Urbanisation, Planning and Development

Research Cluster

We offer the highest concentration of specialist geography courses in the School which cover issues of urbanisation, planning and development in the major world regions of Africa, Asia, Europe and the UK, Latin America and North America.

Our courses provide students with the ability to become critical, reflective practitioners and leaders in their chosen fields.


We are the largest group of geographers at LSE working at the forefront of research on urbanisation, planning and development. Our courses provide students with the ability to become critical, reflective practitioners and leaders in their chosen fields. Our students have gone on to work in major international organisations, local and regional government, universities, NGOs, think tanks and top architectural and planning consultancies.

Research focus

Our internationally recognised research is both local and global in scope. One strand focuses on the social and spatial dimensions of urbanisation and development in cities of the Global South. The second focuses on the economics and politics of land use and planning in cities around the world. 

Our research engages broad theoretical questions but we also have a strong tradition of innovative, international and comparative fieldwork. We take seriously a place-based approach to research, which is foundational to our contributions to urban planning, urban studies and human geography. We are interested in global transformations and the human-level consequences that arise from them in different places.

Our current research addresses questions about cities, infrastructure, politics, class, migration, security, gender and race.

Central to our research and teaching are questions such as:

  • How do we plan for a rapidly urbanising world?
  • How does the urban travel across geographies? Do cities in the Global South provide an alternative source of imagining the urban?
  • How can infrastructure be planned and governed in a regional context?
  • How are interconnected forms of racial and spatial difference produced, reproduced, and transformed?
  • How is displacement and dispossession to be re-conceptualised?
  • How does global environmental change shape processes of urbanisation and development?
  • How do we understand violence and security in the cities of the South?
  • How do people conduct everyday lives in conditions of urban inequality?
  • Is the ‘feminisation of poverty’ more or less likely to persist as societies urbanise?


We are a unique and interdisciplinary group of scholars working at the interface of human geography, planning and urban studies. See a list of our staff and PhD students on the People page.

Seminar Series

The cluster runs the Urbanisation, Planning and Development Seminar Series. These seminars are organised by Dr Ryan Centner as part of a series of expert-led discussions. The seminars are open to all.

Summer School

The cluster runs 3 Summer School courses:

Links with LSE research centres

Staff in the cluster play a key role in LSE’s global centres and institutes. 

Professor Gareth Jones is Director of the Latin American and Caribbean Centre and a founding member of the International Institute for Inequalities.

Professor Hyun Bang Shin is Director of the Saw Swee Hock Southeast Asia Centre

Professor Claire Mercer is a member of the Firoz Lalji Centre for Africa.


Research projects


Staff involved: Dr Deen Sharp

Domicide is a three part video project (links here to videos One, Two and Three) exploring the impact of the destruction of cities and towns, architecture and cultural heritage sites following conflict. The film follows accounts of violence and conflict across different regions and moments in history.

The project was undertaken by Dr Ammar Azzouz, an analyst at Arup and an Honorary Research Associate at the University of Oxford. The video includes a series of interviews with Dr Deen Shariff Sharp (LSE), Dr Dacia Viejo Rose (University of Cambridge), Dr Joanna Kusiak (University of Cambridge) and Dr Martin Coward (University of Manchester), Sary A. Najib (Danish Refugee Council) and also two UK-based Syrians whose lives have been impacted by the war.

This research was possible through support from Community Engagement and Global Research collaborations at Arup. Over the past three years at Arup, Ammar has explored different themes related to the destruction and reconstruction of contested cities and his research has taken him to different countries as he was invited to present in the US, Morocco, Germany and Lebanon. Read more about Ammar's work. Film directed by Sophie Bernberg.

Local London renting under Covid

Staff involved: Kath Scanlon, Fanny Blanc and Beth Crankshaw 

We are looking at how the coronavirus pandemic, in combination with selective licensing of private landlords, welfare reforms and increased taxation, is affecting the behaviour of individual private landlords, and rents and conditions for tenants, at the lower end of the private rental market.  We will collect evidence from local case studies of three small areas in Bexley (Thamesmead), Redbridge (Ilford) and Southwark (Walworth & Old Kent Road) with selective licensing. We hope our findings help boroughs to improve conditions for both longer-term tenants and homeless households in TA, and help regulators design policies to incentivise landlords to serve this market and provide a good product. Read more.


London Rebuilding

Staff involved: Prof Christine Whitehead, Fanny Blanc, Beth Crankshaw 

LSE London is conducting research to review evidence on older homeowners’ physical property conditions and the health and societal impacts of disrepair. In particular, the literature review and data sources will clarify the extent to which older households face poor housing conditions, the evidence available about the nature of these physical conditions and the impact that poor housing conditions have on the affected households. Then, the quantitative data analysis of statistical datasets will help identify spatial variations and how these relate to dwelling age, type and tenure.   

