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Meet visiting IIIEE researcher James Evans

James Evans
"We need scientific evidence evaluating the impact of Urban Living Labs. We hope to be able to close this gap", says IIIEE Visiting Researcher James Evans, professor at Manchester University.

Urban Living Labs: Visiting researcher James Evans in search of success factors

 

Can urban living labs create more sustainable urban development? Manchester researcher James Evans and colleagues at the IIIEE are studying and comparing four Scandinavian cases, seeking common drivers of success – and of failure.  

– Today, cities face the enormous challenge of climate change and are searching for effective ways to tackle it. Urban living labs are emerging all over the world as a way to develop innovative solutions to urban problems, but little is known about them. Our research aims to understand how Urban Living Labs are established and what impacts they have on the sustainability of cities, says James Evans, researcher at the University of Manchester, and since 2014 a Visiting Researcher at the IIIEE at Lund University. 

James Evans is part of a cross-disciplinary research group currently working on a project called “Advancing urban innovation: Living labs for sustainable building and planning”.

An urban living lab can be explained as a method where stakeholders from the city, industry, academia and the NGO sector work together to move a city in a more sustainable direction. The lab can be applied to a geographical sector such as a neighbourhood, or a functional sector such as transportation. Knowledge and innovation are strong drivers and cooperation and dialogue are essential. A living lab is an arena where new ideas are tested, implemented and evaluated. 

– When I first heard of the concept I was sceptical. I couldn’t see how the city, a living and human environment, could fit with the idea of scientific control required by the lab concept. Because of this many people dismiss Urban Living Labs as a buzzword, James Evans explains. 

Today, almost ten years later, he knows he was both right and wrong. The city can very well be used asa lab, and yes, he has seen a growing variety of projects and events, all labelled living lab, making it harder to explain what the concept actually is. 

But the core question still remains: are urban living labs an effective way to achieve sustainable urban development? In their project at the IIIEE, James Evans and his colleagues are studying and comparing four Scandinavian cases: Malmö, Gothenburg, Stockholm and Copenhagen, seeking common drivers of success – and of failure. 

One particular challenge involves including local residents and users in Urban Living Labs. We know that in order to have a more usable and attractive city, with spaces that people can control and feel responsible for, you need to include the local residents. Sadly, this bottom-up perspective is often either forgotten or not prioritised, perhaps because it is a slower process.

– But there is actually still almost no scientific evidence evaluating the impact of Urban Living Labs. With our work, we hope to be able to close this gap, and to help cities understand the key ingredientsthat make successful Urban Living Labs. 

James Evans sees many qualities in the Lund University project; it is cross-disciplinary and cross-sectoral, and brings together researchers, politicians and practitioners from different parts of society. 

– Also, the fact that we are working over several years gives us more time to think, to reflect, to compare and to see patterns over time. I think our results will benefit from that, which in turn will help us to establish a clear international research agenda for the study of Urban Living Labs. 

Text: Sara Bernstrup Nilsson

 

Advancing Urban Innovation: Living Labs for Sustainable Building and Planning

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