Heather McLean

Assistant Professor
Environmental Studies and Geography
Athabasca University
Athabasca, Alberta


PhD Environmental Studies, (Urban Studies), York University, Toronto, Ontario
Mscl Planning (Social Planning) University of Toronto
BA, Human Geography (University of British Columbia)

Honors and Awards

Economic and Social Council Research Council, Future Research Leader (University of Glasgow, 2017-2019)

Urban Studies Foundation Research Fellow (University of Glasgow, 2014 - 2016)

Research Interests

I have a background in community development, social planning and community arts practice. I pursued a PhD in Urban Studies at York University after working for five years on large-scale urban "revitalization" projects meant to re-invent disinvested public housing neighborhoods with arts and cultural facilities in Toronto. My research and teaching focuses on culture-led regeneration and creative city planning, precarious work, and arts interventions. I also engage in research with artists and community organizations to investigate the everyday ways that people are envisioning and implementing cooperative alternatives to neoliberal policies and austerity. Working from intersectional feminist, queer, anti-racist and participatory paradigms, I strive to involve participants in co-producing knowledge and possibilities. 

My recent Glasgow-based research examined underrepresented artists’ and activists’ efforts to forge cross sectoral solidarities within a paradigm of austerity urbanism. Specifically, I explored how arts collectives and artist-run centers are supporting disinvested communities in a time of public funding cuts. For this project, I engaged in collaborative mapping projects with Ailie Rutherford, CERN member, artist and founder of the Peoples' Bank of Govanhill and Kinning Park Complex, a resident-led social center. I am currently working with the First Peoples' Cultural Council on the traditional lands of the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc (a city that has been named Kamloops, British Columbia). For this project I am investigating strategies for establishing Indigenous-informed metrics for understanding and supporting Indigenous arts vitality.

Additionally, I have participated in performance-based research with arts collective including Dirty Plotz, a feminist cabaret that explores the historic and ongoing exclusion and erasure of women in art and social justice movements. This includes my performances as drag king Toby Sharp, the Tool for Urban Change. Toby is a composite character representing my interpretation of the gendered performances driving neoliberal urban policies and planning.

I performed Toby with Dirty Plotz at cabarets in Toronto: https://antipodeonline.org/2013/03/28/featured-video-a-buzz-in-my-hub/

I also performed Toby in Edinburgh, Queering Deep Time (Stone Walks, Edinburgh): https://walkinglab.org/portfolio/queering-deep-time-stone-walks-edinburgh/


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