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Planning and Environmental Management

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You can benefit from specialist experience and supervision by joining one of our researchers on a project they're working on.

Our staff are already working on a wide range of issues in numerous countries, relating to areas including:

  • changing planning policies
  • climate change
  • green infrastructure
  • urban policy in an era of devolution

Explore our ongoing projects below and, if one appeals to you, contact the team to find out how you could get involved as part of your PhD.

Devolution and cities in times of growth and public sector austerity

Asymmetrical devolution has emerged across the UK, evident both in the different devolution settlements of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and in England through the emergence of new growth deals for cities such as Manchester.

What are the lessons we can learn from these diverse experiences? Are some cities powering ahead and others being left behind, are some taking risks with their new powers that could backfire?

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Hazard management, hybrid knowledge practices

We need expert knowledge to help plan for the future, but there is also growing acceptance that we need to do more to draw on local knowledge.

How do we best create new ways of bringing together the best of expert and lay knowledge to inform how we plan for the future or our cities? How can we transform some of our practices, for instance mapping areas of risk, to ensure that robust science is used to inform policy in ways that are sensitive to the needs of multiple audience, not least local communities? How can we best drawn on the experiences and understandings of risk that exist in local communities?

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Inclusive growth and the search for inclusive planning

One of the vogue words in recent policy debates has been 'inclusive growth', somehow seen as an antidote to the polarising tendencies of recent neoliberal growth policy, which has benefited elites and created social division, resulting seemingly ever larger numbers of people disaffected by or disengaged from local and national politics.

What are the implications of this inclusive growth agenda for urban planners – is it simply another verbal anaesthetic to lull people into accepting business as usual or does it afford opportunities for radical change?

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Interactions between housing, transport and energy consumption

The choice of residential location includes an implicit choice on the type of long-term energy consumption, where households in urban environments trade-off housing to transport energy consumption.

This PhD research will develop a methodological framework and modelling approach to capture the energy demand trade-offs between housing and transport. This will provide a clear picture of individual behaviour towards non-marginal changes in transport and housing, informing on the relationships between vehicle choice, activity patterns, driving patterns and energy use. Important policy relevant insights regarding patterns of fuel poverty, transport poverty and total household energy use will be derived.

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Planning with green infrastructure

Green infrastructure planning has developed as a 'go-to' form of landscape and urban development over the past decade and incorporates an understanding of the ecological, human and economic aspects of investment.

Grounded in the principles of connectivity, access to nature, the delivery of socio-economic and ecological benefits and the promotion of multi-functional places, green infrastructure can be considered as an adaptive solution to many urban and landscape issues.

However, how, where and what green infrastructure is developed remains variable. In additionk, how we plan for green infrastructure, how we fund landscape management, and the responses from different people, development agencies, environmental groups and politicians differ around the world.

Investing in green infrastructure is therefore a complex process of evidence collection, design and negotiation between different people, which is both a limiting factor in its use but is also a major benefit as it allows advocates to propose innovative and sustainable solutions in urban and rural areas.

To investigate the utility of green infrastructure, I am interested in supervising high-quality students focussing on: 

  • examining the financing of green infrastructure and the complexities of aligning alternative development agendas from a local government, environmental sector and community perspectives 
  • understanding the socio-cultural value of green infrastructure from people in different places to examine how context influences the functionality of the landscape 
  • policy development and environmental responses to urban/landscape challenges and the role that green infrastructure can play in mitigating these issues.

Each of these areas provides scope to focus research on the UK or internationally. I am particularly interested in supervising students who can use comparative methods to examine the utility of green infrastructure within different socio-economic, environmental and political contexts, which could include Asian cities in India and China, the Middle-East and Africa or in Europe.  

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Road vehicle fuel network: spatial interactions, fuel desserts, and environmental policy implications

Even though the road transport sector is one of the main fossil fuel consumers and greenhouse gas emitters, there is little research in the UK and globally on the networks that dispense fuel to road users.

Analysis of geocoded data through GIS will derive a range of spatial characteristics and interrelations between petrol stations. Spatial panel models will be specified and estimated, using state-of-the art spatial econometric techniques to analyse the determinant of location, consumption and closure. This research will not only provide unique insights to this market, including determinants of petrol station closures, but also feed into transport models that inform policy decisions and future development of alternative fuel networks.

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Synergistics and cities

The ‘sustainable city-region’ programme (1994-2004) explored the agenda for strategic spatial policy, with horizontal links between sectors, vertical links between top-down/bottom-up, and lateral links between upstream causes/downstream effects. City-Region 2020 (Ravetz 2000) helped to set up the CURE (now the Centre for Urban Resilience and Energy at the Manchester Urban Institute).

From many research applications and prototypes which followed, our focus shifted from the 'sustainability of things' to the 'sustainability of thinking'. This looks at the cognitive side, at co-learning/co-production and co-evolutionary transformation, and in particular at the 'collective intelligence' of larger systems: cities, economies, ecologies, technologies and politics.

The insights, methods and tools for this agenda are framed as 'synergistics' (i.e. the art and science of synergies). The 'synergistics' research agenda has emerged over the last six years, and is now about to be published in full (Ravetz 2018), with background found at Synergistics. In summary:

  • Synergistics is a conceptual framework, which looks at the cognitive dimension of human systems, and the role of collective intelligence in transformation for sustainability.
  • The core concepts bring together complexity and systems science, innovation/foresight studies, policy analysis/social learning, and inter-disciplinary perspectives on co-evolution and transformation.
  • It has a wide range of applications (i.e. urban studies, economics, environmental sciences, technology studies and political sciences).
  • It provides practical methods and tools, for policy applications such as evaluation, resilience and foresight (Ravetz 2015).
  • Synergistics sets an agenda and modus operandi for research which can respond to 'grand societal challenges' and 'wicked problems':  for example, climate change, economic resilience, or urban transformation (Ravetz & Miles 2016).
  • It also follows a multi-media approach, which combines text-based research with visual media and stakeholder interaction (Ravetz & Ravetz 2016).

Various projects are in motion or forthcoming, which develop and test various applications and prototypes.  These include (as of mid-2017):

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