Alumni Research Members and Abstracts

Ben Spencer

How can public open space provide opportunities for supporting older people’s quality of life through facilitating play?

The need for environmental gerontological research and for society to improve the provision for an aging population has been made, including provision of neighbourhoods with more enriching resources. Similarly it has been suggested that the social sustainability of neighbourhoods can be enhanced by promoting both formal and informal social interactions within them. Research on older people's use of public open space has tended to concentrate on the more functional aspects of access and mobility. Although there is acknowledgement of the importance of such spaces for older people’s social engagement and physical exercise there is little research on what makes places enjoyable and fun to be in. The aims of this PhD are to examine older people's understanding of the concept of play and to discover the urban design factors which influence the play potential of public outdoor space for older adults. The methods used are focus group discussions of the nature of play and older people's enjoyable experience of public open spaces, and walking interviews with older people describing an enjoyable place of their own choosing.

Supervisors: Professor Katie Williams, Professor Lamine Mahdjoubi, Dr Rachel Sara

Carmel Conefrey

Creative rural industries: a study of cultural industries in Stroud, UK

The aim of this PhD study is to explore the extent to which, and the ways in which, a rural context shapes the workings of cultural industries.  The rural focus is significant as in comparison to urban areas, and in particular, metropolitan cites, cultural industries in rural areas have received comparatively little scholarly attention.  This study questions the dominant discourse that cultural industries are quintessentially city phenomena through a study of visual arts and crafts cultural industries in the rural district of Stroud, UK. Finding limitations in the leading approach to framing and understanding the workings of cultural industries, that is an emphasis on clustering, this study argues that a multi-dimensional analytical framework that combines consideration of spatial organisation, networks (both local and extra-local) and place has a greater potential to advance understanding about how cultural industries work.  The study’s research methods involved a combination of semi-structured interviews, an on-line survey and fieldwork to generate a mixture of both qualitative and quantitative data.

Supervisors: Professor Rob Atkinson, Dr Laurence Carmichael, Ron Griffiths, Ray Figg (Stroud District Council)

Simon Ruston

An evaluation of the consequences of discourses of authenticity on gypsies and travellers in England 

The purpose of the research is to investigate discourses of authenticity in the context of statutory definitions of Gypsies and Travellers in England and Wales since 1959, and the subsequent consequences for access to accommodation for these communities. In essence this is how the authenticity of Gypsies and Travellers is assessed by the state with regard to a range of statutory provisions relating to planning, unauthorised encampments, equalities and homelessness. This research is undertaken by means of a review of the development and application of such definitions since 1959, and an assessment of the consequences on both macro and micro levels. In the main this review consists of an analysis of the relevant case law and interviews with key informants. The gap in knowledge is the comprehensive analysis of the development, application and consequences of statutory definitions in the light of existing knowledge on discourses of authenticity with regard to Gypsies and Travellers.     

Supervisors: Professor Katie Williams, Dr Avril Maddrell

Louis Rice

The production of informal space in the UK

The research examines how informal spaces (spaces appropriated by users who do not own the land) are made, used and produced. Informal spaces, known variously as:  autonomous spaces, transgressive spaces, terrain vague or loose spaces are parts of the city that are either derelict or left over space. Invariably with no formal purpose, they lie outside of formal ownership or control and out of the gaze of official surveillance. The users and producers of these space are a heterogeneous group: from illicit users: sex-workers, alcoholics, drug-takers, ravers and graffiti artists to more quotidian users: gardening, resting on a bench, children playing and dog-walking. Users also include non-human groups such as the flora and fauna that also appropriate and occupy informal spaces. Using a UK-based case study, the research strategy is to adopt a multi-method approach including interviews, observation, mediated data and virtual ethnography. The aim of the research is to illuminate the conflicts, coagulates and collaborations that occur as part of the process(es) of production  in informal spaces. The role of informal spaces is becoming increasingly pertinent during the current economic crisis as local authorities look to lower cost approaches to maintaining and producing open space - whilst also maintaining or augmenting their aspirations for community building, bio-diversity and local governance.

