Queen's University

Dr. Leela Viswanathan

Associate Professor, Department of Gender Studies, Department of Geography and Planning, School of Environmental Studies
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Cross-appointed with Gender Studies and Environmental Studies.


I am an Associate Professor in the Department of Geography and Planning and a Registered Professional Planner in Ontario. I am cross-appointed to the School of Environmental Studies and to the Department of Gender Studies. I hold degrees from McGill (B.A., Sociology) and from York University (M.E.S, Planning; Ph.D., Environmental Studies). I earned my Ph.D. in 2007 after a 10-year career in social policy analysis and community planning in the not-for-profit sector and in provincial government.  

In the broadest sense, my research examines how public policies, planning processes, and people shape environments (i.e., built, ecological, social, economic, and cultural environments). I experience planning as both a technical and cultural practice. I also believe that knowledge is situated in different places. As a result, my research focuses on both dominant and alternative narratives to cities and planning, amplifies voices that are often silenced, and seeks to include communities that are socially and spatially marginalized.

My ongoing research interests involve theories and practices of: (1) planning with First Nations; (2) planning pedagogy and service-learning; and (3) race, space, and cross-cultural relations. I collaborate with community-based and academic researchers to address both technical and adaptive planning problems at local and regional geographic scales.


I work with my team of researchers and community partners to foster a collaborative and supportive environment for research, training, and learning. Contact me if you are a graduate student or fourth-year undergraduate student interested in conducting research about planning, diversity, and equity and in pursuing further studies in urban planning, human geography, or environmental studies. You may also visit the Planning With Indigenous Peoples (PWIP) Research Group website for more information about our research projects funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). The PWIP website also provides profiles of current student researchers and of graduates. Graduate students under my team’s supervision obtain skills in academic research (e.g., critical, theoretical, analytical and strategic thinking; qualitative research; community relationship-building; co-authoring publications) as well as professional planning skills (e.g., analyzing policy and legislation; creating documents for planning practitioners; evaluation and monitoring practices).

Most Recent Project

Planning With Indigenous Peoples

This research is funded by a five-year Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) grant (2014-2019). The objective of the Planning With Indigenous Peoples (PWIP) Research Group at Queen’s University is to enhance Indigenous-municipal relationships in the context of land use planning, in the cities and regions encompassing First Nations’ lands in Southern Ontario.

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Other Projects

  • Urban Planning and Racial Exclusion

    My research into the linkages among advocacy, urban planning, and racial exclusion is ongoing. This research builds on my earlier studies of dominant and alternative approaches to social planning. I have investigated how people form collectives in order to address both their social and economic marginalization at the same time that they contest their experiences of racialization in the city.I am now focusing on discourses of recognition and reconciliation in relation to urban planning practice, in light of the calls to action put forward by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. This research will further my interests in examining the role of immigrant and racialized communities in both institutional and everyday practices of reconciliation.

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  • Planning Pedagogy and Service-Learning

    My research about planning pedagogy and the implementation of community service-learning in professional planning education builds on my own experiences of teaching. I have co-authored and co-published this research in Planning Practice and Research, and in the SAGE Sourcebook of Service-Learning and Civic Engagement (2015). I continue to conduct research on planning pedagogy in order to better inform planning practice. Currently, I am collaborating on research into Appreciative Inquiry (AI), as developed by David L. Cooperrider and applied by Susie Kung, David Giles, and Bill Hagan. We are examining AI as a process for evaluating teaching and learning in graduate planning education.

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  • Decolonizing Planning Knowledge and Practices in Southern Ontario

    This project was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (2011-2013) and focused heavily on the analysis of land use plans and policies in Ontario for their recognition of First Nations. The project was further developed in partnership with members of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation and Walpole Island First Nation This research has contributed to significant policy changes that resulted in the 2014 Ontario’s Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) recognizing Aboriginal peoples, and has been published in both academic and professional planning publications.

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