Urban Infrastructures

Infrastructure is a critical component of contemporary life, providing the often-unacknowledged backdrop upon which our collective lives are lived.

Urban infrastructures include both the circulatory systems that provide essential services such as water, energy, and digital connection to people throughout the world as well as the social institutions and networks (both digital and physical) that underpin community life and survival. Engagements with infrastructure and infrastructural politics have played essential roles in contemporary urban geography and urban thought, and are critical to ongoing conversations about climate change, decarbonization, and urban political economy.

An orange brick building

Urban infrastructures are critical to understanding the contemporary city. In cities around the world, infrastructure is intimately related to broader questions of justice, citizenship, and sustainability, and demands for infrastructural services on behalf of marginalized communities mark the political life of cities. Through an understanding of the intermeshing of the political and the technical, research-focused on infrastructure can highlight the lived experience of contemporary urban phenomena such as inequality, gentrification, and urban growth. An attentiveness to urban infrastructures can call attention to the materiality and history of urban processes, highlighting the relationships between past and future in contemporary urban landscapes. At the same time, attention to infrastructure invites considerations of how to best navigate socio-ecological transitions.

Climate change and urban infrastructures are intimately linked, and grappling with existing infrastructures is critical to imagining and developing low-carbon futures. How existing grids can be decarbonized is a critical contemporary question, one that ties together everyday practices with the global political economy. A related question is how to better expand low-carbon infrastructures that already exist, especially where the expansion of green initiatives can serve to gentrify neighbourhoods and exclude vulnerable residents. At the same time, attention to infrastructure can highlight the possibilities of remaking or repairing damaged or ecologically destroyed landscapes. The provisioning of infrastructure is inseparable from broader urban dynamics, and intersects with existing politics and ecologies in profound ways.

The urban infrastructures research theme builds on the knowledge and experience of researchers based at the University of Manchester, conducting research into infrastructure at a number of different scales, paying attention to the local and global dimensions of infrastructural provisioning and access. Our work understands infrastructure through a variety of research methods, ranging from ethnographic to quantitative. We contribute to existing policy processes and critical ongoing conversations about climate change, green industrial policy, and urban politics around the world.

The Urban Infrastructures theme is led by Nate Millington.