Heseltine Institute areas of research

21st Century Cities

This theme considers the challenges and opportunities that cities and city regions face in an era of digital revolution and political decentralisation.


Back to: Heseltine Institute for Public Policy, Practice and Place

English devolution

Recent years have seen significant changes to sub-national government structures in England, from the introduction of combined authorities and elected mayors in areas such as Liverpool City Region, to the Northern Powerhouse agenda and its focus on improving pan-Northern transport connectivity. The promise of the government to ‘level up’ devolution has led to a renewed focus on this agenda.

The Heseltine Institute’s work includes: 

Smart cities: governing artificial intelligence and the data revolution

In the age of the ‘smart city’, municipal leaders must develop and harness a new generation of smart technology if they are to tackle effectively the most pressing economic, social and environmental problems that face their cities and maintain parity with their peers. Yet, whilst the idea of the ‘smart city’ is one full of possibility, the ownership, stewardship and deployment of smart technology have equally provided cause for concern and caution. In particular, the origins and development of smart technology within a framework of what Shoshana Zuboff calls ‘surveillance capitalism’ has arguably given rise to technology that it is not only configured primarily to serve the interests of a predatory ‘big other’, but which is also substantially (and manifestly) under-regulated – as highlighted by long-standing concerns over unaccountable corporate monopolies, privacy and the security of personal data, (unconscious) bias in algorithms, and digital inequalities and addictions.

The Heseltine Institute is interested in academic research which looks at the impact of this technology on cities and their efforts to achieve inclusive growth. However, we also, through this strand of work, aim to proactively explore whether and how metropolitan areas can build smart cities in collaboration with citizens and for citizens to serve the public good.

Urban psychology

With the new UK Government committed to addressing regional inequalities by levelling up the British economy and tackling the regional divides manifest in towns and cities, it is likely that urban regeneration will be re-animated as a major policy focus in the 2020s. It is therefore critical that lessons from past regeneration interventions are properly understood.

The starting point for our research here is the observation that psychology — the discipline most concerned with human behaviour and emotional wellbeing — has been almost absent from urban and regeneration thinking, policy and practice. It follows that, because of this, urban regeneration initiatives have suffered from a fundamental lack of understanding of the emotional and psychological impacts of city living as a whole, and of the deeper impacts of regeneration programmes, in particular, which literally reshape the urban landscape. Our research in this area explores the existential character of the urban condition — including poor mental health — and considers the importance of placing wellbeing and human flourishing at the centre of place-making.