Oded Haas


PhD Candidate, Environmental Studies

Vanier Scholar

My Research

Within the Faculty of Environmental Studies, I conduct interdisciplinary research that combines critical urban theory, planning, and architecture, in order to examine the potential of public housing policy and design to alleviate ethnically conflicted urban areas. By comparing housing policy and design in Israel and Canada, my research looks at the planning and distribution of housing as fraught practices, with significant social, cultural and political consequences. I look beyond the residents’ income, at issues such as gender, race, ethnicity and citizenship, in order to examine how cities accommodate different urban identities and cope with pressing conflicts between ethnic heterogeneity and exclusionary planning practices. Once housing policies, and even design, are acknowledged as sites of conflict, I re-imagine them as tactics for promoting inclusion, and ask: How may housing policy and design facilitate equality in housing, peaceful ethnic co-existence, and a just city?

I look at spatial exclusion where it is most evident: in Jewish-Arab ‘mixed cities’ in Israel. Examining the work of new National Housing Committees that are tasked with increasing the supply, my research is set in the context of contested national space and multiple layers of exclusion in Israel/Palestine; between Jews and Arabs, Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews, and religious and secular communities. At the same time, I examine how mixed-income projects in Toronto are addressing race and ethnicity. I do so in order to see what insights and best practices the Israeli model can supply for Toronto, and vice versa. While Toronto is facing a housing shortage in a multicultural urban environment and its mixed-income projects have been criticized for re-segregating marginalized communities, learning from the Israeli case will reveal how housing projects may promote exclusion, and then, how they may facilitate inclusion.

Since housing has always been a tool in the hands of governments to control the relations between space and society – in Israel/Palestine it creates a national identity, and in Canada, and specifically Toronto, it is used for managing identities in an increasingly multicultural society – it calls for a deep understanding of the function of housing in ethnic-territorial conflicts. I argue that using a consideration of ethnic conflicts as a guiding principle in housing policy and design is essential in creating spaces for inclusion and in allowing urban dwellers to exercise their right to the city.

The goal of my research is to shift the focus of housing discourse, policy, and practice from affordability to effectively negotiating difference. Ultimately, I seek to broaden the understanding of housing as a powerful tool in resolving urban conflicts, and re-define the role of housing policy and design as means for inclusion. I intend to develop a practical model for evaluating publically-subsidized housing projects in ethnically complex urban environments, in terms of their inclusionary potential and ability to facilitate difference.

My work will contribute to both research and local communities, not only by interpreting housing as an important link between space and society, but also in applying academic knowledge and analytical methods to current political transformations.

But my vision goes further than that: by exposing the impact of real housing projects on the right to the city, this research has the potential to significantly shape future housing policy and actual development. I aspire to influence urban practitioners, politicians, and activists, in the hope of changing the way housing goals are defined and achieved. Even further, by better understanding the particular role of housing in spatial exclusion, I am developing new methods for addressing the acute ethnic-territorial conflicts that are dominating Israeli/Palestinian space.

Graduate Studies at York

I chose York due to its Faculty of Environmental Studies (FES) and the PhD program it offers. This diverse faculty, which is truly committed to interdisciplinary research, provides me – as an international student – an academic home where I can make connections between my training in architecture, my critical views on space and society, and my personal commitment to political activism. FES has a justified reputation not only for its academic excellence, but also for enabling critical research on humans and their environments that is combined with action, and for its vision to promote an equitable and sustainable world. FES provides a unique opportunity to work with professors and students form extremely diverse backgrounds and with diverse methodologies, under a common goal of promoting social and environmental justice.

York’s diverse community is complemented by the university’s mission statement to promote social justice, which is inseparable from its academic excellence and its commitment to cultivate the critical intellect. These words gain real meaning at the Faculty of Environmental Studies. I would encourage anyone shares these values of engaged research to come to York.