Department of Geography and Resource Management (GRM), The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Research Collaborations

Smart and sustainable planning: towards an integrated spatial approach

Prof. NG Mee Kam



University of Manchester (UoM)

Project period:

1 May 2020 - 30 April 2022

Funding source:

CUHK-University of Manchester Research Fund

Funded amount:



This project aims to accelerate the development of research synergy across the Institute of Future Cities (IOFC) of CUHK and Manchester Urban Institute (MUI) of UoM to shape the future cities development agenda. This partnership (built on Baker, Ng and Wong’s long standing research collaboration since the 1990s) was first formed in 2016 with the joint universities funding. This led to research visits and seminars as well as publications in a special issue edited by Baker and He for Town Planning Review (2018, Vol 89 No. 5) and the scoping of potential projects. This application will deepen the collaboration further by: (1) conducting joint research to develop and test our conceptual framework for publications and grant applications; and (2) bringing early career researchers (ECRs) to work in an international research team.

Smart technologies and infrastructure could be exploited to tackle environmental degradation and social exclusion only if there are smart policies, legal frameworks and governance structures in place. Planning, as a future-oriented activity, has to step up to this challenge by looking forward to develop a spatially oriented integrative approach to deliver smart and sustainable development. Building on our shared research agenda and the United Nations’ New Urban Agenda, this project aims to unravel the interactive dynamics between environment, smart technology and urban development and to examine their implications to the future approaches of urban planning. This will involve:

(1) developing a working definition of smart and sustainable planning;
(2) mapping the drivers of smart and sustainable development and their spatial implications;
(3) ascertaining existing institutional capacity and constraints to meet the challenges towards smart and sustainable planning; and
(4) identifying alternative approaches and frameworks to plan and manage the complex relationship between innovation-economic-environmental performance and inclusive development.
The research approach will be underpinned by three strategic principles, by focusing on concepts and contexts, robust evidence and the research-policy-practice nexus. Encompassing the cases of Greater Manchester and Shenzhen, our emphasis is to identify innovative but actionable approaches of smart and sustainable planning for smart and equitable growth, lower carbon emissions, and environmental resilience to enhance the well-being of urban communities. Cities such as Manchester and Shenzhen have transformed to post-industrial economies, driven by knowledge-intensive activities, spatial agglomeration (vertical and horizontal) and highly ambitious low carbon futures. The advancement of digital technologies and smart infrastructure has major and differential impact on sustainable development across different places, which opens up both opportunities and challenges. The Greater Manchester (GM) model is seen as a new way of delivering unified public services in Britain, whereas Shenzhen is dubbed ‘more than Silicon Valley with Chinese characteristics’ (Yamamoto, 2019). Both CUHK and UoM team members have experience in these two cities and will aim to upscale the findings from these cases to other spatial contexts (e.g. Hong Kong, Ghana, Peru and Turkey) in future funding applications.