The pressing public policy issues of urban and industrial redevelopment needed to be informed by research and Cairncross began to build a department that could deliver evidence- based analysis on economic and social changes and their implications. In this respect the Department was unique in the Britain of the 1950s and was on a sure footing when Donald Robertson succeeded Cairncross in 1961. By 1965 the Department comprised over 30 staff, whose primary commitment was research though most contributed to teaching in their respective disciplines (economics, sociology, town planning, economic history, law and geography).

Three themes dominated: urban change (including housing policy), industrial development, and labour markets/industrial relations, flanked by growing involvement in regional planning. Although there was still a focus on Scottish issues, the perspective of the research programme was now international. The 'academic model' was unusual for the time, characterized by external finance from government departments, local authorities and Research Foundations such as Gulbenkian and Nuffield. The work was further enhanced by a high level of contact between staff and government departments and international agencies, with a regular flow of distinguished visitors from abroad. Although much of the research was applied in character, producing research-based reports for the funding agencies, the work was expected to, and did, produce academic publications of extremely high quality.

Among the most significant developments of this period was the increasing focus on urban issues, including housing and labour markets, and regional development and planning, where for the first time major socio-economic research was undertaken as a basis for the Lothians Regional Survey and Plan; and this was followed by similar work for the Falkirk/Grangemouth area. The absence of physical planning expertise in Glasgow was made good by the appointment of Sir Robert Grieve, former Chief Planner in the Scottish development Department, as Professor of Town and Regional Planning. This in turn led to the introduction of Diplomas in Urban Studies and in Town and Regional Planning to help meet the demand for broadly trained planners.

Another significant and related development of this period was the launching in 1964 of a new peer-reviewed academic journal, Urban Studies, which aimed to provide an international forum of social and economic contributions to the fields of urban and regional planning. Since then the Journal has expanded its range of disciplines and approaches to these fields and retains its high reputation.

Alec Cairncross thus provided the initial vision for an academic department based on a mix of social science disciplines engaging directly with the economic and social problems on its doorstep - but recognizing that these problems were interlinked and shared by urban economies world wide. Donald Robertson carried this forward in the 1960s, being able to develop new sources of funding from public and private sources which first became available in this decade, contributing greatly to the more specialized study of urban and regional economies, their growth and development. This development continued from 1970-1996 under Professor (later Sir) Laurie Hunter, together with a major specialization in housing markets and policy led by Professor Duncan Maclennan. In 1996 the Department was re-named Urban Studies, with the labour specialists transferring to the Business School.