Elvin Wyly

 
Prospective Graduate Students / Postdocs

This faculty member is currently not actively recruiting graduate students or Postdoctoral Fellows, but might consider co-supervision together with another faculty member.

Professor

Research Classification

Urban Spaces and Urbanity
Specialized Services (Housing, Transportation)

Research Interests

gentrification
housing
the politics of data and quantitative methods
U.S. politics

Relevant Degree Programs

 

Research Methodology

critical social theory
quantitative models

Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision (Jan 2008 - May 2019)
The life and debt of great American cities : urban reproduction in the time of financialization (2017)

The Life and Debt of Great American Cities: Urban Reproduction in the Time of Financialization, investigates the relationship between finance and the intensification of racialized patterns of urban development in the US since the turn of the 21st century. I employ mixed methods to explore the spatiality of the municipal bond market, especially regarding its role in the uneven redevelopment of the nation’s aging urban water systems. Moving qualitatively and quantitatively between one site in particular - Jackson, Mississippi - to the political-economies of the 21 largest Black-majority cities in the US, and to the entire country more broadly, I find that redeveloping urban water infrastructures by way of the private municipal bond market collapses new spaces of accumulation into the reproduction of racialized geographies of exclusion. Field research utilizing participant observation and semi-structured expert interviews in Jackson revealed that cities under austerity governance encounter complex financial arrangements in their search for infrastructural funding that they do not retain the capacity to accurately assess or manage, while the analysis of more than 5.3 million municipal bonds over the 44 year period 1970-2014 shows that the largest Black-majority cities have consistently received higher interest rates in the bond market than other cities since the deregulation of the financial industry under the Financial Services Modernization Act of 2000. One of the consequences of the racialization of municipal finance is that the impoverished Black-majority city of Jackson pays more for federally mandated infrastructure upgrades than other cities. The socio-spatial marginalization thus produced creates sites of intense urban vulnerabilities, places lacking both economic and ecological “resilience” in the face of crisis. Austerity, as a method of urban governance and economic recovery, is, I conclude, motivated by the logics of financialization – which is both a mode of accumulation, and significantly, a geography of racialized social reproduction.

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The spaces of social finance : poverty regulation through the "invisible heart" of markets (2017)

Social finance is a style of investing organized around the theory that private profit-making can create positive benefits for society. It is practiced through a diverse range of financial instruments that invest in welfare and anti-poverty services, making the “social” into the object of financial investment. In the wake of the financial industry’s crisis of legitimacy after the 2008 global financial meltdown, social finance attempts to reframe finance as a force for, rather than barrier to, social good. As governments embrace social finance and as new investors flock to the sector, this dissertation asks whether social finance uses profit to engender a more holistic range of values – as argued by the movement’s proponents – or whether it marks a further entrenchment of financial logics into existing models of poverty regulation. The research questions explored here are: 1) what are the institutional configurations of the industry, 2) how does social finance represent financial and social value, and 3) what are the relational connections between what I call the ideology of social finance, its models and calculative practices, and the governance of poverty interventions? I answer these questions through a commodity-chain approach, analyzing social finance models in relation to case studies of how investments in the American subsidized housing sector are marketed and made. The project draws from multi-sited ethnography, participant observation, and document analysis. I find that social finance appropriates existing models of poverty alleviation in what I argue is a process of financialization. To attract new capital, social finance operates through shifting the governance of the anti-poverty industry toward profit logics and prioritizing investor decision-making over funding priorities, muting the role of government and NGO service providers in determining social needs. The success of social finance projects depends on segmenting people and places into those deemed more or less deserving of investment; profits rely on expanding the infrastructure of contracted-out intermediaries that have facilitated private investments in welfare since the 1970s. In practice, social finance marks more a shift in the governance of anti-poverty programs than a shift in the practices of the financial industry.

