Dr Emilia Smeds

Dr Emilia Smeds

I joined the University of Westminster in September 2021, after completing my PhD in Geography at University College London (Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy). I am working as a postdoctoral Research Fellow in the School of Architecture and Cities, on the EX-TRA project (Experimenting with City Streets to Transform Urban Mobility), which is studying street space transformations and tactical urbanism interventions in 6 European cities.

Alongside my PhD, I was the primary researcher working on the H2020 CIVITAS SUMP-PLUS project, working with Prof Peter Jones at the UCL Centre for Transport Studies. Prior to my PhD, I worked as a Research Assistant to Prof Audrey de Nazelle at Imperial College London, on the PASTA project (Physical Activity through Sustainable Transport Approaches).

I hold an MSc in Transport and City Planning from the UCL Bartlett School of Planning, and have briefly worked as a practicing transport planner in Helsinki and London.

I started my career focusing on climate change governance and international development. I hold a BSc in Environmental Policy from the LSE, and worked for three stints in India on urban food security, off-grid solar energy and rural development.

My research lies at the intersection of urban studies, transport studies and socio-technical transitions. My expertise centres on transitions, experimentation and governance for sustainable and socially just urban mobility systems. I have worked in collaboration with the European Commission Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport, the UK National Infrastructure Commission, Transport for London, several London Boroughs, and consultancies and universities across Europe.

My work can be grouped under 3 main themes:

1) Governing transitions to low-carbon, post-car urban mobility

I am an expert on concepts of urban transitions and experimentation. My focus is on how transitions to low-carbon, post-car mobility systems can be governed, including dimensions of state capacity (government), state-civil society relations (governance) and policy approaches (practical tools).

My PhD thesis was titled Urban Mobility Transitions: Governing through Experimentation in Bristol and New York City (Smeds 2021). It compared the capacity of municipal governments to use experimentation as a governance mechanism, in ways that had transformative impacts on urban mobility systems. By studying the long-term impacts of 'pilots' in both cities between 1996-2016, it revealed contextual governance factors that enabled upscaling of sustainable mobility innovations. I am actively involved in the Sustainability Transitions Research Network (STRN), as a founding member of the Urban Transitions and Transformations thematic group. Within the SUMP-PLUS project, I lead the development of a new strategic transport planning approach for European cities to develop Transition Pathways to achieve carbon-neutral mobility by 2050 (Smeds and Jones 2020, Smeds and Jones 2021).

In the future, I am hoping to work more on the possibility of progressive municipalism in relation to urban infrastructure transitions, including municipal ownership and decentralisation (e.g. Smeds 2020).

2) Social justice, mobilities and public space in the city

A second theme is focused on justice in relation to transport provision and urban mobilities, and the right to reshape public space. With colleagues at UCL, I researched these topics with a focus on night-time workers in London: from the perspective of distributive justice and access to night-time transport services (McArthur et al. 2019, Smeds et al. 2017), as well as a broader critical analysis of with whom in mind night-time transport in London is planned for (Smeds et al. 2020). This work has achieved policy impact in London and was also linked to a public engagement project in collaboration with the Royal College of Nursing, as a trade union that represents thousands of night-time workers. 

Within the EX-TRA project, I am examining street space experiments from the perspective of 'just transitions'. The focus is on procedural justice, which means understanding how fair, inclusive, and participatory the process to transform our streets through experiments is, and epistemic justice, which means understanding whose knowledge and what kind of data 'counts' within decision-making processes about the future of experiments.

3) Multi-scalar governance of urban innovation

I am also interested in the multi-scalar governance of urban innovation activities more broadly. This means I look at how institutional structures, political negotiations and funding/financing flows play out across and between multiple scales of governance (local, national, supranational, global).

I have published on the role of city networks in urban experimentation related to climate change (Smeds and Acuto 2018, Smeds 2019).

I have a special interest in the politics of EU policy and funding programmes (e.g. Smeds and Cavoli 2021), which extends to how the programming of EU research & innovation policy affects what kind of urban innovation projects are undertaken on 'the ground', and how it affects academic research itself. The latter aspect was explored within the ENERGY-SHIFTS project, which involved a Horizon Scan sourcing 100 priority research questions on transport and mobility from Social Sciences and Humanities researchers, to feed into the programming of Horizon Europe funding (Ryghaug et al. 2023).

  • Transport and Mobilities
  • Urban Studies

In brief

Research areas

Cities, transport, mobilities, public space

Skills / expertise

governance, public policy, socio-technical transitions, qualitative methods, interdisciplinarity