The Bartlett Development Planning Unit

Prof Adriana Allen

Prof Adriana Allen

Professor of Development Planning and Urban Sustainability

Development Planning Unit

Faculty of the Built Environment

Joined UCL
1st Sep 1997

Research summary

I specialized over the years in the fields of development planning, socio-environmental justice and feminist political ecology. I have over 30 years of international experience in research, postgraduate teaching, advocacy and consultancy undertakings in more than 25 countries across the global South. Through the lens of risk, water and sanitation, land and housing, food and health, my work looks at the interface between everyday city-making practices and planned interventions and their capacity to generate transformative social and environmental relations.

I am currently the Bartlett's Vice-Dean International and President of the Habitat International Coalition (HIC), as well as regular advisor to UN bodies, capacities from which I am is actively engaged in advancing urban justice through advocacy and policy-evidence, social learning and the promotion of international collaboration both within UCL and globally.

My most recent collaborative publications include: Untamed Urbanisms (2015), Environmental Justice and Resilience in the Global South (2017), Urban Water Trajectories (2017), Handbook of Urban Global Health (2019) and Routledge Handbook of Urban Resilience (2020).

Adopting a feminist political ecology perspective, my work combines qualitative, digital/mapping and visual research methods to de-colonise urban planning practices and elucidate the ‘cracks’ where transformative planning can be re-invented, nurtured and pursued.

My work focuses on three interrelated themes:

Urban justice, everyday city-making and transformative planning: Over the years, I have worked on the interface between insurgent practices and planned interventions and their capacity to generate socio-environmentally just cities. This work stems from my commitment to analyse governance approaches to addressing structural deficits in the interface between ‘policy-driven’ and ‘needs-driven’ approaches and emerging improvements at scale - in water and sanitation, as well as in other areas such as food security, land, housing and health.

Climate change, urban risk accumulation and disrupting strategies: A second strand of my work focuses on the reproduction of risk, vulnerability and health impacts of sudden shock events and everyday risks often exacerbated by climate variability. Since 2008, I have explored the intersection of urbanization and climate change, focusing particularly on the generation and distribution of risks, vulnerabilities, and capacities to act in southern cities.

Critical urban pedagogies. A third strand of my research focuses on urban planning as a networked field of governance and pedagogic strategies for de-colonising planning education and shaping pathways to urban equality. This line of work has been pursued throughout my work on post-graduate education and more recently as work-package leader in the Knowledge in Action for Urban Equality (KNOW); a research programme that brings together a global network of urban researchers and practitioners from 9 countries to deliver urban equality.

Teaching summary

My pedagogic approach responds to need to develop the capacity of ‘urban practitioners’ with high employability and distinctive critical and practical skills, as well as a strong ethos. Over the last 25 years, I have been engaged in innovative curriculum design and delivered research-led and practice-based teaching at postgraduate levels using innovative methods and transdisciplinary approaches of situated  learning, knowledge co-production, spatial analysis and film-making. Internationally, I have supported various academic and non-academic organisations across the Global South in pedagogic innovation and collective and institutional capacity-building to advance the way we learn how cities work and act upon injustices.

Critical urban pedagogy is for me both a field of practice and research. My teaching philosophy aligns with my research interests in two main ways:

Transformative urban pedagogies: I attach fundamental importance to grounding theoretical debates in real-world conditions, thus allowing for places and communities to speak for themselves while integrating these critical insights through a transdisciplinary approach that seeks to develop relevant research to confront complex problems and to apply the insights thereby gained to enhance planning processes. Through successive learning alliances created within the MSc in Environment and Sustainable Development (ESD) my pedagogic work has engaged several generations of urban practitioners to explored how urban (in)justices emerge and are experienced, contested and sometimes addressed. Looking at urban farming in Accra, water and risk in Lima and Bogota, or more recently urban risk traps in Freetown have being some of the most recent pathways adopted to interrogate the political agency of ordinary women and men engage in knowledge co-production and city-making.

Decolonising urban knowledge from the ground. Another key aspect of my teaching focuses on decolonising the way in which indigenous knowledge systems and the adaptive practices of informal dwellers shape current and future urban scenarios through water and sanitation, land and housing tenure security, food sovereignty and climate justice. By observing, documenting and interacting with their practices on the ground, my students are confronted with the reality of particular contexts and are able to better grasp how and why strategic planning based on existing grassroots practices constitutes a more equitable and sustainable basis for development planning interventions.


University College London
Doctorate, Doctor of Philosophy | 2011
University College London
Other higher degree, Master of Science | 1994
Universidad Nacional de Mar del Plata
Other Postgraduate qualification (including professional), Diploma of Architecture | 1986


I am Professor of Development Planning and Urban Sustainability at The Bartlett Development Planning Unit, where I founded and led for many years the research cluster on Environmental Justice, Urbanisation and Resilience (EJUR) and the MSc in Environment and Sustainable Development (ESD).

Originally trained as an urban planner in Argentina, I specialised in the fields of urban environmental governance and transformative planning, with a focus on poor and impoverished women and men. Since joining UCL as a member of academic staff in 1997, I have been involved in a large number of Departmental, Faculty and UCL-wide activities, working consistently to improve research and teaching standards and staff and student experience. I have been an active contributor to raise awareness to reduce gender gaps, affirmative action against harassment and discrimination and the promotion of UCL’s strategic goals of sustainability, equality, diversity and inclusion.

Over the years, I have played a leading role supporting the emergence and consolidation of interdisciplinary work on cities across UCL. This includes my role as: Co-Director of UCL Urban Lab (2006-2010), Environment Institute Co-Director for Sustainable Cities (2010-14), member of UCL-Lancet Commission on Climate change, Health and Cities (2009), member of UCL-Nature Sustainability Expert Panel on the urban science-policy interface for global sustainability (2017-18), member of the GCSC Executive Group (2010-2019) and until recently Co-Chair of UCL Grand Challenges of Sustainable Cities (GCSC) (2015-2018).

I take great pleasure in forging dialogue and collaborative work across disciplines and to provoke support and provoking new framings and approaches to global societal challenges. Examples of this include a series of cross-Faculty conversations that culminated in short documentaries and publications, such as: ‘Dialogues of Urban Water Poverty’ (2014), ‘Why call it Global Urban South?’ (2015) and ‘Gender, Climate Change and Urbanisation’ (2015), among others. More recently and in light of the COVID-19 Pandemic, I have curated with Dr Rigon the ongoing DPU Post-COVID-19 Urban Futures series featuring written blogs webinar events and video outputs reflecting on the impacts of the pandemic on cities and opportunities to imagine a better world.

In 2019, I became Vice Dean International at the Bartlett, role from which I work closely with UCL Global Engagement Office, Vice Provost International and Regional Pro-Vice-Provosts. In that capacity I have sought to consolidate the practice of global engagement through partnerships with equivalence, contributed actively to the development of UCL Global Engagement Strategy 2020-25 and produced a thorough mapping and consultation of the Faculty’s international activity to steer its strategic direction. 

I am a regular Visiting Professor at various universities in Latin America, Asia and Africa, co-editor of the International Journal of Sustainable Urban Development, member of the editorial board of Urbanization and the International Journal of Urban Dynamics, among others.