Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Landscape Architecture

First Advisor

John Stepan Wood


Municipal law, Planning law, Urban governance, Public participation, Civic engagement, Community councils


In 1997, the Province of Ontario formed the City of Toronto, amalgamating one regional and six small municipalities into a single city government. This action altered the formal institutions of local governance, replacing what was once regional with a City Council meant to represent city-wide issues, and without providing a clear model for local or smaller-than-city decision-making. The purpose of this dissertation is to conceptualize the meaning of local governance within the City of Toronto as a result of the overlap of wards (as represented by councillors), community councils, business improvement areas and neighbourhood associations, each of which claim geographical boundaries as justification for the representation of locally-based populations, and claim to be open to participation to some degree. This research asks whether the overlap of these bodies has unrecognized consequences, in particular, the effect on historically marginalized residents. This dissertation offers a theoretical conceptualization of local governance grounded in legal pluralism and legal geography that presents the city as a set of uneven and overlapping local legal spaces operating on multiple scales. Using a mixed methods approach that includes doctrinal review, case studies, and semi-structured interviews, the dissertation finds that wards dominate the law and practice of local decision-making, and do not represent an inclusive local governance model in Toronto. BIAs and neighbourhood associations are unevenly distributed across and the city, exist mainly in the socio-economically privileged areas and have grown in number and broadened their mandates since Torontos 1997 amalgamation. Torontos community councils, which were initially conceived by the province as a means to provide local access to municipal decision-making, have failed to achieve their legislative potential. The dissertation concludes that reimagined community councils, grounded within a normative understanding of the urban commons, serve as a means to create a more inclusive and participatory local governance model in Toronto.


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