Betsy Donald

Dr. Betsy Donald


Associate Vice-Principal (Research)

Department of Geography and Planning


Mackintosh-Corry Hall, Room D307

People Directory Affiliation Category

Betsy Donald is a Professor in the Department of Geography at Queen’s University. She teaches, does research and consults in the field of economic geography with a particular focus on innovation and regional economic development, urban planning and governance, and sustainable food systems. She has degrees from McGill (B.A. History), York (M.E.S. Environmental Studies) and the University of Toronto (M.Sc.Pl. Planning, Ph.D. Geography). She has over 50 publications including articles in the Journal of Economic Geography, Urban Studies, Regional Studies and Environment and Planning A. She has been a Visiting Scholar Harvard University (2005-7), a Visiting Fellow at Clare Hall, University of Cambridge (2012-13), and was the Eccles Centre Visiting Professor in North American Studies at the British Library, London, UK in 2012-13. In Spring 2016 she was the Visiting Professor in Canadian Studies at Kwansei Gakuin University in Japan. She is currently an editor of the Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society. Betsy has had many SSHRC-funded research projects and won awards for her research including the Governor General's Academic Gold Medal.


  • B.A. (McGill)
  • M.E.S. (York)
  • M.Sc. Pl.
  • Ph.D. (Toronto, 1999)

Research Interests:

Dr. Donald has a wide range of interests – all of them connected to the spatial dimensions of contemporary socio-economic-political change. Her three main research interests are: (1) Cities (2) Food; and (3) Rural Economies.

  1. Cities: urban policy and its impact

Cities and all their complexities fascinate me. My interest in cities are multidisciplinary, based in geography and drawing from planning, political science, economics and social psychology perspectives in both present and historical context. My academic approach to cities in echoed in the following passage from Gary Bridge and Sophie Watson in A Companion to the City (2000:1)

It is no longer possible, if ever was, to look at the city from one perspective – be it cultural or economic. Instead cities need to be understood from a variety of perspectives in the recognition that the cultural/social constructs, and is constructed by, the political/economic and vice versa. It is only when we adopt such a complex and textured reading of cities that we will begin to be able to address the pressing social, economic, and environmental questions faced by cities across the world.

I have chosen to focus primarily (although not exclusively) on North American cities as a way into exploring these complexities. I strive to be analytically diverse yet rooted in theories of urban political economy. This was the approach I used in my doctoral dissertation, which examined the economic challenges to and political responses of Toronto’s major governance restructuring in the late 1990s. Fast forward many years, and it is interesting to see how much those structural governance changes from the 1990s are impacting on the politics of Toronto today.

I am still very interested in the spatial politics of Canadian cities, but at the moment, I am working with my colleague Dr. Mia Gray at the University of Cambridge to examine the spatial politics of austerity in British and U.S. Cities. Our project is entitled, Regimes of Austerity: economic change the politics of contraction and is managed through the Centre for Business Research at the Judge Business School, University of Cambridge. I hope to extend this research to the Canadian context as well. To prepare for this new research direction, we edited a themed issue on Austerity in the City in the Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society and have several forthcoming papers on this topic.

Another new project is exploring the policy implications of the sharing economy and in particular Uber’s Disruptive Impact. This project is funded through a SSHRC Partnership Grant led by Dr. David Wolfe at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs.


  1. Food: innovation in sustainable systems

I have a long standing interest in sustainable food systems. I am particularly interested in food’s capacity to embed local jobs and shape a place’s social, environmental and economic sustainability not only through local, organic and biodynamic farming, but also through processing and distribution practices that reduce carbon footprints by reducing waste and conserving soil, energy, water, and farmland. I have written quite a bit about the rise of the creative food economy subsector and in particular the role of small and medium-sized enterprises that seek to embrace sustainable food practices.  In 2012-13, I spent time at the British Library researching the history of the American industrial food system from its early years in the 1920s to its world dominance in the post-war period. This research drew on the major business and science food journals of the period to show how the industry, in its own voice, views its contributions to the American economy and to global society. I am currently writing a manuscript on The Rise and Fall of the American Industrial Foodscape.


  1. Rural: rural places, small cities, slow-growing places

Like many geographers, I am interested in learning more about the places I experience on a daily basis. I live in a small town and am aware of the challenges and unique opportunities facing smaller cities and places. Over the years, I have worked on various research projects addressing issues such as the social dynamics of small city economies, main street renewal, rural revitalization, and planning for slow-growth and decline. There are many examples around the world of cities and places that have changed development course through creative and collective action. I am particularly interested in the potential of creative industries and people (such as the role of arts, culture, food and wine) in rural and small-city revival. In addition to my scholarly work in this area, I have been a professional planning consultant on a variety of projects in the area of economic impact and local and community economic development.


Curriculum Vitae (PDF 174 kB)