Research Projects

Please find a list of recent Urban Futures Research Domain staff member research projects sorted by national and international grant funder name below:

| AHRC | British Academy | DfID  | English Heritage  |

| European Commission | ESRC | IDRC  | Leverhulme Trust  |

|  NERC  |  RSA  | SNSF | SSRC | JISC |

|  The National Archives  | Dubai Future Foundation |

Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)

Gendering the Smart City: A subaltern curation network on gender-based violence (GBV) in India (Principal Investigator Dr. Ayona Datta2018-2020

This two-year research network aimed to shape current smart city agendas by focussing on women’s everyday lived experience of safety.  It was timely and innovative in approach by bringing together a multidisciplinary collective of feminist and urban geographers, ICT initiatives, NGOs and media artists from UK and India. It focused particularly on women living in low-income settlements of metropolitan cities of India. The activities were delivered through city stakeholder workshops in India which will share knowledge, build capacity and explore how smart city agendas can be gendered through the voices, experiences and digital practices of subaltern citizens. The network culminated in a symposium and exhibition in London to foster long-term international collaborations on gendering the smart city across UK and India.

Learning from the Utopian City: An international network on alternative histories of India’s urban futures (Principal Investigator Dr. Ayona Datta2016-2017

Indian cities are now more at the centre of debates on urban utopias than ever before. Whether for their entrepreneurial spirit, modernist planning, contested heritage claims,  or ‘smart’ visions, the Indian city has time and again narrated the story of India’s postcolonial coming of age. The future of the Indian city is shaped by its own history – where utopian visions of urban planning are continually reassembled by grassroots articulations of urban citizenship. Each of these grassroots imaginations of citizenship can be seen as a vision for a new alternative utopia. This international network brought together scholars, policy makers, planners and civil society members from India and the UK to explore alternative histories of the utopian city in India.

Modern Futures (associated with Dr. Ruth Craggs2014-2016

There has been a groundswell of interest in modernist architecture in recent years, particularly buildings from the second half of the twentieth century. Individuals and groups are engaging with modernist environments in the form of popular histories, documentaries and community projects, and digital and social media. Alongside this growing popularity however, many of these buildings are under threat from demolition and regeneration. ‘Modern Futures’ explored these trends, their connections, and how more popular and creative engagements might be used to inform the uncertain future of modernist architecture.

Knowledge Exchange Hub – Creative Works London: Place, work, knowledge theme (associated with Professor Christopher Hamnett) 2012-2016

During the AHRC-funded period from June 2012 to July 2016 Creative Works London worked with small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs), entrepreneurs and artists from London’s creative economy to offer new collaborative research opportunities with arts and humanities researchers from CWL’s partner institutions. With support from its delivery partner, The Culture Capital Exchange, the Creative Works London team curated, funded and supported more than a hundred collaborative research projects.

An Oral History of the Modern Commonwealth, 1965-2010 (associated with Dr. Ruth Craggs2013-2015

The aim of this project was to produce a unique digital research resource on the oral history of the Commonwealth since 1965. It conducted 60 major interviews with leading figures in the recent history of the organisation, which will be available in digitised form on a dedicated website hosted by the School of Advanced Study’s ‘SAS Space’. The project seeked to produce a Commonwealth equivalent of the British Diplomatic Oral History Programme based at Churchill College, Cambridge. It will provide an essential research tool for anyone investigating the history of the Commonwealth and will serve to promote interest in and understanding of the organisation. 1965 represented a major turning point in the history of the Commonwealth. The organisation had emerged from the remnants of the British Empire. Originally bringing together Britain and the self-governing ‘Dominions’, post-war decolonization saw the ranks of its members swelled by newly-independent states from Asia, Africa and the Caribbean, decisively altering its character. With the creation of the Commonwealth Secretariat in 1965, Britain ceased to play the central coordinating role (although the British monarch continued to hold the title of Head of the Commonwealth). The focus of the organisation shifted in the 1960s towards the struggle to achieve black majority rule in Rhodesia and South Africa. From the 1990s, with the end of apartheid, there was a new emphasis on promoting human rights and good governance. Despite these changes, however, some essential characteristics of the Commonwealth remained constant: it operated essentially through informal discussion and persuasion; it lacked a constitution or founding treaty; and the ‘official’ Commonwealth was part of a broader network including a variety of civil society organisations, many of them considerably older than the Secretariat.

The crucial question for contemporary policy makers, and one that the project seeks to explore, is how effective the Commonwealth has been as an organisation. This shapes debates about the amount of time and effort member states should be prepared to devote to it. In the case of British government, since the 1960s there has been a tendency for new administrations to come to power promising to place greater emphasis on this ‘under-utilised resource’, only to sideline the Commonwealth in the pursuit of more tangible foreign policy goals. Analysis of the archives of the Commonwealth Secretariat provides one means of seeking to gauge the significance of the organisation. Yet this collection tends to cast more light on the Secretariat’s administrative role than on the Commonwealth’s contribution to international diplomacy. This project seeked to investigate, through the use of detailed interviews with some of the leading protagonists, those elements of the Commonwealth’s activities that are not easily captured in written records. These would include the informal and often highly sensitive diplomacy conducted via the Secretary-General’s good offices. They would also include candid assessments of the way in which the Commonwealth was perceived by representatives from the member states.

