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Personal profile


James Evans is a Professor in Geography and current Head of Department whose research focuses on how cities learn to become smarter and more sustainable. He has published widely, with over 40 peer-reviewed papers and two authored books in the field, and his work on Urban Living Labs has been foundational across the social sciences. He is leading the University's involvement in Triangulum, a £25m Horizon 2020 project to establish smart districts across Europe, and the Manchester Urban Observatory, a £1m EPSRC funded initiative as part of the UKCRIC portfolio. Professor Evans holds investigator duties on more than £35m of funded research, and has received funding from the EU, EPSRC, ESRC, NERC, and a range of philantrhopic foundations. He is committed to innovative and interdisciplinary action research styles, establishing and directing the University Living Lab and the Manchester Cycling Lab, and has worked with more than 100 external organisations. He has held fellowships at UCLA, the Volkwagen Institute and Lund University.    

  • Professor, University of Manchester (2015)
  • Senior Lecturer, University of Manchester (2007)
  • Lecturer, University of Birmingham (2004)
  • ESRC Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Birmingham (2003)
  • ESRC-NERC PhD, University of Birmingham (1999)
  • ESRC MSc, University of Birmingham (1998)
  • MA Oxon, 1st Class, Geography (1995) 

Research interests

My research explores the geographical aspects of smart cities and urban sustainability, primarily contributing to the disciplines of Geography and Urban Studies. I have a long-standing interest in the relationship between environmental science and urban thought, particularly in terms of how organizing concepts like for example resilience and systems thinking structure contemporary approaches to cities.

This interest led to a current focus on the role of living laboratories and experiments as new modes of governance being adopted by cities to achieve smarter and more sustainable forms of development (Evans 2011; Evans and Karvonen, 2013; 2014; Trencher et al., 2014).  

I am also interested in interdisciplinary research in Geography more broadly (Evans and Randalls, 2009; Jones and Evans, 2011), and have contributed to the development of mobile methods across the social sciences (Evans and Jones, 2011; Jones and Evans, 2012).

Taken as a whole my goal is to influence disciplinary approaches to conceptualizing and studying the spatial and political dimensions of innovation and learning.

Research Projects

Current Research Projects

Triangulum: the three point project (demonstrate, disseminate, replicate), EU Horizon 2020 Lighthouse, € 25 420 598, Co-PI. (UoM income = £800k). This five year project will deploy and evaluate sustainable and smart city solutions. It is highly interdisciplinary and cross-sectoral, involving 26 core partners across six countries.

Advancing Urban Innovation: Living Labs for Sustainable Building and Planning, Formas, £126 566, Co-PI. This three year project studies the role of living labs in sustainable urban development in Europe.

Accelerating the University Living Lab innovation system, EPSRC KT Challenge with Arup and Robert Turley Associates, £19 573. Principal Investigator. This project will develop and test a multidisciplinary rapid response process that builds upon and develops the University Living Lab and Manchester Cycling Lab innovation system.

Shaping the Future City? Enabling world-class sustainable development (Manchester Cycling Lab), ESRC Impact Acceleration Account and Manchester City Council, £32 999. Principal Investigator. This project established a living lab to support the Future Cities initiative being coordinated by Manchester City Council, building on the University Living Lab platform.

University Living Lab for Sustainability. University of Manchester Research Institute, £53 490. Principal Investigator. This project aimed to transform the University of Manchester campus into a site for applied teaching and research activities around sustainability and low carbon energy.

Learning loops in energy efficient urban design: applying Social Return on Investment (SROI) to the commercial building, ESRC CASE, £54 000. Principal Investigator. This three year CASE PhD explores how to capture the social benefits of higher design quality with an empirical focus on health buildings.


PhD students


Joanna Tantanasi (Year 4): Governing the politics and science of carbon: the case of the South Peaks.

Craig Thomas (Year 2): Smart Cities - empowering environmental citizens.

Katerina Sevastyanova (Year 4): Solar thermal heating and domestic practices. Sustainable Consumption Institute.

Kelly Watson (Year 3): Learning loops in sustainable urban design: Social Return on Investment (SROI) and the commercial building. ESRC- CASE with Arup

Gabrielle Schliwa (Year 1): Harnessing the Digital Economy to deliver Sustainable Mobility Transitions. EPSRC. 

Michal Mikulewicz (Year 1): Social Capital, Adaptive Capacity, and the Poor: Exploring the Impacts of NAPAs and NAPA Projects in Sub-Saharan Africa. President's Award.


Richard Bull (Completed 2008): The role of the waste industry in promoting social learning for sustainability. ESRC-CASE studentship

Helen Griffiths (Completed 2009): New School Geographies: engaging young people as citizens and consumers. ESRC studentship

Jenny Cousins (Completed 2010): Re-making Conservation: international conservation tourism and private conservation in South Africa. ESRC-NERC studentship

Nadia von Benzon (Completed 2013): Childhood disability and access to the natural environment. ESRC studentship

Brian Rosa (Completed 2014): Beneath the arches: re-appropriating the residual space of infrastructure. School studentship

Jana Wendler (Completed 2014): Exploring the role of play and playfulness in environmental efforts and sustainability engagement. School studentship

Janice Astbury (Completed 2014): Comminity participation in sustainable urban design

Postgraduate opportunities

I am interested in supervising students in the following fields:

  • Experimental governance
  • Smart Cities
  • Informal Mobility
  • Urban laboratories


Current and recent teaching duties

GEOG 20072 Amsterdam Overseas Field Course, 2008-. Course leader.

UCOL 21501 Future Cities, 2014-. Contributor.

GEOG 10802 Geographies of Sustainability, 2012-13. Course leader.

GEOG 70901 Theories of Environmental Governance, 2007-2012. Course leader. 

GEOG 70462 Environmental Research Design and Application, 2010-2012. Course leader.

GEOG 70532 Governing Global Environmental Change, 2010-11. Course leader.

GEOG 70932 Dissertation, 2007-2011. Course leader.

Keswick Field Course, 2007-2011, 2014. Contributor.

Undergraduate and Masters Personal Tutor

Further information

Administrative experience

Smart Cities Lead for University of Manchester Urban Institute (2015-)

Deputy Head of Geography (2012-2015)

Director of Undergraduate Studies for Geography (2011- 2014)

Director MSc. Environmental Governance (2007-2011)

Postgraduate Taught Director for Geography (2009-2011)

Postgraduate Taught Admissions Tutor for Geography (2007-2009)

Member of School Teaching and Learning Committee

Wider professional service

Fellow of the Volkwagen Foundation

Fellow of the Institute for British Geographers

Fellow of the Association of American Geographers

Referee for book proposals from a range of publishers including Routledge, Taylor and Francis, Sage, Earthscan, Ashgate and Elgar

Member of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe Team of Specialists on Public-Private Partnerships.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 5 - Gender Equality
  • SDG 7 - Affordable and Clean Energy
  • SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • SDG 9 - Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure
  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
  • SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • SDG 13 - Climate Action
  • SDG 15 - Life on Land

External positions

Visiting Professor, Lund University

1 Sept 20141 Sept 2017

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Sustainable Futures
  • Policy@Manchester
  • Digital Futures
  • Energy
  • Global inequalities
  • Manchester Urban Institute
  • Manchester Environmental Research Institute


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