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Small Grants for Academic Year 2011/12

Up to £5,000 per project was awarded to 6 sustainable cities proposals through the 2012 UCL Grand Challenges Small Grants Scheme.

The scheme funds projects that lead to, or support, cross-disciplinary collaboration. Proposed projects must be innovative and aimed at achieving research impact (through scholarly output, public engagement, influence on policy and practice, enterprise activity and/or translational research). Collaboration must be between staff based in different UCL departments, and can involve external partners.

Please see details below of the awards made for the Grand Challenge of Sustainable Cities for 2011/12.

Community Participation in City-Wide Planning: Comparing London and Johannesburg

GCSC Theme: London

Lead: Dr Barbara Lipietz (UCL Development Planning Unit)

Main collaborator: Prof Mike Raco (UCL Bartlett School of Planning)

Additional collaborators: Prof Jennifer Robinson (UCL Geography); Prof Michael Edwards (UCL Bartlett School of Planning); Prof Susan Parnell (UCL Geography)

GCSC (Lipietz) Community Participation in City Wide Planning

Project: This project aims to understand the processes shaping the possibilities for community voices to contribute to long-term strategic planning for sustainable urban development. It will consider how democratic modes of governance shape long-term strategic planning and city visioning in two different contexts, London and Johannesburg, through a systematic comparison of the recently published Revised London Plan (2011) and Johannesburg’s Growth and Development Strategy 2040 (2011) to explore:

  • the democratic and participatory processes through which the strategies were produced. Do these reflect wider international definitions of a ‘good governance’ agenda and meet expectations of democratic urban governance?
  • the extent to which the strategies reflect the interests of local stakeholders (including neighbourhood, community-based organisations and advocacy groups) and, specifically, whether the contents of the plans reflect local residents’ concerns for sustainable development, especially in post-financial crisis contexts.

The project will be among the first systematic academic interrogations of the revised London Plan, meeting UCL’s wider mission to ‘contribute to the vibrancy and development of London as a world-leading city’ and its commitment to supporting community inputs to making sustainable cities. It will pilot an initiative to develop comparative methods and interpretive frameworks in urban governance appropriate for an international approach to urban studies.

Developing Urban Water Reuse Networks in the UK: A cross-disciplinary research initiative

GCSC Theme: Sustainable Resources

Lead: Dr Fuzhan Nasiri (UCL Bartlett School of Graduate Studies)

Main collaborator: Dr Sarah Bell (UCL Civil, Environmental & Geomatic Engineering)

GCSC (Nasiri) Water Reuse Networks poster

Project: Globally, reclaimed water is increasingly supplied for various uses due to aggravating water shortages caused by growing urban communities and climate change, more stringent wastewater effluent standards, and the expanding availability of high-performing and cost-effective water reclamation technologies. In the United Kingdom, however, there has not been a consistent and considerable pattern of urban water-reuse because historically there has been a sufficient supply of water. With highly increasing water demand in the South-East and more droughts due to climatic change, there is growing public and political consensus to establish water-reuse networks as part of a sustainable cities agenda. At present, the projects within the UK have focused on building and development-scale water re-use. However, greater opportunities exist, at a larger scale, with urban water reuse networks, to rebalance water use and demand, tap into unconventional water resources and improve the economic and environmental performance of urban water supply systems.

This project serves as a pilot study to investigate the feasibility, costs, and benefits of developing water reuse networks in urban areas with a particular emphasis on London. The aim of this pilot study is to develop a multi-university EPSRC research network and proposal by July 2012.

Ephemeral Cities: Sustainable research into non-sustainable urban objects

GCSC Theme: The Cultural City

Lead: Dr Richard Taws (UCL History of Art)

Main collaborator: Dr Jann Matlock (UCL French and SELCS)

Additional collaborator: Dr Barbara Penner (UCL Barlett School of Architecture)

GCSC (Taws) Ephemeral Cities-Sustainable Research into Non-Sustainable Urban Objects

Project: Our project will create a network of scholars in Europe and North America working on ruin, obsolescence, waste and demolition in modern cities. UCL Grand Challenges funding will support two focused interdisciplinary workshops and site visits designed to establish research connections and develop international dialogues. A website will accompany the workshops and a published collection of papers will disseminate this research to a wide public and generate international frameworks for future collaborations.

We begin with the premise that sustainable cities must contemplate their pasts as well as their futures. While researching the ephemeral aspects of cities might seem antithetical to an analysis of the sustainable city, we argue that the broken and the ruined, the ephemeral and the short-lived, the torn-down and the wasted, are crucial to policy as well as practices of sustainability. Ephemeral Cities will provide a historical and contextual investigation of buildings, objects, images and spaces that either fell by the wayside or were never meant to last. Investigating how ephemerality came to stand for the experience of urban life, we will ask how lessons from the past might help us meet the challenge presented by our own discarded objects in the cities of the future.

