Leith Deacon

Head shot of Leith Deacon
Associate Professor - Rural Planning & Development. PhD Program Coordinator
leith.deacon@uoguelph.ca | rst.gpc@uoguelph.ca
Phone number: 
519-824-4120 ext. 52521
Landscape Architecture, Room 122
Rural Planning and Development; Rural Studies PhD

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PhD - Geography, University of Western Ontario (2010)
MSc - Rural Planning and Development, University of Guelph (2004)
BA - Communications and Earth Sciences, University of Windsor (2001)

Bio Summary

Leith Deacon is an Associate Professor in Rural Planning and Development in the School of Environmental Design and Rural Development. He is a full member of the Canadian Institute of Planners (CIP) and a Registered Professional Planner (RPP). Leith is interested in supporting the long-term resilience and sustainability of rural communities and their residents. Employing both qualitative and quantitative methodologies, he typically frames his research within a Systems Thinking and/or Citizen Science structure to co-develop projects with relevant community stakeholders to ensure their voices and interests are represented. Leith's current projects are both Canadian and internationally focused, with mental health and well-being, energy transition and planning, and rural economic development as specific focus areas.

Affiliations and Partnerships

  • Alberta Land Institute
  • Aurora College
  • Future Energy Systems
  • University of Alberta
  • Whitehorse Municipal Government
  • Yellowknives Dene First Nation
  • Yellowknife Municipal Government
  • Yukon Government

Current Research Projects

Sustainable Community Planning Development
The central research goal of this project is to examine the concept of resiliency within the context of resource-based communities to address the often problematic relationship(s) between resource reliance, community well-being, and adaptive capacity. The research objectives are: 1. Theoretical: to investigate how a resource-based community that has been experiencing rapid growth (or decline) can adapt, prepare for, and become resilient to change (e.g. decreasing oil prices). 2. Practical: to work with resource-based communities and develop an appropriate interview guide to conduct semi-structured qualitative interviews to understand areas of resident concern to inform municipal policy to help ensure the long-term resiliency of the community. 3. Empirical: to gain experience and understanding of resource-based communities to develop an "online toolbox" of advice, experiences, and stories as a resource that is publicly and freely accessible to enable resource-based communities to improve their own resiliency and, in turn, the overall resiliency of the economy.

Future Energy Systems: Measuring the Costs and Benefits of Energy Transitions
Renewable energy projects are becoming a significant component of the energy landscape, and many of these projects are undertaken in close connection with cities, communities, municipalities and Indian reservations. These projects focus on wide-ranging technologies, including hydroelectricity, wind, and solar. Concern for the environment, respect for human rights, progressive policies and sustainable development are the key drivers of this change. One unique attribute of many renewable energy technologies is the capacity of such technologies to be scaled at the community level. Communities have opportunities within the green energy space to (partly) own, control, and benefit from renewable energy technologies.

Focusing on community intentions within indigenous and non-indigenous communities, we seek to understand the intentions of communities across Canada to develop renewable energy technologies, including solar, wind, small-scale hydro, geothermal, and bioenergy. Communities may find renewable energy projects appealing for a number of reasons. These reasons may include (1) the scalability and affordability of emerging technologies that can deliver savings to ratepayers, (2) the possibilities of owning or collaborating with the private sector to derive local benefits from renewable resource revenues, (3) the opportunity to capture incentives for green power initiatives offered by provincial and federal programs, (4) energy security through reduced reliance on fossil fuels, such as diesel, and (5)  climate leadership, in response to growing concern for a warming climate. 

Alberta Land Institute: Land use tools as part of the long-term strategy for local development: possibilities for contextual learning.
The overarching problem addressed is that which many municipalities in AB and beyond face: they are not well equipped to improve their own sustainability and their own long-term development. They often lack the policy tools, expertise, reflexivity, powers, and resources to improve their own resilience. While many avenues of thinking and action are open to tackle this problem, we focus on the potential of land use tools, as in tools to coordinate land use and organization in the community, to improve the long-term development potential. Land use tools are, per definition, institutions, and we distinguish, following various strands of institutional theory plans, laws and policies as formal institutions, besides informal institutions, always present in community governance. The problem we then observe is that land use tools are often not present in community governance or exist but barely function. On the other hand, the expectations of land use tools for community goals, such as more sustainable development, are too high. In other words, the potential of land-use tools for sustainable development is not well-circumscribed. The primary question we ask is how can a realistic role for land use tools towards sustainable development be articulated.

Featured Publications

Mongeon, A., Deacon, L. and Mulligan, K., 2023. A Conceptual Framework for Governance of Health and Wellbeing in Rural Communities. Journal of Rural and Community Development18(3).

Deacon, L., Sarapura, S., Caldwell, W., Epp, S., Ivany, M. and Papineau, J., 2023. COVID19, mental health, and rurality: A pilot study. The Canadian Geographer/Le Géographe canadien.

Van Assche, K., Gruezmacher, M., Summers, B., Culling, J., Gajjar, S., Granzow, M., Lowerre, A., Deacon, L., Candlish, J. and Jamwal, A., 2022. Land use policy and community strategy. Factors enabling and hampering integrated local strategy in Alberta, Canada. Land Use Policy118, p.106101.

Van Assche, K., Gruezmacher, M., Vodden, K., Gibson, R. and Deacon, L., 2021. Reinvention paths and reinvention paradox: Strategic change in Western Newfoundland communities. Futures128, p.102713.

Area of Research

Rural Planning and Development
Rural Studies