My name is Tom and I’m in the first year of an ESRC-funded PhD in Planning at the University of Manchester.
How I got here
I went a bit of a roundabout route to get here - certainly not a conventional path to doing a PhD. I did my first degree in History and Politics at the University of Sheffield, finishing in 2006. I then went on to work in political relations and policy for a host of different organisations and clients, which involved talking with politicians, the media and the general public about various issues. Some of the projects involved working with developers on new housing, shops, offices and energy infrastructure…which is how I became interested in planning.
At the same time, I was becoming increasingly interested in the economic disparities between the North and South of England. As someone who has lived in the North for most of my adult life, I wanted to understand more about why much of our region seems to be struggling economically, and what we could do about it. So, in 2014 I decided to do a part-time MSc in Urban Regeneration and Development at the University of Manchester, which combined my interest in planning with a focus on local economies and what you might call ‘place’ issues - what makes a city or town a good place to live, work and play? Soon after starting my MSc I decided I was enjoying research so much that I wanted to do more of it, so started a PhD titled Sustainable Spatial Rebalancing for Northern England: Alternative Models and Future Scenarios in September 2016.
My PhD is co-sponsored by IPPR North, a think tank based in Manchester who do lots of fascinating work on how to improve the Northern economy. You can find out more about what they do here: www.ippr.org
Interest in rebalancing the UK economy isn’t new. A wide range of policies have been tried over the last 100 years, yet huge economic inequalities exist not only between the north and south but within Northern England itself. Manchester, for example, has been hugely successful in creating jobs in the city centre and making the city a much more attractive place for businesses to invest, yet just outside the city centre are some of the most deprived parts of the country. My research involves understanding why these economic inequalities exist between places and how these problems might be resolved.
I’m in the first year of my PhD, so a lot my time is spent reading what others have written on this issue, and trying to formulate my own ideas about how we can make the North of England a more economically successful place. I also try to spend plenty of time out and about, visiting different parts of the North to try and understand which policies are working well and which aren’t. Aside from that, we have lots of training. Methods training is a big part of being a first year PhD, as we start working out how we’ll be carrying out the main part of our research from second year onwards.
We have a really vibrant and varied group in the School of Planning and Environmental Management here at Manchester, which includes people from all over the world studying various aspects of planning, urban design, architecture and environment-related subjects. With so many different perspectives on how we see the places around us, it’s a really interesting department to work in.
You can read my blog about my research and other related interests here: https://tomjarnolduk.wordpress.com
I’m also on Twitter: @tj_arnold
For more on the School of Environmental Management at the University of Manchester: http://www.seed.manchester.ac.uk/planning/