Seana Irvine is pursuing her PhD in Interdisciplinary Social Research at Trent University where she is exploring how post-industrial landscapes can be repurposed to create more inclusive cities. She has an undergraduate degree in Environmental and Resource Studies (Trent University) and a Masters in Environmental Studies & Planning (York University).
Her professional background has focused on community-based, participatory design and engagement processes that create vibrant public spaces and build stronger communities. Much of Seana’s career involved transforming Toronto’s Don Valley Brick Works from an abandoned brick factory and brownfield, into an award-winning showcase for innovation and sustainability. As one of the project’s founding team members, Seana had the privilege of designing the original visitor program and interpretation experiences that celebrated the site’s industrial and ecological heritage and advanced our ambitions to create a sustainable campus. Key to this process was understanding the worker stories, the brick manufacturing production processes, the external forces that caused factory closure and the subsequent struggle for the lands.
Her work has spanned leading low carbon redevelopments, launching social enterprises and strengthening social innovation networks from the local to the international while serving in executive positions for entrepreneurial not-for-profit organizations including Evergreen and the Centre for Social Innovation.
Towards the latter decades of the 20th century, post-industrial cities began to explore new forms of economic development that saw abandoned industrial landscapes repurposed as economic and cultural hubs. Transforming these landscapes offer cities opportunities to enhance their competitiveness in a global marketplace, catalyze private and public investment and create jobs for the professional classes. However, the physical and economic transformation of former working industrial landscapes has also brought with it the pressures of gentrification, reinforcing class barriers and separations and resulting in the displacement of the communities that live and work there.
As post-industrial landscapes take on new purposes, Seana is interested in how cities can redistribute the burdens and benefits of these redevelopment processes, both economically and also within a pro-equity, social justice lens that centres the voices and experiences of the working class communities that lived and worked there.
By examining the neoliberal economic period between 1980 and 2020, her research will explore how post-industrial redevelopment projects can minimize displacement and benefit those at greatest risk of dislocation, ultimately contributing to more inclusive cities. Her research will explore the impact and opportunities of repurposing deindustrialized landscapes, considering the ways in which these landscapes embody the tension and contradictions between mobile capital, globalization and gentrification, and the local interests of place, heritage, community and culture.
Research methods will include a comparative case study of post-industrial landscape redevelopment projects in Canada, the US and UK as well as an ethnographic case study focusing on London’s Regent Canal. Seana’s hope is that this project will contribute to the work of those looking to repurpose remnant industrial lands as well as be of interest to communities looking to ensure that their voice, experience and opportunities are not lost through the redevelopment process.