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Manchester Metropolitan University
Professor Steven Miles    
Leverhulme Doctoral Scholarship

The playful city

The Leverhulme unit for the design of cities of the future will encourage artists to work with sociologists, historians to work with designers and literary scholars to work with geographers in transdisciplinary supervisory teams that embrace urban design as a co-creative process

Plan of the village of port sunlight
Reproduced with kind permission of Unilever plc and group companies.

We live in times in which questions of difference and equality are high on news and civic agendas. And yet urban planning has arguably sought to contain that difference rather than embrace it through decades of over-regulation and by the removal of minority behaviours; something that was perhaps most graphically demonstrated in May 2020 by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Under conditions where the divisive nature of the city has become so concentrated, not least in light of the Coronavirus pandemic, the future of urban design is, I argue, thwarted by old ways of thinking and by an inability to conceive of the city beyond immediate economic, social and environmental measures. The Leverhulme unit for the design of cities of the future (LUDeC), based at Manchester Metropolitan University, is founded on the contention that now is the time to change.

LUDeC focuses on integrating and galvanising the diverse assets of the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences in order to enable research dedicated to a more humanistic and just urbanism that may, in turn, afford glimpses of an alternative, more socially just, future. LUDeC’s programme of Doctoral Scholarship research contends that the travails of the contemporary city may provide urban designers with an unexpected motor for radical social change: an environment, a point in time, in extremis, when they can begin to plot a better future.

In proposing LUDeC I in part took inspiration from William Hesketh Lever, who was committed to a holistic vision of urban planning that emphasised the vital importance of social justice. I wondered if it were possible to begin to redress the limitations of scholarship that conceives of the city as a site of competition, by committing to a design philosophy founded on notions of collaboration and equity. 

The plan then is for LUDeC to provide students with a space in which they can engage in methods of collaboration and knowledge exchange, while revitalising city design in the process. Each of our students will work with transs-disciplinary supervisory teams and external partners to address ‘real world’ issues. The emphasis here will be on playful and experimental research that aspires to achieve a more liveable city.

Only in the interstices of cross-disciplinary interplay can the most creative resolutions to the contemporary quandaries of urbanism be found. On this basis it may also be possible to challenge traditional notions of what a PhD should be.

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