Supervisors: Professor Rob Atkinson, Dr Derrick Purdue

Kasphia Nahrin

Environmental impacts and potential policies and strategies for informal housing: an analysis of Dhaka, Bangladesh

Housing activities may create immediate and/or gradual, direct and/or indirect influences on the physical environment. Informal sub-systems of housing are widespread in the fast-growing cities of developing countries. With several exclusive characteristics, informal housing creates an array of adverse effects on the environment. To date, the environmental consequences of informal housing alongside the policy responses to tackle these problems have been rarely addressed by housing researchers. This research explores the immediate environmental consequences of informal housing in developing cities that are being produced due to lack of security tenure, lack of compliance with planning and building regulations and lack of proper utility services. The study aims to determine the effectiveness and potentials of a selection of international and national housing, planning and environmental policies, and strategies to reduce the environmental consequences of informal housing in developing cities. The research is qualitative. Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh, is the case study for this empirical research. Data has been collected through site surveys from a selection of case study areas in Dhaka, semi-structured interviews with a selection of stakeholders, and secondary sources. Policy implementation studies show a high incident of incompliance of policies, rules and regulations, thus creating extreme consequences in the immediate environment. Preliminary policy analysis finds very mixed perceptions of the stakeholders about the effectiveness of national and international housing, planning and environmental policies in Dhaka. 

Supervisors: Professor Katie Williams, Dr Michael Short

Cuong Viet Chu

Community participation in urban regeneration projects in Vietnam

This research explores how communities participate in a collaborative process with policy makers and development professionals in upgrading mixed housing settlements.

Four objectives were clarified in this thesis: (1) - The nature of community participation in the process of upgrading mixed housing settlements in two cities in Vietnam; (2) – The ways that community participation helped shape the process of participation and the negotiated outcomes; (3) – The policy context and political culture which frame power relations in state-citizen interaction in Vietnam; and (4) – The community participation framework in regeneration projects in Vietnam.

Firstly, the conceptual contribution of the research was the summary of the literature on the participatory approach in urban regeneration projects drawing largely on UK literature. By initially examining the literature on community participation, the author established the different approaches to community participation as well as an analytical framework for the research which includes the benefits of and barriers to community participation in regeneration projects.

Secondly, the practical contribution of the thesis is the provision of lessons from the UK and from other developing countries (Tanzania, South Africa, the Philippines and Thailand) that Vietnam can learn from (in both positive and negative ways) with reference to various aspects of people empowerment, resource management and the (de-)centralisation of government.

Finally, at the empirical level, the research investigated the participatory context, including Vietnam’s governmental structure, political culture, the development of Non-Government Organisations (NGOs), citizen rights and institutions, which structured community participation in Vietnam. The analysis of the case studies shows that policies to renovate neighbourhoods in urban areas have offered positive examples of and reasons for implementing further community participation in renewal projects in Vietnam.

Supervisors: Professor Rob Atkinson, Dr Derrick Purdue

Nigel Moor

An examination of the role and views of elected councillors in the governance of growth areas and whether political differences play a part in decision making.

The aim of the research is to explore and understand the role of local councillors in local government in the specialised area of spatial planning and was submitted for the Professional Doctorate of the Built Environment. There are three dimensions that influence this role. The first is the tension between central and local government and the highly centralised party political system which constrains local autonomy. The second is the role of the political party in local government, and its dominance in policy making. The third is the evolving spatial planning system and the new emphasis on localism and collaborative planning. These themes are explored through an examination of the spatial planning system, and in particular a case study of plan making in the growth area of the Central Oxfordshire Sub – region. The study has contributed to knowledge in a number of ways. It provides confirmatory evidence for other research exploring the role of the councillor in local government. This study has shown how the politicisation that has affected local government has also had an influence on the role of spatial planning in local government and that the dominant role of the political party in local government also involves spatial planning. It also demonstrates the important role of scrutiny in developing the Core Strategy that shapes the future pattern of development, so as to ensure that political space is shared with other stakeholders.

Supervisors: Dr Stephen Hall, Professor Rob Atkinson, Christine Lambert

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