West Midlands Landscape and Infrastructure: data, communication and decision-making

PhD Classic Doctoral Training Grant Funding Information 

This funding model includes a 36 month fully funded PhD Studentship, in-line with the Research Council values, which comprises a tax-free stipend paid monthly (2024/5 - £19,237) per year and a Full Time Fee Scholarship for up to 3 years, subject to you making satisfactory progression within your PhD. 

All applicants will receive the same stipend irrespective of fee status.

Application Closing Date: 

23:59 on Tuesday 30th April 2024 for a start date of the 2nd September 2024.

How to Apply 

To apply, please complete the project proposal form,ensuring that you quote the project reference, and then complete the online application where you will be required to upload your proposal in place of a personal statement as a pdf document. 

You will also be required to upload two references, at least one being an academic reference, and your qualification/s of entry (Bachelor/Masters certificate/s and transcript/s). 

Project Title: West Midlands Landscape and Infrastructure: data, communication and decision-making

Project Lead: Professor Peter Larkham Peter.Larkham@bcu.ac.uk

Reference: GYO-WMLI

Project Description

Identity is increasingly recognised as a critical component of people’s responses to place, and hence quality of life and wellbeing.  It is central to placemaking, a concept transcending the boundaries of built environment disciplines and professions such as planning, landscape, architecture and urban design.  Yet we have lost an important connection with the landscape - a way of seeing and understanding its profound significance in our everyday life and culture. Contemporary places are becoming placeless. This gap in our knowledge and professional practice is a conceptual void that threatens the landscape, particularly in the face of contemporary challenges including demand for ecosystems services, climate change and resource scarcity.  Given increasing recognition of the value of the metropolitan urban and peri-urban landscape in the global battle for talent, this apparent disconnect also undermines crucial regional aspirations. 

The West Midlands is a particularly problematic landscape; both intensively urban and partly quasi-rural, and probably one of the most intensively human-modified landscapes in Europe, probably the world.  Decision-making at the urban fringe is posing difficulties. New governance mechanisms have been implemented but remain complex and contested at the strategic level particularly where complex values and data sets relating to nature, culture, economy and society intersect: the use of digital data in communicating and decision-making is not well understood. Radical new ideas such as a National Park for the urban West Midlands have been proposed, but their communication and – particularly public – understanding is limited.  Thus, there is a major knowledge gap and a need for research that can explore and explain how a new idea of landscape can change, develop and enhance the regional identity of places, especially in the West Midlands.  

The research aims to set out a new idea of landscape as the governance mechanism through which a diverse and complex region can be brought together, exploring the principles of a regionally based connection to the culture and materiality of the land as a lens through which both established and entrepreneurial mechanisms can thrive. It explores how digital communication tools can best be used to convey the complexity of data and concepts.

To date, emerging concepts of ‘smart cities’ have been limited in their spatial and technological aspirations.  This work will develop a wider application of the concept to the landscape as a cultural and productive entity, and the landscape scale.

Anticipated Findings and Contribution to Knowledge

The contribution to knowledge can be expressed through answers to these questions:

1. How can the relationships between communities and individuals and the materiality of a region be convincingly expressed as a model for governance? How might governance mechanisms be aligned to account for, and better serve these relationships? 

2. How does a recently established Combined Authority such as the West Midlands utilise a new idea of landscape as a robust and compelling narrative on national and international stages? 

3. How has the physical materiality of a region shaped economic development in the past, and how can we ensure that this knowledge is fully and appropriately communicated and harnessed in the fourth industrial revolution? 

4. Is there a way in which a new idea of landscape can equip the region economically and culturally for the national and global challenges ahead? What models and means of communication might be needed to ensure that decision-making bodies consider the landscape as the primary marker for future investment and development proposals?

5. Can the smart and sustainable city concepts be extended to a broader scale and the landscape concept?