Architectural Enthusiasm (associated with Dr. Ruth Craggs) 2012-2015

This collaborative project brought together early career researchers with expertise in urban culture and enthusiasm in order to develop a richer and more complex geography of architecture. The research extended work on feelings ‘of’, ‘in’ and ‘about’ buildings (Jacobs 2006, Rose et al. 2010, Lees and Baxter 2011) by attending to the conceptual intricacies of architectural enthusiasm, namely how people experience buildings as a pastime, how modern architecture becomes classified as heritage, how sites and buildings are valued and what role enthusiasts and amenity societies play in preserving the recent past. This project highlighted the importance of taking the affective, material and spatial aspects of enthusiasm seriously in the study of buildings and architectural conservation.

British Academy

(Dis)Connected Infrastructures and Violence Against Women (VAW): Innovating digital technologies in low-income neighbourhoods to produce safer Indian cities (Principal Investigator Dr. Ayona Datta2017-2019

Continuous and widespread violence against women (VAW) in urban India highlight the challenge of delivering SDGs 5 and 11-gender equality and safe, sustainable, inclusive cities. In particular, women in low-income urban neighbourhoods face increased sexual and physical assaults during access to and use of connected infrastructures (e.g. water, toilets, transport, walkways), which also highlight the challenge of delivering SDG 6 – clean water and sanitation to all. Combined with this is an acute information and skills gap in technology use amongst these women that impedes their knowledgeable and empowered engagement with social and material assemblages of urban infrastructures. This project took a rights-based approach to the challenge: How to address VAW by improving women’s knowledge of and safe access to urban infrastructure in the Indian city. The team will use innovations in digital technology and open source mapping, co-produced with societal partners, to collect big data on infrastructural blindspots, and deep data on VAW, through participatory mapping of infrastructure use.

Precarious Places: Social cohesion, resilience and place attachment of refugees in Lebanon (associated with Dr. Helen Adams2017-2018

Lebanon has absorbed over a million-people fleeing the conflict in Syria. Weak governance and limited resources threaten the wellbeing of newly arrived populations and exacerbate tensions with host populations. The protracted nature of the Syrian conflict requires consideration of long term solutions to the refugee crisis. This project used place attachment to understand:

  • Wellbeing in precarious mobile populations;
  • Root causes of social tensions between newly-arrived and host populations.

The research did this by testing hypotheses on the role of place attachment in building resilience and the role of place identity in causing social tensions. Thus, the project can inform interventions to build positive resilience and social cohesion in displaced and host populations. Ultimately, the viability and relative merits of repatriation, resettlement or integration will depend on the nature of the place attachments of those affected.

Department for International Development (DfID)

Linking Preparedness, Response and Resilience in Emergency Contexts (associated with Professor Mark Pelling) 2014-2018

Disasters create a short period of time where risk awareness is high, and where the opportunity exists for building resilience and improving preparedness. However, building resilience in places facing multiple hazards is challenging and there is a lack of clear evidence on how to design humanitarian interventions in ways that build long-term strength and resilience in fragile settings. Intelligent new ways of strengthening community resilience need to be discovered. This project filled that learning gap and helped people living in countries facing multiple risks and hazards. Places that were facing multiple risks could be locations which were vulnerable to natural disasters and were also suffering from insecurity caused by a conflict. The project achieved this by collaborating on three strands; conflict prevention, humanitarian response and learning.

Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Change Extremes and Disasters (BRACED) Programme in Burkina Faso (associated with Professor Mark Pelling) 2014-2018 & Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Change Extremes and Disasters (BRACED) Programme in Ethiopia (associated with Professor Mark Pelling) 2014-2018

BRACED aimed to help people become more resilient to climate extremes in South and Southeast Asia and in the African Sahel and its neighbouring countries. To improve the integration of disaster risk reduction and climate adaptation methods into development approaches, BRACED sought to influence policies and practices at the local, national and international level.

Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)

Learning from Small Cities: Governing imagined futures and the dynamics of change in India’s smart urban age (Principal Investigator Dr. Ayona Datta2018-2020

This project aimed to learn from the dynamics of changes in India’s small cities as they transform into the smart cities that will herald India’s urban future. In India most of the cities chosen for transformation under its 100 smart cities flagship programme are ‘small’ with less than 1 million population. But there is increased uncertainty about how these small cities will be able to adapt to smart city technologies and infrastructures given their continued challenges of data scarcity, broken, incomplete or improvised infrastructures. There is much to learn from their dynamics of change as they are the test-beds of state experiments with smart urban futures. The team took an interdisciplinary approach from urban, social and cultural geography, as well as sociology and geo-informatics to learn from three small cities in India. In each of these cities the project team undertook analysis of imagined urban futures through longitudinal mapping, crowd-sourced digital and community asset mapping and interviews with stakeholders and beneficiaries of smart city projects. The main objectives of the project were:

  • To develop the fields of smart urbanism and urban futures by learning from small cities as they experience far reaching transformations through smart technologies and infrastructures in India;
  • To critically learn from how State, urban municipalities and citizens of small cities living through rapid and radical urban transformations imagine and realise new ‘smart’ urban futures;
  • To produce a detailed evidence base and learn from innovative practices within the three cities that can be communicated widely to policy makers, practitioners, municipal authorities, civil society organisations and community groups;
  • To build research capacity on smart cities and urban futures in India and elsewhere;
  • To develop evidence-based policy interventions on smart cities and urban futures in India and elsewhere.

