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Commuting map of US wins top planning research award

Words: Laura Edgar
RTPI Awards for Research Excellence / iStock-621728016

The winners of the 2017 RTPI Awards for Research Excellence have been announced at a ceremony held during this year’s UK-Ireland Planning Research Conference.

A groundbreaking map of the United States that defines mega-regions by commuting patterns and data has won the Sir Peter Hall Award for Wider Engagement.

Dr Alasdair Rae, from Sheffield University, and Dr Garrett Nelson from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, conducted the research – An Economic Geography of the United States: From Commutes to Megaregions.

In the US, mega-regions are understood in geography as being cities connected by their economies and infrastructure. However, this way of conglomerating places is increasingly unable to reflect what is happening on the ground.

Over a period of five years, Rae and Nelson analysed the daily work commutes of more than 130 million Americans as they tried to understand the changing economic interdependence between cities and their surrounding areas.

Their research suggests that Florida is split into three areas: the (northern) panhandle is actually part of the Alabama mega-region, central Florida is a separate region, while south Florida (centred on Miami) is effectively an entirely different economy.

The study demonstrates how valuable big data – like commuting data – is in developing the understanding of how places work. Such data is important for policymakers and planners to make strategic decisions, including for investment in infrastructure and transport.

The winners of the four other awards are:

  • Academic Award: Cycle BOOM. Design for Lifelong Health and Wellbeing. Summary of Key Findings and Recommendations

Researchers; Dr Tim Jones, Dr Ben Spencer and Nick Beale, all of Oxford Brookes University; Dr Emma Street, Dr Carlen Van, Dr Louise-Ann Leyland, all of the University of Reading; Dr Kiron Chatterjee and Dr Heather Jones, both of the University of West of England; and Dr Justin Spinney, Carl Mann and Shaun Williams, all of Cardiff University.

  • Early Career Researcher Award: Neighbourhood Cohesion under the Influx of Migrants in Shanghai

Researchers: Dr Zheng Wang, with Dr Fangzhu Zhang and Professor Fulong Wu, all of the Bartlett School of Planning, University College London.

  • Student Award: Tangible Places for Intangible Products: The Role of Space in the Creative Digital Economy, Tech City, London

Researcher: Dr Juliana Martins (Bartlett School of Planning, University College London)

  • Planning Consultancy Award: Start to Finish: How Quickly Do Large-Scale Housing Sites Deliver

Researcher: Rachel Clements (Lichfields)

Dr Michael Harris, head of research at the RTPI, said: “The winners and highly commended entries have demonstrated how academic researchers can positively reach out to practitioners and policymakers with insights and finding to inform and influence their work. I am pleased these awards have been able to celebrate such impactful, high-quality research again this year.”

The sponsors of the awards were Idox plc and Routledge/Taylor & Francis.

Image credit | iStock