Amy Lavender Harris

Amy Lavender Harris teaches in the Department of Geography at York University, where her work focuses on urban identity and the cultural significance of place. She is the author of Imagining Toronto (Mansfield Press, 2010), which was shortlisted for the Gabrielle Roy Prize in Canadian literary criticism and won the Award of Merit, the highest honour given to a book at the 2011 Heritage Toronto Award.

GEOG 3300 Week 7: Walking Through Space

“Their story begins on ground level, with footsteps. They are myriad, but do not compose a series. They cannot be counted because each unit has a qualitative character: a style of tactile apprehension and kinesthetic appropriation. Their swarming mass is an innumerable collection of singularities. Their intertwined paths give their shape to spaces. They weave places together. ” [Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life.]

What does walking have to do with public space? Is it simply a descriptive activity, the act of moving from one place to another, or does it, as de Certeau suggests, have a qualitative character that helps weave together the very fabric of space?

Today in the Public Space course we’ll explore the deeper connotations of walking and its effects on public space. We’ll consider the possibility that walkers comprise a public (or counter-public) and, as such, are as integral to the public sphere as Harbermas’ or Benjamin’s coffee houses and salons. We’ll also explore connections between walking and exploration, protest and play, and discuss how walking might serve as a form of un/organized resistance to corporatization, surveillance and regulation of dissent. 


Weegee’s Naked City (1945); Weegee’s World

The Naked City (film; 1948)

Introduction to a Critique of Human Geography (Debord; circa 1955)

The Naked City (Guy Debord / Situationists / Lettrist International; 1956)

Theory of the Derive (Debord; 1958)

Society of the Spectacle (Debord; 1968)

Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places (book; 2009)

Ultrared: Sounding the Naked City

Infinite City (Rebecca Solnit; 2010)


GEOG 4900 Class 7: Electronic Urbanity

In “A Geography of Notopia,” (City, 10:3, 317-326), Fivos Papadimitriou writes that

virtual geographical identities appear, change and disappear in transactions of a second and in the way the Buddhist philosopher assumes in its ‘pratityasamutpada,’ the theory of the instantaneous being. Entities in ‘Notopia’ circulate the globe and disappear before anyone has perceived them. They become as unrecognisable, uncontrollable and indeterminable as the molucules of a gust of wind. (318)

Today in the Public Space course we’ll explore online identities and consider the innovations and limits of the digital public sphere. In the era of social media, data mining, corporatization, ‘Twitter revolutions’ and electronic censorship, can there even be a digital public?

Lecture Slides

 GEOG 4900 Public Space Summer 2012 Class 7 lecture slides Electronic Urbanity


Global online usage statistics (Internet World Stats, 2011)

Bill C-30 (“An Act to enact the Investigating and Preventing Criminal Electronic Communications Act and to amend the Criminal Code and other Acts;” also known as the “Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act,” Canadian House of Commons, 2012) 

“Tell Vic Everything” tweets protest online surveillance (CBC News, 16 February 2012)

SOPA (the “Stop Online Piracy Act,” US, 2011)

“How much is your data worth to Facebook” (ZDNet, 15 May 2012)

Kony 2012 campaign website

‘Consumerism Trumps Education: the Kony 2012 Campaign (Huffington Post, 11 March 2012)

 ‘Anonymous’ Hacking Group Threatens the Internet (NPR, 30 March 2012)





GEOG 4900 Class 6: Corporate Shift: The Privatization of Public Space

What do the omnipresence of billboards, advertising and commodification mean for the experience, meaning and accessibility of public space? How is advertising implicated in the increasing privatization of formerly public spaces?

Are you are person who thinks you can simply ignore the onslaught of advertising in public space? What does it mean to discover that it certainly isn’t ignoring you?

Today in the Public Space course we’ll embark on a field trip to three very different public spaces in Toronto’s downtown. 

Yonge-Dundas Square (a public space owned by the city but managed via a public-private partnership)

The Cloud Garden (a public park created as part of the planning approval process for the Bay-Adelaide Centre)

Nathan Phillips Square (a formal public square surrounding ‘new’ City Hall)

We’ll discuss these and other subjects through the lens of sociologist Anne Cronin’s views on advertising, commodity rhythms and the metabolism of the city. We’ll also pay attention to geographer Andrew Kirby’s compelling rethinking of the distinction between ‘public’ and ‘private’ space.


Toronto Public Space Initiative

 Goodbye Graffiti: A Short Story About Toronto’s Street Art Movement (Char Loro, via Vimeo)

Billboard image source: Lost Toronto via City of Toronto Archives. 

