Professor Nicholas PhelpsFAcSS

  • Geography and Geospatial
  • Planning

Professor and Chair of Urban Planning, University of Melbourne 

Professor Nicholas Phelps was conferred to the Fellowship of the Academy in spring 2024. He is Professor and Chair of Urban Planning and Associate Dean International in the Faculty of Architecture Building and Planning, The University of Melbourne. Before arriving at Melbourne, he was Professor of Urban and Regional Development at the Bartlett School of Planning and pro Vice Provost Regional at University College London. His research focuses on the economic geography of multinational enterprises and their trade and investment, and the planning challenges associated with the suburbanisation of societies.

Nick’s research is uniquely interdisciplinary and international in content and reach. His work in economic geography has advanced understanding of the geographical dimensions of the theory of urban economic agglomeration and the institutional capture associated with the attraction of multinational enterprises and their investment projects. His contributions in urban planning highlight the contemporary challenges of mobilising the imagination for, and the challenges of, planning sustainable communities at scale and speed.

Uniquely, Nick is recognised internationally both as an economic geographer and urban planning scholar with a contributions to both geographical and planning theory and a commitment to fieldwork and an empirical basis to his scholarship.

Nick has taught and researched in both geography and urban planning schools and has held visiting academic positions at Southeast and Zhejiang Universities in China, Universidad Catolica del Norte in Chile, and National University of Singapore. He serves on the editorial boards of leading economic geography and urban planning journals and his research has been reported in the Financial Times, The Guardian and The Economist.

Find out more about Professor Nick Phelps 

Why do the social sciences matter?

The social sciences offer a diverse set of methodologies and theoretical perspectives with which to examine pressing societal challenges. In a world in which we continue to grow apart, we need the ability to examine problems from all the possible perspectives that the social science disciplines offer. With their emphasis on place and space, geography and planning are two fields of social science inquiry which are inherently interdisciplinary but also uniquely placed to integrate conversations in which there is much ‘talking past each other’.

We exist in place(s) and it is important to understand how we make and remake the new towns and cities which we inhabit and to enjoy and thrive in the places where we live. This is the challenge I have tried to address in my urban planning scholarship. Equally, it is also important to understand how and by what means places are sustained and at other times undermined economically. This is the challenge I have tried to address in my economic geography scholarship.

What inspires you about your work?

Aside from the intrinsic fascination of learning in the field from diverse communities internationally, I appreciate the opportunities to enthuse students at all levels of the value of geographical and planning perspectives on historical and contemporary societal challenges and research and write with an original voice on many of those issues.

What is the most important issue for social science to tackle?

We live in a world in which we continue to grow further apart. We need the theoretical and methodological inclusiveness of the social sciences if we are to come together more than we currently do to solve societal challenges that continue to become more, not less, complex.

What does being a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences mean to you?

I am delighted to be awarded Fellowship of the Academy and to have the opportunity to advocate for the value of the social sciences in the education sector from the vantage point of being a geographer and planner in particular.