Helping the Poor Stay Put: Affordable housing and non-peripheralisation in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (associated with Dr. Jeffrey Garmany2016-2020

This project sought to develop a deeper understanding of new affordable housing experiments in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. To do so, the interdisciplinary, multi-national project team conducted a three year study, guided by the following questions: How do these centrally-located, differently-modelled housing projects affect, in different ways and over time, the economic circumstances and livelihoods of the people who live in them? How do they shape, in different ways and over time, the social interactions, exchanges, and ties among project residents and between project residents and their neighbors outside? How do they impact, in different ways and over time, residents’ norms of gender, kinship, and sexuality? To what extent does each housing project type have distinctive effects over time on the political views and behavior of its residents? To investigate these questions, the team took an in-depth look at a specific range of organised efforts to help the poor stay put in a central district of Rio de Janeiro. The chosen setting was the old port area downtown, which is currently undergoing a major planned “revitalisation”. In this district, the team were able to observe and explain, within the same neighbourhood, the differential impacts on the poor of a variety of different models for creating centrally-located affordable housing.

Amidst rising land prices and increased pressure on housing, many traditionally working-class neighbourhoods now face demolition and reconstruction as ‘mixed communities’. But while this new phrase of urban development has been widely criticised, the exact nature of its impacts remains little understood. Focusing on the UK’s capital, where these issues are most pronounced, ‘Gentrification, Displacement, and the Impacts of Council Estate Renewal in 21st Century London’ unpicked the specific experiences of estate residents living in these redeveloped neighbourhoods or resettled in communities elsewhere in the Southeast. Drawing on large-scale statistical analysis as well as in-depth case studies with local stakeholders, the project added substantially to existing knowledge on the effects on gentrification and renewal on council estates. The findings will provide communities, developers and policy makers with a valuable evidence base to support more informed, collaborative urban projects in future.

Energy Revolution: The political ecology of energy use in socialist Cuba (associated with Gustav Cederlöf) 2018-2019

The work that was carried out during this ESRC Postdoctoral Fellowship examined the history of energy use in Cuba from the Revolution of 1959 via the tumultuous ‘special period’ to the present day. The research focused on the Cuban governmental sphere, exploring how and why the Cuban socialist project became as oil dependent as it did, but also on everyday urban household life and experiences in Cuban industry. It was based on extensive ethnographic and archival fieldwork in Cuba. From a more abstract perspective, the work was developed in the context of the interdisciplinary research field political ecology. Political ecology links geography, anthropology, and development studies to investigate how the interaction between humans and nature is shaped by and shapes social and political relations. The Fellowship had the following aims:

  • To develop a set of peer-reviewed publications in geography journals and, in the longer-term, also a research monograph from a PhD thesis. These publications engaged with discussions in political ecology, energy-, and Latin American studies.
  • To carry out further limited research into the international dimensions of Cuba’s current energy system. In recent years, the Cuban government has invited foreign capital to form joint ventures with Cuban state-companies. To better understand this new ‘internationalisation’ of the Cuban socialist state, the study engaged with corporate actors in Europe and North America, active in the Cuban energy sector, to complement earlier fieldwork in Cuba.
  • To communicate the research findings to academic and non-academic audiences in the Caribbean, North America, and Europe.

Urban Africa: Risk and capacity (Urban ARC) (associated with Professor Mark Pelling) 2015-2019

‘Urban Africa: Risk and Capacity (Urban ARC)’ was a three year programme of research and capacity building that aimed to reduce disaster risk in urban sub-Saharan Africa by breaking cycles of risk accumulation. The programme aimed to do this by building a community of practice including sub-Saharan, African and international researchers and practitioners that can provide a structured assessment of risk accumulation and reduction dynamics. This required a detailed understanding of risk to women, men and children in a diverse range of urban contexts in low-income countries in Africa, and of how the nature and scale of these risks are changing in the context of urban growth and change, poverty and climate change. The consortium worked in Dakar (Senegal), Ibadan (Nigeria), Karonga (Malawi), Mombasa (Kenya), Nairobi (Kenya) and Niamey (Niger). The cities offered broad regional coverage (three in West Africa, three in East Africa), a range of city population sizes and in-land and coastal locations. ARUP, UN-HABITAT, Save the Children and International Alert were also consortium members providing access to the cutting edge of practitioner science and for this to be shaped through the research process. Urban ARC’s research questions were:

  • What is the nature, scale and distribution of risk across the whole spectrum of hazards in urban centres, and what are their inter-linkages?
  • What are the underlying factors driving risk accumulation in the context of urban growth and change, poverty and climate change?
  • What institutional arrangements and good practices in local governance and in urban planning and management are capable of reducing risk and building resilience in this context?

Sex Work in the Context of Mega Sporting Events: Examining the impacts of Rio 2016 (associated with Professor Philip Hubbard) 2017-2018

Combining various disciplinary backgrounds, the aim of this project was to address:

  • The spatial regulation of informal sex economies during a sports mega event (SME);
  • The normalisation of specific sexual identities/practices through these processes;
  • The key challenges this poses for sex-workers.

Research on Olympic cities and those hosting sport mega-events has tended to address national identity-making, media representation (often with respect to the narratives of city/nation promoting tourism and investment), and associated landscapes of urban regeneration/gentrification. There has been less academic emphasis on the informal economies that coalesce around such events, with even less of a focus on the relationship between sporting events and urban sexual landscapes. There exists a dearth of relevant scientific data on the sexual landscapes associated with the Olympics or more widely on the impact of large-scale sporting events on vulnerable sex working populations (an omission noted by Deering et al. 2012; Matheson and Finkel 2014). This project provided this data by completing the first funded academic study on the impact of the Olympics on sex workers.

