Nik Luka

Nik Luka
Image by NL.

Associate Professor and Graduate Program Director

Joint appointment with the Peter Guo-hua Fu School of Architecture
Associate Director, Centre for Interdisciplinary Research on Montréal

Ph.D., University of Toronto
M.Arch., Université Laval, Québec City
B.A.A., Toronto Metropolitan University
(erstwhile Ryerson Polytechnic University) 

Office: Macdonald-Harrington Building, Room 407
nik.luka [at] (Email)


Associate Member, Bieler School of Environment
Associate Member, Institute for Health and Social Policy
Member, Trottier Institute for Sustainability in Engineering and Design



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). 


Courses taught (2022-2023)

ARCH 551 - Urban Design and Planning

URBP 622 - Planning Studio 1

URBP 649 - Visual and Spatial Methods

URBP 651 - Redesigning Suburban Space


Ph.D. dissertation (University of Toronto, 2006)

Placing the ‘natural’ edges of a metropolitan region through multiple residency : Landscape and urban form in Toronto’s ‘cottage country’

This study examines certain ‘cottage’ or water-oriented second-home settings of central Ontario to assert that they have effectively become part of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), a major metropolitan region now undergoing rapid population growth. The central thesis is that this so-called ‘cottage country’ must be considered part of the primary life-space for many individuals and households based in the GTA. Multiple residency---the social-spatial practice by which households live in more than one dwelling---is examined to make sense of what now comprises the Toronto-centred urban territory or ‘metapolis’ and its housing markets, while also enabling us to ‘place’ the ‘natural’ edges of this metropolitan area in at least two important ways. It first helps to demonstrate certain spatial qualities of the GTA as an unevenly urban territory. At the same time, the waterfront components of ‘cottage country’ are ‘living edges’ in landscape ecology terms and significant sites or ‘places’ that enable individuals and households to situate themselves within abstract notions of ‘nature’ and the ‘wilderness’---ideas about land and landscape that have long held sway in Canadian cultural discourses. The mixed quantitative and qualitative methodology employed here includes a generalised social history, a detailed questionnaire (n=200), and in-depth interviews with cottage users (n=30) in three discrete second-home settings. These case study areas are situated within broader discourses and processes of transformation, exploring certain dynamics of urban form, structure, and metropolitan growth while also examining important dimensions of how people think about space, place, landscape, and what has been called the ‘sense of region’---all of which are arguably revealed by ‘cottaging’ as a culturally meaningful social practice. Conceptually, the research presented here is thus a dialogue between markets and meaning. Beyond its empirical contributions, this study is intended to assert the importance of an epistemological approach to landscape and urban form---the domains of cultural and urban geography, respectively---in concert. Such an approach is needed if we are to substantively examine abstract processes, narratives, and/or conceptualisations of space and landscape without neglecting to systematically ground them in place and in the materiality of urban form.


Recent major projects

Co-investigator, Balanced Supply of Housing Node
Funding agency : Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada / Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (Partnership Grant : Collaborative Housing Research Network)
Total amount of award : C$1 375 000 (2020-2025)
Principal Investigator : Prof. P. Gurstein (School of Community and Regional Planning, University of British Columbia)

Co-investigator, Supporting the possibilities of urban commoning in Montréal’s Champ des Possibles
Funding agency : Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (Partnership Engage Grants)
Total amount of award : C$24 672 (2019-2022)
Principal Investigator : Prof. A. Poteete (Department of Political Science / Loyola Sustainability Research Centre, Concordia University)

Co-investigator, Villes Régions Monde
Funding agency : Fonds québécois de recherche sur la société et la culture (Regroupements stratégiques)
Total amount of award : C$1 700 000 (2020-2027)
Principal Investigator : Prof. S. Breux (INRS Urbanisation culture société)

Co-investigator, Réseau inondations intersectoriel du Québec (RIISQ)
Funding agency : Fonds de recherche du Québec – Nature et technologies / Santé / Société et culture (Réseau de recherche sur la gestion des risques liés aux inondations dans un contexte de changements climatiques)
Total amount of award : C$1 500 000 (2019-2024)
Principal Investigator : Prof. P. Gachon (Département de géographie, Université du Québec à Montréal)

Collaborator, Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) for inclusive and sustainable rural-urban regions
Funding agency : European Union (Innovative Training Networks / Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions)
Total amount of award : €2 691 515 (2020-2025) / approx. C$4 175 000
Principal Investigator : Prof. G. De Block (Urban Studies Institute, Universiteit Antwerpen)

Collaborator, Välfärdens landskap och den täta staden [The welfare landscape reassembled : Policies for sustainable outdoor recreation in times of urban densification]
Funding agency : FORMAS (Swedish Research Council for Sustainable Development)
Total amount of award : SEK 9 820 000 / approx. C$1 435 000 (2016-2024)
Principal Investigator : Prof. M. Qviström (Institutionen för stad och land, Sveriges lantbruksuniversitet)

Collaborator, Hållbar mobilitet i den täta staden : En studie av rekreationsmönster i de nya stationssamhällena [Sustainable leisure mobilities in compact towns : changing patterns of outdoor recreation in transit-oriented development]
Funding agency : FORMAS (Swedish Research Council for Sustainable Development)
Total amount of award : SEK 2 987 001 / approx. C$436 500 (2017-2023)
Principal Investigator : Prof. M. Qviström (Institutionen för stad och land, Sveriges lantbruksuniversitet)

Co-investigator, Safe Passage : Towards an integrated planning approach for landscape connectivity
Funding agency : Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (Partnership Development Grants)
Total amount of award : C$199 500 (2016-2020)
Principal Investigator : Prof. N.-M. Lister (School of Urban and Regional Planning, Ryerson University)

Co-investigator, From speculation to evaluation : A digitally-mediated laboratory for local deliberative democracy
Funding agency : Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (Insight Grants)
Total amount of award : C$204 500 (2012-2016)
Principal Investigator : Prof. H. Kong (Faculty of Law, McGill University)

Co-investigator (2010-2014), Making megaprojects work for communities
Funding agency : Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (Community-University Research Alliances)
Total amount of award : C$1 000 000 (2007-2014)
Principal Investigator : Prof. L. Bornstein (School of Urban Planning, McGill University)


Selected publications

[2022] Complementing citizen engagement with innovative forms of professional co-production : a renewed case for transdisciplinary charrettes. In H. L. Kong & T. Monforte (Eds.), Sustainability, citizen participation, and city governance : multidisciplinary perspectives (pp. 163–193). Toronto : University of Toronto Press. Cowritten with B. Aird and N.-M. Lister. 

[2021] It’s not how dense we make it, but how we make it dense : on porosity as a corequisite of densification. Aménager : Expérience et innovation d’un quartier, 4 (2 : Habiter), 12–21. Online :

[2020] Nya perspektiv på rekreation i den täta staden. Movium Direkt, 4, 19–25. Cowritten with H. Peinert (lead) and M. Qviström.

[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.

[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. L. Kong (lead), J. Cudmore, & A. Dumas.

[2017] Montréal : Blue collars, green corridors, post-industrial waterways. In Third Coast Atlas : Prelude to a plan (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] « 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.

[2016] Emerging challenges of vector-borne diseases for Canadian cities. Canada Communicable Disease Report, 42 (10), 217-218.

[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. L. Kong, C. Blake, and M. Newhart.

[2013] 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.

[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] 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).

[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.

[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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