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Urban spatial justice activism: Off the clock with James Thoem

James ThoemJames Thoem,
Research Assistant, Cities Centre


James has worked full-time for Professor Ron Buliung (geography) for just over a year.


“My research looks at ways in which kids shape cities and vice-versa. At the moment, I’m working on a project centred on youth mobility in Toronto.”

What do you do off the clock?

I skateboard, cycle, socialize and volunteer. I’m a long-time volunteer at Evergreen Brick Works and now work as a site animator there on Saturdays. My main interests lie in what makes a great city and a great neighbourhood and in educating others about those things.

Over the years, I’ve been involved in several non-profit projects that aim to increase understanding about city-building. I believe that people are better equipped to make a difference when they have more knowledge about how things work. Since November of this year I’ve been volunteering heavily with the No Casino Toronto team.

How did you first become interested in No Casino Toronto?

I attended a community meeting given by my councillor Ana Bailão last November and my interest grew from there. It’s my nature to get involved when help is needed, and in this case I see a threat to the neighbourhoods of Toronto. Particularly, I don’t see any planning for integration of the proposed development with the surrounding community.

The No Casino Toronto movement is a genuine citizen protest begun by a group of only three people and an example of activism at its best. With little money, the group has slowly built support from the ground up by making information available and working to have it heard.

What is the nature of your volunteer work with the group?

Most of my work with the group revolves around community outreach. I’m tweeting, posting on the group’s Facebook page and presenting to neighbourhood associations in an effort to raise awareness on the issue.

Most of the people I talk to are keenly aware that this is a decision that will have a lasting impact on our city and are willing to help. Council will be making a decision in the next couple of months, so our main focus now is to drive people to our petition.

Who inspires or influences your commitment to volunteering?

One of the best decisions I made while pursuing my undergraduate degree was to write a thesis in my last year. My two supervisors on the project, Ron Buliung and Dana Wilson, were, and still are, an incredible influence. And I can certainly point to many other U of T professors as instrumental in developing my passion for volunteering for urban-related causes.

Peggy Calvert, Maureen Lynet and Sheila Lynet, the three citizens who started No Casino Toronto, are my inspiration to continue volunteering as much time and energy as I can to that campaign. I find that Toronto is at a point where more and more people are becoming engaged and that trend motivates me to keep on giving.

Submitted by Pat Doherty, administrative officer at the Cities Centre