International Doctoral Cluster - Cities and infrastructure in a global age


A bridge in Calgary

Infrastructure is a concept over which many disciplines claim some intellectual ownership. While for some disciplines the interest in infrastructure is long-standing, for others it is a more recent development, where there appears to have been something akin to an “infrastructural turn” (Dodson, 2015: 87).

One area in which recent years have seen insights from a number of these disciplines converge and overlap is that on infrastructure and urbanization. As cities are increasingly understood as sites through which planetary futures are being made and remade, so there appears some utility in using “infrastructure” as a means of understanding contemporary urbanization.

The Singapore skyline at nighttime

This thinking through the different ways in which infrastructure comes to be present in cities, the nature of its relationship with urbanization and how this might involve, perhaps even necessitate, a rethinking of the concept itself, is the focus for this International Doctoral Cluster (IDC) between the universities of Manchester and Toronto.

The PhD research projects

The Manchester Urban Institute is home to four PhD students, two based in Manchester and two based in Toronto.

Elyse Comeau (2021 - ) Enabling Environments: A Study of Public Transit Accessibility Policy and Experiences

“While transportation can contribute to independence, health, access to education, and employment, children and adults with disabilities disproportionately encounter challenges when accessing and using public transit. Advancing public transit accessibility would improve the lives of some of Canada’s 6.2 million people over the age of 15 who have reported living with a disability, and the 10.9% of Canadian children under the age of 15 (298,410 children) with an identified disability. Since transportation plays a major role in the development of independence for children with disabilities, and is at times hindering their access to educational, social, and vocational opportunities, the lived experiences of children with disabilities travelling on public transit demand greater attention.

I propose to study how children with disabilities and their families experience the public transit services and the built environments of transit stations in Toronto, and how these experiences are mediated by policy and regulation. My research aims are to identify the physical, social, and temporal barriers hindering mobility in and around transit stations for children with disabilities and their families, and to understand how accessibility policy and regulation shape their travel experiences. Through this work, I will attempt to identify tangible ways in which planning, and design processes can be improved to prevent barriers and advance greater transit equity and inclusion for children with disabilities and their families.”

Gilead John Teri (2021-) What's new about the 'new' Cold War? Infrastructure and the Sino-US rivalry in Africa

"A new Cold War is here! US-China rivalry has reached fever pitch. Commentators argue that it started with the global financial crisis which signalled weakening confidence in the neoliberal economic system and increased China’s assertiveness within the global system. The US response then was to ‘pivot to Asia’, countered by China’s multi-billion dollars Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), escalating overtly all the way to President Trump’s trade wars. In BRI, President Xi Jinping outlined a vision to integrate Eurasia and Africa in a Sino-centric orientation through the construction of large-scale transnational infrastructure in 2013. US’s BUILD Act and the America LEADS Act were then enacted to allocate such sums as may be necessary to co-finance infrastructure projects that could otherwise be included in the Belt and Road Initiative. In Africa, this competition has implied increasing flow of financial resources, novel mechanisms, and expertise to deliver large scale infrastructure.

In this research, by using the case of Kenya and Tanzania, I interrogate the Sino-American competition to finance and build large-scale infrastructure in African cities and the broad implications on territorial transformation and state restructuring. By proposing a novel framework of the ‘old’ Cold War, I explore the logic of the ‘new’ Cold War, which is geared towards strategic integration as the US and China compete to orient economic activity into value chains anchored by their lead firms. I attempt to highlight role of various actors and how countries hedge between great powers to pursue spatial objectives that would otherwise have been possible and what are the long-term implications."


The planning and politics of cycling infrastructure under pandemic urbanism

Thomas Van Laake (2021 - ) Building back greener: the planning and politics of cycling infrastructure under pandemic urbanism

“I am a geographer and urbanist from the Netherlands. Perhaps counterintuitively, I developed my knowledge about cycling and sustainable mobility policy in Latin America rather than in my home country, through my work at Despacio, a Colombian non-profit research centre focusing on sustainable and liveable cities. Living and cycling in Bogotá for four years introduced me to new ways of thinking about cycling and cycling infrastructure, especially on the famous ‘Ciclovía’ open streets event, and in discussions with cycling activists and local government officials. Equipped with a new perspective on the issues faced by city developers and planners as they attempt to introduce different types of cycling infrastructure in politically challenging contexts, I am developing a comparative research project on the improvement and scaling up of cycling networks across Manchester, Toronto and Mexico City."

Further information

For more information, please email Kevin Ward: