Dr Nicola Dempsey


Department of Landscape Architecture

Senior Lecturer

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+44 114 222 0616

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Dr Nicola Dempsey
Department of Landscape Architecture
Arts Tower
Western Bank
S10 2TN

My research interests relate to understanding the complex relationship between landscape and humans. They focus on sustainable landscape planning and management, in particular how urban and rural landscape planning and management affect everyday life, quality of life and wellbeing.

Place-keeping involves exploring innovative approaches to designing and managing open space while securing its long-term future by getting the right people, funding and policies in place.

Dr Nicola Dempsey

Senior Lecturer

I am also interested in different research theories and methods employed to understand the landscape and the associated perceptions held by residents and users in different contexts.

More details of my current research project on place-keeping can be found on the place-keeping group.


My work spans a number of academic subjects, including sociology, wellbeing, urban design and planning. It was therefore logical that I found a welcome home within the inclusive discipline of Landscape Architecture.

I began my academic life studying International Tourism with foreign languages (French and Spanish). I specialized in urban tourism in European cities and focused my initial research interests on the impact that winter tourism has on the society and fragile mountain environment of the principality of Andorra and its capital city, Andorra la Vella. This marked the beginning of my growing interest in the influence that the physical context has on residents’ everyday life.

After years working in the private sector, I became increasingly restless to reawaken my academic interest in the socio-spatial context of urban settlements. In 2003, I returned to academia to embark on my PhD while working as Postgraduate Research Assistant & Project Manager on the CityForm-UK: Sustainable Urban Form Consortium project at Oxford Brookes University. CityForm-UK examined the impact that urban form (e.g. density, land use, urban layout and transport) has on social, economic and environmental sustainability. A large part of the fieldwork took place in Sheffield and I spent the summer of 2005 walking the streets of the city with a clipboard! I fell for the city hook, line and sinker and left hoping to come back to Sheffield soon.

Following the successful completion of my PhD, I continued to work at Oxford Brookes as Postdoctoral Research Associate on the I’DGO: Inclusive Design for Getting Outdoors project which focused my research interest on a specific aspect of urban form – the provision of outdoor space in high-density urban development – and its impact on older residents’ quality of life. This allowed me to look in detail at public, private and semi-private outdoor space and how its design, accessibility, maintenance and management influence people’s everyday lives.

In 2009, I was fortunate enough to be taken on as Research Associate on the MP4: Making Places Profitable, Public and Private Open Spaces project here in the Department of Landscape. This EU-funded project brought together European partners to focus on the long-term management of open spaces, or what we now call place-keeping. This involves exploring innovative approaches to designing and managing an open space while securing its long-term future by getting the right people, funding, policies and evaluative processes in place. With Mel Burton, I have since secured ESRC knowledge exchange funding to explore place-keeping in Sheffield in more detail.

Continued collaboration with CityForm-UK colleagues has led to the development of the CityForm-India international research network (2009-2012) which focused on how sustainability might be achieved within the context of India’s rapidly growing cities. I have successfully secured funding from the British Academy-Leverhulme Trust to continue this research in India with a focus on the city of Ahmedabad in Gujarat.

I have been very lucky to live in a variety of inspiring urban and rural settings. I have watched the modern embrace of Manchester’s strong Victorian legacy as the city in which I grew up continues to regenerate and transform. I lived as an outsider in the Albaicín, in Granada, Spain, where the World Heritage Site protection status sees some parts crumbling as others thrive. I have lived a commuter life in a dormitory village in rural Oxfordshire, holding up the traffic while chugging along to Oxford on my underpowered motorbike. I have been overwhelmed by the scale and vibrancy of some of India’s cities and the sheer number of people. The country’s rural landscapes are vast and beautiful; yet they are difficult to appreciate fully given the extreme poverty that dominates the lives of many of India’s rural, and urban, residents. And now I’m an incomer to urban Sheffield overlooking the Rivelin Valley out towards the Peak District. These and other experiences since help continue to develop my understanding of the urban-rural continuum and the variety of emerging social, economic, political and environmental contexts.

I have been a full-time Lecturer in Landscape Planning since autumn 2011.

Research interests

My doctoral research (2003-06) investigated the influence of the quality of the built environment on social cohesion in six English neighbourhoods. This work aimed to identify those features of quality in the built environment most likely to support social cohesion (Dempsey, 2008). It explored the contested spatial theory of environmental determinism (and other associated theories) within the broad context of UK policy and practice of building, planning, designing and maintaining ‘desirable’ urban landscapes (Dempsey, 2009). Part of the research involved the development of an innovative method of neighbourhood delineation, based on residents’ perceptions of where they live (Jenks and Dempsey, 2007). The thesis was shortlisted for the 2007 RIBA President’s Award for Research: Outstanding PhD Thesis.

