Dr Mark Usher

Lecturer in Environmental Geography

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Research interests

Drawing on environmental, political and urban geography, my research explores how urban ecological management, planning and design impacts on public life and culture. I am interested in the social and political life that forms around and through environmental technologies and infrastructures, particularly in the urban context, and how they mediate the boundary between public and private, state and citizen, individual and society. My current project is investigating how green infrastructure and natural capital accounting is redefining local environmental governance under conditions of austerity in England. Previously, I explored how water infrastructure- reservoirs, canals and desalination- facilitated state-building in Singapore in a literal, physical register. My general research interests include the following:

  • Green and blue infrastructure
  • States, territory and government
  • Public life, ecology and the city
  • Urban planning and design
  • Material politics of infrastructure
  • Socio-technical systems and transitions
  • Governmentality, biopolitics and citizenship
  • Critical theory and science and technology studies

Research projects:

Governing green infrastructure

This project is investigating how the roll-out of green infrastructure (GI) is transforming contemporary urban governance in England, focusing on trees and parks in Greater Manchester and London. While the technical aspects of GI have now been widely addressed, the governance arrangements and institutional framework of GI implementation requires further research. The main aim of the research is to elucidate how GI is changing the nature of environmental governance, as a design best practice is incorporated into government policy and strategy.

This project will provide original insights into the ‘new institutional framework’ (HM Government 2011 The Natural Choice) that is emerging for and through the delivery of GI projects. This evolving framework is connecting stakeholders, sectors and policy objectives in new and surprising ways, through novel technical approaches such as natural capital accounting and landscape-scale planning. After a decade of GI strategy and planning in England, the way that urban nature is perceived, represented and managed has dramatically changed, and this project seeks to analyse the various implications and consequences.

Funding: Simon Research Fellowship


Engaging urban waterways

More recently, with colleagues from human and physical geography, I have begun to consider the relationship between environmental infrastructure and socio-political change from a bottom-up, applied perspective, looking at how water de-culverting can potentially facilitate community engagement through a process of ‘participatory daylighting’. The culverting and concealment of Crofts Bank Brook in Kingsway Park in Davyhulme, Greater Manchester, is not an isolated case but is representative of the fate of urban waterways across the world. As rivers and streams were systematically culverted during the twentieth century, in accordance with modern design principles, communities not only lost touch with their biophysical surroundings, and the vital environmental flows that sustain urban life, but social relations that had previously bound communities together were also lost. However, as knowledge of the negative consequences of culverting has grown in recent years, concealed waterways have started to be uncovered once again in a process known as daylighting. The supposed benefits of these schemes are multiple and are therefore attracting growing levels of academic attention, yet there has been minimal research conducted on the civic potential of these initiatives for engaging communities, physically, in the deculverting process itself. The aim of this project, based on two workshops with professional stakeholders and community members, is to investigate how a surrounding community can be materially involved in the daylighting of their own waterway, to simultaneously reinvigorate social and ecological vibrancy. This is particularly important in the current period of decreased local authority funding for parks, and the related loss of connection between communities, nature and public space.

Funding: SEED Strategic Funds


Government of water, circulation and the city

This PhD project was based on a historical geographical study of water management and infrastructure in Singapore, from 1819 to 2014. It examined how the nation-state was consolidated and subsequently restructured through the infrastructural components of the water supply system, enabling alternative institutional arrangements and styles of government. Focusing on the role of hydraulic engineers, this project demonstrated that nation-building can be conceived literally as a physical process of manufacture, where mundane water technologies have been integral to state formation, restructuring and territorialisation. Publications from this project have demonstrated how canal restoration materials and techniques facilitated a neoliberal form of government oriented towards lifestyle-based active citizenship (International Journal of Urban and Regional Research), and how reverse osmosis membranes in desalination plants have acted as technological ‘switches’ to new state forms (Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers). Through this research, I have sought to develop new theoretical insights on the hydraulic state; underline the importance of power to sustainability transitions; and reorient governmentality around Michel Foucault’s original concern with infrastructure, engineering and the ‘urban problem’. 

Funding: Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) [Grant number ES/1903437/1]


Research and projects

  1. Governing green infrastructure

    Usher, M.


    Project: Research