Penelope Gurstein


Relevant Degree Programs


Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision (Jan 2008 - May 2021)
Planning for healthy and equitable communities in British Columbia: a critical analysis of the implementation of an equity lens in Healthy Built Environments initiatives (2016)

British Columbia’s communities, as settings in which we work, learn, and play, have a significant role in shaping our health and well-being. Recently, the provincial government has encouraged health authorities to join with local government planners to create local Healthy Built Environment (HBE) teams, so that they can work together for healthier communities. Within our communities, there are significant differences in health status that are unjust or unfair, and are rooted in underlying socio-political processes. International research suggests that we must reduce those inequities if we are to improve health for all. To help address health inequities, researchers have suggested that public health practitioners use an ‘equity lens’ in their day-to-day work. Yet implementing such a lens is challenging. This case study explored the implementation of an equity lens in HBE work in BC. The project examined the work of intersectoral HBE teams at the provincial and local levels, through an in-depth examination of HBE projects within three different BC communities. Data was collected through interviews, participant observation, and the collection of key documents, maps, and photographs. The main research question was: How is an ‘equity lens’ being implemented in association with Healthy Built Environments work in British Columbia? Influenced by the shifting strategic direction of the provincial government, HBE teams reported only limited progress in actively considering equity as integral to their work. The key elements of the implementation of an equity lens included targeting specific, ‘vulnerable’ populations and using community health data to monitor key outcomes. In general, however, the political will to more fully consider equity as integral to HBE work was just not present at either local or provincial levels. There was hope, however, in the form of champions, who worked to re-frame equity issues in more palatable ways, and the desire to explore new tools to better understand equity issues at the local level. There is also evidence of a growing desire within HBE teams to build meaningful, authentic, partnerships, consistent with a broad Healthy Communities approach. The development of those partnerships will be key to collectively building more just, inclusive, and healthier communities.

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Dreaming a way out: Social planning responses to the agency of lone mothers experiencing neo-liberal welfare reform in Western Canada (2012)

Neo-liberal welfare reform, which was implemented in 2002 in BC, Canada, contests the agency of welfare recipients by claiming the right to legitimize motivation. The impact of this on a diverse group of impoverished lone mothers (n = 17) with young children in the city of Vancouver was explored using a critical feminist lens. Grounded theory and narrative analysis were used in a qualitative mixed method study to investigate how women are creating a future for themselves and their children, how they resist and interrogate the imposition of policy directives, and the implications for social planning. The results of in-depth interviews from a three year qualitative longitudinal study show how women mediate between public expectations and private needs by deploying identity to survive. Their actions resist individualizing policy discourses that frame them as people in need. Meanwhile, because of insufficient benefits, they engage in the informal economy to survive, transforming private goods, including sometimes, their bodies, into benefits through barter, sale, and assuming debt. As they scrabble for resources, they create and care for community as a means of surviving, ensuring the future well-being of their children and affirming their identity as valuable members of society. These women manage the risk of failing to support themselves, their children and others, by constituting themselves through dreaming a way out. When their dreaming is at risk of failing, the women risk losing their families. If a key normative goal of social planning is to create an equitable and inclusive society, then these findings challenge the often racialized discourses around poverty and affirm the contribution of impoverished lone parent families, including Aboriginal families, to urban life. A conceptual shift away from the polarized debate created by identifying poverty with a lack of finances and toward the capabilities model used at the international level would enable local planners. Spatial planning tools could help meet the dilemmas impoverished lone parent women face as they use place-based resourcing activities to survive. I argue that without recognizing women’s agency, impoverished lone parent families remain invisible and underserved by existing planning practices.

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Resiliency in housing and transportation choices : the experiences of Filipino immigrants in Toronto (2011)

This dissertation presents a mixed-methods case study of the housing and transportation choices of Filipino immigrants in the Toronto Census Metropolitan Area. Through the examination of this distinctive case, the study illustrates how structural changes in housing policy, immigration policy, transportation infrastructure, and the labour market have impacted immigrants’ choices over time. Considering the impact of immigration on housing and transportation infrastructure in Canadian municipalities, this case could have impacts on growth management policies advocating the development of sustainable communities. Many Canadian cities integrate housing and transportation infrastructure in official plans and policies. Using Census data, a Principal Components Analysis, and interviews with Filipino immigrants who arrived from the 1960s to the 2000s, the research shows that major increases in immigration, changes in the structure of the labour market, and changes in housing policy resulting in less rental and affordable housing have impacted Filipino immigrants’ housing and transportation choices. Participants’ histories in the Philippines revealed a high level of renting and transit use, which influenced their choices in Canada. The role of social networks in providing initial housing, advice on neighbourhoods and housing types, and guidance on the public transit and vehicle licensing systems was also significant. Overall, Filipino immigrants displayed considerable practicality in choosing housing types and tenures that met their needs. They often chose housing that was close to public transit, their workplaces, children’s schools, churches, shops and services. Their ability to weigh alternatives and costs and choose the most appropriate option for their particular situation contributed to the resiliency of this group and resulted in some sustainable choices. All of these factors have contributed to much higher rental rates and transit ridership among Filipino immigrants than other immigrant groups or non-immigrants. The resiliency strategy used by Filipino immigrants serves as a reminder that the most practical choices are often the most sustainable. In the context of precarious labour markets, economic instability, and the uncertainty of policy initiatives supporting public transit and affordable housing in Canadian municipalities, resiliency in housing and transportation choices becomes important.