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Altared places : the reuse of urban churches as loft living in the post-secular and post-industrial city (2013)

In recent years, numerous mainline Christian denominations throughout Canada have sold their places of worship in the real estate market in response to changes in religious membership and participation. At the same time a growing demand for creative residential spaces by a group of the new middle class encourages the redevelopment of churches into upscale lofts, a practice connected to but divergent from the post-industrial loft living made popular in cities like New York. In this thesis I explore how the reuse of churches as lofts represents a unique but conflict-laden terrain of private urban redevelopment. With an empirical focus on Toronto, I draw on the literatures of religious change, heritage policy, and gentrification theory to illustrate how ‘redundant’ worship spaces are appropriated and transformed into private domestic spaces of commodified religion and heritage. Rebuilt as ‘cool’ but exclusive places to live, I argue that church lofts are part of a secular embourgeoisement of the central city, a process that increasingly remakes the city as a place of capital reinvestment, middle class colonization and social upgrading.My central method involves semi-structured interviews with individuals from both the supply and demand side of the church loft market. On the supply side, interviews are drawn from faith groups, heritage policy makers, and urban developers. This data provides insight into why and how religious groups divest in their properties; the impacts of heritage policy on the reuse of inner city landscapes; and the practices of developers in producing and selling new terrains of loft living. On the demand side, I interview loft owners to give testimony to their real estate and lifestyle desires and explore how their decisions in the loft market help produce terrains of exclusivity and gentrification.Drawing on comparisons to Montreal and London (UK), my findings show that church reuse in Toronto need not solely focus on private loft development alone. Rather, I conclude that varying systems of ownership supported by multiple stakeholders can create a public future for redundant worship spaces, a practice that could provide much needed community and public space in the inner city.

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"We are damaged" : planning and biopower in Halifax, Nova Scotia, 1880-2010 (2012)

This dissertation examines how modern urban planning has sought to manage human life in the city of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Covering the period between 1880 and 2010, the dissertation examines a series of key moments and initiatives in the history of urban planning in Halifax. Drawing on archival research, semi-structured interviews, and social theory, it examines how planning sought to protect, improve, or otherwise alter the condition of human life; how power was implicated and exercised in these initiatives; and how acts of violence were committed against certain individuals or groups in the paradoxical name of safeguarding “life.” Drawing centrally on Foucault’s analysis of biopower, this dissertation argues that the seemingly paradoxical character of modern planning – its stated commitment to protecting or improving life, on the one hand, and its observe capacity to damage life, on the other – can be connected to the particular configurations of knowledge and power through which life is managed in modernity. Consistent with Foucault’s analysis, life is shown to be perceived by urban planning in relation to certain norms, and those who are perceived to betray these norms are liable to be exempted from the benefits of planning, compelled to bear its costs, or both. Across a series of initiatives, from the construction of “model tenements” in the early 1900s to the mobilization of public “participation” in the 1970s, planning is shown to operate within a divided, bifurcated conception of human life. Damaged lives, and a damaged city, are often a consequence of such divisions. In contrast to analyses that attribute the damage caused by modern planning to a deviation from its proper (or possible) role as a guardian of life, this dissertation concludes that damage is often integral to precisely the latter role, and it argues for a deeper interrogation of the configurations of knowledge and power that planning has come to serve.

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Ambiguity at home : unauthorized geographies of housing in Vancouver (2012)

At least 20 percent of the city of Vancouver's rental housing consists of unauthorized secondary suites -- apartments built without permits inside detached houses. Local authorities have largely come to tolerate the existence of such units, seeing them as a vital means of dealing with the city's long-standing housing affordability problems. But despite the significance of this now-common local phenomenon, there is a tendency in the media, government documents and the popular imagination to view it from a singular perspective that reduces it to a strictly law-and-markets issue. Given Vancouver's highly competitive housing market, this restricted approach to thinking about the proliferation and lenient regulation of secondary suites is in many ways justifiable, but it has also served to erase a host of other important aspects of this local phenomenon. Examining the issue through the lens of various sub-fields in Human Geography, I seek to complicate its hegemonic understandings, and suggest that thinking about secondary suites from multiple perspectives can help us grasp many of the crucial geographical problems associated with contemporary life. I argue that even if legal or market frameworks are afforded privilege, there is more to be said about this issue, for example on the role of this so-called informal housing market in the local and global economy. The widespread notion that an insufficient supply of affordable housing is the main motivation to own or live in an unauthorized secondary suite is questioned using empirical evidence from the Census. The regulatory order to which these housing units are subject is shown to be less an effect of market forces than the historical product of a series of legal landmarks stretching from the mid-nineteenth century to today. Market forces are also shown to be a problematic explanation that obscures the role of politics and social norms in the formal and informal regulation of these apartments. In addition, I examine the politics of tenant/homeowner-landlord relations associated with this unconventional housing arrangement. Finally, I argue that secondary suites are not only an object of analysis for planning and other experts, but also a forgotten site of lay-knowledge production.