GEOG 4900 Class 5: Regulation and Dissent: State Surveillance and Public Protest

 What does it mean to protest? What would compel you to join one — and how far would you be willing to go to support a cause you believe in? What is the utility–and what are the limits–of protest in a ‘free and democratic’ society? 

Today in the Public Space course we’ll be discussing what happens when people ‘take it to the streets,’ in protests, demonstrations, riots and revolutions. Some of the questions we’ll consider include: are demonstrations simply another form of democratic decision-making, a way for people (or ‘publics’) without voice to make themselves heard? Or are they a threat to order and security? Are rioters ‘terrorists — or are they one thin line of defence against an increasingly repressive state?

Some recent public protests we’ll explore will include the 2010 G20 protests in Toronto, the 2011 Tahrir Square uprising and its connection to what has become known as the ‘Arab Spring’ the ‘Occupy’ movement in North American cities during the fall and winter of 2011-2012, and the ongoing student demonstrations in Quebec. We’ll also consider how the campus of York University functions as a space of dissent. 


Israel Apartheid Week @ YorkU — part 1 (via Youtube)

York University students launch 10-day occupation (YFile, 24 January 2012)

Tamil Protest in Toronto (via Youtube; 30 January 2009)

Tamil Protest in Toronto (CP24, via Youtube; 31 January 2009)

Tamil Protest in Toronto (via Youtube; 10 May 2009)

Broken Windows, Burnt Cars Left by G20 Riots in Toronto (via Youtube; 27 June 2010)

G20 Protest Toronto 2010; Protesters vs.Police (via Youtube; 26 June 2010)

 ‘G20 Officer: ‘This Ain’t Canada Right Now.’ (Toronto Star, 20 January 2011)

G20 Toronto — Bike Protest (via Youtube; 27 June 2010)

G20 Protest Toronto; One Nice Moment (via Youtube; 27 June 2010)

G20 report blasts police for ‘unlawful’ arrests, civil rights violations (Globe & Mail, 16 May 2012)

Policing the Right to Protest: G20 Systematic Review Report (Office of the Independent Police Review Director, May 2012. Note: .pdf document opens)

 Tahrir Sq reacts to resignation (Al Jazeera English, via Youtube)

‘Blue bra’ girl brutally beaten by Egyptian military (via Youtube, 18 December 2011; warning: violence depicted)

Occupy Toronto Protesters Clash (via Youtube, 15 October 2011)

Thousands march in “Occupy Bay Street” (via Youtube, 15 October 2011)

Occupy Toronto Eviction Update (via Youtube, 23 November 2011)

Pepper Spray: US Campus Police Suspended (BBC World News, 20 November 2011; warming: violence depicted)

 Montréal : manif nationale étudiante 22 mars 2012 (via Youtube)

Protesters storm Montreal university, gang up on students in class (Globe & Mail, 16 May 2012)

Charest launches legislation to crack down on student protests (Globe & Mail, 17 May 2012) 

Anatomy of a crisis after 100 days of student protests (Montreal Gazette, 22 May 2012)

GEOG 4900 (Public Space) Week 3: Theorizing the Public Sphere

Today in the Public Space course we’ll explore the idea of the public sphere and consider what it means to belong to a ‘public’ or counter-public and to engage in public address.

Our discussion will begin with an introduction to German philosopher Jurgen Habermas’ notions of the public sphere and will go on to consider some criticisms of it, including Nancy Fraser’s discussion of what happens in “actually existing” democracies. 

Slides are available here: GEOG 4900 Public Space Summer 2012 Class 3 lecture slides Theorizing the Public Sphere

Theorizing the Public Sphere

Craig Calhoun, Habermas and the Public Sphere (Introduction; via Craig  Calhoun at New York University’s Institute for Public Knowledge)

Douglas Kellner, Habermas, the Public Sphere, and Democracy: A Critical Intervention

Public Space Interventions

“Go on, share your thoughts on a wall (Real, not Facebook);” Globe & Mail; 10 May 2012.

Before I Die

What’s that tent doing in the library? (YFile, 23 January 2012)

Piano Stairs (by The Fun Theory)

Phil Dancing on the Subway! (2011; via Youtube)

Goodbye Graffiti: A Short Story about Toronto’s Street Art Movement (produced by Char Loro, 2012; via Vimeo)

Billboards Converted to Swingsets (via MAKE blog) 

CCTV/Creative Control (Marcos Zotes, via Youtube)

EVOKE! 10 – “Public Art Space” Installation in Trafalgar Square, London by Contra (via Youtube)




GEOG 4900 (Public Space), Class 2: Exploring Public Space

“In her final year at York University, Beth became obsessed  with the washroom graffiti on campus. She loved the private conversations, the political discourse. The different colours of pen and large angry letters. Sometimes it began with something like Men don’t protect women anymore. Then a series of responses. Often daily. A story in progress. Punctuated with fuck or bitch or dyke. Inevitably the dialogue ran out of space or patience or deteriorated into a rant. She loved that each washroom seemed to have a genre. Politics. Sex. Irony everywhere. She loved that the caretakers rarely washed the walls.” [Julie Booker, 2011. “Scratch.” From Up Up Up! (Anansi; pp. 153-161.]

