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Research – cities and urban design and planning

Urban Transformations Network

Urban Transformations (UT) is an ESRC network, coordinated from the University of Oxford, showcasing research on cities. The UT portfolio represents over 80 research projects that engage with the challenges and opportunities of an increasingly urban world.

The programme aims to address a wide range of stakeholders with a professional, public or political interest in cities, including members of the general public wishing to learn more about current academic debates on urban development worldwide. We hope to provide a bridge between the academic community and decision makers, businesses, local governments and communities to support knowledge exchange and cross-sector collaboration.

Phase one of the Urban Living Partnership brings citizens together with university researchers, local authorities and over 70 partners from business and the third sector in five multidisciplinary pilot initiatives aimed at rewriting the blueprint for the evolution of our city living.

People living in the cities of Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Newcastle & Gateshead and York will benefit from a new research and innovation initiative that puts them in the driving seat to help improve their cities’ health, wellbeing and prosperity as they face up to challenges of modern urban living. Taking a ‘whole city’ approach the initiative brings together a unique body of expertise cutting across over 20 disciplines including civil engineering, computer science, planning, psychology, management, arts and humanities, the creative industries and health sciences.

Keywords: cities, co-production, co-design, multidisciplinary, health, wellbeing, prosperity

Phase one projects include:

Contributed by: Michael Keith – University of Oxford



Co-producing Urbanisms (2016)

Cities are shaped by multiple interests, which often act in pursuit of conflicting visions. City-regional partnerships and growth coalitions develop strategic frameworks to address complex challenges, whilst grassroots movements and citizen collectives explore alternative urban futures.

The ‘Co-producing Urbanism’ theme tests whether and how co-production can work across urban divides between citizens/state, the informal/ formal and research/practice to help develop progressive and sustainable urbanisms. Key research questions are:

  • How do different boundary spaces and intermediation processes work to include marginalised voices in urban governance?
  • Who is included/excluded and whose expertise matters in forging alternative urban futures?
  • What innovations and experiments from research and practice inform alternative urbanisms?
  • What can we learn from comparison between urban transition approaches emerging in the Global South and North?

Keywords: co-production, state, society, everyday life, theory, methodology, practice


Project overview:


Urban Institute programmes / projects included in this resource:


  • Realising Just Cities: the Mistra Urban Futures Centre
  • Jam and Justice: Co-producing urban governance for social innovation
  • Whose knowledge matters? Competing and contesting knowledge claims for 21st century cities.
  • Whose heritage matters? Mapping, making and mobilizing heritage values for sustainable livelihoods in Cape Town and Kisumu.
  • Co-producing urban climate change & environmental governance

Contributed by: Beth Perry – University of Sheffield, Urban Institute




Realising Just Cities: the Mistra Urban Futures Centre (2016-2019)

Realising Just Cities is a programme of research and action hosted at the University of Sheffield. It is a partnership between scholars, activists, policy-makers, social enterprises and community organisations aimed at supporting progressive social, economic and environmental change in the North of England.

Our programme is built around some core concepts: co-production, justice and urban transformation. We are motivated to understand the strengths and limits in how we produce knowledge about and for cities to affect progressive urban change. We want to move beyond critique of what is wrong with our cities to making positive, albeit modest contributions, to more sustainable urban futures.

All our projects seek to contribute to realising just cities through developing more participatory processes, valuing citizens knowledges and supporting fairer outcomes for different groups.

Projects themes include:

  • Cultural heritage and citizenship
  • Democracy and engagement
  • Local management and organisations
  • Neighbourhoods and communities
  • Planning and environment.

Keywords: urban SDGs, justice, governance, community, food, housing, land, planning, poverty, cultural heritage




Related publications:

Beyond critique: the value of co-production in realising just cities? (2017) Local Environment 2017, Beth Perry, Mark Atherton

Knowledge for just urban sustainability (2016) Local Environment 2016, Tim May, Beth Perry


Contributed by: Beth Perry, Sophie King, Nick Taylor Buck, Bert Russell, Vicky Habermehl, Kristina Diprose,
Charlie Spring, Ryan Bellinson, Jenny Patient – University of Sheffield, Urban Institute



Jam and Justice: Co-producing urban governance for social innovation (2016-2019)

Cities are sites of crisis and opportunity. In a context of rapid social change and austerity, the effectiveness of traditional systems of urban governance is in doubt.

Jam and Justice brings together academics, practitioners, citizens and political leaders through an Action Research Collective (ARC) in Greater Manchester. Together, we are exchanging knowledge and developing creative responses to emerging urban governance challenges. In 2017-2018, the ARC co-initiated action research projects to generate data to test and learn from different approaches to citizen engagement. In 2019, we are focused on sharing our learning and forging city-regional coalitions for change.

Our aim is to create space for social innovation to co-produce, test and learn from new ways of governing cities. ‘Jam’ is about trying to bring together different partners in the city to experiment and innovate to address shared problems. ‘Justice’ is about re-connecting with those who have been disenfranchised and excluded from the search for solutions.