Mortgage Prisoners

Staff involved: Kath Scanlon, Prof Christine Whitehead 

In one of its latest reports, LSE London set out potential solutions to address the problem of mortgage prisoners, who are home owners who borrowed from lenders that are no longer active. 

Progressing Planning

Staff involved: Dr Nancy Holman, Fanny Blanc, Beth Crankshaw, Martina Rotolo 

The LSE Regional and Urban Planning Studies programme teamed up with LSE London to organise the Progressing Planning series of events on housing, sustainability and advocacy and publish blogs on any relevant issue which refers to planning. Progressing Planning aims to bring back together alumni from the MSc programme and pair them up with academics from LSE. Progressing Planning also supports Planning for Justice, a coalition of students and academics committed to anti-racist planning efforts.

Covid and Homelessness

Staff involved: Prof Christine Whitehead, Dr Nancy Holman, Kath Scanlon, Fanny Blanc, Beth Crankshaw, Martina Rotolo 

LSE London estimated the possible impact on the private rented sector of Covid-19 and rising unemployment; looking at the scale of the current problem, the immediate and longer-term consequences for evictions and homelessness, focusing on the case of London and England overall. The goal was to examine possible approaches that the government might put in place after the end of the moratorium, providing some indication of relative costs and benefits.

Developer Contributions in Scotland

Staff involved: Christine Whitehead, Kath Scanlon, Fanny Blanc 

LSE London has been selected to lead a team of academic and professional specialists to undertake a project which evaluates the value, incidence and impact of developer contributions in Scotland. The team includes Prof Tony Crook of Sheffield University, John Boyle of Rettie and Co, Stefano Smith Planning, as well as Kathleen Scanlon and Christine Whitehead from LSE London.

Community-led housing and loneliness

Staff involved: Kath Scanlon

As part of the government’s loneliness strategy, LSE London, the Universities of Bristol, Lancaster and Northumbria are investigating whether residents of community-led housing (CLH) experience less loneliness than people living in conventional housing. The ten-month project, which started in late 2019, features in-depth case studies of five CLH communities in England including cohousing, CLTs, co-ops and self-build. The findings will help guide decisions about government support for community-led housing. Since lockdown restrictions have forced the team to suspend field visits until September.

At the end of February LSE London launched a survey which then included questions on how Community Led Housing residents are dealing with the Covid-19 crisis. The survey closed on April 24 and collected about 350 responses. Read more

Making Higher Density Suburban Development More Acceptable: The Impact of Design, Residents’ Characteristics and their Attitudes

Staff involved: Dr Alan Mace, Pablo Navarrete, Jacob Karlsson, Davide Zorloni, Dr Nancy Holman 

The research examines the impact of design on the perception and acceptability of density  on suburban development in London.  We tested 75 design features that may reduce the perception of density development and increase its acceptability.  Our work indicates that few treatments made medium density more acceptable and almost no treatments made higher density developments acceptable.  We also found that attitudinal factors matter, for example, suburban residents who accept that London has a housing crisis are more tolerant of housing developments at all densities (independent of design treatments).  We conclude therefore, that seeking a panacea of perfect design treatment to increase the acceptability without considering and working with reticence to accepting density will do little to alter public perceptions.  

Delivering new housing. Resident choices between housing development in their neighbourhood or on green belt

Staff involved: Alan Mace, Jacob Karlsson, Nancy Holman, Davide Zorloni 

The green belt is a strongly applied planning policy, intended to limit a city's outward growth. Very little green belt land is released for new housing. Our study examines residential attitudes in Bristol and Newcastle offering a choice between green belt land release for housing vs. the alternative of housing built in proximity to their own homes.


Essential infrastructure or ornamental afterthought? Reimagining urban green space planning in the contemporary city

Staff involved: Dr Meredith Whitten

Funding: ESRC  

Urban green space has risen up the agenda, buoyed by heightened awareness of nature’s role in addressing the two most urgent crises of the 21st century: climate change and public health. A focus on green infrastructure has further elevated urban green space, connecting it with critical urban systems and services, such as urban cooling and flood prevention. Yet, instead of being managed as “critical scaffolding” in a multifunctional, interconnected system of green infrastructure, green spaces are conceptualised as an ornamental amenity detached from the city around them and delivered through a siloed approach pervasive across local authorities.  

