Academic spotlight: At the forefront of Green Infrastructure
Ian Mell is Reader in Environmental and Landscape Planning at Manchester, and at the forefront of the development and research of Green Infrastructure. In his academic spotlight, he talks about his background, what attracted him to join Manchester, his area of research and his involvement in postgraduate teaching.
On your background
I always had an interest in “places”, how they worked and what they meant to people, and the environment more generally, so I studied Geography & Environmental Management for my undergraduate degree at Northumbria University, followed by an MSc in Social Research Methods at the University of Sussex as training to complete a PhD which I did in Architecture, Planning and Landscape at Newcastle University, focussing on the emerging field of ‘Green Infrastructure’ planning.
In between each degree I worked in various jobs including working on building sites, in call centres, factories, and in university administration. These non-academic jobs have provided me with an understanding of what the differences are between academia and the “real world”, and highlighted what universities need to do to prepare students for the workplace. I also spent time working in local government after my PhD which provided really important experience in doing the things I teach and research. This is something I build into my teaching to show students I know how to do planning right and how to do it wrong.
On your decision to join the University
Moving to Manchester was a significant change in my career. Although I’d work as a Research Assistant at the University of Sheffield and was a Lecturer at the University of Liverpool, the University of Manchester is a far larger and globally visible institution. The expectations of staff to teach and research globally important issues was part of the desire to test myself. Manchester’s global position as a centre of excellence is critical to that and was a significant driver in my move here.
At a School and Departmental level we have world leaders in a number of Planning and Environmental Management issues who are great to work with. The level of expertise provides a great sounding board for new ideas and allows us all to push our conceptual and practical thinking. Especially the School has a wealth of environmental planning expertise and a track record on Green Infrastructure research that I have been able to extend.
The outward focus of the University, and specifically the Department, was also a big factor in moving to Manchester. Academia can be accused to being introspective but the fields of Planning and Environmental Management are about understanding, making and managing change. The inclusion of employability and professional responsibility in a number modules and across all out degrees is important. I, and colleagues, therefore take pride in training graduates who will be aware of their role in the work place and the privileged position they have in shaping the future of our cities.
On your research
My research focusses on how we plan for, design and manage green and open spaces. Using “Green Infrastructure” as an overarching idea I explore how politics, economics and society influence the way in which we plan for more sustainable and equitable environments. This includes the way in which policy has formed promotion, or not, green space provision, the ways in which we govern urban environments, how we finance landscape enhancement, and what role is played by government, developers, business and communities in creating more liveable, greener and interactive spaces.
In addition, when I first started research Green Infrastructure the concept was evolving and I was lucky to be at the forefront of its development. My PhD was one of the first to synthesise what Green Infrastructure was, to develop policy analyse of its value, and to generate a depth of understanding of how it fits with planning.
On your teaching at postgraduate level
I teach optional modules for PGT students called PLAN60852 Green Infrastructure & Sustainable Cities and PLAN64001 Green Infrastructure: Principles, Policies and Practice 1. My teaching takes a broad geographical view on Green Infrastructure integrating my own research in the UK, Europe and internationally to provide examples that are meaningful across our student body. The modules also draw on elements of planning, urban deists, real estate, environmental governance, and environmental management making them suitable for all PGT students in the department.
Additionally, I supervise PGR students in the broad fields of Green Infrastructure, green space planning, and urban environmental issues. This includes students from the UK, The Netherlands, China and Egypt who have worked on projects examining the governance of urban green space, the influence one design on use, and the ways in which perceptions of climate and local Green Infrastructure shape behaviour.