Urban & Regional Planning (MPL) candidate
Tara Spears inaugural recipient of the Sue Hendler Graduate Fellowship
by Sharday Mosurinjohn
17th February 2012
Tara Spears, inaugural recipient of the Sue Hendler Graduate Fellowship, having never met Dr. Hendler, feels almost as if she knew the late professor. Dr. Hendler made such an impact in the School of Urban and Regional Planning (SURP), including the posthumous gift that enabled this memorial fellowship, that Spears says she is inspired by her lasting presence in the program. “This award highlights the importance of focusing on gender, in particular the experiences of women, in urban planning,” elaborates Spears, “and I am proud to be conducting research in an area in which Dr. Hendler has had such a strong impact.”
The fellowship exists to recognize SURP students who have distinguished themselves academically and are conducting research on planning ethics or women and gender in planning. Spears’ Master’s research focuses on identifying attributes of the built environment in downtown Guelph, ON, which contribute to women’s feelings of safety and or lack thereof. “Although this project is specific to Guelph, this issue is relevant to all cities” affirms the dedicated student. “I hope my results can help to inform urban planning policies and urban design regulations.”
Spears plans to use the financial support to help make the necessary trips between Kingston and Guelph, where she will be interviewing several women from a local women’s group using a community safety audit survey developed by Toronto’s Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women (METRAC). After drawing some overall conclusions from her informants’ perceptions of the city’s downtown and what could be done to make it safer, she intends to discuss their suggestions with city officials. Spears hopes that such community-directed initiatives can be effective in promoting safer cities not just for women but for all people, including other groups that face specific vulnerabilities and barriers on account of the built environment.
Spears’ passion for women’s issues comes from a childhood spent growing up in different parts of the world. After settling in Guelph, she became so fond of the city that she stayed to pursue an undergraduate degree in international development studies. It was a course in her first year of studies that introduced her to the idea of urban planning, and it was through this professional degree at Queen’s that Spears saw a way to research women’s experiences of the urban environment. From there, Spears explains, Queen’s was a natural choice – it was close enough to home that she could easily travel between school and her family and it boasted a program that encourages practical experience (last summer Spears completed an internship in Newmarket, ON) as well as new opportunities for travel (she also participated in the International Project Course to Shanghai,China, during December 2011).
Now halfway through her second year of the program, has Queen’s continued to live up to Spears’ love for learning and life experience? “Absolutely,” she smiles. “I have received amazing support from my master’s report supervisor, Dr. Leela Viswanathan, and the director of the School of Urban and Regional Planning, Dr. David Gordon.” Occupying the top floor of the Robert Sutherland Hall, the 2-year Master’s program offers a tight knit community that’s made Spears feel at home since Orientation Week in 2010. SURP also engages its students in the Kingston community, which Spears believes is an important way not only to give back, but also to get to know the city in which you live.
What does the future hold for Spears? “I want to have a positive impact throughout my career in planning, and perhaps consider a PhD down the road” Spears reveals. “I love languages, too, and I’d like to spend some time learning more.” But while she sees continued travel as a part of her future, Ontario’s environment has earned its place as Spears’ home for now.