Nik Luka

Associate Professor
Nik Luka
Contact Information
Email address: 
nik.luka [at]
Macdonald-Harrington Building, Room 418
Interim Director, Montréal Interdisciplinary Research Centre / Centre de recherches interdisciplinaires en études montréalaises Associate Member, Bieler School of Environment Associate Member, Institute for Health and Social Policy Member, Trottier Instit

B.A.A.(Ryerson), M.Arch.(Laval), Ph.D.(Tor.)

Research areas: 
Landscape studies
Urban design
Civic engagement

I am a specialist in ethnography, landscape studies, and critical studies of design and planning. Much of my research and teaching activities explore what I call REURBANISM--the processes of transformation, contestation, and negotiation that occur in (re)urban(ising) landscapes. These are operationalised through action-research collaborations with public agencies and civil-society organisations as well as conventional investigative research and practical work on urban design and participatory governance. In a nutshell, I’m fascinated by how architects, planners, and other professionals engage with one another (or not…) and with non-specialists who offer other important forms of knowledge and expertise to develop techniques, possibilities, and capacities for transforming (sub)urban landscapes to make better use of scarce resources while maintaining the qualities of place that people value about the settings that they know and inhabit on an everyday basis.

My interests in both research and professional practice encompass major themes that are familiar to most architects, landscape architects, planners, and geographers: housing, infrastructure, public space, cultural landscapes, urban design, and deliberative democracy. I typically do work that is inductive in a ‘constructivist’ orientation; while not an historian, I am especially intrigued by narrative, representations, text, and discourse as they apply to the work of architecture, urban design, and urban planning. What sorts of stories do we tell about the complexities of human settlements and the processes by which places become ‘(sub)urban’? How do specialists and non-specialists engage with the transformations, continuities, and ruptures that come with the passage of time, notably the liminal or transitional phases ‘from’ some condition ‘to’ some other condition? How can design can act as a hinge between natural process and human culture to guide change? More strategically, my activities focus on the deliberate policy-led remaking of everyday space through what is known in German as Stadtumbau (literally the reworking of cities and suburbs).

Currently-funded projects include comparative critical studies of densification and transformation of postwar landscapes (including transit-oriented development) with colleagues in Sweden and continental Europe, transdisciplinary strategies for landscape connectivity and ‘walkability’ in various contexts, a Canada-wide SSHRC Partnership Grant with the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation on innovative land practices for housing quality and affordability, and a Montréal partnership focusing on commoning in the Champ des Possibles. I also have enduring interests in the dynamics of the rural-urban fringe (often described as ‘periurban’ or ‘exurban’ settings), including second homes and the ways in which landscape amenities affect patterns of growth and development over time.

Professors need to engage in local communities of practice beyond the university campus, which I have done in various capacities over the last 20 years. I have been a member of the Conseil d’administration (Board of Directors) for several organisations including the Montréal Urban Ecology Centre / Centre d’écologie urbaine de Montréal (striving for the development of vibrant civic life, including participatory urban design, planning, and governance), the Fondation Schmeelk Canada Foundation (which promotes intercultural awareness and interprovincial mobility for young Canadians pursuing post-secondary studies), and Convercité, a non-profit Montréal consultancy helping civil-society actors, project entrepreneurs, and policymakers to ensure that progressive human(ist) values are at the core of city-building and landscape planning. I also have worked with Suspicious Fish (a non-profit group based in Verdun which strengthens community through creative writing), Literacy Québec (linking community-based literacy organisations across Québec to empower people, impact lives, and build a stronger society), Before moving to Montréal, I was also a member of the Tafelmusik early music ensemble in Toronto for 10 years, with which I recorded several compact discs and one film production (with the Mark Morris Dance Group).

Montréal is home, but I have also lived in Québec City, Basel (Switzerland), Sheffield (England), Malmö (Sweden), Helsinki (Finland), Toronto, and in Ontario’s ‘Near North’ (Manitoulin Island, Georgian Bay, and the Haliburton Highlands). My paternal grandparents were Magyars who came to Canada from the tattered remains of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the early 20th century, but my maternal family roots in this country can be traced to Scottish merchants who settled in Québec City in the 1760s and were part of a small group of civic leaders who successfully lobbied the British Crown for the establishment of a parliament for Lower Canada (today's Assemblée nationale du Québec).

Selected publications: 

(2020) Nya perspektiv pa rekreation i den tata staden. Movium Direkt, 4 19-25. Cowritten with H. Peinert and M. Qvistrom.

