Geographer David Ley’s studies can be called groundbreaking, but they’re also based on the practical side of life. He has studied immigration and housing patterns in cities across the world, and says his geography always focuses on issues that matter to ordinary people.
Not surprisingly, perhaps, Ley has been no stranger to human migration patterns in his own life. Born in Swansea, Wales, he completed a bachelor’s degree in geography at Oxford University in England and graduate degrees at Pennsylvania State University in Philadelphia. To see how people learned to deal with stress in a changing neighbourhood in north Philadelphia, Ley took an ethnographic approach for his PhD thesis, living in a high-crime, gang-ridden community.
This “intense part” of his life helped land him a job at the University of British Columbia. He eventually became head of the geography department, a role he filled until 2012.
Although less dangerous than his PhD work, his role as a co-founder of the Vancouver Centre of Excellence, part of the national Metropolis Project (a network for research and public policy development on migration, diversity and immigrant integration in Canada’s cities), has been no less important for influencing Canadian government policy decisions.
Looking to the future, Ley looks forward to the interdisciplinary possibilities offered by the study of geography. “This is part of the excitement of being a geographer. I find that place and space are wonderful frameworks for looking at the world at different scales.”