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Luisa Sotomayor

Luisa Sotomayor

Associate Professor

Director of City Institute


PhD Planning, University of Toronto
MSc Planning, University of Toronto
BA Sociology, National University of Colombia

Research Keywords

Urban Planning and Policy; Housing; Urban Governance; Informality; Participatory Planning.

Graduate Supervision

I supervise students in the graduate programs in Environmental Studies, MA Geography, MES Planning and BES Cities, Regions & Planning.

Contact Information

Kaneff Tower, Room 731, 4700 Keele Street, 
Toronto, Ontario, Canada M3J 1P3.


Google Scholar | Research Gate

Research Interests

My research and teaching interests are focused on the various dimensions of urban inequality and their connections to governance and planning practice. I study urban violence and insecurity, housing precarity, socio-legal exclusions, and the formation of new socio-spatial peripheries and informalities. I also examine planning and urban policy responses to these issues through questions of urban politics, including the role of state and non-state actors and community activism in mobilizing, negotiating, or contesting urban planning agendas. At its core, my work questions the limits and possibilities of urban planning to redress socio-spatial injustices and promote more equitable and democratic cities. The geographic scope of my research includes both Latin America and Canada.

Research Projects

Vertical Peripheries: Planning and citizenship in Colombia's commodified periurban housing towers

Role: Principal Investigator

Co-PI: Dr. Lina Brand-Correa

Collaborators: Dr. Adriana Hurtado-Tarazona; Dr. Friederike Fleischer (Universidad de Los Andes, Bogota)

Funding: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Insight Grant

Duration: May 2022-May 2025


Over the past decade, the private construction of government-sponsored low-cost housing in the form of mass-produced apartment towers at the urban fringes of Colombian cities has deeply transformed the country’s periurban landscapes. This project examines the effects and implications of Colombia’s national privatized social housing policy on peripheral urbanization processes in three cities (Bogota, Barranquilla and Medellin) with a view to governance and municipal planning, as well as residents’ possibilities for agency and citizenship, and their socioeconomic well-being. Specifically, we aim to understand how commodified social housing affects peripheral urbanization, urban planning processes, and ultimately, residents' everyday lives.

Social urbanism and urban policy mobility at the margins of Latin American cities

Role: Co-Principal Investigator

PI: Dr. Ryan Anders Whitney (Tecnológico de Monterrey, Mexico City Campus)

Duration: March 2022-March 2023


Urban planning is increasingly dominated by a series of “best practices” which are defined as the policies, programs, and projects that spark policy change in different cities from where they originally emerged. Within Mexico City, best practices originating in cities from across the globe – including bike share systems from Barcelona, Bus Rapid Transit from Bogotá, and central city revitalization approaches from New York City – have become common within the city’s central neighbourhoods. Less, however, has been said about the impact of best practices on neighbourhoods outside of the city’s central areas. For example, best practices from Medellín, including cable car transportation systems and escalators designed to improve mobility in informal settlements, have been inaugurated in Ecatepec, Iztapalapa, and Alvaro Obregon. This research explores the uptake of a series of escalators that were inaugurated in Alvaro Obregon, Mexico City, based on the experience of Medellín. 

Legal Mobilizations, Oppositional Publics and Citizen Participation in Urban Planning: The Case of Bogotá 

Role: Co-Principal Investigator

Co-PIs: Dr. Sergio Montero and Natalia Angel-Cabo (Universidad de Los Andes, Bogota)

Duration: February 2020-February 2023


In recent years, an increasing number of urban planning projects and plans have been modified or paralyzed in Colombia through citizen lawsuits and judicial decisions. Our project asks: how is the rise in legal mediation in urban planning reconfiguring the actors and repertoires of citizen participation and mobilization in urban development, as well as the possibilities for creating more inclusive cities in Colombia? This interdisciplinary research is framed within debates about equitable cities and citizen participation in urban planning and city-building processes. Through a study of emblematic cases related to transportation infrastructure, housing and urban revitalization in Bogota, we hope to shed light on the limits and possibilities of judicial action for more social inclusion in Colombian and Latin American cities.