Healthy, Secure and Gender-Just Cities: Transnational perspectives on violence against women and girls (VAWG) in Rio de Janeiro and London (Principal Investigator Professor Cathy McIlwaine) 2017-2018

Brazil has long struggled with high levels of violence against women, with thousands killed and injured each year. In turn, many migrant women in the Brazilian diaspora also face high levels of gender-based violence. ‘Healthy, Secure and Gender-Just Cities: Transnational Perspectives on Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) in Rio de Janeiro and London’ sought to understand this endemic problem in relation to health, citizenship and justice across borders. Through a study of residents in Complexo da Maré, the largest favela in Rio de Janeiro, and migrants who form the Brazilian diaspora in London, the project mapped the current experiences of VAWG in both contexts as well as the current nature of and gaps in service provision for survivors. It also examined the ways that migration can maintain or reconfigure patterns of gender-based violence. Combining testimonies, small-scale survey work and service mapping as well as innovative participatory tools mobilised through focus groups and theatre workshops, the project helped provide new insights into the factors that underpin the perpetration of violence against women in Brazil and among its diaspora communities in the UK.

Smart-Eco-Cities for a Green Economy: A comparative study of Europe and China (associated with Dr. Robert Cowley) 2015-2018

This three-year programme of research (2015-2018) provided the first systematic comparative analysis of green economy-focused smart city and eco-city initiatives in China and Europe. This will inform the identification of opportunities and pathways for shaping national and collaborative international urban and economic policy responses, engaging the state, the business sector and communities in delivering ‘smart eco-city’ initiatives that can promote the growth of the green economy. The SMART-ECO project had a particular focus on what we are calling the ‘smart-eco city’, defined as an experimental city which functions as a potential niche where both environmental and economic reforms can be tested and introduced in areas which are both spatially proximate (the surrounding region) and in an international context (through networks of knowledge, technology and policy transfer and learning). Key questions addressed in the research included the following:

  • How should success in smart eco-city initiatives be evaluated?
  • What are the main obstacles to successful projects?
  • What generalisable lessons can be drawn from successful smart eco-cities, in socio-economic and policy terms?
  • How can knowledge effectively be shared across the context of European and Chinese urban-economic policymaking for smart eco-cities?

Women Investors in England and Wales, 1870-1930 (associated with Professor David Green) 2005-2008

This research focused on women investors in England and Wales between 1870 and 1930. Important legal, social and economic changes occurred between these dates that enabled women to participate to a greater extent in various forms of investment. At the same time, the types and range of investment opportunities themselves widened, both at a national and an international level. The aim of the project was to determine the extent to which women participated in this widening of opportunity, and to establish the reasons for their involvement in a range of investments. Four main questions were posed:

  • How important were women in the overall investment population between 1870 and 1930?
  • What types of investment did different groups of women investors favour and how did these alter over the period in question?
  • What motivated women’s choice of investments?
  • What was the impact of regional differences in female investment practices?

The project paid particular attention to life course issues, and to the way in which investment practices varied over time and between places. The research was based on an analysis of share registers, taxation records and the census.

Gentrification, Ethnicity and Education in East London (associated with Professor Christopher Hamnett) 2005-2007

The project examined the relationship between gentrification, changes in ethnic composition and education attainment and aspirations in East London over the last ten-twenty years, using the decennial Census of population and other secondary data sources, questionnaire surveys and in-depth interviews of predominantly middle class households of various ethnicities in five areas of East London. It examined their residential decisions, their relations with other residents and their educational aspirations and strategies.

The Leverhulme Trust

Tomorrow’s City Today: An international comparison of eco-city frameworks (associated with Dr. Robert Cowley) 2012-2015

The aim of this international research network was to support a three-year (2012-2015) cross-comparative research project on international urban sustainability indicators, standards and certification schemes. The network comprised world-leading partners that bring together complementary research and policy expertise, as well as geographical spread, relevant to the research theme. The initiative responded to the recent growth of various types of ‘eco-city’ initiatives resulting in a diverse range of urban sustainability indicators, standards, and endorsement schemes. It addressed the need – both from a research and policy perspective – to carry out systematic comparative analyses of emerging eco-city frameworks.

Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)

Nature’s Contribution to Poverty Alleviation, Human Wellbeing and the SDGs (Nature4SDGs) (associated with Dr. Helen Adams2019-2021

This project aimed to significantly improve our understanding of the complex interactions between people and the environment required to make progress in achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), focusing particularly on SDGs 1 (no poverty), 2 (zero hunger), 10 (reduced inequalities) and 15 (life on land). The objectives were to:

  • Assess the contribution of nature to multidimensional human wellbeing at local level, focusing specifically on the experience of the poorest;
  • Analyse the policies and contextual factors at various scales which drive the observed relationships between nature and wellbeing;
  • Determine how well local, socially disaggregated nature-wellbeing relationships are reflected in national-level and modelled data used to report on the SDGs.

To do this, the project drew on recent data sets from seven projects in the Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation programme and one closely aligned project. These fine-grained social-ecological data sets combine quantitative household survey data with qualitative contextual data from 11 sites in the global south with varied levels of intervention and degradation. Combining data from these different sites provided the unique opportunity to deliver new insights into the contribution of nature to human wellbeing at local level, and how this is influenced by different biophysical, socio-economic and policy factors. Practically, the cross-site comparison improved understanding of how key policies (particularly related to conservation and agriculture) affect the nature-wellbeing relationship. Furthermore, by drawing on advances in other projects in which the team were engaged, they were able to review how well the local-level nature-wellbeing relationship is reflected in national-level data, thus providing the basis for improving the choice of sustainable development indicators. Additionally, by engaging with policy makers in the countries where the original data were collected, and particularly in India – where they had  more in-depth impact activities – this project aimed to contribute to more appropriate environment-related policies and interventions which ensure that no-one is left behind.