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Housing and location of young adults, then and now : consequences of urban restructuring in Montreal and Vancouver (2012)

Young adults, 25 to 34 years of age, decide on housing, residential location and commuting patterns in an altered context from when the same age cohort entered housing markets in the early 1980s. Neo-liberalization reduced the availability of low-cost, rental housing, and post-Fordist restructuring increased labour market inequality. Societal changes contributed to decreases in household size and delay in child bearing. This thesis asks how the contextual changes factor into young adults’ housing decisions in the Montreal and Vancouver metropolitan areas where restructuring occurred differently, and discusses implications for equity and sustainability. The young adult residential ecology is increasingly concentrated into higher density and amenity-rich neighbourhoods, particularly near transit in Vancouver. The trends are explained by shifts toward the service sector, declining real incomes and growing inter-generational wage inequalities that reduce young adults’ spending power in housing markets, especially in Vancouver with its speculative land market and wealthy immigrants. Holding other characteristics constant, young adults in Vancouver are less likely to reside in single-family dwellings than detached, row or apartment units. In Montreal the trend is toward single-family living. Commuting distances and modes are similar between Vancouver and Montreal but multiple-person households and those with children have longer and more automobile-oriented commutes in Vancouver. The changes reflect higher increases in housing costs and densities in central areas in Vancouver. Montreal has more sustained government support for housing, a larger rental sector and therefore less rampant increases in housing costs. The restructuring of Vancouver’s housing market makes it more difficult than in Montreal to keep accessible the more ‘sustainable’ locations to households of all sizes. Household structure and life-cycle stage, not social status alone, determine location and the commute. A greater sustainability challenge in Montreal will be to stem the shifts toward ownership of single-family dwellings. Generally, young adults’ housing outcomes are more evidently shaped by their position in the labour market, which is increasingly determined by educational attainment. The thesis works conceptually within structuration theory, noting how contexts shape demand but are themselves re-shaped by changing demand. Both contextual and neo-classical arguments have relevance to the overall argument.

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The production of the world city : extractive industries in a global urban economy (2012)

This dissertation argues for a re-grounding of world city research in world-systems and dependency theory. It proposes to conduct 'vertical world city research', which explicitly investigates the spatial interconnectedness between world cities and peripheral locations of production, rather than focus on the relationships between different world cities. The idea of vertical world city research is partly a response to recent post-colonial critiques of world city research. Advanced Producer Services (APS) have long been considered command and control functions over global capital. Constructions of world city networks have largely relied on data based on large APS firms. While this research has made important contributions to our understanding of the interconnectedness of world cities, the argument of this dissertation is that it may not adequately capture the role of other essential sectors in the global economy. It is proposed that world city research needs to investigate the global control networks over monopolistically (or more correctly oligopolistically) organised processes. The focus of this dissertation is therefore the urban control network of the monopoly over natural resources. The dissertation investigates the locations of ownership control over the world's ten largest non-fuel mineral producers. These ten firms account for more than one third of the world's non-fuel mineral production by value. It also investigates specifically the platinum industry, which is controlled by a very small number of firms. While cities that are often identified as world cities, including New York and London, feature in the lists of cities that host the owners of the global mining industry and the platinum industry in particular, a number of cities in middle income economies are at the top of the list. The last part of the dissertation focuses on the role of nation states in the formation of global cities and how corporate decisions are administered through a network of cities. The effect of these decisions on mining communities is explicitly studied. This part focuses on Johannesburg and South Africa. The research suggests that the spatial organisation of the world economy and the concentration of power is more dispersed than previously suggested.

