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Mt. Allison Prof Awarded Prestigious Fullbright Research Chair

Mt. A professor of Geography and environment’s Dr. Leslie Kern has been awarded a Fulbright Visiting Research Chair, which has seen her split her time this semester between her host university, Kennesaw State in Atlanta, GA and her research location of Chicago, IL. The visiting research chair award brings Canadian scholars to the U.S. to engage in scholarship that they can then bring back to Canada to create an exchange of ideas on shared issues, concerns, and challenges. Kern has also presented guest lectures and public lectures at both Kennesaw State and at the University of Illinois in Chicago.

Her research looks at two neighbourhoods in Chicago that have experienced environmental cleanup of polluted industrial sites.

“The question that I’m interested in is when a neighbourhood gets cleaned up, does this spark gentrification in terms of new investment or new residents, as the perception of an industrial site changes to a greener, more attractive location?” she says. “I’m looking at how community groups in these neighbourhoods have organized for environmental justice in terms of getting these locations cleaned up, but also how are they working to make sure the redevelopment serves their needs and not just outsiders, or the city’s larger economic needs.”

Kern came across these locations in Chicago when researching in her regular location of Toronto, where she looks at environmental gentrification. The coal-fired plants, which have existed for many years, have been cleaned up, but there has not yet been a plan for redevelopment.

“It is a critical moment to look at these locations to understand if there are ways in which communities can make sure their voices get heard at the table.”

She says the time be ‘be a local’ in her research location has been the most valuable part of the experience.

“The value is being able to be in place and to access the kinds of people and documents that you simply can’t access online,” she says. “As much as we think research is global and accessible online, there is still a lot that you can only learn by being in a place and speaking to people, seeing an environment first-hand, and living the rhythm of a city and neighbourhood.”

Kern has received a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Insight Development Grant to continue this research in 2016. She will take the time to analyze the information she has gathered across the border, but also anticipates revisiting Chicago for follow-ups and bringing her findings back to the neighbourhoods.