My part in the EPSRC-funded CityForm-UK project (2003-07) allowed me to focus my research interest on how the physical (here, urban) form contributes to the sustainability of communities and aspects of social equity, specifically access to services and facilities in fifteen neighbourhoods in five UK cities (Dempsey et al, 2009; Bramley et al, 2009). This involved site surveys across the city, the design and administration of a national postal social survey and conducting in-depth focus groups with different resident groups.

The CityForm project went international, with successful funding secured for CityForm-India (2009-2012). This UK-India research network brought together international academics, policymakers and practitioners to examine sustainable urban form in India’s rapidly growing cities (Raman and Dempsey, 2012). India is a challenging context for the investigation of sustainable planning and demands an understanding of a range of critical aspects. Click here to visit the CityForm website. I have secured a small research grant from the British Academy/ Leverhulme Trust (2013-14) for a project entitled India’s urban open spaces. This project will explore how provision of green and open space has changed over time in the rapidly urbanising city of Ahmedabad in Gujarat, with a visit to India in January 2014.

The I’DGO project (2007-09) provided valuable opportunities to develop research design skills, including mapping and social surveys, to explore the impact that high-density housing form and the accompanying green space (or lack thereof) has on older residents’ quality of life. The visual as well as physical access to open space is explored in this research, as the significance of the view quickly became apparent.

The MP4 project called on my research interests in the quality of the physical environment and the influence that aspects of landscape management, design and planning have on residents’ and users’ everyday life and behavioural choices (Dempsey and Burton, in press). This led to a number of ongoing collaborative projects with local partners, including Sheffield City Council and Green Estate, using different methods to measure perceptions and experiences in green spaces. Most recently, this has led to the successful securing of funding from the ESRC for a project examining Place-keeping in Sheffield (2013-14). This project aims to examine the extent to which cross-sector partnerships are effective in managing green spaces. Click here to visit the Place-Keeping website.

These and other projects have provided me with a range of research techniques and skills which continue to challenge and develop how I approach my teaching and research.



  • Jenks M & Dempsey N (2006) Introduction. RIS download Bibtex download
  • Dempsey N & Jenks M (2006) Conclusion: Future forms for city living?. RIS download Bibtex download
  • Jenks M & Dempsey N (2005) Future Forms and Design For Sustainable Cities. Architectural Press. RIS download Bibtex download

Edited books

Journal articles


Conference proceedings papers

Research group

PhD research supervision

I am currently first supervisor for three PhD students:

  • Fay Al-Khalifa: Urban sustainability in the transforming culture of the Arabian Gulf: The case of Bahrain
  • Jinvo Nam: the effect of landscape design on aspects of wellbeing
  • Wafa Al-Madani: culturally meaningful landscape design in Bahrain

I am second supervisor for three PhD students:

  • Melih Bozkurt: Children’s experiences of water features in Sheffield’s urban open spaces
  • Junfang Xie: landscape design, planning and use of green space in Shanghai
  • Alison Harvey: design, play value and development process in children’s outdoor play spaces in England

I have one successful PhD completion so far. Dr Susanne Dahm’s PhD examined the contribution that facilities make towards fostering social interaction in suburban housing developments in England. I have also been advisor to other students who have completed their PhDs with subjects including: urban social interaction, landscape management, sustainable urban development in developing countries, rapid urban development, urban density, public open space, community gardens, urban neighbourhoods and perception of place.

Areas of potential research degree supervision

  • Place-keeping and post-occupancy evaluation of open space to examine how effectively landscapes are used in the way designers intended;
  • Decision-making in open space management and maintenance to explore who makes the decisions and on whose behalf;
  • Developing an understanding of quality in the landscape, particularly in different contexts such as India’s rapidly growing cities;
  • Measuring perceptions of the neighbourhood via mapping according to different social/ demographic characteristics.