  This week we’ll explore public space and some of its complications (e.g., gender binaries, oppositions between ‘public’ and ‘private’) by talking about toilets. 

Why toilets

Well, for one thing, toilets exist precisely on the margin between public and private space. They are at once intensely intimate places and culturally laden, regulated, social spaces. Washrooms are one excellent entry point to many of the public space issues we’ll encounter in this course, ranging from the meaning of public (and private) space, to social and spatial constructions of race, class and (perhaps especially) gender, to notions of the public sphere (and ‘publics’ and counter-publics) as well as social movements fought in and over public space. 

 Slides for today’s class may be accessed by clicking here: 

GEOG 4900 Public Space Summer 2012 Class 2 lecture slides What is Public Space


10 Tips for Using Public Restrooms

Skip to the Loo: Why Public Toilets Matter (Michael Harris; The Walrus, March 2011).

How to Recognise a Furtive Practice: A User’s Guide (Kathleen Ritter, 2005)

New link [23 February 2012]: Why Portland’s Public Toilets Succeeded While Others Failed (The Atlantic Cities blog, January 2012)


Scene from The Pursuit of Happyness (via Youtube)

Scene from Trainspotting (via Youtube)

‘Bathroom’ segment from History of the Home (BBC series) (via Youtube): Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.

 [Image source: Public washroom attendant, Toronto, Ontario. City of Toronto Archives, Series 376, File 1, Item 90B.]

Welcome to Public Space (GEOG 4900), Summer 2012 Edition!

Welcome to GEOG 4900 (Public Space), offered during the Summer 2012 term in the Geography Department at York University! 

Important updates, overviews, announcements, handouts and slides will be posted to this website before each class: please check the space regularly. Click here to view the syllabus and reading list; click here to view slides, handouts and links organized by week

This week we’ll begin with a short overview of some ways of thinking about public space. We’ll also view a well-known film about public space: William H. Whyte’s The Social Life of Small Urban Places (1988). 

Slides for today’s class are accessible here: GEOG 4900 Public Space Summer 2012 Class 1 lecture slides Introduction and Overview

If you have any questions or would otherwise like to get in touch, you can contact me at alharris [at] yorku [dot] ca. 


GEOG 3300 Week 12: Possible Worlds

This week in the Space/Place course we’ll be discussing Possible Worlds: Imaginary Places and Virtual Spaces. 

We’ll explore the spatiality of utopias (also eutopias and dystopias), metaphors of imagined places, and consider how virtual spaces mediate between the real and the possible. 

Slides for today’s class are available here: GEOG 3300 Week 12 Possible Worlds lecture slides 2011-2012

GEOG 3300 Week 11: Landscapes of Fear / Moral Geographies

This week in the Space/Place class we’ll be discussing landscapes of fear and their counterpart, moral geographies. 

Among the subjects we’ll discuss: what makes a place frightening?’ To what extent may our fears of certain places be attributed to ‘natural’ (or ‘reasonable’) fears and to what extent are these ‘dangerous’ spaces socially produced? Can ‘morality’ be ascribed to place? What distinguishes ‘good’ from ‘bad’ places? 

Slides for today’s class are available here: GEOG 3300 Week 11 Landscapes of Fear Moral Geographies lecture slides 2011-2012


 Full Metal Jacket (ending); Stanley Kubrick, 1987, via YouTube.

Recommended Reading:

Sack, Robert, 1999. A Sketch of a Geographic Theory of Morality. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 89(1): 26-44.

Sack, Robert, 2003. A Geographical Guide to the Real and the Good. Routledge. 




GEOG 3300 Week 10: Individual Consultation Day

Just a reminder that, as announced via email, today’s Space/Place class will be set aside for individual consultations for students seeking feedback or research help on research paper topics (please remember that the essay outline and annotated bibliography are due next week). 

If you would like help with your essay, please met at the regular classroom location at 2:30 pm. I will return the midterm exam and second reading response assignment, and after that will be available to anyone wishing help or advice. I’ll be more than happy to help you do library researching using York’s online databases of scholarly journal articles and books.  

Next week in class we’ll consider Place of Fear and Moral Geographies at the same time. Given the overlap between the subjects, this should be a good fit.