Leonie Sandercock


BA (Hons), University of Adelaide; PhD, Australian National University; MFA (screenwriting) University of California at Los Angeles

Professor Emerit

  • Office: LASR 426

Leonie Sandercock joined SCARP in 2001 and served as Director from July 2006 to November 2007.

Her academic life started in Australia, where she was Professor and Head of Graduate Urban Studies at Macquarie University in Sydney from 1981-1986, before moving to Los Angeles where she had two lives: one in screenwriting (after completing an MFA in scriptwriting at UCLA’s Film School), the other, teaching in the Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning at UCLA. She has also written books about sport (Australian football) and about the Australian labor movement.

One of her screenplays was produced as an ABC TV Movie of the Week in 1992. Her earliest urban writings were about Australian cities: Cities for Sale (1975); Public Participation in Planning (1975); The Land Racket (1979); and Urban Political Economy: the Australian Case (1983), with Mike Berry.

After moving to Los Angeles she became interested in the challenges of multicultural, multiethnic cities, resulting in a trilogy of books: Making the Invisible Visible: A Multicultural History of Planning (1998); Towards Cosmopolis: Planning for Multicultural Cities (1998); and Cosmopolis 2: Mongrel Cities of the 21st Century (2003). In 2005 Sandercock began a decade of collaboration with Giovanni Attili (University of Rome, La Sapienza) exploring the possibilities of multimedia, primarily film, in planning research and practice.

This led to our two documentaries, Where Strangers Become Neighbours, (National Film Board, 2007), and Finding Our Way, (Moving Images, 2010) and the related books: Where Strangers Become Neighbours: the integration of immigrants in Vancouver, Canada (2009), and an edited collection, Multimedia in Urban Policy and Planning: Beyond the Flatlands (2010).

In 2010, Sandercock began working a new curriculum, Indigenous Community Planning (ICP), within SCARP's MCRP degree. This curriculum was been designed and is now being delivered in partnership with the Musqueam Indian Band, on whose traditional, ancestral and unceded territory UBC is located. The program launched in 2012 and now admits ten students each year, typically 50% Indigenous and 50% non-Indigenous, most of them moving on to work in various roles with Indigenous communities or organizations, or doing Indigenous engagement work with municipalities or other planning agencies.

Since 2001 Sandercock has worked with 16 doctoral students, 13 of whom have now graduated and are either teaching or working as planners (Tanja Winkler, Matti Siemiatycki, Libby Porter, Kate Shaw, Maged Senbel, Aftab Erfan, Janice Barry, Cornelia Sussmann, Magdalena Ugarte, Sara Ortiz, Jess Hallenbeck, Lyana Patrick, and Jacopo Miro).


  • Dale Prize for Excellence in Urban & Regional Planning, awarded by the Department of Urban & Regional Planning at California State Polytechnic University. The 2005 Dale Prize theme was "Voices in Planning: Transforming Land Use Practice through Community Engagement".
  • Davidoff Award (2005) from the American Collegiate Schools of Planning. This is a biennial award for the best book in the field of urban, regional, and community planning, in the spirit of the ideals of the late Paul Davidoff concerning social justice and equity, for Cosmopolis 2: Mongrel Cities of the 21st Century (London & NY: Continuum, 2003).
  • BMW Group Award (2007) for Intercultural Learning: for my writing on Cosmopolitan Urbanism and collaboration with Vancouver's Collingwood Neighbourhood House, on the documentary film Where Strangers Become Neighbours.
  • Honorary Doctorate (2012) awarded by Roskilde University in Denmark, for lifetime contribution to planning scholarship.
  • Distinguished Planning Educator Award (2015) from the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning (North America) for her contributions to planning scholarship, education, and practice. (She was the first person outside of the USA to receive this award).
  • Dean’s Medal of Distinction (2018), UBC Faculty of Applied Science
  • Royal Society of Canada, inducted as Fellow, 2020

Off-campus, she loves surfing, swimming, Pilates, and hiking, as well as reading novels, watching movies, listening to chamber music and jazz, and feasting with friends. She was blessed to spend thirty two years married to John Friedmann (1985-2017) and enjoying a relationship in which they were each other’s harshest critics as well as biggest fans.

Sandercock’s main research interest is in working with First Nations, through collaborative community planning, using the medium of film as a catalyst for dialogue, on the possibilities of healing, reconciliation, and partnership.

Other research interests include immigration, cultural diversity and integration; the possibilities of a more therapeutic model of planning; the importance of stories and storytelling in planning theory and practice; and the role of multimedia in planning.

