Alasdair Rae

University of Sheffield, UK.

I research and write about neighbourhoods, cities, regions, and anything in between. I usually do this using data and maps. I like to share my work in a variety of ways, from academic publications and newspaper pieces to blogs, tweets, TV, and even animated gifs. If you want to see some examples, check out my blog at I'm a Professorial Fellow at the University of Sheffield, based in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning. I've put this page together in case you're interested in what I do, or want to get in touch. Take a look at the different sections for more about my work, or click the social media links below.


Professorial Fellow

University of Sheffield

My current academic role is as a research-focused Professorial Fellow. What this actually means is that the vast majority of my time is spent working on research projects, writing, external engagement, media collaboration and impact-related activity as well as regular invited talks, seminars and training events. I also supervise numerous PhD students and do a limited amount of teaching. I work for the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University and am based in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning.

September 2017 - Present

Lecturer, Senior Lecturer, Reader

University of Sheffield

I joined the University in November 2008 as a Lecturer in what was then the Department of Town and Regional Planning. Among other things, I taught research methods, led an annual European urban field trip and worked as Director of the University's Q-Step programme. I also set up the MSc in Applied GIS and was a recipient of a Senate Award for excellence in learning and teaching. I was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2014 and Reader in 2016 before moving on to my current appointment in September 2017.

November 2008 - August 2017

Research Fellow

University of Manchester

I worked as a post-doctoral Research Fellow at the Centre for Urban Policy Studies for two years, under the leadership of Brian Robson and Cecilia Wong. During this time I also taught classes on urban and regional analysis and GIS.

October 2006 - October 2008

PhD in Urban and Regional Analysis

University of Liverpool

I completed a PhD on urban and regional policy at the University of Liverpool, looking at the impact of decades of area-based interventions in the North West of England. My PhD was funded by the North West Development Agency, one of the former regional development agencies.

September 2003 - December 2006


This section highlights some of the research projects I'm working on or have worked on recently. My work has been funded by the Bank of England, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Rightmove, the ESRC, the Nuffield Foundation and the British Academy, among others. What all these projects have in common is that they utilise my spatial and quantitative analysis skills to answer pertinent policy-related questions. Well, that's what I try to do.

Understanding housing market search

Bank of England/Rightmove
Over the past five years I've received funding from both the Bank of England and Rightmove to investigate the links between online search behaviour and future market activity. This has led to a variety of outputs, including journal articles, reports for Rightmove and the Bank of England, and even some shiny maps.

Housing search

An English Atlas of Inequality

Nuffield Foundation
This project is all about understanding patterns of geographical inequality at a local level within England. I'm working with Elvis Nyanzu on this study, which will end in late 2019. We're looking at a variety of different inequality indicators at multiple spatial scales and will produce both a hard copy and web-based Atlas.

Tower Hamlets

FixMyStreet: Citizen Reporting of Neighbourhood Incivilities

This work was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council as one of the Consumer Data Research Centre's Innovation Fund projects. Working with MySociety and Peter Matthews from the University of Stirling, we've produced a set of maps for every local authority in the UK, showing the geography, intensity and types of reports about neighbourhood faults made through FixMyStreet. It's a bit of a methodological minefield but the results should provide local authorities and councillors with some useful information about neighbourhood fault reporting.

FixMyStreet - Edinburgh

Deprivation and Disconnection in British Cities

Joseph Rowntree Foundation
This project was all about understanding the ways in which the poorest parts of towns and cities remain 'cut off' from wider economic growth in relation to both the housing and labour markets. Residents of the most deprived neighbourhoods can, for a variety of reasons, remain disconnected from the prosperity experienced by residents of wealthier neighbourhoods in the same region. We focused on the most deprived 20% of areas across the UK and identified a smaller number of neighbourhoods suffering from a form of 'double disconnection'. That is, they appeared to be disconnected both from both a labour market and housing market point of view.

JRF project website

The Economic Geography of the United States

Not all my work comes out of funded research projects. Sometimes, it arises out of chance meetings or collaborations with like-minded people. My work on the economic geography of the United States with Garrett Nelson of Dartmouth College in the US is an example of this. We worked together on this project, with US-wide commute data, to construct a set of 'megaregions' for the United States. The aim of this project was to understand the functional economic geography of the US at the national scale. So far we've published a few outputs from this, including a journal article, book chapter and interactive map. There may be more in future.

US Megaregions


In the course of my work I often create things that other people find useful, so I like to share them. To date this has been a bit uncoordinated so I'm putting the most popular content here so it has a single home and is easier to find. This makes it easier for me to find as well because I'm always forgetting where I put stuff. If there's anything I've done that you find useful but can't see here, feel free to get in touch and I'll see if I can add it.

Populated Places of Great Britain

This is a file containing over 42,000 populated places in Great Britain. I put it together using Ordnance Survey open data and you can download it in different formats - and with a ready-to-go QGIS project on this GitHub repository. Since it's Ordnance Survey data, the file covers England, Wales and Scotland only. Place names can be displayed - where applicable - in Gaelic or Welsh, or all in English. If you download the QGIS project and read the information on the GitHub page you'll see that I've added some filters and queries when it comes to using this data in your projects. I have made this file available as a shapefile, geopackage and geojson.

