Personal profile

Research interests

My current research focuses primarily on the causes and consequences of global urbanization, the political economy of urban governance, and sustainable city futures. I completed bachelors degrees in economics and literature at the University of California Santa Cruz, and MSc and PhD degrees in the Department of International Development at the London School of Economics. I draw on on theoretical insights and methodological tools from the fields of demography, economics, geography, political science and sociology. I am currently working on a book about How we became an urban species, supported by a 2-year Leverhulme Research Fellowship.


Current Projects

Political Transformation in African Cities

In 2012, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon declared that "our struggle for global sustainability will be lost or won in cities". Over 1 billion residents will be added to African towns and cities in the next 30 years, yet the political implications of this are almost unknown. Recognising the development imperative to fill this knowledge gap, PACE constitutes a continent-wide comparative research project studying how urban growth transforms politics and societies in Africa. Bringing methodological, theoretical and empirical advancement in an interdisciplinary, multi-method project, we examine processes of political change within cities, and the socio-political transformations they spur beyond the city.


Role: Co-Investigator (Bristol lead)

Funding: The Research Council of Norway


Past Projects

Quantifying Cities for Sustainable Development

This project addresses a critical gap in social research methodology that has important implications for combating urban poverty and promoting sustainable development in low and middle-income countries. Simply put, we're creating a low-cost tool for gathering critical information about urban population dynamics in cities experiencing rapid spatial-demographic and socioeconomic change. Such information is vital to the success of urban planning and development initiatives, as well as disaster relief efforts. By improving the information base of the actors involved in such activities we aim to improve the lives of urban dwellers across the developing world, particularly the poorest and most vulnerable.

We aim to achieve this by combining innovative spatial sampling techniques that exploit freely available satellite imagery, short-format surveys and statistical reconstruction of population characteristics at the neighbourhood scale. We are piloting our methodology in a city in Pakistan, in partnership with the Collective for Social Science Research and NED University.


Role: Principal Investigator

Funding: UK Economic and Social Research Council, Transformative Social Science scheme


Localising the SDGs for Bristol

This action research project, in partnership with Bristol City Council and the Bristol SDG Alliance (a local network of stakeholders), has worked to integrate the UN Sustainable Development Goals into Bristol’s innovative, multi-stakeholder planning processes and governance structures. Through a combination of ‘embedded advocacy’ and stakeholder coordination, the SDGs have become a benchmark for evaluating the collective efforts of actors across the city to advance environmental, social and economic sustainability in the city. In 2019 we published the UK’s very first Voluntary Local Review of progress towards achieving the SDGs for the city of Bristol. The project is an ongoing partnership initiative.


Role: Principal Investigator

Funding: University of Bristol, UK Economic & Social Research Council Impact Acceleration Account, Bristol City Council, British Council


Evolving Into Cities?

We are becoming an urban species. More than half of the global population lives in urban areas; by 2100 over 80 percent of humans will likely live in towns and cities. We are not the only ‘urban’ species, but we’re the only one that has undertaken such a dramatic, near universal and seemingly permanent change in habitation behaviour in such a short space of time. Why did this happen? What are the implications for the future of our species?

It is now well-established that the conventional understanding of urbanization as a by-product of industrialisation is incomplete: trends observed in the late 20th century, such as urbanisation without industrialisation in many developing countries, don’t fit this model. Yet there is no consensus on alternative explanations for these trends. We are therefore revisiting the basic question of why human populations urbanise from the perspective of evolutionary ecology, in partnership with colleagues at the SHOALgroup in the Biosciences Department at Swansea University. This represents a radically different starting point than traditional theories emphasising the primacy of economic forces, particularly with regards to modelling the migration and settlement decisions of individuals. From an evolutionary perspective, we ask how and why humans have come to live in large communities of interdependent strangers. 

Role: Principal Investigator

Funding: Cabot Institute Innovation Fund


Identifying urban areas: Building open source tools for better analysing urban boundaries and political fractionalisation

Cities are often much larger social and physical systems than their governmental or municipal boundaries would suggest. Using unsupervised machine learning, high resolution satellite imagery, and geographic data science, this problem of urban boundary mismatch can be interrogated. Analysing cities in the US, Canada, the UK, Nigeria and South Africa, a globally-applicable method to analyse this boundary mismatch is possible. Using high resolution multi-band satellite imagery, hierarchical clustering, and computational geometry methods we aim to construct a database of 'apparent' urban areas and then identify how the political and government systems in these areas are split by government boundaries.

The aim of this project, led by Dr Levi Wolf, is to come up with a better and more globally-useful method to identify where 'the city' begins and ends, as well as measures of how an urban area is split by multiple governments. This is important work, since ill-aligned boundaries and ill-coordinated urban governments have serious costs on urban efficiency, health, economic performance and the behaviour of urbanites.


Role: Co-Investigator

Funding: Alan Turing Institute

Structured keywords and research groupings

  • PolicyBristolSecurityConflictAndJustice
  • PolicyBristolGlobalPoliticalEconomy
  • Global Political Economy
  • Urban Research Cluster
  • International Development
  • Cabot Institute City Futures Research


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Collaborations and top research areas from the last five years

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