Jill Grant, professor

A day in the life

Jill Grant, professor


Planning and community design are hopeful professions in a time and place where it may be all too easy to be complacent or resigned to conditions as they are.

From the South Pacific to the burbs

Professor Jill Grant took a circuitous route to where she is today. Throughout high school, she was convinced she wanted to study astronomy. So when she started university, she signed up for a full slate of science classes.

“Six weeks into the term I realized I’d made a dreadful mistake and was not at all happy in my courses,” she says. “I dropped out and worked for a year.”

She switched to social sciences and graduated with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in anthropology—even spending time doing research in the Arctic at Rankin Inlet. When her future husband set off to do field work in the South Pacific for his doctorate, she tagged along. That’s where she realized she wanted to change her career path—in Papua New Guinea.

“I was constantly faced with the developmental issues people there faced,” she says. “They needed clean water, access to decent health care, control over their resources. When we returned I decided to switch into planning. I was completely intrigued by the idea of a program that would give me the skills to try to change the world in ways that might make it more just and sustainable. I thought it was better to have the skills to help people cope with the challenges they were facing, rather than just study their cultural practices.”

After doing a second master’s in planning (later followed by a PhD), Dr. Grant moved to Halifax and spent 20 years teaching at NSCAD University. In 2001, she arrived at Dal when Environmental Planning at NSCAD joined with Dal’s Urban and Rural Planning program.

“The merger of the programs gave us an incredible opportunity to completely refashion them at a time when interest in sustainability was peaking,” she says. “The Community Design program was the first in Canada and remains unique in its strength in environmental planning and urban design. Being in a Faculty of Architecture and Planning, on a campus shared with Engineering, creates connections between the design disciplines that are incredibly valuable and productive.”

Living in a small village with little access to clean water in Papua New Guinea may have ignited her passion for planning, but Dr. Grant now focuses her research on the opposite end of the spectrum: the suburbs.

“While a lot of folks love to hate the suburbs, I love to study the suburbs,” she says. “A majority of Canadians live in suburban environments. I believe that we need to understand these places—what makes them tick, what makes them problematic. I’ve been tracking development trends in Canadian suburbs for about 15 years and can see signs of gradual improvement. So I know that planning is making a difference.”