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Master's Student Supervision (2010 - 2018)
Nomad explorations v 2.1 : genesis, eden and the grail in modernity. (2016)

‘Genesis’, ‘The Garden of Eden’ and ‘The Holy Grail’ are stories that have captivated the western mind (and the human mind in the iterations of these archetypal narratives in other cultures) for millennia. Though many view Modernity and Modernism as marking the death of religion and religious dogma, we argue that Modernism simply rearticulates Abrahamic-Hellenic (more generally Paternalist) social dogmas within its own logics and axioms (especially cosmological, ontological, teleological and epistemological axioms that reduce humanity to a discrete, biological, materially rational being and reduce reality to the finite world of motion, passing time and physical space); the rationalizations for social dogmas like the notion that ‘order is to be created through hierarchical domination’ may change, but the class relations therein retain their basic form. We illustrate this argument through conducting a Nomad Exploration (NE) of Foucault’s The Order of Things, which illustrates the rearticulation of Genesis in the axioms and logics of Modernity, Haraway’s Primate Visions, which illustrates the rearticulation of the Garden of Eden, and finally the nexus of primatology, transhumanism, ‘vampire therapy’, etc. (attempts at material immortality via ‘curing death’) that typify the Modernist rearticulation of the quest for the Holy Grail (san grail, sang rail). In the ethos of Nomad Exploration (NE) our teleological imperative in this journey is not to ‘answer questions’ by ‘accumulating and analyzing facts’; rather, our goal is to broaden understandings and deepen questions by providing the reader with dimensionally transformative ideas that provide access to new plateaus of perspective—in short, our purpose lies in the production of intimate, inner experience with dimensionally transformative ideas and a concomitant reinvigoration of meaning rather than in accumulating and analyzing facts.

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Growing ideology : urban agriculture in Vancouver and Detroit (2013)

This thesis is an investigation of the urban agriculture movements in Vancouver, British Columbia, and Detroit, Michigan. I use both quantitative and qualitative methods and an urban political ecology theoretical framework to unpack how urban agriculture fits within the foodscapes of these two cities. My quantitative method draws on recent critique of food desert studies, avoiding an epidemiological method that seeks to statistically measure health outcomes in favor of an ecological approach with social inequalities as the primary focus of inquiry. Through the use of cluster analysis, multidimensional scaling, and local indicators of spatial association, I conclude that foodscape composition and the location of urban agriculture is influenced by the housing and land markets, income inequality, and racial segregation. Drawing on interviews conducted in both cities, in my qualitative section I seek to understand how urban agriculture is seen as a sustainable solution to the very different problems faced by these two cities. I argue that urban agriculture has an ambivalent relationship to neoliberalism: it emerged largely as a Polanyian counter-movement to urbanized inequalities, but has more recently been enrolled as a device by the local state through which sustainability planning is seen to enhance economic competitiveness. Finally, I present vignettes of individual farms and gardens that show the political potential of urban agriculture to be closely linked to theories of political change and socionatural metabolic rifts.

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The ten cities of Toronto : patterns of socio-economic inequality and polarization throughout the Toronto Census Metropolitan Area (2012)

The Greater Toronto Area (G.T.A.), Canada’s largest urban region, is currently facing a strenuous experience of inequality and polarization. In the contexts of social, political, and economic landscapes, the Toronto region is becoming increasingly defined by a spatial divergence of social classes, a divergence that threatens the ability of many citizens to access the resources their wealthier neighbours enjoy. In the context of an increasingly unequal urban landscape, this thesis employs a critical quantitative and theoretical approach to explore the Greater Toronto Area, home to more than six million people. Following an introduction to the issues facing the G.T.A., chapter two explores the mechanics of a capitalist housing market, and examines the effects of a neoliberal urban governance strategy on the city. Chapter three outlines a multidimensional quantitative methodology to explore the presence of social inequality and polarization, whereby chapter four introduces a taxonomy of neighbourhoods, materializing social divides through the domains of housing, citizenship, wealth, and labour. Critical to this examination is the exploration of the gentrifying downtown, the declining inner suburbs, and the rapidly expanding outer suburbs. The fifth chapter more closely examines the relationship between immigration and housing in the G.T.A., mapping and analyzing the relationships between new residents and housing affordability stress. The results deepen an understanding of social inequity in the G.T.A., spatializing divisions between immigrant groups as they navigate the turbulent housing market. Finally, the thesis reflects on the challenges facing Canada’s largest urban region, arguing for new conceptualizations of our urban areas, and new conversations about urban housing strategies. These arguments strive to set a context for new urban governance strategies grounded in an interest of truly just and equal cities for all residents, challenging the existing social divisions that divide our cities today.

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