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Centre for Urban Processes, Resilient Infrastructures & Sustainable Environments (UPRISE)

Sustainable Urban and Regional Futures

Sustainable Urban and Regional Futures (SURF) was established in 2000 to undertake inter-disciplinary research on sustainable urban and regional futures. Its work aims to generate understanding about how political, economic, social, technological and environmental changes interact to affect urban and regional futures. Towards this end SURF has developed a rich portfolio of work for a wide range of public and private funders at the level of global organisations, the European Union, national governments, research councils, regional and local authorities and business. The ethos of SURF is to balance research excellence with policy and practice relevance.

Our work cuts across the themes of governance, knowledge and innovation and environment and energy to consider the relationships between cities, regions and sustainable knowledge-based development.

SURF's purpose is to:

  • Advance understanding of how economic, social, environmental and technological changes interact to affect urban and regional futures
  • Promote inter-disciplinary analysis of the sustainability of these changes
  • Disseminate knowledge to improve understanding and inform feasible changes in policy and practice.

Key Research Themes

What are the critical challenges facing city-regions in different national contexts and how does this relate to different forms of governance, capacity and expertise?

SURF continues to track and inform changes in urban and regional policies, programmes and institutions with the aim of producing work designed to promote more effective responses to these questions.

We have worked with agencies at international, national and sub-national levels to produce critical insights and frameworks for action that are designed to improve the effectiveness of policy-making processes and governance arrangements.

Cities and regions have been recognised widely as having renewed political, economic and cultural significance in addressing the major challenges of the 21st century, from the need for global/local markets, to redressing the skills deficit, to combating climate change or providing test-beds for the development of innovative products, processes and markets.

Two critical challenges relate to the development of innovative, knowledge-based economies and building low-carbon futures. The capacity and capability of cities and regions to respond to such issues is inherently linked to governance structures and policy processes.

Central questions which inform SURF’s work include:

  • What are the comparative contexts and cultures in which urban and regional areas can make transitions to more sustainable, knowledge-based futures?
  • What are the appropriate governance structures, scales of action, roles and responsibilities for managing complex contemporary challenges?
  • How are cities and regions differentially positioned in relation to national and international hierarchies?
  • How well do central / national policy-making processes incorporate sub-national views and perspectives?
  • What is the role of a wide range of Government policies and expenditure choices, beyond specific urban and regional initiatives, in urban and regional development?
  • How is sub-national intelligence generated, captured and shared?
  • How can the competitiveness of cities and regions influence, or be reconciled with, the aims of social inclusion and sustainable development?

How can cities and regions best harness the strengths of knowledge, science and technology for economic and social benefit at multiple scales?

SURF is committed to working with and for local, national and international agencies to best understand the conditions for effective knowledge exchange between research and practice at different scales of action.

Our work has been influential in developing understanding of the nature, role and significance of sub-national science and innovation policies in the knowledge economy. A critical contribution has been in the examination of the appropriate roles of different actors, including universities and the private sector, in delivering sustainable knowledge-based change in and for cities and regions.

Cities and regions have a role to play in addressing the challenges of building knowledge-based futures. Yet global forces are mediated through different international, national, sub-national and institutional contexts to shape the ways in which pressures for change manifest on the ground.

Cities and regions must provide fertile contexts in which the aims of global competitiveness and local relevance come together. This requires a nuanced understanding of how multi-sector, multi-organisational partnerships can collaborate to build innovation eco-systems and urban knowledge arenas and the kinds of intermediaries that are needed for effective knowledge exchange.

Central questions in our ongoing research agenda include:

  • How can we understand, in comparative context, the processes of building science cities and regions?
  • Where is the spatial focus of knowledge-based urban and regional development and with what consequences for social cohesiveness and equity?
  • What are the roles of universities and businesses in the knowledge economy, in relation to their international and local roles and their commitment to excellence and relevance?
  • How can different knowledge and expertise be harnessed to build urban knowledge arenas or innovation ecosystems?
  • What forms of organisations, types of personnel and ways of working are necessary to facilitate multi-stakeholder partnerships for city/regional benefit?
  • How can cities, regions and their organisations better capture learning lessons to improve the effectiveness of public policy and build more sustainable urban futures?

How can cities and regions innovate to develop the capacity for systemic change in relation to the critical challenges associated with climate change?

SURF is committed to working across different academic, policy and industry communities to understand, analyse and facilitate responses to these issues.

Through our continued participation in European Framework programmes and policy commissions for sub-national agencies in the UK, we have developed a wide portfolio of case studies which explore how cities and regions are responding to the need for energy transitions in the context of global climate change.

Climate change is a global problem, but designing innovative solutions and approaches to addressing key challenges requires joined-up thinking on the ground. Following our ethos, our work has both shaped international academic agendas and re-shaped policy priorities at multiple scales.

Cities are being positioned as not only contributors to and victims of climate change, but as crucibles for new ways of tackling the problems of resource constraint, new energy systems and infrastructural transitions. Regions have ageing infrastructures, across domains from transport to electricity and sewerage, making the systematic reconfiguration of networks problematic.

Central questions in our research include:

  • How is the challenge of sustainable development changing in an era of reduced resource constraint and demands for economic competitiveness?
  • What strategies are cities and regions pursuing to address these challenges in different national contexts?
  • What are the consequences of infrastructural and regulatory frameworks for bringing together different interests in multi-stakeholder partnerships?
  • How can more sustainable patterns of consumption and production be fostered in the transition to low carbon economies?
  • What is the role of intermediaries in city-regional contexts in bringing different interests together to meet the challenges of climate change?
  • What are the implications for researching urban transitions in sustainable development?