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New commuting map of USA wins top planning research award

13 September 2017

A ground-breaking map of the United States that defines mega-regions by commuting patterns has won the UK’s top planning research award.

The research, conducted by Alasdair Rae from Sheffield University and Garrett Nelson from Dartmouth College, has won the Sir Peter Hall Award for Wider Engagement in this year’s RTPI Awards for Research Excellence.

It is one five winners at yesterday's RTPI Research Excellence Awards ceremony, held during the 2017 UK-Ireland Planning Research Conference.

Mega-regions in the USA have long been understood in geography as cities connected by their economies and infrastructure, but this way of conglomerating places are increasingly unable to reflect what is happening on the ground

Instead, the researchers analysed the daily work journeys of more than 130 million Americans over five years to better understand the changing economic interdependence between cities and their surrounding areas.

The study illustrates the value of big data such as commuting data in helping to understand how places really work, which can be highly useful for policy makers and planners to make strategic decisions, from infrastructure and transport investment to how boundaries should be drawn up for elections.

List of winners:

Academic Award


  • Cycle BOOM. Design for Lifelong Health and Wellbeing. Summary of Key Findings and Recommendations

Dr Tim Jones (Oxford Brookes University), Dr Ben Spencer (Oxford Brookes University), Nick Beale (Oxford Brookes University), Dr Emma Street (University of Reading), Dr Carlen Van Reekum (University of Reading), Dr Louise-Ann Leyland (University of Reading), Dr Kiron Chatterjee (University of West of England), Dr Heather Jones (University of West of England), Dr Justin Spinney (Cardiff University), Carl Mann (Cardiff University), Shaun Williams (Cardiff University)

Early Career Researcher Award


  •  Neighbourhood Cohesion under the Influx of Migrants in Shanghai

Dr Zheng Wang (Bartlett School of Planning, University College London), with Dr Fangzhu Zhang (Bartlett School of Planning, University College London), Professor Fulong Wu (Bartlett School of Planning, University College London)

Student Award


  • Tangible Places for Intangible Products: The Role of Space in the Creative Digital Economy, Tech City, London

Dr Juliana Martins (Bartlett School of Planning, University College London)

Sir Peter Hall Award for Wider Engagement


  • An Economic Geography of the United States: From Commutes to Megaregions

Dr Alasdair Rae (University of Sheffield), with Dr Garrett Nelson (Dartmouth College)

Planning Consultancy Award


  • Start to Finish: How Quickly Do Large-Scale Housing Sites Deliver

Rachel Clements (Lichfields)

Dr Michael Harris, RTPI’s Head of Research, said:

“The winners and highly commended entries have demonstrated how academic researchers can positively reach out to practitioners and policymakers with insights and finding to inform and influence their work. I am pleased these awards have been able to celebrate such impactful, high quality research again this year.”

Andrew Riley, Chief Executive Officer at Idox plc said:

“Idox is proud to be a sponsor once again of the RTPI’s Awards for Research Excellence. Those recognised today illustrate the best planning research and its relevance to solving the real-world issues that are facing communities in the UK and internationally. On behalf of Idox I would like to extend our congratulations to the commended entries and winners.”

Jonathan Manley, Planning & Urban Studies Journals Publisher at Routledge/Taylor & Francis, said:

“As RTPI’s publishing partner, Routledge/T&F are delighted to continue our sponsorship of the RTPI Awards for Research Excellence. We offer hearty congratulations to all of those recognised tonight for their excellence in planning research scholarship.’

The RTPI would like to thank the generous sponsors:

Routledge Logo Idox Logo