By focusing our research around five key themes, we are able to draw on a variety of expertise from across the University to collaborate on specialist projects.

Find out more about the areas we concentrate our work on.

Digital Planning and Decision Support

Our research focuses on the development and application of new methods, techniques and applied tools that harness emerging digital technologies and data science to support planners, city officials and other stakeholders, including the public, in making informed decisions about city and regional development. Overall, our aim is to facilitate more evidence-based decision-making and better outcomes for communities in cities and regions.

Our research focuses on three broad, but interrelated themes:

  • Digitisation of planning processes and systems: Digital planning provides urban planners with new tools, building on GIS, 3D visualisation and statistical analysis methods to analyse and visualize data related to demographics, transportation, housing, and environmental factors to enable more informed decisions about the build and natural environment. Digital planning also enables better communication and collaboration between key stakeholders including local communities through our research on PPGIS. By sharing digital plans and models, they can better understand each other's perspectives and work together to create more livable, sustainable, and inclusive environments.
  • Spatial Decision Support: Decision support systems (DSS) have long played an important role in different urban and regional planning processes. The use of DSS in practice depends on several factors that relate with the literacy of practitioners on DSS, their capacity to generate the trust of stakeholders on DSS and the capacity of combining traditional methods with data and ICT tools. Research produced in SPA-LAB in spatially explicit DSS develops the current Digital Planning agenda and involves more traditional methods (e.g. multicriteria analysis), and more sophisticated methods (e.g. agent-based models) applied to participatory planning, land-use, transport, mobility, negotiation in planning or urban governance.
  • Data Science and AI for Smart Cities: Cities have long been producers and consumers of ‘big data’ whether it be about its population, economy, transport networks, flows of people along with the impacts of climate change on the built and natural environment. Citizens create much of this data, carrying out everyday transactions, mostly without their knowledge or informed consent. Big data can be derived from a variety of data stores: social media, consumer sites, search engines, smart phone apps, smart utility meters, credit card transactions, CCTV, etc. and whilst big data offers many as-yet-unexploited opportunities for smart cities, the risks to individual privacy and freedom also be taken seriously. Cities can benefit hugely from all of this data if they have the methods, tools and techniques to properly interrogate, analyze and interpret this data in meaningful ways. We are working with our Institute for Data Science and AI to develop new methods through our urban data science theme to support cities in fully utilizing the new opportunities that exist within data science and AI to support cities and urban areas in understanding this emerging area.

Land Use and Urbanization

Our research is centred on understanding urbanisation processes and the evolution of cities and land uses to shape and support urban planning and policy across different parts of the world. We draw on an array of expertise in urban modelling, data analytics, quantitative spatial science, GIS, and qualitative methods to generate and apply knowledge on land use and urbanisation that affect cities and urban living conditions. In addition we are also exploring how planning and regeneration policy impact land use and urbanisation processes.

Our research brings together the following interrelated themes:

  • Modelling urban expansion: We draw on advanced urban modelling techniques to develop openly accessible models that generate better predictions of urban expansion patterns in rapidly urbanising regions. The outputs of this theme provide decision support tools for effective urban and regional planning.
  • The evolution of land use and spatial structure of cities: We leverage quantitative spatial science, GIS and data analytics, and other qualitative methodologies to examine the spatial and temporal evolution of land uses, and structure of cities. In addition to supporting urban planners and policy makers in their decision making, the outputs of this theme support the development of better urban models.
  • The impact of planning and regeneration policy on land use patterns and change: We assess the consequences of land use policies. Examples include assessing the impact of target-drive brownfield regeneration policies or policies to protect open space, such as greenbelt designations or high quality agricultural land.

Regeneration and Community

Our research focuses on the effects and efficacy of efforts to regenerate urban spaces, focusing in particular on the implications for communities and the extent and form of their engagement with policy-making processes. This work builds on a long-established seam of research at Manchester on territorial policies and governance structures at multiple spatial scales, from the region to the neighbourhood.

It also continues a longstanding research specialism in urban regeneration and the impact and effectiveness of area-based initiatives aimed at improving the economic, social and environmental circumstances of cities and communities.

