UCL Grand Challenges


GCSC Activities

The UCL Grand Challenge of Sustainable Cities has funded over £168,000 in small grants to UCL researchers, hosted events in London and around the world, including roundtables, seminars and public events, and shaped critical thinking on issues around urbanisation. Here are just a few examples of the cross-disciplinary work that the Grand Challenge has brought about and the important impact the work has had in the world. For more details about other work funded by this Grand Challenge since its inception, please contact the co-ordinator James Paskins: j.paskins@ucl.ac.uk.

Doctoral Students Small Grants: In Otto Königsberger's Footsteps

In 2017 Debananda Misra (Institute of Education) and Rodrigo Caimanque Leverone (Bartlett) received £2,000 from the Grand Challenges Doctoral Student's Small Grants Scheme for their proposal to develop collaborations between researchers and urban policy makers in India. The workshops aim to set an agenda for future research in areas where universities and cities in India can work together. 

Find out more.

Small Grant: Project uses art and design to examine the sharing economy in East London

Academics from the Bartlett, UCL's faculty of the built environment, won a Small Grant to explore the sharing economy around Hackney Wick. The team, led by Dr Martin Zaltz Austwick (CASA), Dr Mary Davies (Institute for Global Prosperity) and Emma Terema (Institute for Sustainable Resources) created a pop-up event at the culmination of their work. Find out more

See the connections Sustainable Cities Small Grants have made across UCL:


This graph visualises the collaborations between researchers in UCL departments and divisions facilitated by UCL Grand Challenges Small Grants in Sustainable Cities, from its establishment in 2010 to the end of the 2016/17 academic year.

Event: One Day in the City: UCL's Global Celebration of Culture

This Festival of London and Literature was curated by Dr Nick Shepley (English), Professor Iain Borden (Bartlett School of Architecture) and Dr Andrea Fredericksen (UCL Art Museum) with the support of a Sustainable Cities Small Grant. The festival was also held in 2012 and 2014. Find out more


Series: Re-thinking the Housing Crisis

The UK is facing a housing crisis, large parts of the population, 'generation rent' and others, are locked out of the housing market. The lack of affordable housing even effects those those on regular incomes derived from good jobs, who are unlikely to catch up with soaring house prices. 

The current debate about the housing market is informed largely by a simple model of supply and demand. This leads to the suggestion that the only solution is to build more houses, which will in turn lower prices, and thereby make housing more affordable. Re-thinking Housing is a programme of activity from the Grand Challenge of Sustainable Cities which challenges these assumptions. 

The Grand Challenge of Sustainable Cities, in collaboration with UCL Public Policy, has commissioned a number of prominent UCL academics to present the latest thinking on the issue. This has resulted in a series of blogs and a public question time event which discussed the possible responses to the housing crisis in London. A commentary paper based on the work will be published later this year. Find out more

Event: Rewriting Graffiti: A Research Network and Debate Series

Graffiti is currently estimated to incur over £1 billion in costs to the UK each year, but in certain contexts graffiti and street art can clearly contribute positively to the environment and be valued by citizens in contributing to aesthetic diversity. Rewriting Graffiti addressed the contradictions between the legal and policy frameworks for graffiti and street art, the resources required to service its criminalisation, and its social acceptance and cultural and economic importance.

Rewriting Graffiti culminated in "The Graffiti Sessions" a three-day series of talks, workshops and panel debates exploring the evolving roles of graffiti and street art in the urban environment. The conference- made possible thanks to a Grand Challenge of Sustainable Cities grant- brought together artists, writers, community members, urban managers, authorities, academics, policy makers, and more. The ongoing aim of this project group is to establish an open and sustainable discussion hub.

UCL academics including Professor Iain Borden (Bartlett School of Architecture), Professor Shane Johnson (Jill Dando Institute of Security and Crime Science) and Sabina Andron (Bartlett School of Architecture) contributed to Rewriting Graffiti. Find out more

New academic unit: the Circular Cities Research Hub

Cities consume 75% of natural resources globally (including materials, energy and water). They produce 50% of global waste and 60-80% of green house gas emissions. Land and buildings are also underutilised in cities. Ensuring the circularity of urban resource flows (materials, energy, water, buildings and land) and building urban regenerative capacity are central to creating sustainable urban futures. 

A Grand Challenges UCL 2034 Grant has funded an interdisciplinary hub that will bring together expertise at UCL, including the inter-faculty CIRCEL Lab (Circular Economy Laboratory), and beyond. Planning and building sustainable cities requires systems integration, cooperative behaviour, localisation, recycling and renewable resources. 

The ultimate aim is to create an international network of scholars working on all aspects of circular cities. The network will act as an interface between academics and key urban stakeholders, enabling cutting-edge research to impact directly on the governing, planning, management and development of cities. Find out more

Event: Rebel Space

In July 2016, the UCL Grand Challenge of Sustainable Cities funded RESOLVE's 'Rebel Space', part of the London Design Festival. This interdisciplinary installation was a focal point for the Brixton Design Trail. The project involved building a temporary exhibition space using lo-fi, recycled facade materials, and then hosting a series of workshops covering social and interdisciplinary concepts in Engineering and Architecture to engaged schools and the local community. Find out more

Workshop: Tsunamis in Port Cities from Generation to Impact

[25 July 2012]: Tsunami behaviour in the deep waters of the open ocean is well understood. However, this is not the case in near shore waters, where tsunamis have caused massive loss of life and damage in coastal communities. 

Small Grant funding from the Grand Challenge of Sustainable Cities Small Grant made it possible for Dr Serge Guillas (Statistical Science), Professor William McGuire (Earth Sciences) and Dr Simon Day (Aon Benfield UCL Hazard Centre) to organise a tsunami workshop at UCL. By bringing together different approaches, 'Tsunamis in Port Cities from Generation to Impact' resulted in improved models of tsunami behaviour and coastal city inundation.

Members of the original collaboration have written academic papers, presented their results to the insurance industry in the City of London and are now involved in an international network studying tsunami hazard, with researchers from Japan, New Zealand, USA and Ireland. 

The workshop also led to grant funding for Dr Guillas, who led a £2m NERC national consortium grant on "Probability, Uncertainty and Risk in the Environment".