Geography and the Environment
Abbotsford campus, A407b
Phone: 604-854-4562email John
My fascination with urban geography began as a child. Endless hours were spent constructing and de-constructing urban landscapes in the basement of my parents' suburban home in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.
My interest in urban studies followed me through adulthood, and I completed degrees in urban geography at Brock University (BA, Hons, 1978) and Queen's University (MA, 1980; PhD, 1988). My university teaching career began in 1984 at Nippissing University. I moved to UFV in 1992.
My research specialties are focused in the study of:
In 2013-14, I embarked on a third research endeavour which combined elements of the first two: a study of Abbotsford's ethnic enclave known as the Townline neighbourhood.
My longest standing research interest is twentieth century housing market development, especially with regard to the role of lending infrastructure. This was initiated in my PhD dissertation (1988), a study of the origins, and urban impact, of Canada’s initial piece of federal housing legislation, the Dominion Housing Act of 1935. In Canada and the United States, the modern mortgage market is generally regarded as having played a key role in the growth and design of post-war suburbs.
My study of Canadian housing policy is set within the broader context of regulation theory. As such, the establishment of the modern residential mortgage is understood to have been central to the intensive regime of capitalist accumulation of the latter twentieth century, that developed in Canada, and other advanced capitalist nations. It is generally argued in the literature that the development of the modern mortgage, was critical to the expansion of home ownership, especially in suburban settings.
My work on this topic has resulted in a number of publications, including collaborations, as listed below:
The design of houses and cityscapes was also directly and indirectly impacted by federal housing policy. Above all else, housing was required to be “safe” from an institutional investment perspective. In this regard, for example, the Dominion Housing Act was also notable for instituting Canada’s first building code, subsequently adopted across the country.
Such building codes imposed a homogeneity to design, which also came to reflect modernist principles. The Levittown “Cape Cod” bungalow, perhaps best known of the post-war vernacular modernist variants, was just one of many North American representations.
Together with my former Honours students, Derrick Swallow, I have been studying the meaning and significance of the BC Box, a dominant form of residential vernacular architecture in British Columbia’s lower mainland. The BC Box, together with its architectural cousin, the Vancouver Special, are regional variants of a post-war North American staple, the massed side-gable.
Our research begins with an outline of the modern roots of the BC Box evident in the simplicity and standardization of its design and production. Our work will also examine the interplay between aspects of internal design, especially floor plans, and household dynamics, in the 1970’a and 1980’s.
Study of the Canada-United States border was initiated in 1999, in collaboration with my UCFV colleague, the late Doug Nicol, and Patrick Buckley in the Geography Department at Western Washington University, Bellingham WA. This collaboration included 1) an international team-taught course (GEOG 421: Borderlands) for graduates and senior undergrads, and 2) research on the border. The results of this research has appeared in a number of publications and presentations:
The Abbotsford CMA is notable in Canada for containing the highest proportion of South Asian population and amongst the highest visible minority population, in the nation. These measures reflect the prominence of Abbotsford's Indo-Canadian population, which has recently marked its centenary. This demographic cohort is currently concentrated in the Townline neighbourhood of Abbotsford.
The degree of concentration is very high; according to recent urban geography analysis, it's one of a handful of "polarized" neighbourhoods in Canada. (Walks 2010) Townline appears on the surface to be a success story: a vibrant, active, growing and adaptive community of multiple generations.
It is also a neighbourhood with a relatively large number of newcomers. Townline is emblematic of what John Ibbitson has recently described to represent the “new Canada”, as it embodies key trends revealed in the 2011 Census of Canada:
This census makes concrete what we already suspected: that immigrants are growing the new Canada, while the old Canada watches and worries in decline. (Ibbitson, The Globe and Mail, 19 September 2012)
The focus of this study is on the structure and operation of the housing market that exists in Townline. Availability and affordability of housing are regularly cited to be key to successful newcomer integration in Canadian cities. (Hiebert and Mendez (2008); Hiebert, Mendez and Wyly (2008), Teixeira (2012)).
In their review of related literature sponsored by Metropolis British Columbia, Teixeira and Pottie-Sherman (2012, 15) identify housing analysis to be important for future research:
What makes one newcomer’s integration more successful than another?
Does housing matter? These are questions of critical significance for the future of British Columbia’s major cities and, indeed, for the country.