This research examines explores strategic green space planning, which is critical for addressing issues such as climate change and biodiversity loss, by exploring whether green space governance is becoming transcending the local level to become more strategic. In particular, the research examines whether two recently created organisations – the GLA’s London Green Spaces Commission and London National Park City Foundation, a grassroots charity – are having an impact on policy and planning approaches to green-space planning. The aim is to establish if these organisations represent a shift towards more integrated, strategic thinking regarding conceptualising, providing and managing London’s green space as an integrated system of green infrastructure.  

The Urban Spectre of Global China: Mechanisms, Consequences, and Alternatives for Urban Futures

Staff involved: Hyun Bang Shin

This project funded by the British Academy draws on methods of comparative urbanism and multi-sited ethnography, aiming to uncover the differentiated models of urban production in the Global China era and to generate new insights for inclusive approaches to urban space, nature and modernity. This international collaborative project critically examines the dynamics of urban political economy and contemporary urban living in a rapidly shifting geopolitical setting. By focusing on the local, national and global mechanisms and impacts of Chinese urban spectres, the project aims to deepen our understandings of interrelated urban future issues. Research will be conducted in London, Iskandar Malaysia, Beijing and Foshan.

Asian Capital and the Rise of Smart Urbanism

Staff involved: Hyun Bang Shin

This project aims to analyse and compare how Asian cities have risen to become reference points for the development of cities in the Global South. The project is to examine the experience of building new cities branded as smart cities in Kuwait and the Philippines. The Kuwait study is funded by the Kuwait programme Research Grant from the LSE Middle East Centre, while the Philippines study is supported by the LSE Saw Swee Hock Southeast Asia Centre.

Sustaining Kuwait in Unsustainable Times

Staff involved: Deen Sharp

What do Kuwaitis (both citizens and non-citizens) think about, and how do they experience, climate change? This is the central motivating question of this project. Kuwait is proportionally one of the highest producers and consumers of hydrocarbons, at the same time, it is at the forefront of many of the weather extremes that climate change will produce. What Kuwaitis think about the threat climate change poses and, if and how, they seek to address it matters. Our current carbon-led social age is unsustainable. To sustain Kuwait, and modern social life, in these unsustainable times neither advances in science, technology, and/or technocratic planning are sufficient. Political, social, and cultural change and engagement is required. To be able to change it, however, you must first understand it.

This project is dedicated to illuminating the global linkages and local specificities around the socio-economic and ecological challenge that Kuwait faces in relation to climate change. It will emphasize the specific urban challenges for Kuwaitis in relation to climate change and efforts–or lack thereof– toward sustainable urbanization. The project is aimed at listening to and illuminating Kuwaitis’ own perspective on the impact, urgency, and importance of climate change in their daily lives.

Lebanon Unsettled

Staff involved: Deen Sharp

In 2019, large-scale non-sectarian protests across Lebanon unsettled the political system and challenged the very understanding of Lebanese history, space and identity. This protest movement has provided the opportunity for a new generation in Lebanon to rewrite, and potentially heal, the bitterly disputed histories of the country. This project builds on the openings and momentum that this movement has created.

Lebanon Unsettled will establish, through student workshops and collaborative research, a publicly accessible archive of the recent urban protests in Lebanon. It will place the 2019 uprisings in their larger historical and geographical context. Through utilizing several new and enlarged archival collections, at USEK and beyond, this project will reread Lebanese history through urban revolt from the Ottoman era to the present day. By engaging scholars at LSE and across the scholarly community, this project puts urban protest in Lebanon into dialogue with protests in the Arab region but also across the globe from Asia to Latin America. 

Testing for acceptable higher-density suburban development

Staff involved: Nancy Holman, Jacob Karlsson, Alan Mace and Pablo Navarrete.

Progress to solve the London housing crisis means using the highly constrained land supply to accommodate the high demand for new housing, i.e. increasing density. One solution is to accommodate the required housing supply in higher density developments in traditionally low-density suburban areas. However,  this strategy is likely to meet resistance from existing residents slowing the delivery of required housing solutions.

 In this research, we are interested in understanding the contribution of building design to making higher-density housing developments more acceptable to suburban residents. Our hypothesis is that where higher-density development echoes traditional suburban elements it will be more acceptable. The research uses an innovative image-based randomised controlled trial technique to collect residents' views on simulated multiple density scenarios. In this experiment, participants will rate images containing diverse simulated suburban development allowing us to tests the significance of diverse design elements  (such as heights, roof-lines and the delineation of public and private space). As a result, we will build a set of building design policy recommendations to make new housing development more acceptable.

