Our history

The Centre for Urban and Regional Ecology was set up in 2000 to work on sustainable city-regions.

The challenge of steering our behaviour, settlements and landscapes towards more sustainable futures.

It came principally from John Handley’s work on landscape and land restoration with the Groundwork Foundation and others; and from Joe Ravetz’s work with the Town & Country Planning Association and the Greater Manchester authorities, as demonstrated in City-Region 2020. 

Within a few years there were three major funded programmes, with 15-20 academic and research staff:

  • Sustainable city-regions
  • Landscape and land restoration
  • Climate impacts and adaptation

Reasons to invent CURE

Landscape shot of buildings on Oxford Road

The sustainable city-region program aimed to explore the links between different sectors, at different scales of space and time, between upstream causes and downstream effects, between hard technology and soft human factors, and between social demand and economic supply.

More widely, the sustainable city-region concept was based on ecological principles, applied to the complexity of human-natural interactions which self-organise and co-evolve .In this way, CURE explored the meaning of urban / regional ecology on three distinct levels:

  • Ecology in the city-region – ecosystems, habitats, biodiversity within cities and urbanized areas: this was the basis of research on landscape patterns, land restoration, green infrastructure, and climate change adaptation.
  • Ecology of the physical urban system – flows of energy and materials through the city-region. This informed research on urban / spatial development: urban metabolism and supply chain analysis:  ecological and carbon footprinting: climate mitigation and environmental policy analysis.
  • Human ecology of a whole urban system – wider cross-cutting human-environmental interactions:  such as political ecology, industrial ecology, social ecology, ecological design, ecosystem services, eco-psychology, and so on. This strand was the basis of a wide range of projects and programmes, with futures and foresight studies:  policy analysis and evaluation: innovation and economic development: alternative economic models: cultural ecology: digital development and smart cities.

Working this through, some fundamental themes began to show, in particular, the themes of ‘resilience’ and ‘transition’ – wherever ecological systems meet human systems. For example, if a community is vulnerable to flooding (as many are), we need to analyse the problem in terms of water, ecosystems, land use, climate change, policies etc. 

The notions of complexity, learning and flexibility that accompany such thinking are increasingly very topical, as policy-makers realise that traditional linear, command-and-control approaches are less relevant.