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Metropolitan Governance
Manchester, United Kingdom

Metropolitan dynamics - understanding the formation of metropolitan areas

Metropolitan areas are functional structures that arise from the interactions of multiple agents. These agents are entities that exist at all levels of the urban hierarchy, and their interactions are manifold and complex. They operate under a unique set of agendas, making decisions within the policy framework in which they exist. Together, these decisions and interactions combine to drive emergent urban phenomena that is characterized by its temporal, dynamic, relational and non-linear nature.


Viewing urban processes through this lens is suited to study using a complex systems framework and complementary to the ‘urban science’ that has become a prominent paradigm of urban planning.


This project aims to develop tools to simulate the functioning of Greater Manchester in terms of its main institutional, economic and demographic agents, exploring the complex system and how Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) can deliver policy to promote development.

The research takes place in the context of rapid global urban development and the consensus that urban areas have a central role in achieving a sustainable future. The most prominent recognition of this is found in Sustainable Devlopment Goal 11, to “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable” . Despite this common understanding, there is a concern about the current state of urban science and its limited evidenced-based policy engagement. Cities have long been recognised as critically important loci of numerous inter-linked sustainability, development and planning problems, however the tools commonly used to address these issues have been insufficient. Methods based on equilibrium comparative-static models fail to account for the inhernent complexity of urban systems and the organic nature of their development. More recently, a new paradigm of urban planning based on scientific evidence has emerged. 


Coinciding with the emergence of this urban science is the call for more comprehensive models of urban areas (Wilson, 2018). That is, to build models that are spatially and analytically representative of the whole urban system. This research concerns itself with understanding the complex network that constitutes metropolitan areas. It is a natural extension from works that have focused solely on cities or the behaviours of specific entities, and is needed when planning for the implementation of sustainable development policies at this wider geographical level. The research identifies Greater Manchester metropolitan region as a primary case study. Greater Manchester is of particular interest due to its governance structure and political representation. GMCA, the governing body, has devolved powers. In this context, a greater understanding of their metropolitan system can facilitate the deployment of evidenced-based policies.

After the first GM regional body (1974-1986), the Association of GM Authorities (AGMA, 86-GMCA) developed a concerted, bottom-up approach for informal metropolitan governance, with successful results in metropolitan investment and development (e.g. the MetroLink). Devolution was a natural consequence of this self-organisation process, which is presents itself as a key research issue

Outputs [P] [C] [O] [E]

[P7] Odell, H, Pinto, N, Navarro Lopez, E & Deas, I 2022, 'Detecting shifts in metropolitan structure: a spatial network perspective', Environment and Planning B: Planning & Design.

Project partners

The project is supported by a doctoral scholarship funded by the ESRC in the Centre for Doctoral Training for Data Analytics and Society. The project is done in colaboration with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA).

Research Team

The project is lead by Mr Harry Odell (CDT Data Analytics and Society, University of Manchester) under the supervision of Dr Nuno Pinto, Dr Iain Deas (University of Manchester) and Dr Eva Navarro-López (University of Wolverhampton).

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