Fearing difference: perceived safety and ethnic differences in Milan, Italy

Staff involved: Nancy Holman, Alan Mace and Pablo Navarrete, Davide Zorloni

This research explores how people’s perception of safety in urban spaces relates to ethnicity. Urban safety has been increasingly tied to racialized dialogues about immigration. As the Italian state has shifted away from more collective views of society to one of individual responsibility, "danger" has been racialized in terms of protecting ‘good citizens’ from the ‘bad’ ones who are often portrayed as "disorderly" minorities and immigrants.

Using the case of Milan, we assess the relative impact of different ethnic compositions on declared perceptions of safety in a diversity of urban landscapes such as squares, alleys, high streets. Our hypothesis is that native-born white populations perceive safety through a racialized framing that interacts with urban spaces. To test this, we employ an image-based randomised controlled trial approach that uses photo simulation techniques to manipulate ethnicity composition in white-dominated urban spaces.  

Metropolitan Green Belt: Making more of the Metropolitan Green Belt

Staff involved: Alan Mace, Associate Professor of Planning & Fanny Blanc Policy Officer

The project will draw together academic and practice views on the purpose of the Metropolitan Green Belt.  The project promotes constructive debate on the purpose and future form of the Metropolitan Green Belt in the context of contemporary housing need and urban development planning in the region. It also asks how, in an era of localism, collaboration can effectively be pursued between different scales and authorities when reviewing the Metropolitan Green Belt.

We are seeking to identify the possibility of a more flexible approach to the Metropolitan Green Belt that supports a clear purpose but which recognises the need for flexibility given the complex and changing needs of London and the wider South East.

Visit the project website

Planning, value(s) and the market: An analytic for “What comes next?” – A paper on London boroughs fighting back on AirBnB and PDR

Staff involved: Nancy Holman, Director of Planning Studies; Alessandra Mossa, Oram Fellow; Erica Pani, Assistant Professor in Local Economic Development and Planning 

For 30 years planning has been attacked both rhetorically and materially in England as governments have sought to promote economic deregulation over land use planning. Our paper examines two new moments of planning deregulation. These are the loosening of regulation around short-term letting (STL) in London and the new permitted development rights (PDR), which allow for office to residential conversion without the need for planning permission. Whilst these may be viewed as rather innocuous reforms on the surface, they directly and profoundly illustrate how planners are often trapped between their legal duty to promote public values as dictated by national planning policy and the government’s desire to deregulate. We argue that viewing these changes through a value-based approach to economy and regulation illuminates how multiple and complex local values and understandings of value shape planners’ strategies and actions and thus vary national policies in practice. In so doing, the paper demonstrates how planners have, at least, the opportunity to develop a critical voice and to advocate for policy interpretations that can help to create better outcomes for local communities.

Visit the project website

Race, nature, and the remaking of Colombia’s Magdalena River

Staff involved: Austin Zeiderman

This research examines the work performed by “race” and “nature” in the context of large-scale technopolitical interventions. The geographical focus is Colombia’s Magdalena River, which is the primary waterway connecting the country’s Andean interior and Caribbean coast. The river has played an important role in the global histories of “nature” and “race,” and it is now the site of a major development project whose objective is to boost economic growth by resuscitating fluvial transport. Ethnographic fieldwork in the port-city of Barranquilla, in riverside towns, and on cargo vessels will reveal how this megaproject, which seeks to harness nature through technology in pursuit of progress, both reproduces and reconfigures Colombia’s racial and environmental orders.

Forthcoming publication: “In the Wake of Logistics: Situated Afterlives of Race and Labor on the Magdalena River.” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space.

Traffic in the Americas

Staff involved: Austin Zeiderman

The collaboration will explore the varied relationships that exist between two different understandings of the word traffic. The first is vehicles moving on a road and the second is the trading in something illegal. The aim is to engage themes such as security, mobility, and infrastructure in the Americas from a novel perspective.

The participating units include the Centre for Diaspora and Transnational Studies at the University of Toronto, the Latin American and Caribbean Centre at LSE, the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin, and the Centro Interdisciplinario de Estudios sobre Desarrollo at the Universidad de los Andes (Bogotá, Colombia).

Visit the project website.


