Brian Robson

1939 - 2020

Brian Robson–a geographer who helped to develop the British Index of Multiple Deprivatio and changed the way British governments dealt with socio-economic decline in towns, cities and regions–died on July 2, 2020 at the age of 81.

Robson’s research and design of the index provided an integrated, extensive and fine-grained understanding of poverty and financial mechanisms for relieving it in Great Britain, crafted around an area-based regeneration approach that Brian focused on the needs of towns and small cities, not only large urban areas. In the words of colleague Noel Castree, writing in The Guardian, Robson’s approach also “promoted a multi-agency approach, supporting integrated regeneration that was more attuned to local circumstances.”

Robson was born in Rothbury in Northumberland and attended Cambridge University, graduating in 1961. He completed a full-time PhD in urban social geography at Cambridge in 1964. In 1969 he published Urban Analysis, followed by Urban Social Areas in 1975. These two books led to his work on government policy.

Robson was a lecturer in geography at Aberystwyth University, leaving in 1967 to become a Harkness Fellow at the University of Chicago, working with planner Jack Meltzer at the interdisciplinary Center for Urban Studies. He returned to Cambridge in 1968 as a lecturer in human geography, staying for a decade until taking a post at Manchester University in 1977, where he established the Centre for Urban Policy Studies (CUPS) in 1983. His 1988 book Those Inner Cities identified the failings of British urban policy and shaped the design of the Single Regeneration Budget.

Robson’s career was built on a strong commitment to equality of opportunity. The Royal Geographical Society awarded him its Founders medal in 2000; he was honored with the Order of British Empire in 2010. He is survived by his wife, Glenna Ransom (nee Conway), and Glenna’s two sons from a previous marriage, Mark and Peter.