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Communicative regionalism and metropolitan growth management outcomes : a case study of three employment nodes in Burnaby --an inner suburb of Greater Vancouver (2009)

In North America, metropolitan growth management (MGM) has been significantly influenced by communicative regionalism. The latter is rooted in communicative planning theory, stressing dialogue and consensus in problem-solving. To explore the impact of communicative regionalism on actual growth management outcomes, this dissertation investigates a case study on the implementation of communicatively-informed regional plans in metropolitan or Greater Vancouver, Canada, as they have impacted three employment nodes in suburban Burnaby. The dissertation applied a three-part methodology, involving the collection of empirical outcome data, analysis of plan development against communicative planning criteria, and the critical application of an Actor Network Theory (ANT) lens to better examine relationships and interactions of key government agencies during MGM plan development and implementation. The analysis suggested mixed results for goal outcomes. Notably, it found that longstanding goals for attracting office employment to a designated Regional Town Centre were not achieved to the desired degree. In explaining results, the analysis supplied empirical evidence of recent critiques of communicative planning theory. Such results appear to support calls by other theorists for the development of a post-communicative approach to theory and practice. The dissertation recommends five areas of more concerted research in this regard. First, researchers interested in planning processes would be wise to make more in-depth explorations of the link between power and action. Second, the presence and degree of instability in any given network of actors participating in growth management can create constraints or opportunities for this process. The role of instability must be better reflected and appreciated in communicative and/or post-communicative regionalism. Third, there must be greater recognition of differentiated stakeholder consultation needs, and place-specific receptivities to consultation short cuts. Fourth, more detailed work is needed to develop best practices for the information-sharing aspects of growth management. Finally, there is value in examining further the roles and skills of various individuals playing a translation role (i.e., bridging interests between different stakeholders or groups). This translation role occurs in growth strategy development and other planning exercises, as a means of enabling both better information exchange and of facilitating the ongoing stakeholder involvement throughout the plan implementation phase.

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Master's Student Supervision (2010 - 2020)
Social science, evidence, and social policy: the role of ideology, and the importance of history (2010)

Current enthusiasm for evidence-based social policy, which emphasizes the importance of randomized, controlled trials, cost-benefit assessments, and other quantitative methodologies, owes much to earlier periods of history in which social science research was seen as the key to effective policies and programs to combat poverty, homelessness, and welfare dependency. This thesis contributes to the literature on deliberative policy analysis within planning theory by examining the historical context of evidence-based policy, using the history of poverty knowledge in the United States as an example, to illustrate that underlying ways of thinking about the causes of social issues continue to underpin current attempts at addressing them. Two case studies are presented: current approaches to homelessness interventions, and attempts to break up concentrated poverty through the creation of socially mixed residential neighbourhoods. In the case of the former, cost-benefit analysis, originally developed in the 1950s to evaluate weapons systems and later applied to the assessment of social programs, has come to define current discourse about homelessness and how most effectively to deal with it. Social constructions of the “deserving” and “undeserving” poor, nineteenth century concepts, continue to influence the way in which the poor and homeless are viewed. Ideas about the ill effects of the residential concentration of poverty, which also date to the nineteenth century, inform social mix strategies that seek to stop the “cycle of poverty” through re-development into mixed-income neighbourhoods, and through dispersal strategies such as housing vouchers. Any attempt to analyze how evidence informs social policy must take into account the historical context in which decisions are made, and the resilience of the underlying ideological beliefs and assumptions upon which they are based. Researchers need to acknowledge the inherently political nature of the knowledge they produce, and embrace rather than avoid the opportunity to subject their interests and assumptions to scholarly scrutiny and debate. Most importantly, social scientists, through forging closer ties with service providers and their clients, need to recognize and emphasize the value of expertise and knowledge based in practice, and the lived experience of individuals, in the formation and evaluation of social policy.

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Current Students & Alumni

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