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Dr Robert Cowley

Cowley, Dr Robert

Robert CowleyLecturer in Sustainable Cities

Tel: +44 (0)20 7848 2641

Department of Geography
Office: Bush House North East Wing, Room 6.12




As well as lecturing, Rob currently works as Project Coordinator on a three-year research project Smart Eco-Cities: A Comparative Study of Europe and China. Previously, he was Network Coordinator for the Leverhulme Trust-funded international research consortium Tomorrow’s City Today - An International Comparison of Eco-City Frameworks. He has lectured internationally and co-authored several publications on eco-cities and urban sustainability.

His PhD thesis, completed at the University of Westminster, explored the public dimensions of conceptualised and implemented ‘eco-city’ initiatives, and included case studies of Portland, Oregon (USA) and Sejong City (South Korea). Before that, he took an MA in Urban & Regional Planning at the University of Westminster (2010). His first degree was in Modern Languages & Literature (Russian and Modern Greek), at the University of Oxford.

Research interests
  • ‘smart’ and ‘eco’ urban initiatives
  • the governance of urban sustainability
  • publics and public space
  • sustainability transitions

Rob’s research focuses on the proliferation of diverse ‘eco’ and ‘smart’ urban initiatives and policies around the world. In particular, he is interested in the way that these ideas travel and are translated into varying practices in different settings, the conceptual and practical tensions between the ‘eco’ and the ‘smart’, and the significance of these experimental approaches to urban development for traditional modes of planning.

He works as Project Coordinator on SMART-ECO, an ESRC-funded international consortium project (2015-18) which involves academics in the UK, China, Germany, France and the Netherlands, as well as the national funding agencies from these countries.

He previously worked as Network Facilitator for the Leverhulme Trust-funded international research consortium ‘Tomorrow’s City Today - An International Comparison of Eco-City Frameworks’ (2012-15), in the International Eco-Cities Initiative at the University of Westminster.

His PhD research explored the socio-political dimensions of ‘eco-city’ initiatives around the world, with a particular focus on the ‘publicness’ of the urban space which was envisaged or resulted.

Rob is affiliated with the Urban Futures Research Domain at King’s.


Cowley, R. and Caprotti, F. (accepted for publication 2018). Smart City as Anti-Planning in the UKEnvironment and Planning D: Society and Space.

Cowley, R. (2018). Future Cities: Renarrating Human AgencyPalgrave Communications, 4, article 41. DOI: 10.1057/s41599-018-0103-y

Cowley, R., Caprotti, F., Ferretti, M. and Zhong, C. (2018). Ordinary Chinese Smart Cities: The Case of Wuhan.  In Karvonen, A., Cugurullo, F. and Caprotti, F. (eds) Inside Smart Cities: Place, Politics and Urban InnovationLondon: Routledge. ISBN: 978-0815348689.

Cowley, R., Barnett, C., Katzschner, T., Tkazc, N. & De Boeck, F. (2017). Forum: Resilience & Design.  Resilience: International Policies, Practices and Discourses

Cowley, R., Joss, S. & Dayot, Y. (2017). The Smart City and its Publics: Insights from Across Six UK Cities. Urban Research & Practice.

Caprotti, F., Cowley, R., Datta, A. Castán Broto, V., Gao, E., Georgeson, L., Herrick, C., Odendaal, N. & Joss, S. (2017). The New Urban Agenda: key opportunities and challenges for policy and practice. Urban Research & Practice.

Joss, S. & Cowley, R. (2017) National policies for local urban sustainability: a new governance approach? In Eames, M., Dixon, T., Hunt, M., and Lannon, S. (eds.) Retrofitting Cities for Tomorrow’s World. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

Cowley, R. (forthcoming) Eco-Cities. In Shwamen, T. & van Kempen, R. (eds.) Handbook of Urban Geography. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.

Caprotti, F. & Cowley R. (2016). Interrogating Urban Experiments. Urban Geography.  doi: 10.1080/02723638.2016.1265870

Cowley, R. (2015) In defence of top-down sustainability planning: the case of Sejong City. In: Condie, J. and Cooper, A. (eds.) Dialogues of sustainable urbanisation: Social science research and transitions to urban contexts. Penrith: University of Western Sydney, pp.36-40. ISBN: 978-1-74108-360-6

Cowley, R. (2015) Reframing the Problem of Public Space in the Sustainable City. RC21 Conference 2015: The Ideal City: between myth and reality. Representations, policies, contradictions and challenges for tomorrow’s urban life. Urbino, 27-29 August 2015.

Joss, S., Cowley, R. & Tomozeiu, D. (2013) Towards the ‘ubiquitous eco-city’: an analysis of the internationalisation of eco-city policy and practice. Urban Research and Practice. 6(1): 54-74.  doi:10.1080/17535069.2012.762216

Joss, S., Tomozeiu, D. & Cowley, R. (2012) Eco-city indicators: governance challenges. WIT Transactions on Ecology and The Environment. 155: 109–120. doi:10.2495/SC120101

Research Reports

Cowley, R. & Phillips, J. (2018). What Can Urban Sustainability Experiments Do? Summary of Discussion Points from Side-Event at WUF9, Kuala Lumpur, February 2018. Exeter: University of Exeter. ISBN: 978-0-9955574-8-2.

Cowley, R. & Caprotti, F. (eds) (2017). 中国与欧洲的智慧生态城市:2016发展趋势与城市摘要  [Smart-Eco Cities in Europe and China: Trends and City Profiles 2016]. Exeter: University of Exeter (SMART-ECO Project). In Chinese. ISBN: 978-0-9955574-5-1.

Caprotti, F., Cowley, R., Bailey, I., Joss, S., Sengers, F., Raven, R., Spaeth, P., Jolivet, E., Tan-Mullins, M., Cheshmehzangi, A. and Xie, L. (2017). Smart Eco-City Development in Europe and China: Opportunities, Drivers and Challenges. Exeter: University of Exeter (SMART-ECO Project). ISBN: 978-0-9955574-6-8. 

Caprotti, F., Cowley, R., Flynn, A., Joss, S., & Yu, L. (2016) Smart-Eco Cities in the UK: Trends and City Profiles 2016. Exeter: University of Exeter (SMART-ECO Project). ISBN: 978-0-9955574-0-6.

Joss, S., Cowley, R., de Jong, M., Müller, B., Park, B-S., Rees, W., Roseland, M. & Rydin, Y. (2015) Tomorrow’s City Today: Prospects for Standardising Sustainable Urban Development. London: University of Westminster. ISBN: 978-0-9570527-6-5.

Joss, S., Tomozeiu, D. & Cowley, R. (2011) Eco-Cities – A Global Survey 2011. London: University of Westminster International Eco-Cities Initiative. ISBN: 978-0-9570527-1-0.  



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