Working on the documentary, Finding Our Way: beyond Canada’s apartheid, with two First Nations communities (Cheslatta Carrier Nation and Burns Lake Band) in north central BC from 2007-2010 brought about a major change of direction in Sandercock’s work. Learning from them about the history of colonization in Canada, its impacts on Indigenous peoples, and the role of planning in this dispossession and cultural genocide, led her to focus on the work of healing, reconciliation and the possibility of partnerships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians, and community development and cross-cultural dialogue in historically divided communities.

Since 2005, in collaboration with Dr. Giovanni Attili (University of Rome), she has been exploring the uses of film in social change and therapeutic planning practice, and as a catalyst for Indigenous community development. She is interested in ways in which the making of and engaging with film in carefully designed community settings may open up a space for difficult conversations about past and ongoing conflicts and injustices, and offer the potential for healing and for moving forward into sustainable community planning partnerships.

(see Sandercock and Attili, 'Unsettling a Settler Society: film, phronesis and collaborative planning in small-town Canada', in Flyvbjerg et al, Real Social Science, Cambridge University Press, 2012; Sandercock and Attili, ‘The Past as Present: film as community planning intervention in Native/non-Native relations in BC, Canada’ in Jojola, Natcher, and Walker (eds), Reclaiming Indigenous Planning, 2013, McGill-Queens University Press); Sandercock and Attili 'Changing the Lens: Film as action research and therapeutic planning intervention', Journal of Planning Education & Research, 34, 1: 19-29.

In 2014 she received a SSHRC Partnership Development Grant to work with the Haida Nation and an Inuit film production company (Isuma/Kingulliit Productions) on a project that explores film as catalyst for Indigenous community development. This project involved the co-creation of a feature film script based on Haida legend and history (with Gwaai and Jaalen Edenshaw and Graham Richard); and the making of the film, Sgawaay K’uuna (Edge of the Knife) on Haida Gwaii in the Haida language using members of the Haida community as the cast and crew. The resulting film, directed by Gwaai Edenshaw and Helen Haig-Brown, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2018 and went on to win Best Canadian Film at the Vancouver International Film Festival as well as the ImagiNative Film Festival in 2018, and Best Film, Best Actor, and Best Supporting Actor at the American Indian Film Institute annual awards in 2019.

In 2017 she received a follow-up SSHRC grant to monitor and evaluate the impacts of the film on the Haida community. This project initially evolved out of the ICP program’s partnership work with Skidegate Band Council from 2012-15. Through that Comprehensive Community Planning process, the Skidegate Haida community identified their three top priorities as language revitalization, sustainable community economic development to keep youth on Haida Gwaii, and protecting the lands and waters. Their dream was to create a film in the Haida language that would address all three of these priorities. Sgawaay K’uuna can now be accessed (rented or purchased) via i-tunes.

Sandercock’s intellectual project for the past three decades has been to diversify planning theory and history. In Towards Cosmopolis (1998) she used feminist, postmodern, and postcolonial theories to critique mainstream (modernist) planning theory and the ‘official story’ of planning history. In the edited collection, Making the Invisible Visible (1998), she goes beyond critiquing the official story, and begins to explore insurgent planning histories, and the hidden or suppressed stories of marginalized social groups. She continues to be interested in theories of difference and their importance for planning practice.

At the same time, she has tried to formulate a radical social project for planning, one that broadens the debate about what planning is, and who may be considered to be engaged in planning. One central question is how does social change happen? And how might planning contribute to social justice? Another question concerns the knowledge/power nexus, and who might be considered a ‘knower’, and what might be considered valid knowledge. A third challenge is how to democratise planning practices.

Finally, she is exploring the powers and limitations of story and storytelling in planning practice and scholarship. As an essential part of today's Indigenous Community Planning curriculum, she co-developed and co-taught with professor Maggie Low, and Leona Sparrow (Director of Treaty, Lands and Resources, Musqueam Indian Band) a new foundation course, 'Indigenous Community Planning: ways of being, knowing, and doing'. They have taught this course in a non-traditional way, over three intensive weekends. Half of this class-time has been dedicated to being spent on the Musqueam Reserve, learning from Elders and other knowledge holders, and walking the land with them. The core of this course is understanding Indigenous world views and developing an Indigenous planning paradigm from that starting point. The challenge is to think through what it means to unlearn the colonial culture of planning and to begin to decolonize our personal as well as professional practices.

Leonie Sandercock


  • Indigenous Partnership Group

Research and Specialties

  • Community development / social planning
  • Indigenous Planning
  • Planning theory
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