UCL Grand Challenges


Urban Grand Challenges: Celebrating collaborative research on Sustainable Cities

The event held on 4th October 2023 commemorates 12 years of UCL Grand Challenges projects under the theme of Sustainable Cities.

Urban challenges

16 October 2023

Established in 2010, the Grand Challenge of Sustainable Cities (GCSC) has fostered cross-disciplinary collaborative efforts from UCL researchers and external partners to examine issues arising from increased urbanisation. With the involvement of 93 researchers across disciplines at UCL, over £270,000 has been awarded to projects, generating over £3m in further funding and valuable knowledge on the subject of sustainable urbanisation.  

In October 2023, an event was held to celebrate the successes of these projects and sketch out the new cross-cutting theme of Urban Grand Challenges. Organised by Dr Marina Chang, Part 1 of the event opened with remarks from Professor Geraint Rees, UCL Vice-Provost (Research, Innovation & Global Engagement) on the accomplishments of GCSC, the impact of collaborative research, and the transition towards the evolved GC programme that will continue to stimulate and accelerate change.  

There is an incredible cornucopia of projects that have been funded. What is equally important is that those projects have generated further funding,... so there’s not only leverage, but there is continuity, and there is progression, indicating that one of the purposes of the Grand Challenges is to bring people together from different backgrounds leave that legacy of connections, collaboration, and continuing work" - Professor Geraint Rees, UCL Vice-Provost (Research, Innovation & Global Engagement). 

Keynote presentations then showcased the impacts of collaborative research supported under the theme of Sustainable Cities: 

  • Professor Peter Jones & Dr Clemence Cavoli (UCL Dept of Civil, Environment & Geomatic Engineering) with their work on T-SUM Transitions to Sustainable Urban Mobility in Sub-Saharan Africa and SUMP-PLUS Sustainable Urban Mobility Planning: Pathways and Links to Urban Systems 
  • Professor Joanna Williams (UCL Bartlett School of Planning, Director Circular Cities Hub, UCL) on circular urban systems and works from the Circular Cities Hub, and the upcoming seminar series ("The Circulars") in partnership with TU Delft via Circularity@UCL 
  • Professor Anthony David (Director, UCL Institute of Mental Health) on Mental Health and Cities 
  • Dr Pablo Sandra & Dr Dieter Deswarte (UCL Bartlett School of Planning & UCL Anthropology) on their most recent work: ‘A Seat At The Long Table’. Developed and delivered in collaboration with The Great Regeneration Scheme theatre project creative team and the Granville Community Kitchen, a volunteer-run organisation based in the London Borough of Brent, which aims to empower people through food 

A full recording of the online event can be found below. 

YouTube Widget Placeholderhttps://youtu.be/_Rp3tcC7SdI


Part 2 of the event was held in-person and was organised in collaboration with Calthorpe Community Garden. Open to the public, UCL staff and students, as well as members from the community were invited to a shared lunch with live music performances. Representatives from UCL and Calthorpe took turns giving short talks reflecting on the collaborative relationship and projects undertaken between UCL and the community. Various workshops on gardening, composting, and more, were organised by members of the community garden that ran through to evening. The event explored future directions and opportunities, embracing the value of viewing the Grand Challenges programmed through a place-based approach focusing on urban communities. 

The event marked the end of the GC theme of Sustainable Cities as it transitions to new theme of Climate Crisis. The next phase of Grand Challenges will continue to foster cross-disciplinary research collaborations, community engagement initiatives, and see the themes deepen involvement into teaching and become central to UCL’s own operations.  

Find out more about GCSC funded projects and UCL’s New Grand Challenges.  

Outputs and Impacts

  • 65 collaborative research projects funded under GC Sustainable Cities
  • Involvement of 120+ UCL researchers across UCL faculty and departments
  • £276,352 of funding awarded with over £3m further funding generated 
  • Research network established with external partners