(2019) Beyond circular thinking: Geographies of Transit-Oriented Development. International Journal of Urban & Regional Research, 43(4), 786-793. Cowritten with M. Qviström (lead) and G. De Block.

(2018) Civic coproduction = Counterinstitutions + people. Make participation work by focusing on the possible. Invited contribution to The Nature of Cities. Available online only.

(2018) Rethinking the Kulturforum. Research report on Urban Development and Urban Design (prepared for the School of Urban Planning, McGill University). Cowritten with O. White (lead).

(2017)  « Midtown » florissant : La Petite-Patrie aux abords du chemin de fer. In Montréal : la cité des cités (J.-L. Klein & R. G. Shearmur, Eds.) Montréal: Presses de l’Université du Québec, pp. 169-190.

(2017)  Deliberative democracy and digital urban design in a Canadian city : The case of the McGill Online Design Studio. In Digital democracy in a globalised world (C. Prins, C. Cuijpers, P. L. Lindseth, & M. Rosina, Eds.). London: Edward Elgar, pp. 180-200. Cowritten with H. Kong (lead), J. Cudmore, & A. Dumas.

(2017) Blue collars, green corridors, post-industrial waterways. In Third Coast Atlas (D. Ibañez, C. Lyster, C. Waldheim, & M. White, Eds.) New York: Actar, pp. 276-281. Cowritten with H. Braiden. 

(2017)  Contested periurban amenity landscapes: changing waterfront ‘countryside ideals’ in central Canada. Landscape Research, 42 (3), 256-276.

(2016)  Nesting boxes: An elegant arts centre is the nucleus of a new civic hub for an off-island suburb of Montreal. Canadian Architect, 61 (11), 48-51.

(2015)  Pour un urbanisme des possibles dans le Quartier des spectacles. In Le Quartier des spectacles et le chantier de l'imaginaire montréalais (S. Harel, L. Lussier, & J. Thibert, Eds.). Québec City: Presses de l’Université Laval, pp. 185-201. Cowritten with P.-É. Gendron, J. Cudmore, & V. Mikadze.

(2014)  Democratic deliberation in the wild: The McGill Online Design Studio and the RegulationRoom Project. Fordham Urban Law Journal, 41 (5), 1527-1580. Cowritten with C. Farina (lead), H. Kong, C. Blake, and M. Newhart.

(2013)  Urban spectacular: a bold series of downtown plazas reintroduces vibrant urban life into spaces left over from postwar megaprojects. Canadian Architect, 58 (2), 18-22.

(2012)  Sojourning in nature: the second-home exurban landscapes of Ontario’s Near North. In Landscape and the ideology of nature in exurbia: Green sprawl (K.V. Cadieux & L. Taylor, Eds.). New York: Routledge, pp. 121-158.

(2012)  Finding opportunities for urban sustainability in cottage life. In Urban sustainability: reconnecting space and place (A. Dale, W.T. Dushenko, & P.J. Robinson, Eds.). Toronto: University of Toronto Press, pp. 171-210.

(2012)  Georgian Bay, Muskoka, and Haliburton: more than cottage country. In Beyond the global city: understanding and planning for the diverse georegions of Ontario (G. Nelson, Ed.). Montréal / Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, pp. 169-199. Cowritten with N.-M. Lister.

(2012)  Constructing the ideal soundscape: a practical study on closing the gaps between soundscape and urban designers. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 131 (4), 3475. Cowritten with D. Steele (lead).

(2011)  Evaluating the impacts of transportation plans using accessibility measures: a test case in Montréal. Canadian Journal of Urban Research, 20 (1), 81-104. Cowritten with A. El-Geneidy (lead), A. Cerdá, and R. Fischler.

(2011)  Del espacio al lugar y al paisaje cultural : segundas residencias a orillas de rìos y lagos en Canadà central. In Construir un nueva vida. Los espacios del turismo y la migración residencial (T. Mazón, R. Huete, & A. Mantecón, Eds.). Santander (Spain): Milrazones Ed., pp. 21-46.

(2010)  Arts of (dis)placement: City space and urban design in the London of ‘Breaking and Entering’. Cinémas, 21 (1), 79-103. Cowritten with L. Bird (lead).

(2010)  Of timeshare cottages, zebra mussels, and McMansions: Dispatches from the second-home settings of central Ontario. In The rural-urban fringe in Canada : conflict and controversy (K. Beesley, Ed.). Brandon (Manitoba): Rural Development Institute, Brandon University, pp. 199-219

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