Global Suburbanisms: Amiskwaciy

Rob Shields, Henry Marshall Tory Chair in Sociology and Art and Design, and Director of the Faculty of Extension's City-Region Studies Centre, is a co-applicant in a SSHRC Major Collaborative Research Initiative grant on "Global Suburbanism: Governance, land, and infrastructure in the 21st century." York University, Toronto, hosts The Global Suburbanisms Project, a worldwide collaborative research initiative investigating the state of global suburban systems. This Edmonton case study contributes to the North American Research Cluster of the Global Suburbanism Project.


Urbanization is at the core of the growth and crisis of the global economy today. Yet, the crucial aspect of 21st century urban development is suburbanization, which is defined as the combination of an increase in non-central city population and economic activity, as well as urban spatial expansion. It includes all manner of peripheral growth: from the wealthy, gated communities of Southern California, to the high rise-dominated suburbs of Europe and Canada, the exploding outskirts of Indian and Chinese cities, and the slums and squatter settlements of Africa and Latin America.

Suburbanism is broadly defined as the growing prevalence of qualitatively distinct "suburban ways of life." Surprisingly the universal character of suburbanism is, to date, unrecognized. This Massive Collaborative Research Initiative will be the first major research project that takes stock of worldwide developments in a systematic way. By studying subrubs, we analyze recent forms of urbanization and emerging forms of urbanism across the world, but we also take into view the dilemmas of aging suburbanity. The project will focus on the governance of suburbanization, that is, efforts to guide and regulate its development. It involves state, market, and civil society actors and implies democratic deliberation and social conflict. Understanding it is vital in a world of rapid urbanization, climate change, and cyclical economic crisis. The categories of land (housing, shelter systems, real estate, greenbelts, megaprojects), and infrastructure (transportation, water, and social services) will serve as the two prime anchors upon which we hinge specific research projects. Deeper examination of recent Canadian suburbanization and suburbanism trends will serve as a critical basis and comparative control case for our understanding of suburbanization in the Americas, Europe, Africa, and Asia.


The objectives are threefold: (1) To document and evaluate the diversity of global suburbanisms in their various contexts; (2) To explore the mutual and co-constructive elements of environmental or financial crisis with the production and governance of global suburban space; (3) To use our wide-ranging empirical data and analysis to intervene in urban theory.

The Edmonton case study is an accessible exploration of a southeast Edmonton suburb which focuses on the history, development, and transformation of the Mill Woods district. The 200 year long process of land settlement in and around Edmonton challenges conventional understandings of suburbanism. We look at the Indigenous community of Papaschase Cree Reservation-136 as Edmonton's first suburb. This is one of many historical 'layers' of settlement of the land that is now Mill Woods, and the research will explore the ways in which this early settlement has left an imprint on the community and remains relevant to this day.

Research results for the Global Suburbanisms project will be disseminated through:

  • A series of workshops and conferences in Canada and abroad
  • Articles and monographs with international scientific journals and presses
  • Popular and professional articles
  • A website
  • A suburban working group of planning and policy makers
  • Graduate summer schools and undergraduate field courses
  • A migrating exhibition
  • A series of documentaries produced in collaboration with the National Film Board of Canada.

Research Team

Our international research team will draw on a range of methodological and analytical approaches from political economy, urban political ecology, and social and cultural geography. We will therefore uniquely contribute to better grasping the complex processes of suburbanization as they pose challenges to policymakers, planners, and academics alike. These approaches will provide us with the necessary trans-disciplinary toolkit for the different domains of the project. For each approach, we have developed concrete foundational, thematic, and geographical projects and clusters of case studies. Some cut across all geographical areas; others will be specific to particular geographies. They are designed to be cross-referential. The case study and project groups form the foundation of the international collaboration amongst researchers and partners.

With Roger Keil as the Principal Investigator, the MCRI is housed at the City Institute at York University (CITY( and benefits from a diverse range of co-investigators, collaborators, and partners across Canada and the world. The academic researchers have worked with partners in government, the private sector, and civil society to develop a research agenda which will be fully unfolded when the initiative is funded. The MCRI will provide significant teaching, mentoring, and training opportunities for students. From the outcomes, we envision benefits for urban policy and city planning, as well as for suburban neighbourhood improvement in governance, economic, technical, environmental, and social terms.

Dr. Rob Shields and City-Region Studies Centre researchers will contribute fundamental conceptual work to the project, and will study suburbanization and the impact of suburbanism on the current social, economic, and ecological landscape of Alberta, due to its more-than-local effects, coupled with changing lifestyles, alters global ecological relationships and scales. Research assistants in the Urban Planning and Sociology departments at University of Alberta are assisting Edmonton case study lead Dr. Rob Shields on this project.

Learn More

Contact Edmonton case study project lead Dr. Rob Shields at 780-492-9957 or, or visit the Global Suburbanisms MCRI website.