I have a long standing interest in cities and urban landscapes which I can trace back to my childhood in Islington, inner London. I remember walking past empty plots on my way to school referred to as "bomb sites" covered with the distinctive purple spikes of Rosebay Willowherb Epilobium angustifolium (also known as "Fireweed" in North America). These London landscapes were not just the product of wartime destruction but were also undergoing other profound changes as long-established manufacturing industries such as breweries, light engineering and the making of musical instruments began to disappear. It seemed as if London, like many other cities, was becoming hollowed out from within.
Whilst studying geography at university I carried out a study of urban politics in Islington since the late 1950s: there was a profound dissolution of working-class voters with the traditional party of the Left, the Labour Party, producing a much more volatile pattern of political identification in its wake combined with unprecedented levels of abstention and non-registration. The idea of politics as a force for progressive social change had become seriously denuded. I joined the Labour Party in 1984, partly inspired by the radical agenda of the Greater London Council before its abolition in 1986, and continue to support them through gritted teeth: I had attended a few meetings of the Ecology Party (now the Green Party) as a teenager but their ambivalence towards trades unions rankled.
Through my interest in London politics I began to conceive of small-scale urban changes as a microcosm of larger social and cultural transformations. In 1992 I completed my PhD on urban environmental policies in London and Hamburg: I chose a German city because I wanted to learn another language and also develop a knowledge of urban developments in other countries. In recent years I have diversified my interests to include representations of cities in art and cinema as well as exploring the often hidden structures that enable modern cities to function such as technological networks.
Between 1992 and 1997 I worked in the School of European Studies - now sadly disbanded - at the University of Sussex where I worked among an amazingly diverse range of academics. Since 1997 I have taught geography at University College London where I was director of the UCL Urban Laboratory from 2005 to 2011. I am also a co-founder of the Urban Salon which links urbanists across London. Among the courses I have offered at UCL are Cyborg urbanization, Landscape and power and overseas fieldclasses in Berlin. I also have many past and present graduate students working on a variety of topics ranging from urban nature in Buenos Aires to the circulation of indoor air in New York City. I have often been involved in cross disciplinary supervision for my graduate students linking geography with architecture, engineering and other approaches. In addition to my post at UCL I have also been a visiting scholar at Columbia University, Humboldt University, Newcastle University and UCLA.