Places of Great Britain

Buildings of Great Britain

These days in Great Britain we are lucky to have such high quality open data to use for making maps. However, it often requires some initial processing or preparatory work and for some people this can be difficult. That's why I've put together a page to share building data for Great Britain - all of it in one giant file. I've made it available as a GeoPackage (5.3GB) which can be opened in QGIS or ArcGIS. For some of the major cities of England I've also added a field to tell you which local authority a building is in. If you prefer shapefiles, I've got you covered. The dataset is too big for a single shapefile so I've split it into different parts, covering (roughly) Scotland, the North of England, the Midlands, the South East of England, the South West of England, and Wales.

Buildings of Great Britain

UK Parliamentary Constituencies (with data)

From time to time I also make maps of election results, mostly just for my blog, but sometimes for various media outlets. It's always useful to have the files to hand, just in case there's another election, so I'm making these UK files available here for anyone to use. It's a mix of open data from Ordnance Survey, the House of Commons Library, and MySociety, plus a bit extra from me (see the readme file for more information). I've also added in some of the 2015 data and in the folder you'll also find a QGIS style file, as well as the main file in different formats (shp, geojson and geopackage).

UK General Election 2017

English Indices of Deprivation 2015 - Maps and Data

One of the things I've done a lot of mapping and analysis of is deprivation data. That's why I've put together a dedicated IMD maps and data page. It's a very basic, not very pretty html page with lots of links to folders with different map sets, with individual maps for each local authority. The first link is a ready-to-use IMD 2015 shapefile.

IMD maps

Green Belt land in England

I'm quite interested in land use, so I've made a few things relating to green belt land in England. One of these is an interactive map so you can search, zoom and pan to see where the green belt is. Another thing I've done is to produce a set of maps for every local authority in England that contains at least some green belt land.

Interactive green belt land

York green belt

US Congressional Districts

I'm also pretty interested in US Congressional Districts, gerrymandering and making maps of both of these things. This is kind of a hobby though, but people are often interested so I'm sharing some visuals here too which you can see on this dedicated web page. This is a poster of all 435 US Congressional Districts, ordered by 'compactness', which you can read more about on the web page. You can also read a bit more about this kind of thing in a WIRED piece WIRED magazine piece on some previous work I did. There's an editorial note at the start of the piece, but that has noting to do with me! It's there because the person that wrote the piece didn't exactly play by the rules, or so I hear.

The Shape of American Democracy

UK Land Cover

I'm also interested in land cover more generally so in 2017 I made a Land Cover Atlas of the UK alongside a set of maps. Based on this project, I then spent a few weeks working with colleagues at the BBC to produce a set of simpler land cover maps for every local authority in the UK, which you can see on the BBC website on their 'How much of your area is built on?' page. This project took a lot of work, not least because I had to produce two sets of maps, one optimised for mobile, but in the end it worked quite well and got a few million clicks. I put supplementary material for this, including data, on a follow-up blog post.

How Much of Your Area is Built on?

US Commuting Flows (Tract to Tract)

The US megaregions work I did with Garrett Nelson involved creating a tract to tract shapefile of all commuting flows in the United States. We've put on Figshare a shapefile of US Commuting Flows (tract to tract) alongside some other supplementary data. The paper we wrote using this data can be downloaded from PLOS ONE. This project resulted in a lot of follow-up activity and the paper itself is now part of the 'PLOS ONE 10 Year Anniversary: Datasets' collection. The supplementary data we published alongside the paper has the highest Altmetric score identified to date across all UK data repositories.

US commute data


Over the past few years I've done a lot of work with the media, including television, online and print. For example, I was an on-screen consultant on Channel 4's 'UK's Best Place to Live', and I did the number crunching behind the scenes as well. I've also worked a lot with data journalists, and particularly with Simon Rogers at Google looking at electoral search patterns in a variety of countries, including the US, the UK, Denmark, Poland and Canada. I have been interviewed on Channel 4 News and the BBC's News at Six and News at Ten and my work has featured in a wide variety of outlets, from the Washington Post and National Geographic to Prospect, Citylab and the Scottish Housing News.

I've provided a sample of links below to stories about my work, or that I've featured in as a commentator. The reason I like to do this is because I think it's important to speak beyond the walls of academia and share work more widely. I have also learned a lot by working with journalists.

The illusion of a concrete Britain (BBC)

Shameless media flunky

The fascinating maps that reveal Europe's most densely populated countries (Daily Mail)

Europe's most densely populated square kilometres – mapped (The Guardian)

How Airbnb rentals are affecting Isle of Skye (Channel 4 News)

Shameless media flunky

Airbnb plans to impose 90-day restriction on lets in Edinburgh (Scottish Housing News)

MAPPED: America's 'megaregions' based on where people live and work (Business Insider)

Animated Maps Illustrate the Hell of Bay Area Commuting (WIRED)

Shameless media flunky

The flows of prosperity: London’s distribution of wealth is shifting, again (The Economist)

HS2 and the new North-South Divide (BBC)

How do you map a city with no centre? Commuting patterns in the San Francisco Bay area (CityMetric)

What the U.S. map should really look like (Washington Post)

Google Search tips Cameron to win election (Daily Mail)

Map your career in GIS (The Hindu)

Four Million Commutes Reveal New U.S. 'Megaregions' (National Geographic)

Shameless media flunky


If you want to get in touch with me, the best way is via e-mail or Twitter. Phone is also good.


Twitter @undertheraedar

Phone 00 44 114 222 6923

Address Department of Urban Studies and Planning, University of Sheffield, S10 2TN, United Kingdom