Keywords: governance, social innovation, action research, participation, engagement

Project overview:

Co-producing the City: Impact report, January 2019

Related publications:

How can we govern cities differently? Co-production in action.

People’s procurement. Jam and Justice: co-producing urban governance for social innovation. 2018

Contributed by: Beth Perry – University of Sheffield, Catherine Durose – University of Manchester, Liz Richardson – University of Birmingham, Daniel Silver – University of Manchester, Alex Whinnom – Greater Manchester Centre for Voluntary Organisations



Whose knowledge matters? Competing and contesting knowledge claims for 21st century cities.

This ESRC-funded research investigates and values citizen-based knowledge in spatial planning processes within Greater Manchester and its local neighbourhoods. Through the research we want to:

  • Understand how planning works within Greater Manchester and local areas and how decisions get made.
  • Examine how citizen-based knowledge relates to the design and delivery of urban strategies and projects.
  • Work collaboratively with citizens and policy-makers to explore how that knowledge could more effectively inform and influence policy processes.
  • Value different knowledge about urban developments through collaborating on an exhibition which represents citizens’ expertise about the places in which they live.

The research is based on a case study of planning processes in Greater Manchester. We will be using a series of mapping techniques to trace the process of developing spatial planning frameworks across Greater Manchester and within specific neighbourhoods. This will involve reading documents, undertaking interviews, holding focus groups and attending events. We will then work collaboratively to produce visual representations of processes, issues and ideas about spatial planning. These will be co-curated into an exhibition. The exhibition is part of the research itself, creating a space in which we can differently value citizen expertise and reflect on how local expertise is represented in spatial planning.

Keywords: citizen-based knowledge, action research, co-production, spatial planning, Greater Manchester

Related publications:

Cities and the Knowledge Economy: Promise, Politics and Possibilities (2018), Tim May, Beth Perry

Contributed by: Vicky Habermehl, Beth Perry, Vicky Simpson – University of Sheffield, Urban Institute; Tim May – Sheffield Methods Institute



Co-producing urban climate change & environmental governance

In the wake of its ‘City Deal’ and newfound city-regional powers, Greater Manchester is now grappling with its climate change and environmental governance pathways through the use new mechanisms. Campaigners, activists, citizens and other stakeholders are trying to understand how their climate change and environmental interests can be justly represented within these new decision-making processes at the city-regional level. Greater Manchester is now considering how it can develop climate change and environmental policy through pathways that are collaborative with a wider set of external stakeholders.

To support the development of new collaborative governance processes, a partnership has been formed with the Greater Manchester Low Carbon Hub to establish an action research project to effectively engage decision-makers and the public during the development and implementation of climate change and environmental policy.

The focus is on exploring new co-productive policy development pathways and mechanisms that can enable collaboration and engagement between the Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s Environment Team and citizens and civil society organisations. Through the embedded action research project, this research investigates the strengths and limitations of co-production as a governance process for developing socially just and scientifically rigorous climate change and environmental policy in Greater Manchester.

Keywords: co-production, climate change, policy development, governance, local government

Project blog: Co-productive policy development in Greater Manchester, Ryan Bellingson

Related publications:

Learning Pathways and the governance of innovations in urban climate change resilience and adaptation, Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning

Connecting the Dots: The Politics of Governing Urban Climate Adaptation Innovations Through Transnational Municipal Networks, Climate Change in Cities, Springer

Contributed by: Ryan Bellinson, Beth Perry, Aiden While – University of Sheffield, Urban Institute; Mark Atherton – Greater Manchester Combined Authority



Smart Urban Intermediaries: connecting people, changing communities (2017-19)

European cities face complex challenges that demand smart solutions. This project puts urban intermediaries, those people who can bring people and resources together in innovative ways, at the heart of smart urban development and sets out to understand how they create social innovation. The research takes place in four European cities: Birmingham, Copenhagen, Glasgow and Amsterdam. We are working in collaboration with a range of partners, brought together in local and transnational ‘living labs’. The purpose is to advance knowledge of how intermediaries innovate and generate smart urban development, creating opportunities for dialogue and learning between social innovators across Europe.

In Edinburgh we are focussed on co-produced research – including action research and photo-voice – with urban practitioners within public and third/community sectors. We work with them to deepen understanding of how they make a difference in urban communities through: working in varied roles between multiple partners and local stakeholders to support change (intermediation); supporting community-making activity and networking across diverse communities; and developing complex social and political (smart) practices and understandings that enable them to work within these challenging contexts over the longer-term. Co-enquiry themes have also been identified in each city that will contribute to our learning about the complex and social nature of ‘smart’ cities.

Keywords: urban intermediaries, social innovation, living labs, action research, community-led place-making, community resilience for local sustainable development

Contributed by: James Henderson – Edinburgh University, Oliver Escobar – Edinburgh University, Catherine Durose – Birmingham University, Alison Gilchrist – Birmingham University, EU partners: Merlijn Van Hulst – Tilburg University; Annika Agger – Roskilde University




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