Landslide Multi-Hazard Risk Assessment, Preparedness and Early Warning in South Asia: Integrating meteorology, landscape and society (associated with Professor Mark Pelling) 2016-2021

LANDSLIP developed new insights by building on existing scientific research in India, the UK and Italy and using interdisciplinary methodologies and perspectives. Due to complex environmental conditions and triggering processes that cause landslides, the extent and variability of spatial and temporal scales means that landslides are inherently difficult to forecast and manage at site, slope, catchment and regional spatial scales and hourly to decadal temporal scales. LANDSLIP addressed this by doing research to understand weather regimes (previously not done in South Asia) and rainfall characteristics that trigger landslides and geomorphological/geological control factors that can enhance landslide susceptibility. Knowledge of where and when historic landslides have occurred and under what environmental conditions, was also collated and analysed, drawing on extensive consortium experience of developing and managing landslide inventories and impact libraries. Through advances in interdisciplinary science and application in practise, the collective ambition of this consortium was to contribute to better landslide risk assessment and early warning in a multi-hazard framework, and, by working with communities, better preparedness for hydrologically controlled landslides and related hazards on a slope to regional spatial scale and daily to seasonal temporal scale.

Towards Forecast-Based Preparedness Action (ForPAc): Probabilistic forecast information for defensible preparedness decision-making and action (associated with Professor Mark Pelling) 2016-2020

Drought and flood events remain a major threat to lives and livelihoods in sub-Saharan Africa, with significant impacts on long term development, due to the high exposure and vulnerability of populations. Existing early warning systems (EWS), whilst improving, remain insufficient to protect vulnerable populations. Too often agencies and communities are only able to respond after a disaster has occurred rather than in advance, for a number of complex reasons. This project addressed two of the primary limitations of EWS that hinder effective action in the face of hazard risks by:

  • Increasing the credibility and pertinence of hazard forecasts, by developing improved weather-climate forecasts and associated livelihood impacts over a range of ‘seamless’ lead times from days to seasons;
  • Overcoming barriers to preparedness action in advance of hazard events through the development and trialling of systematic and defensible approaches based on forecast information.

The project consortium brought together world-renowned research institutes in the UK and East Africa with expertise in forecasting science, hazard impacts and vulnerability, with agencies responsible for EWS and humanitarian action. The project focused on a set of existing EWS for flood and drought in Kenya, providing a strong platform for operationalizing and rapid uptake of results, new approaches and tools. The EWS case studies included both urban and rural contexts and are characteristic of hazard and development situations across much of Africa.

Consensus Forecasts: Integrating indigenous knowledge with scientific weather and climate information to strengthen resilience to climate change (associated with Professor Mark Pelling) 2017-2018

Climate change is having an impact on climate extremes in East and West Africa. Despite the large volume of climate and weather observational and modelled data, in indigenous communities in Burkina Faso, traditional weather forecasting still remains one of the main accessible and trusted sources of weather and climate information, due to a lack of usable and timely scientific climate information. The UK Meteorological Office (Met Office) as well NGOs and government bodies recognise the value of local observation systems and complementary frameworks for analysing weather and climate phenomenon, but have not been able to move towards using such frameworks as means to better communicate science derived or informed forecasts. The purpose of this project was for social science researchers to work with the Met Office to develop a set of tools, address a knowledge gap and document institutional best practices in reaching a consensus forecast to strengthen local communities’ resilience to climate change. Recognising the importance of community based, collectively held indigenous knowledge and practices importance, the Met Office compiled a data set of existing traditional forecasting practices in northern Burkina Faso (Gallo and Henley 2017) as partners of the Zaman Lebidi Burkina Faso BRACED (Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters) project. A brief qualitative analysis of this dataset has been realised but further work was needed to understand the use of the different indicators in communicating scientific climate information. This placement allowed the expertise of King’s College London (KCL) to assist the Met Office to place data on indigenous knowledge and forecast indicators in the socioeconomic and cultural context in order to make it useful and relevant for the climate scientists. The goal was to develop a tool, a participatory approach and best practices materials, based on this work in Burkina Faso, which can then be used by the Met Office in other areas and for work with other National Meteorological Services (NMS). The researchers assisted the Met Office in identifying the most useful and relevant indigenous indicators to highlight their importance and potential application as part of a process of co-production of a local “consensus forecast”, a way to combine indigenous and scientific climate and weather information so that local rural populations can make informed decisions and achieve better livelihoods. The researchers also documented the evolving relationship between formal and informal institutions (e.g. the Met Office, NMS, communities and academia) through the lens of bricolage (Cleaver 2012). The partnership between KCL and the Met Office was a way of applying social science research to help climate scientists make full use of available resources, contextualise them at local scales and integrate participatory approaches.

Why We Disagree About Resilience: Epistemology, methodology and policy space for integrated disaster risk management (associated with Professor Mark Pelling) 2016-2018

The proposed project combined political philosophy and critical social science to ask questions of duty and power to science production processes, review participatory methods used to describe resilience and bring together experience from hazards mapping and visualisation and arts and performance methods to provide multiple methods that can surface different interpretations of resilience. Performance based methods allowed for interpretive and emotional aspects of resilience to be presented and contrast with geographical information systems using spatially defined hazard and social attributes for specific places. The framing of questions, methods and analysis also incorporated stakeholders from each of the three pilot study sites: Cape Town (Philippi), Manila (Tay Tay) and Nairobi (Kibera). These were chosen because of existing research partnerships and ongoing resilience policy and programming that can be augmented by the proposed work. Nairobi and Cape Town are also members of the Rockerfeller 100 Cities programme.

