. The tour script challenged participants to consider what goes into making a successful neighbourhood. The walk has since been well received by over 1200 secondary students as well as large groups of Geography teachers from on professional development field days.


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My past academic and work experience opened the door for me to contribute to Maximum City, a not-for-profit educational program through University of Toronto Schools to introduce a planning module into secondary schools in Ontario. The programs mandate is to equip students with an in-depth understanding of their city is built, planned and governed. Working alongside esteemed contributors in fields such as architecture, urban planning, and civic engagement we have developed a program that is now entering into its third year and continuing to gain attention and momentum.

My interest in urban governance and our City’s wonderful downtown led me to volunteer on the No Casino Toronto campaign. Working along a great group of action-oriented, concerned citizens we have developed a campaign against OLG’s plan to introduce a casino into the downtown core. The arguments against the introduction of a downtown casino that really resonate with me the most address the increase in problem gambling, the costs incurred on the municipality and the threat the development poses on our vibrant downtown entertainment and theatre districts.

As of late I have been contributing to the work of Dr. Ron Buliung, of University of Toronto’s Department of Geography and Planning, as a research assistant. This experience has allowed me a much greater understanding of academia while expanding my knowledge and understanding of youth geographies. Work has concentrated on two main projects, one focusing on youth mobility in Toronto while the other examines skateparks and their development as post-modern landscapes.