Decolonizing Planning in the ‘Undocumented’ City

Role: Co-Principal Investigator

PI: Dr. Liette Gilbert (EUC, York University)

Funding: EUC Small Research Grant

Duration: January 2021-January 2023

Summary: While planners and policymakers increasingly recognize the need to engage with many ‘stakeholders’ and include the voices and lived experiences of historically marginalized publics, people facing socio-legal exclusions – such as non-citizens, migrant workers, and others with precarious status, as well as Indigenous people – continue to be excluded from planning processes and adequate policy formulation. “Unauthorized” racialized migrants and people with precarious legal status are deeply embedded in the life of their communities and city regions. They participate in place-making, shape the urban fabric, and build regional economies. Yet, they do so in the “shadows” and in fear. They are increasingly confronted with state tactics of illegalization, expulsion and border enforcement that produce geographies of death in what De Genova and Roy (2020) describe as racialized regimes of citizenship. Like other instances of democratic governance, illegalized refugees and migrants are unsurprisingly excluded from participation in state-sanctioned urban planning. Our pilot research seeks to better understand how normative planning produces precarity and vulnerability for undocumented people living in Toronto and Montreal – but also, how could it incorporate claims and contestations for transformation. Our temporal and spatial inquiry of how ‘undocumented’ solidarity – in the current moment of COVID-19 pandemic and anti-racism mobilizations – seeks to analyse how the processes of municipal governance and planning in Toronto and Montreal (re)produce exclusion but could also foster a ‘just city’ for illegalized migrants. Our study is part of a larger project to decolonize planning practices and ideologies

Siting new homeless shelters in residential areas: Public engagement and NIMBYism in Toronto

Role: Principal Investigator

Collaborator: City of Toronto's Shelter, Support and Housing Administration.

Funding: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Partnership Engage Grant.

Duration: January 2020-July 2021


The City of Toronto counts on several tools to advance the creation of emergency homeless housing and services. Specifically, the as-of-right Municipal Shelters By-law is a powerful legal tool for creating shelters throughout the city. Given shelters’ designation as residential use, there is no statutory requirement for consultation or public meetings. In practice, however, oppositional groups and Not-in-My-Backyard (or NIMBY) mobilizations against municipal shelters and services can create significant public controversy and mobilize political opposition; ultimately, delaying or even interrupting implementation and affecting the rights of service clients. This collaborative project sought to address the dilemma of public engagement and emergency housing through a comparative approach involving six national and international jurisdictions facing similar challenges: Ottawa, Salt Lake City, Seattle, Cardiff, Helsinki, and Melbourne. For these cases, we first examined the contexts where opposition against shelters is built and how it is mobilized, the types of actors involved, and the arguments invoked in the different cases. Complementing this is an examination of how municipalities, service providers and advocacy groups have responded or could respond to counteract opposition and build constructive relationships between shelters and their surrounding communities, before, during, and after the implementation process.

StudentDwellTO: Addressing the Student Housing Affordability Challenge

Role: Principal Investigator

Co-PIs: Dr.Jeremy Bowes (OCAD University), Dr. Shelagh McCartney (Toronto Metropolitan University), Dr. Mauricio Quirós and Dr. Marcelo Vieta (University of Toronto).

Funding: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Connections Grant; Presidents of the Four Toronto Universities; MITACS.

Duration: September 2017-September 2020

Summary: In 2017, the presidents of the four universities in Toronto - OCAD University, Ryerson University, University of Toronto, and York University - released a call for proposals for multi-university, multi-disciplinary teams to document the nature and extent of the current student housing affordability crisis, and to identify creative initiatives that might address these housing challenges. StudentDwellTO started as the response to this call and it was a collaborative effort to research and address how the current Toronto housing crisis is impacting students in the Greater Toronto Area. The initiative is multi-disciplinary in nature and composition and brings together students and faculty in a number of academic disciplines and research methods from all four universities.  

