Oct. 15, 2021

Resilient, vibrant cities must be inclusive, says SAPL researcher

Sasha Tsenkova publishes 3 books to help policy-makers reimagine cities
Sasha Tsenkova

More than 60 per cent of people on earth live in a city. Cities in Canada are the place of choice for over 80 per cent of the people. Some cities provide better opportunities for people to thrive, such as affordable housing, access to jobs, education, public spaces and culture.

“Cities around the world are places of growth, innovation and exploration,” says Dr. Sasha Tsenkova, PhD, professor in the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape (SAPL). “It's very important that cities are resilient and vibrant, but they also need to be inclusive and provide opportunities to people from all walks of life.”

In the last year, Tsenkova has written one and edited two books resulting from three research projects that were supported by SSHRC, CMHC, various Canadian cities and industry partners. Two of the projects received the CMHC’s President Gold Medal for Best Housing Research in Canada in 2019. Her interdisciplinary work, available to anyone at Cities, Policy and Planning Lab, has been discussed internationally by dozens of scholars and featured in design exhibitions, open access publications and books.

“I am a professional planner and a designer. I really believe that the synergy between research and practice is extremely important,” says Tsenkova. “It's also very important to disseminate critical knowledge and craft partnerships for policy, planning and design implementation so we begin to close the cycle of urban transformation. It’s about action research, mobilizing support and co-creating knowledge that brings people together to implement research results and to generate positive urban change.”

Her books, unique interdisciplinary collections, illustrate a number of planning and design strategies aimed at regeneration of cities. “They provide a rich mosaic of innovative practices that reimagine city neighbourhoods through inclusive design and provision of affordable housing,” she explains.

One of the books she edited, Cities and Affordable Housing: Planning, Design and Policy Nexus, is the first of its kind in Canada. It explores best practices in 12 cities across seven countries, including Canada. Recommendations she made stemming from this research have been incorporated into the Alberta government’s Affordable Housing Strategy.

While making some progress, Canadian cities have a long way to go to provide access to affordable housing for all, she says. Governments need to move from stop-and-go affordable housing projects and policies in the spirit of "muddling through" to sustainable long-term initiatives that last beyond the electoral cycle.

“New York, London, Paris, Vienna and Amsterdam have accomplished a lot more in that regard and they provide an important source of inspiration in terms of approach and sustainable planning efforts that build inclusive communities and neighbourhoods,” says Tsenkova. 

The second book she edited, Transforming Social Housing. International Perspectives explores different housing policies and practices and how social housing, both private and not-for profit, is able to influence affordability and quality of urban housing in Europe, North America and Asia.

In Energy Efficient Affordable Housing: Policy Design and Implementation in Canadian Cities, Tsenkova writes about strategies that provide green and affordable housing and address climate change and resilience.

All of her research is a result of dozens of partnerships with local, national and international stakeholders. “I believe that the nexus of design, planning and policy is critical in city building. It's about co-creating and implementing solutions through partnerships and synergy,” she says.

“I am delighted by the synergies that these research projects have created and I feel privileged to be part of the discourse on the future of cities. My research contributes to an important transformation that is critical for the success of our cities in the 21st century.”