Urban Studies and Planning Academics win top National Research Awards

Professor Alasdair Rae has won the Sir Peter Hall Award for Wider Engagement at the 2017 Royal Town Planning Institute’s (RTPI) Awards for Research Excellence for his work on 'An Economic Geography of the United States: From Commutes to Megaregions'.

The study which examines how the United States is tied together by the daily commute illustrates the value of big data, such as commuting data, in helping to understand how places work, which can be highly useful for policy makers and planners to make strategic decisions, from infrastructure and transport investment to how boundaries should be drawn up for elections. You can view the interactive map of the US here.

MapProfessor Rae said: 'I'm delighted that a paper I wrote with Garrett Dash Nelson of Dartmouth College in the United States has been awarded the Sir Peter Hall Award for Wider Engagement at the RTPI Annual Research Conference in Belfast. The paper has now been viewed nearly a quarter of a million times and has featured in media outlets across the globe. This is really encouraging and just goes to show that there is real interest in urban and regional analyses that explore how people and places connect.'

RTPI’s Head of Research, Dr Michael Harris, called Rae’s work: ‘a ground-breaking study which advances our understanding of the economic connections between cities. Rae and Nelson’s approach will help policymakers and planners understand how places really work and provide the infrastructure they need.’

Dr Zheng Wang from the University of Sheffield was also awarded the Early Career Researcher Award for his work on ‘Neighbourhood Cohesion under the Influx of Migrants in Shanghai’ along with Dr Fangzhu Zhang and Professor Fulong Wu from University College London.

Their research investigated how the influx of millions of rural migrants into Chinese cities has impacted on the social cohesion of urban communities. Contrary to the common perception that newcomers can decrease levels of neighbourhood cohesion, the study found that neighbourhoods with large shares of migrant residents had the highest levels of social cohesion. The findings instead pointed to the current urban regeneration approach of demolishing older and poorer neighbourhoods that has led to poor levels of social cohesion.

Dr Zheng Wang said on behalf of the whole team:
‘We are really honoured to be awarded this esteemed research award by the RTPI. In times when xenophobic sentiments are on the rise in many countries, we are very grateful for this chance to highlight the benefits of migration as well as the important role that planning can play in fostering cohesive societies not only in China but throughout the world.’

RTPIThe RTPI Awards for Research Excellence are run by the RTPI to recognise and promote high quality, impactful spatial planning research from RTPI accredited planning schools, and planning consultancies around the world.

Head of Department Professor Malcolm Tait offered his congratulations, saying: ‘I am extremely pleased that Alasdair Rae and Zheng Wang, who recently joined the Department, have been successful in winning these prestigious awards. They are very worthy winners, producing rigorous and innovative research with real international reach. Alasdair's work on megaregions is truly ground-breaking, and has generated a huge amount of interest, such that it is in the top 0.03% of all papers ranked on Altmetric. Zheng's work on migrancy in Shanghai is of great significance, and really helps to increase our understanding of this important issue for contemporary China. I am also very pleased that several other colleagues in the Department were also shortlisted in all other categories in the Awards programme, testifying to the strength and depth of planning research in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning.’

Jonathan Manley, Planning & Urban Studies Journals Publisher at Routledge/Taylor & Francis, said:
‘As RTPI’s publishing partner, Routledge/T&F are delighted to continue our sponsorship of the RTPI Awards for Research Excellence. We offer hearty congratulations to all of those recognised tonight for their excellence in planning research scholarship.’

The winners and highly commended entries were announced on 12 September during the 2017 UK-Ireland Planning Research Conference at Queens University Belfast.

The Royal Town Planning Institute champions the power of planning in creating prosperous places and vibrant communities. Using its expertise and research it brings evidence and thought leadership to shape planning policies and thinking, putting the profession at the heart of society's big debates.

Andrew Riley, Chief Executive Officer at Idox plc said:
‘Idox is proud to be a sponsor once again of the RTPI’s Awards for Research Excellence. Those recognised today illustrate the best planning research and its relevance to solving the real-world issues that are facing communities in the UK and internationally. On behalf of Idox I would like to extend our congratulations to the commended entries and winners.”

The full list of nominees and award winners can be found here