Transformation and Resilience on Urban Coasts (TRUC) (associated with Professor Mark Pelling) 2013-2017

TRUC was a collaboration of social, environmental and climate scientist as well as policy stakeholders. The project aimed to develop and test a novel integrated framework to examine the interactions between large-scale coastal urbanisation, environmental change and socio-economic vulnerability to extreme events (i.e. heat waves and flooding). The aim was to reveal the pathways and trade-offs through which systems interactions constrain or open opportunities for different adaptation paradigms and pathways, ranging from resistance to resilience and transformation. Funded by the Belmont Forum, TRUC was the only project within the coastal vulnerability stream that concentrates explicitly on megaurban areas. The project specifically focused on Kolkata, Lagos, London, New York, and Tokyo. TRUC built an original integrated, participatory framework in collaboration with stakeholders to first characterise and then identify interactions between bio-physical, land-use, and decision making processes as well as socio-economic change. The project combined transdisciplinary analytical tools developed by the different consortium members: an integrated urban energy and water balance model (SUEWS), an urban flood model, an index-based representation of risk and vulnerability as well as a participatory scenario method to identify and evaluate potential vulnerability and adaptation pathways.

Metropole (associated with Professor Mark Pelling) 2013-2017

The hypothesis of this project was that risk knowledge is best understood as being co-produced by science and by the social, political and cultural context. While researchers have studied the role of visualisation tools in decision making, new research was needed to understand how the social, cultural and political context impacts how decision makers and the public perceive and respond to potential local environmental, economic and health risks due to large-scale change. The research team developed downscaled models for communities in Brazil, the United Kingdom, and the United States and engaged stakeholders and policy makers in participatory planning meetings to analyse the social and cultural factors that impact decision making and regional adaptive capacity. For each site, the team co-produced scenarios using state-of-the-art visualisation tools developed in Brazil and the US. Data included changes in sea level, temperature, storm frequency, precipitation and other variables in the past 100 years and high resolution (10km) projections in 5-10 year increments to 2070 under the IPCC’s 5th AR scenarios. The tools integrated scientific and economic data for the smallest local area, and illustrated potential impacts on infrastructure, health, economic risk, adaptation options, and cost-benefit analyses over time. The social research team used:

  • Surveys to analyse values and beliefs prior to and after meetings;
  • Choice evaluation models to study risk/cost trade-offs in the meeting;
  • Interviews after the meeting to assess the Adaptive Capacity Index (developed in the UK).

Results of the project included a new framework to integrate scientific, economic and cultural factors into adaptation planning; insights on the role of values and beliefs in adaptation decision making; and resources to improve public engagement strategies in any coastal community.

Seasonal Health and Climate Change Resilience for Ageing Urban Populations: The development of vulnerability indices for selected cities and prioritisation of targeted responses (associated with Professor Mark Pelling) 2014-2016

The project ‘Seasonal health and climate change resilience for ageing urban populations: the development of vulnerability indices for selected cities and prioritisation of targeted responses’, formed part of the Arup Global Research Challenge. This project aimed to work collaboratively with multi-disciplinary networks of health and climate change experts from academia and the private sector, local government and NGOs to review and compare different datasets and methods of vulnerability index development, and to define and agree upon a process to develop local vulnerability indices for three global cities: London, New York and Shanghai. The stakeholder team consisted of representatives of urban planning and public health policy makers, local government and NGOs from the three case study cities. This work represented an advance in the current research and practice as it focused primarily on older populations, and built upon extensive work undertaken in London and transferred it to New York and Shanghai.

English Heritage

Westminster On Sea: The political and cultural significance of Osborne House, Isle of Wight (associated with Professor David Green20142017

The aim of this research was to understand better the relationships between place, politics, culture and the monarchy through the analysis of the social networks that were created and reproduced at Osborne House. As one of the critical spaces of the monarchy, Osborne House functioned both as a domestic residence and a place of cultural reproduction and, more significantly, as a political space in which to discuss matters of state beyond the confines of Westminster. The importance of this latter function has recently been revealed as a result of a pilot collaborative Masters internship project between English Heritage and King’s College London (MA in Nineteenth Century Studies). This pilot research focused on a sample of years and, through a detailed analysis of newspaper reports, demonstrated the complex pattern of visits relating to cultural and political topics and events. As part of that project, an evaluation was made of the Illustrated London News and The Times newspaper as sources for this work. The research revolved around the suggestion that domesticity – represented most strongly by Queen Victoria as ‘mother’ of the nation and head of the empire – was a crucial component in understanding state politics. Constructing the image of domesticity, and investing Osborne House with the function of a domestic residence, allowed matters of state to be discussed and alliances to be forged in what appears to have been a place removed from political connotations. Rather than being seen as separate to politics, however, royal domesticity was arguably central to the political process. The key objectives of this research were:

  • To identify the kinds of political and cultural relationships that were created between the monarchy and visitors to Osborne House;
  • To evaluate the political and cultural significance of those relationships;
  • Through comparison with a variety of sources, including personal papers and the Queen’s journals, to establish the importance of those relationships in terms of the creation of social networks within and between the monarchy and other individuals.

The National Archives

Profiting from Pauperism? The Business of the New Poor Law in England and Wales, 1834-1909 (associated with Professor David Green2009-2012

The main aim of this research was to assess the economic significance of the new poor law in specific localities. This required understanding the way in which the rates were raised, the precise items of relief expenditure that were provided and an awareness of the decision making processes by which that expenditure was allocated. To achieve this, the research addressed the following key questions:

  • How did the balance between expenditure and the rates vary between unions and over time?
  • What were the key items of expenditure within poor relief budgets and how did these vary between unions and over time?
  • What kinds of business practices and accounting practices emerged to supply the poor law?
  • How significant was poor law expenditure in relation to different types of local economies?

Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC)

Strandlines (associated with Professor David Green) 2010-2015

Strandlines was, and is, a digital community dedicated to exploring lives on the Strand – past, present, creative. It combined materials from archives, especially Archives at King’s College London and Westminster Archives, with life writing in its widest sense contributed by people who are simply interested in the Strand, and who may also have an association with it through work, visiting or residence. Strandlines aimed, and aims, to serve as a home for experiences, memories and reflections about the local area; a gallery where films, photographs, drawings, and audio files could be viewed and listened to; a place where residents, workers and visitors could engage with one another by sharing stories and images. The area which Strandlines represented runs east-west from Trafalgar Square to Fleet Street, and north-south from Covent Garden to the Thames: the Strand is its centre. Strandlines began in 2010 as a project funded by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), involving people from several departments at King’s College London, to establish a digital community on the Strand. It also had grants from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and London Centre for Arts and Cultural Exchange (LCACE) for community engagement, especially through the arts. In 2017, it was rescued, redesigned and relaunched as a digital community bringing together lives past, present and creative.

Regional Studies Association (RSA)

BRICs and Region-Building in Africa: The Nacala Logistics Corridor (associated with Dr. Andrew Brooks2014 – 2016

The engagement of the BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – in Africa is an issue of the upmost topicality and world economic and political concern. A new wave of foreign investment is leading to mining and natural resource development, infrastructure projects, migration and the import of consumer goods. It has generated a lot of media interest and many writers are questioning if these emerging powers can help kick-start African development or if new engagements represent a resurgence of colonial style relationships between Africa and other powerful nations? While this subject has grabbed much attention there has been limited empirical fieldwork with Africans to explore if, how and why the BRIC are transforming specific cities and regions. Mozambique is one of the poorest countries in the world, and has been a major target of investment by all the BRICS (aside from Russia). The capital, Maputo, is being transformed by new enterprises and foreign business people can be observed across different areas of commercial life. Drawing on research with 100 businesses based in Maputo, this project explored how the city is changing and investigated the impacts of foreign investment. Fieldwork was undertaken working with three Mozambican Geography Students, João Nhavene, Alfredo Sitoe, Gil Chuquela, who interviewed business people across the city. Research questions focused on if economic growth is improving the livelihoods of workers and explores the regional relationships with neighbouring South Africa. Preliminary findings demonstrated that while foreign investment is generally welcomed there are concerns over the treatment of local workers.

International Development Research Centre (IDRC)

Deltas, Vulnerability and Climate Change: Migration and adaptation (associated with Dr. Helen Adams2015-2018

Large tracts of land at low lying elevation make deltas vulnerable to sea-level rise and other climate changes impacts. Deltas have some of the highest population densities in the world; in total with 500 million, often poor, residents. The adaptive strategies available to deltas residents (e.g. disaster risk reduction, land use management or polders) may not be adequate to cope with pervasive, systematic, or surprise changes associated with climate change. Hence, large movements of deltaic people are often projected under climate change. DECCMA was an approximately five-year long programme of applied research on the adaptation options, limits and potential in deltaic environments to current weather variability and extremes, as well as climate change.

Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF)

Smart Cities: ‘Provincialising’ the global urban age in India and South Africa (associated with Dr. Ayona Datta2018-2020

This was a three-year international research collaboration between University of Neuchâtel and King’s College London on Indian and South African smart cities. Smart cities as a proposed solution to efficient urban governance has gained traction since 2000 because of the deep involvement of global IT companies, the support of funding programmes from EU, DfID and USAid and the interest of national governments and urban municipalities. As a consequence, retrofitted smart city ‘packages’ or fully-fledged smart ‘city in a box’ are increasingly making their way into national agendas in the global south. Through a comparative study of smart cities in India and South Africa, this project researched globally circulating urban development narratives around ICT and data-driven urbanism, its ‘mutations’ in different urban contexts and ‘urban hacking’ at the scale of everyday life. The outcomes of the project thus moved beyond a critical stance to provide prosaic visions of smart urbanism that are alternative, empowering and knowledge intensive. This project began with the broad hypothesis that the global circulation of smart cities (new cities from scratch and retrofitted) are translated in different global south contexts through local visions, technologies and built manifestations. This will form the basis of developing an empirical and theoretical research agenda around ‘smart urbanism’ that captures the local historical, political and alternative forms of data-driven urbanism from the grassroots. The project had the following aims:

  • To understand how the partnership between state, corporate sector and expert knowledge shapes visions of smart cities in local contexts;
  • To examine how these visions gain social and political credence, restructure local and national policy initiatives and unfold over time;
  • To understand how the smart city vision dis/connects with local urban planning and governance initiatives to refashion the city;
  • To examine how these visions are contested and reworked around the everyday realities of local implementation;
  • To understand the extent to which the actually existing smart city is appropriated, resisted and ‘hacked’ to claim rights to urban space, infrastructure, governance and citizenship.

