Dr Aidan While

Department of Urban Studies and Planning

Senior Lecturer

+44 114 222 6184

Full contact details

Dr Aidan While
Department of Urban Studies and Planning
Room C4a
Geography and Planning Building
Winter Street
S3 7ND

Having studied for a BA and MA in English and Art History, I discovered urban planning through a studentship for the Masters in Civic Design (RTPI-accredited) at the University of Liverpool (1992-4).

My research and teaching combines interests in environmental and climate policy, urban technology and future cities and the politics of planning in the UK and internationally.  Those interests are reflected in current research on the social, environmental and urban impact of advances in robotics and automation, including new forms of climate engineering and automated ecological management.

I am co-director of the University of Sheffield’s interdisciplinary Urban Institute and leader of its research theme on Urban Automation and Robotics.

I have been Associate Editor for the Journal of Planning Theory and Practice and I am currently an editorial board member for Town Planning Review and a member of the Economic and Social Research Council’s Policy Review College. I am currently Dapeng Visiting Scholar at the University of Jinan, China (Shenzhen campus).

I have successfully supervised 20 PhD students.

Research interests

My research encompasses interests in environmental/climate policy, urban technology, the politics of planning and issues of growth management in the UK and internationally.

1. Environmental/climate policy

I am interested in the factors that influence responses to environmental and climate change, including political and citizen resistance and conflict with social and economic interests. I am particularly interested in questions of environmental justice (who gains, who loses) from policies that do or not address environmental and climate challenges.

Key publications:

Castan-Broto V, Robin E and While A (2020) Climate Urbanism Routledge: London

While A and Whitehead M (2014) ‘Cities, urbanisation and climate change’ Urban Studies, special edition on Cities and Climate Change 50 (7) 1325-1331

While A, Jonas AEG and Gibbs D (2010) ‘From sustainable development to carbon control: eco-state restructuring and the politics of urban and regional development’ Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 35 (1) 76 – 93

2. Robotics and the infrastructures of everyday life

I am the leader for the Sheffield Urban Institute’s research theme on Urban Automation and Robotics. We are at the forefront internationally of examining the impact of robotics in the public realm through drones, Autonomous Vehicles, delivery and service robotic and other forms of automation, with funded research undertaken in China, the USA, Africa and Japan as well as the UK. I work closely with robotic engineers to understand and explore future possibilities for urban robotic restructuring and how they might be managed and regulated in the public interest.

Key publications:

Lockhart A, While A, Marvin S, Kovacic M, Odendaal N, Alexander C (2021) Making space for drones: The contested reregulation of airspace in Tanzania and Rwanda, Transactions IBG, forthcoming

While A, Marvin S, Kovacic M (2020) Urban robotic experimentation: San Francisco, Tokyo, Dubai Urban Studies

Macrorie R, Marvin S, and While A. (2019) Robotics and automation in the city: A research agenda. Urban Geography

3. The politics of planning

I have a core interest in the role of planning regulation in shaping urban and regional futures, with a particular interest in government-citizen relations and challenges for planning in managing growth.

Key publications:

Inch A, Dunning R, While A, Hickman, H and Payne, S. (2020) ‘Financial incentives and the mediation of planning conflict’ Environment and Planning C

While A, Jonas A and Gibbs D (2013) ‘The competition state, city-regions and the territorial politics of economic growth facilitation’, Environment and Planning A 45 (10) 2379–2398

4. Decarbonisation and the future of work

I have a long-standing interest in employment policy and the potential to address inequalities through intervention around work. This is reflected in my Joseph Rowntree research Major development projects: connecting people in poverty to jobs and is being taken forward in research on the socio-spatial implications associated with employment change through climate policy.


Edited books

Journal articles


Book reviews

Conference proceedings papers


  • Marvin S, While A, Kovacic M, Macrorie RM & Lockhart A (2018) Urban Robotics and Automation: Critical Challenges, International Experiments and Transferable Lessons for the UK RIS download Bibtex download
  • Dunning R, Henneberry J, Inch A, Payne S, Watkins C, While A, Young G & Hickman H (2017) Attitudinal research on financial payments to reduce opposition to new homes View this article in WRRO RIS download Bibtex download
  • Dunning R, Watkins C, Inch A, Payne S, While A, Young G, Hickman H, Bramley G, McIntosh S, Watkins D & Valler D (2014) The impact of the New Homes Bonus on attitudes and behaviour View this article in WRRO RIS download Bibtex download
Research group

PhD supervision 

I am Primary Supervisor for the following PhD students:

  • Jiaxi Yang, Digital villages and state strategies of rural development in China
  • Bei Chen, Automation and urban development in China: Xiong'an New Area
  • Hakjin Lee, UK neighbourhood planning after the plan
  • Ryan Belllinson, Co-production and the risky politics of climate urbanism: embedded research in Greater Manchester, UK

I welcome applications for PhD research on topics related to my main research interests, including: planning for climate change; low-carbon policy; the relationship between planning and economic development; growth management and sustainable development.

Teaching activities

My teaching seeks to promote (and provoke) critical debate about the processes and outcomes of decision-making and their potential social and environmental impacts. Emphasis is placed on helping students develop an appreciation of policy choices and the possibility for alternatives.

The intention is to equip graduates with the skills, knowledge and understanding to make a difference in their future careers. This combines a deep understanding the underlying logics of planning in the present with the skills and knowledge needed to anticipate and respond creatively to change in the future.

An important part of my teaching approach is to create space for discussion and debate through workshops, seminars and student presentations.

In 2007 I was awarded a University of Sheffield Senate Award for innovation in interdisciplinary environmental teaching.

I currently teach the following modules:

TRP 468                  Development Planning

TRP 461/6306         Planning Law and Development Control

TRP 329/618           Transport and Infrastructure

TRP 451/651           Managing Cities: Seoul Field Trip