Part of StudentDwellTO undertakings include cultivating student-led research projects - embedded within existing courses at each university - in affordable student housing strategies; planning and executing events addressing affordable housing; engaging and mobilizing students through focus groups and data analysis; creating interactive maps and visualizations that are instrumental both for the institutions and students; and activating research and mobilizing students and affordable housing advocates through community arts programming and communication tools. 

Research Output

Montero, S., & Sotomayor, L. (2024). Judicialización y política urbana: Ciudadanos, políticos y jueces en la suspensión de Transmilenio por la Séptima en Bogotá. EURE50(149), 1-20. [Open Access]

Sotomayor, L., & Zheng, C. (2023). Who Drinks Bubble Tea? Coethnic Studentification in Toronto’s Chinatown. Housing Policy Debate, 1-27.

Sotomayor, L.., Montero, S., and Angel-Cabo, N. (2023) Mobilizing legal expertise in and against cities: urban planning amidst increased legal action in Bogotá, Urban Geography, 44:3, 447-469,

Evans, A., & Sotomayor, L. (2023). Towards plush new digs in Toronto’s in-between city: the changing governance of student housing in Canada. Urban Geography44(2), 402-429.

Sotomayor, L. and Gilbert, L. (2022). Sanctuary city, solidarity city, and inclusive City (yet to come): Living invisibly in Toronto in times of the COVID-19 pandemic. In: Baumgärtel, M. and Miellet, S. (Eds.) Theorizing Local Migration Law and Governance (pp. 197-222), Cambridge University Press. [Open Access]

Sotomayor, L., Tarhan, D., Vieta, M., McCartney, S., & Mas, A. (2022). When students are house-poor: urban universities, student marginality, and the hidden curriculum of Student Housing. Cities, 124, 103572.

Rivero, J., Sotomayor, L., Zanotto, J. M., & Zitcer, A. (2022). Democratic public or populist rabble: repositioning the city amidst social fracture. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 46(1), 101-114.

Ángel-Cabo, N., & Sotomayor, L. (2021). Seeing human rights like a city: the prospects and perils of the urban turn. In Research Handbook on Human Rights and Poverty (pp. 264-278), Edward Elgar Publishing.

Pillai, A. K., Vieta, M. A., & Sotomayor, L. (2021). University student housing as a business proposition and entrepreneurial activity: The Canadian case. Housing Policy Debate, 1-24.

Sotomayor, L. (2019) Small cities, big issues: reconceiving community in a neoliberal Era. Walmsley, C. and Kading, T. (eds). Athabasca University Press. Canadian Journal of Urban Research, 28(2), 81-82. [Book Review]

Sotomayor, L. (2018). Medellín, Colombia: Social urbanism to improve human security. In: Planning Innovations for Urban Sustainability: A Global Outlook. Darchen. S., and Searle, G., (Eds.) (pp. 42-55) Routledge.

Sotomayor, L. and Daniere, A. (2018). The dilemmas of equity planning in the Global South: A comparative view from Bangkok and Medellín. Journal of Planning Education and Research, 38(3), 273–288.

Sotomayor, L. (2017). Dealing with dangerous spaces: the construction of urban policy in Medellín. Latin American Perspectives, 44(2), 71-90.

Sotomayor, L. (2015). Equitable planning through territories of exception: The contours of Medellin’s urban development projects, International Development Planning Review, 37(5), 373-397.


2018 with Chan Arun-Piña and Lisa Myers. The Question of Home, Zig Zag Gallery, Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University (September – October)

Recognition & Awards

  • MITACS Accelerate (2023-2024)
  • EUC Dean’s Service Award (2021-2022)
  • York University Academic Innovation Fund Award (2020-2021 and 2021-2022)
  • SSHRC Insight (2022-2025)
  • MITACS Global Link (2019); MITACS Accelerate (2021 and 2022)
  • SSHRC Partnership Engage (2020-2021)
  • SSHRC Connections (2018-2019)
  • SSHRC Doctoral Award (2011-2015)
  • International Development Research Centre, Doctoral Award (2011)


Course CodeTitle
ENVS 4220Urbanization in the Global South
ENVS 6126Community Planning and Housing