Learning Room Design Project

GCSC Theme: Sustainable Resources

Lead: Dr Murray Fraser (UCL Bartlett School of Architecture)

Main collaborator: Dr Camillo Boano (UCL Development Planning Unit)

Additional collaborators: Nasser Golzari and Yara Sharif, Palestine Regeneration Team (PART)

GCSC (Fraser) Gaza Learning Room poster

Project: The project is to design an entirely new building type called the ‘Learning Room’, which is being conceived in this first instance as helping with reconstruction in the Gaza Strip. It is conceived as a prototype for a series of annexes to existing schools that can be applied in many countries if the prototype proves successful.

There are two key aims for the Learning Room: firstly, to provide a community centre where residents can meet together to discuss urban regeneration plans; secondly, to act as a knowledge base for innovative forms of sustainable construction that can help with rebuilding in conditions of chronic lack of building materials, energy, water etc. We are also currently writing a self-build manual to help Gazans create low-energy dwellings when rehousing, and the Learning Room will thus act as the location where this knowledge can be disseminated. Families rebuilding their houses will be able to study different forms of construction and low-cost passive energy-saving devices. It will act as a ‘community laboratory’ in some of the poorest and toughest places on earth.

A test site has been identified for a prototype Learning Room in a school in the Zaytouna neighbourhood of Gaza City, with that project being funded by UN-Habitat with support from the Palestinian Housing Council, Gaza University, Islamic Relief and other bodies.

New Loos for London?

GCSC Theme: Sustainable Resources

Lead: Tse-Hui Teh (UCL Bartlett School of Planning)

Main collaborator: Dr Barbara Penner (UCL Bartlett School of Architecture)

Additional collaborators: Dr Sarah Bell (UCL Civil, Environmental & Geomatic Engineering); Virginia Gardiner, Loowatt

GCSC (Hui) New Loos for London poster


Project: Our proposed workshop responds to the peculiar silence about sanitation systems in relation to sustainability. Discussions around sustainable cities focus on issues like farming, recycling, and water conservation, all of which intersect with sanitation and resource recovery, but rarely address them. New Loos for London? holds that sanitation must be part of any meaningful strategy for sustainable cities.

Our project aims to explore the viability of dry sanitation in London. In an age of water, energy and fertilizer scarcity, dry sanitation requires fewer resources to transport and treat waste than waterborne systems and offers improved nutrient recovery. A two-day invited workshop brings together key figures from bodies that deal with waste and sewers, entrepreneurs and designers developing alternative systems, cultural commentators, and interested members of the community. It will allow a focused exchange of information and views about the main technological, social, logistical and political implications of such schemes.

New Loos for London? develops on Tse-Hui Teh’s PhD research about London which found that some environmentally aware citizens were already using “yellow mellow” toilet flushing techniques to conserve water. This project aims to build on their informal efforts by considering how to implement dry sanitation systems at a community level.

Whose Olympics? Transformations in urban open spaces and the legacy of London in 2012

GCSC Theme: Olympic Legacy

Lead: Matthew Wood-Hill (UCL Development Planning Unit)

Main collaborators:

Gynna Millan (UCL Development Planning Unit)
Steph Patton (UCL Anthropology, Manager, MyStreet: Doc in a Day, Open City London)
Dr Michael Stewart (UCL Anthropology)

Additional collaborators: Etienne von Bertrab (UCL Development Planning Unit)
Prof Muki Haklay (UCL Civil, Environmental & Geomatic Engineering)

Project: This project seeks to explore the potential of visual mapping methodologies (video and social media) to understand the impact of the London 2012 Olympics on open spaces in the city. The project therefore seeks to capture the ‘moment in time’ nature that the event provides to explore the specific questions ‘Whose Olympics? And whose London in 2012?'

GCSC (Wood-Hill) Whose Olympics?

The contentious use and ownership of open spaces in London is receiving increasing attention in the public eye. Since 2008 the Justice in the Green project has explored mapping techniques on the fringes of the Olympic site, revealing certain disconnects between legacy planners’ intentions and the aspirations of local residents and users of open spaces. Attention given to the Games has not focused explicitly on the changing importance of urban open spaces in enabling greater inclusion in the Olympic experience.

The project will operate through an online platform hosted by the established MyStreetFilms portal created by UCL Anthropology in association with Open City London. Our proposed platform, ‘MyOlympics’, will use this existing network to call for contributions from members of the public to visually map how open spaces in London are being transformed by the Olympics and related events, and how individuals are specifically experiencing these spaces during and immediately after the Games as the legacy begins to take shape. The anticipation in the build-up to the Olympics and the ‘feel good factor’ generated during the event ensures a high level of public and media interest. What happens in the period immediately after the event offers fertile grounds for continued research.


The funding available to UCL Grand Challenges Small Grants scheme has been generously augmented by a gift from UCL alumna Dr Carol Bell (Institute of Archaeology).

Page last modified on 17 jul 13 15:29