Recent Research  


Centner, Ryan (2013) ‘Distinguishing the right kind of city: contentious urban middle classes in Argentina, Brazil and Turkey’, In  T. Samara, S. He, and G. Chen (eds) Locating the Right to the City in the Global South (London: Routledge) 

Chant, Sylvia (2016) ‘Women, girls and world poverty: empowerment, equality or essentialism?’ International Development Planning Review, 38:1, 1-24 

Holman, Nancy, Alessandra Mossa and Erica Pani (2018) ‘Planning, value(s) an the market: an analytic for ‘what comes next?’’ Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space, 50, 3, 608-626

Jones, Gareth and Dennis Rodgers (2016) ‘Standing on the shoulders of giants? Anthropology and the city’, Etnofoor, 28, 2, 13-32

Lees, Loretta; Hyun Bang Shin and Ernesto Morales (2016) Planetary Gentrification (Cambridge: Polity Press)

Mace, Alan (2018) ‘The Metropolitan Green Belt ‐ changing an institution’, Progress in Planning, 121, 1-28

Mercer, Claire (2017) ‘Landscapes of extended ruralisation: postcolonial suburbs in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 42, 1, 72-83

Sanyal, Romola (2018) ‘Managing through ad hoc measures: Syrian refugees and the politics of waiting in Lebanon’ Political Geography 66, 67-75

Zeiderman, Austin (2016) Endangered city: the politics of security and risk in Bogotá (Durham: Duke University Press)

Fellows, past and present

Cowan, Tom (2018) ‘The urban village, agrarian transformation, and rentier capitalism in Gurgaon, IndiaAntipode 50, 5, 1244-1266. 

Evans, Alice (2014) ‘“Women can do what men can do”: the causes and consequences of flexibility in gender divisions of labour in Kitwe, Zambia’, Journal of Southern African Studies 40:5, 991-998. 

Lazzarini, Alicia H. 2017. “Gendered Labour, Migratory Labour: Reforming Sugar Regimes in Xinavane, Mozambique.” Journal of Southern African Studies 43(3): 605-623. DOI: 10.1080/03057070.2016.1197695

Luger, Jason and Julie Ren (eds.) (2017) Art and the city: Worlding the discussion through a critical artscape (Oxon: Routledge). 

Paccoud, Antoine and Alan Mace (2017) ‘Tenure change in London’s suburbs: Spreading gentrification or suburban upscaling?’ Urban Studies, 55, 6, 1313-1328.

Ryburn, Megan (2018) Uncertain citizenship: everyday practices of Bolivian migrants in Chile (Oakland, University of California Press). 

Sharp, Deen (2019) ‘Difference as Practice: Diffracting Geography and the Area Studies Turn,’ Progress in Human Geography 43, 5, pp.835-852.

Sundaresan, Jayaraj (2019) ‘Urban planning in vernacular governance: land use planning and violations in Bangalore, India’ Progress in Planning.

Whitten, Meredith (2020) 'Contesting Longstanding Conceptualisations of Urban Green Space'. In: Dempsey N., Dobson J. (eds) Naturally Challenged: Contested Perceptions and Practices in Urban Green Spaces. Cities and Nature. Springer, Cham. Read here

PhD Students

Antona, Laura (forthcoming) ‘Making hidden spaces visible: using drawing as a method to illuminate new geographies’ Area.

Birkinshaw, Matt (2016) ‘Politics, information technology and informal infrastructures in urban governance’, Economic and Political Weekly, 5, 57-63.

Gibbons, Andrea (2018) City of Segregation: 100 years of struggle for housing in Los Angeles, Verso. 

Koh, Sin Yee (2017) Race, education and citizenship: mobile Malaysians, British colonial legacies, and a culture of migration, Palgrave Macmillan, New York.  

Materka, Edyta (2017) Dystopia's Provocateurs: Peasants, State, and Informality in the Polish-German Borderlands, Indiana University Press (winner of Heldt Prize). 

Mohan, Taneesha  (2010) ‘Interrogating temporal and spatial negotiations: home as a gendered site for working women in Delhi”, S. Raju and K. Lahiri -Dutt (eds) Doing gender, doing geography: emerging research in India, pp152- 173, New Delhi: Routledge. 

Navarette, Pablo and Nicolas Navarrete (2017) ‘Unleashing waste-pickers’ potential: supporting recycling cooperatives in Santiago de Chile’, World Development, 101, 293-310. 

Pettit, Harry (2018) ‘Hopeful city: meritocracy and affect in Global Cairo’, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research.

Ramalho, J. (2018) 'Empowerment in the era of resilience building: gendered participation in community-based (disaster) risk management in the Philippines', International Development Planning Review. 

Suckling, Chris (2016) ‘Chain work: the cultivation of hierarchy in Sierra Leone’s cannabis economy’ Review of African Political Economy, 43, 148, 206-226.

Uribe, Simon (2017) Frontier Road: Power, History, and the Everyday State in the Colombian Amazon, Wiley Blackwell.  

Zhao, Yimin (2017) ‘Space as method’, City, 21, 2, 190-206.