University of Toronto

Innis Alumni & Friends

Patrick Adler

Class of 2008 – USP

USP alumnus Patrick Adler (HBA 2008) took some time out of his busy work schedule to talk to us about his research with the Rotman School’s Martin Prosperity Institute, as well as his experiences as an Urban Studies student. Heading to UCLA this Fall as a PhD candidate, Patrick also gives current USP students some advice on how to make the most out of their time in the program.
Can you tell us a little bit about your time with Urban Studies? How has it helped you frame your future plans and career? Have there been any particular individuals who guided you? Any particular courses?

I pursued a double major in Urban Studies and Geography and found the programs to be perfect complements. In Geography, I got to take some fantastic survey courses, and connect to a disciplinary tradition. Urban Studies connected me with courses in other disciplines that widened my perspective on cities. I am thinking especially of courses in Economics and Political Science. But I found Urban Studies to be more than a combination of courses. I joined a small community of people: faculty, adjunct professors and students who were interested in cities. I probably keep in touch with a dozen of my colleagues from Innis. I was able to conduct original research in the Urban Policy seminar and my independent study, and to gain public sector experience at my work placement.  The smaller class sizes promoted discussions, and encouraged me to develop my own voice about cities.

No one did more for me than Professor Shauna Brail. Through her I was able to take part in a large research project at the Munk Centre’s Program on Globalization and Regional Innovative Systems (PROGRIS), and to conduct an independent study on creative cities. She was always a good sounding board as I was figuring out what to do with my life.

How have you incorporated the field of Urban Studies with your Masters in Geography?

The Master’s program gave me a lot of flexibility to pursue my own research project and take courses that I think would improve my skills as an academic.  I would recommend it.

Congratulations on being accepted as a PhD candidate at UCLA. Tell us about what you are planning on pursuing there.

For about a year and a half, my chief research interest has been in understanding the role of service work in economic development.  I expect to continue this study at UCLA.
Tell us about your work at the Martin Prosperity Institute (MPI).
The MPI is a research institute affiliated with the Rotman School at U of T. It conducts research on the factors of place that account for growth and prosperity.  I joined the Institute in 2008 when it moved into its current office space [at the MaRS Centre]. I have been involved in a number of projects at the Institute. Some of my work has been to support senior researchers on their work including academic papers, books, and blog posts. I have worked most closely with the Academic Director of the Institute –Professor Richard Florida. I supported the adaptation of one of his books, “Who’s Your City” to a Canadian edition, and was his Research Assistant for his most recent book, “The Great Reset”.  I also do regular data collection and analysis for his blogs at and The Atlantic.

As I stayed at the Institute longer, I began to do more original, self-directed research. This included research on the economic impact of early childhood education for the Institute’s provincial report, “Ontario in the Creative Age”. I have also co-authored papers on high speed rail, and the Baltic Sea region. Recently all of my research has been focused on what we call service class workers. Last summer I co-authored two short papers on the service class in advance of the Toronto city elections. I am currently working with a project team (that includes Innis student Taylor Brydges) to study the impact of Toronto’s Food Handler Certification on food servers in the city.
How did you secure a position as Research Associate at MPI?

I got involved with the MPI through Professor Shauna Brail. I don’t know how she did it, but Shauna convinced the MPI folks to let me into a reading course for grad students that they hosted at U of T.  During the summer of my fourth year I joined the staff as a Research Assistant and then a Research Associate. It was a great break for me, and one I literally would not have gotten in any other program.

Clearly you have done well for yourself academically. That being said, do you have any advice for students in Urban Studies?

I would advise them to take advantage of their peers. The folks I went to school with have gone on to do very impressive things. Several are graduates of Ivy league planning programs, several have high positions in government, one works at a very prestigious think tank. It would probably be impossible, a mere 3 years after we graduated, to assemble everyone in the same room together. It’s incredible to think that we all took the same core classes together back in the day.


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