Themes covered in this research include:

  • Research on temporary urbanism: explores the rationale and role of the time-limited reuse of land and buildings as part of wider regeneration strategies. Drawing upon international empirical experience via case study research in the UK and China, findings have informed wider theorizations of urbanism, and the changing relationship of state, market and citizens.
  • Engaging hard-to-reach communities through innovation in participative methods: uses SPA Lab expertise to assess the effectiveness of attempts to involve stakeholders in policy-making, and to identify new and better ways of community involvement.
  • Research on the management and mechanisms involved in urban regeneration in different contexts. This work focuses on issues such as the emerging role of digital platforms in affecting urban regeneration and relationships between urban stakeholders, the growth of urban consultancy in driving and delivering regeneration schemes, and the international circulation, mobilization and adaptation of urban regeneration policy and planning ideas.

Spatial Inequalities, Policy and Governance

By integrating spatial thinking into planning and policy research, our analysis has exposed the UK government’s aspatial approach to policy making that often results in a variegated landscape of public investment against the northern regions and leads to entrenched spatial inequalities. Our research has recently been extended to international contexts of China, Latin America and African countries.

We focus on exploring, understanding, interpreting, and expressing patterns of spatial distribution and relationships against the complex layers of administrative boundaries and governance structures. In order to articulate and visualise spatial configurations and outcomes of policies to engender public debate and policy action in tackling spatial inequalities with robust evidence-base, researchers in the Lab have employed indicators research, GIS analysis, decision-making support tools and spatial modelling approaches to exploit different forms of data at multiple spatial scale.

The themes covered in this research include:

  • Research on spatial inequality across the combined authorities in England under the ongoing devolution agenda by mapping out the spatial patterns and spatial clusters of productivity, infrastructure, labour market conditions and housing market change.
  • Inequality in health and the spatial environment: our research focuses on identifying different factors that underpin health inequality by adopting the human-environmental framework to yield policy intelligence to promote boundary-spanning policymaking.

Transport and Mobility

Creating inclusive, prosperous and environmentally sustainable places requires enhancing citizens’ accessibility to opportunities in ways that reduce negative environmental consequences and minimizes exposure to health risks. Our group brings together expertise in transport planning, spatial modelling and analysis, and urban planning and design to address challenges at the intersection of urban transport and sustainable cities with a global focus.

Our research focuses on two key themes:

  • Urban transport and mobility futures: New and emerging technologies and their associated mobility solutions are increasingly assuming prominence in debates about creating sustainable urban futures. Various ICT-enabled mobility solutions are already shaping individual’s travel behaviours, exerting profound societal and environmental impacts that are not fully understood. Recent advancement in artificial intelligence and the advent of autonomous vehicles are also expected to cause major disruptions to urban transport systems, with wider implications for addressing problems of unequal access, decarbonizing transport and reversing unsustainable urban physical development patterns.

Our research within this theme include:

    • Investigating the diffusion and mobility/travel behaviour changes being triggered by new and emerging transport technologies and mobility solutions;
    • Understanding and foreseeing the urban form and accessibility impacts of new transport technologies;
    • Taking an ecosystem perspective to understand the interactions among conventional and new ICT-mediated mobility systems and explore pathways for achieving integrated transport systems
    • Developing data-driven, theory-grounded methodologies and indicators for appraising the wider socio-spatial and environmental impacts of new and emerging transport technologies and mobility concepts;
    • Working closely with relevant organizations and agencies, including local governments, to develop coherent strategies and plans for capturing public value from transport innovations.
  • Integrated land use and transport planning: The urban land use and transport systems together create the structural conditions that shape the distribution of and access to urban opportunities. Their integrated planning therefore is crucial to creating inclusive neighbourhoods and cities, reversing car-dependence and improving public health and well-being.

Our research within this theme is focused on:

    • Disentangling the linked responses between urban land use and transport systems at multiple spatial scales to uncover pathways of impact
    • Developing innovative, data-driven and theory-grounded methodologies and parameters for measuring and assessing differential accessibility at the neighbourhood, city and regional scales;
    • Leveraging our research insights to shape the development of effective strategies for enhancing equitable accessibility to urban opportunities.