Funded research projects

Reflecting on the River – rapid urbanisation and representations of Indian cultural heritage

Duration: Dec 2015 – June 2016
Funder: AHRC/ ICHR (International Research Network)
Principal Investigator: Dr Nicola Dempsey
Project Partner: Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology (Ahmedabad)

Many cities have developed on and around rivers as they are important elements, e.g. for transport, trade and fishing. Rivers also play a significant part in people's everyday lives, underpinned by their cultural practices, for example traditions and rituals such as funeral rites in India. People perceive, represent and use rivers in different ways which may or may not correspond with the 'story' of the river as told as part of a city’s identity. There are multiple perspectives and narratives of rivers which may differ over time as cities become increasingly urbanised. However we do not fully understand how rapid urbanisation of cities around the world is changing the cultural connections that people have with the river. This project aims to take the first step to address this gap in knowledge to deepen understanding of the cultural role of the river for residents in urbanizing India.

India’s urban open spaces-Understanding the place of open space in India’s rapidly urbanising cities: an examination of Ahmedabad, Gujarat

Duration: Aug 2013 – Aug 2014
Funder: British Academy/ Leverhulme Trust (Small Research Grant)
Principal Investigator: Dr Nicola Dempsey
Project Partners: Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology (Ahmedabad)

This project aims to explore how provision of green and open space has changed over time in a rapidly urbanising city in India. Urbanisation is happening at an unprecedented rate in cities all over the world, many in developing countries. Such urbanisation is often unplanned meaning good quality, publicly accessible green and open space can be difficult to come by and, at times, not provided at all. Given the wide-ranging benefits of green and open space (e.g. in terms of mental and physical health, biodiversity habitats and urban cooling), the need to provide such space in high-density areas has long been recognised. This project aims to examine the implications of rapid urbanisation on green and open space provision in the city of Ahmedabad in Gujarat, India. By mapping the green and open space, both public and private, and in discussion with key stakeholders to identify the social and cultural roles of such space, the project team will critically explore the implications of current and future urban expansion on green/ open space provision, function and use in India and elsewhere.

Place-Keeping in Sheffield

Duration: Aug 2013 – Aug 2014
Funder: ESRC (Knowledge Exchange Opportunities Scheme)
Principal Investigators: Dr Nicola Dempsey & Mel Burton
Project Partners: Sheffield City Council, Green Estate, Sheffield Wildlife Trust, Tinder Foundation
URL: www.place-keeping.org

Despite funding being available for ‘place-making’ i.e. the implementation of open spaces, the long term management – or ‘place-keeping’ – of these spaces is often neglected and initial benefits may be lost. The economic recession has led to severe budget cuts by local authorities to green space management, in essence because they are under no legal obligation to provide it. Unlike our health service and education provision, green space management is a non-statutory service. This project aims to examine the extent to which cross-sector partnerships are effective in managing green spaces. There is a long history of public, private, third sector organisations and community stakeholders involved in the management and maintenance of green spaces. However, we do not know how successful cross-sector partnerships (i.e. those made up of stakeholders from different sectors) are at achieving good green space management.

The Place-keeping project aims to develop and apply the partnership capacity approach as a place-keeping evaluation tool in collaboration with a range of stakeholder organisations involved in green space management in the city of Sheffield.

Teaching interests

My aim is to help students develop an understanding of the multiple scales (e.g. site/ neighbourhood/ city/ region/ beyond), physical contexts (e.g. urban/ rural/ peri-urban) and non-physical contexts (e.g. social/ economic/ political) that are at play in the landscape. In this way, I believe students can develop the skills to engage in critical thinking and decision-making which reflect a holistic approach to understanding the landscape.

My other main teaching interest is in research methodology: how we understand, measure and evaluate the landscape and our perceptions and behaviour therein. Conducting research need not be a daunting process: I want to make research methods accessible and enjoyable. I do this by engaging students in live, real and innovative landscape planning research projects to help demystify the research process. The underlying aim here is to sustain and promote the teaching-research-practice relationship, with the hope that students will continue to engage in research-based practice in their professional lives.

Teaching activities

Teaching responsibilities

My teaching, underpinned by my research interests, is focused primarily on sustainable landscape planning and research methods. I teach these at both undergraduate and postgraduate level.

My teaching is delivered in different ways including lectures, seminars and workshops; site visits; desk-based projects; and IT sessions – all of which are underpinned by a process of critical analysis.

I am Module Coordinator for three modules:

  • LSC 115 Current Challenges in Planning, Design and Management
  • LSC 117 Presentation, Communication and Research Skills
  • LSC236 Landscape Planning for a Changing World

Academic responsibilities

  • Undergraduate Admissions Tutor
  • Undergraduate Personal Tutor
  • Department Research & Knowledge Exchange Committee
  • Department Ethics Committee
  • Department Staff-Student Committee
Professional activities

Co-convenor of Sheffield’s Green Space Forum, citywide Friends group network (under development)