Social Science Research Council (SSRC)

Decolonising Infrastructure: Empire, expertise and the imaginative geographies of the Colombo Plan, 1950-1973 (associated with Dr. Majed Akhter2018-2019

With the dust from World War II barely settled, large swathes of South and Southeast Asia began the contradictory journey of political decolonisation. Political independence, however, did not necessarily mean economic autonomy. This was especially apparent in one crucial area: the financing and construction of infrastructures. Across Asia, planners and politicians attempted to forge viable national economic spaces through the construction of large infrastructures, but this meant dependence on regional and global flows of capital and expertise. South and Southeast Asian elites turned to established centres of world power for assistance. This project focused on a unique international development programme that attempted to bring emergent Asian national economies within a post-imperial geography through a political ideology of anticommunism: The Colombo Plan for Cooperative Economic Development in South and Southeast Asia. The project drew on archival sources to conduct a scale-sensitive and geopolitical economic analysis of the politics of infrastructure planning in South and Southeast Asia in the context of decolonisation from the British Empire. It explored how the imagining, financing, and construction of large physical infrastructures shape, and are in turn shaped by, the politics of region formation at multiple interconnected scales. By examining the circulations, connections and geopolitical conjunctures across Asia, and particularly as they involved actors in Pakistan, Malaysia, and Singapore, it developed an infrastructural analysis of early Cold War geopolitics. The broader objective was to explicate the contradictions between decolonised political space and imperial economic space as articulated by the modernising promises of capital, technology, and expertise.

Dubai Future Foundation (Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Settlement Challenge)

Lessons from the Eco-City: A manifesto for governing life on Mars (associated with Dr. Robert Cowley2018

The governance of future colonies on other planets is a topic which has long fascinated science fiction writers and film-makers. This project began by drawing lessons from innovative governance experiments on earth. The work involved an extended piece of desk research, followed by a workshop in December, leading to the publication of a preliminary ‘manifesto’ summarising key principles for the practical governance of space settlements.

European Commission

Investigating Natural, Historical And Institutional Transformations – Cities (INHAbIT Cities) (associated with Professor Mark Pelling) 2014-2018

The overall aim of INHAbIT was to improve understandings of the dynamics of water service provision in urban environments in the global south. In particular, INHAbIT explored historical processes and transformations that have shaped water service configurations, the politics of socio-technical urban water supply systems and the socio-ecological processes shaping the urban waterscape. INHABIT was innovative in that it took an interdisciplinary approach and aimed to develop new methodologies and conceptual approaches. To this aim, INHAbIT identified three objectives, which combined theoretical, methodological and empirical elements: undertaking a theoretical synthesis that brought urban political ecology perspectives into engagement with institutional bricolage; exploring and testing innovative methodologies for tracking informality and investigating socio-natural processes; undertaking empirical work and building up a robust body of rigorously researched historical and qualitative data on natural, historical and institutional transformations that have shaped and continuously re-shape water service realities in Lilongwe (Malawi) and Maputo (Mozambique). While taking a critical approach, INHAbIT was also cognisant of the needs of policy makers and practitioners for solutions that work for serving with adequate water a growing population. The researchers explored the implications of INHAbIT research findings for policy and practice and disseminated accordingly. INHAbIT, thus, was both scientifically innovative and policy relevant.

PEARL – Preparing for Extreme and Rare Events in Coastal Regions (associated with Professor Mark Pelling) 2015-2018

The PEARL project sought to fill in the lack of interaction between social aspects and technical measures – appearing to be a major hindrance for solving some of the greatest problems associated with floods and flood-related disasters. Based on the belief that problems are best solved by attempting to correct or eliminate root causes, as opposed to merely addressing the immediately obvious symptoms, the PEARL project aimed to develop adaptive risk management strategies for coastal communities focusing on extreme hydro-meteorological events, with a multidisciplinary approach integrating social, environmental and technical research and innovation. PEARL considered all fundamentals in the risk governance cycle, focusing on the enhancement of forecasting, prediction and early warning capabilities and the building of resilience and reduction of risk through learning from experience and the avoidance of past mistakes.

emBRACE – Building Resilience Amongst Communities in Europe (associated with Professor Mark Pelling) 2011-2015

In an interdisciplinary, socially inclusive and collaborative context, emBRACE aimed to improve the framing of resilience in the context of disasters in Europe. It developed a conceptual and methodological approach to clarify how the resilience capacity of a society confronted with natural hazards and disasters can be characterised, defined and measured. On the basis of a systematic evaluation of the widest literature base, the project first elaborated an initial conceptual framework. Disaster footprints and a review of current data gaps and challenges for human impacts and development databases in providing resilience data on regional and national levels helped inform indicator development. These were tested and ground-truthed by means of six well-chosen case studies across Europe exposed to different natural hazards, situated in different governance settings and socio-demographic-economic contexts.

The Spatial Dimensions of Urban Social Exclusion and Integration: A European comparison (associated with Professor Christopher Hamnett) 1998-2001

The URBEX programme that was carried out over the years 1998-2001 aimed to answer the following questions:

  • How do different categories of ‘socially excluded people’ cope with their situation and how do they try to participate or even integrate in the urban society in various neighbourhoods, in different urban, regional and state contexts?
  • What are the relevant modes of economic integration that are available to them?
  • How do they use the available opportunity structures?
  • What are the strategies (and trajectories) of each of the targeted individuals or households and how do these relate to the available neighbourhood, city and state resources?
  • And particularly: How do different neighbourhoods impact upon the opportunities and perspectives of individuals and households?
  • Are neighbourhood impacts conditioned by the state contexts, by the wider metropolitan structures and by the specific neighbourhood site and characteristics?

These questions were addressed in an international comparative research programme and focused on respondents (‘people at risk’) in two neighbourhoods per city (one centrally located mixed tenure, another peripherally located homogeneous public rental estates), in eleven cities (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Brussels, Antwerp, London, Birmingham, Berlin, Hamburg, Milan, Naples and Paris) in six EU countries. Data on the types of welfare state, on the economic structure of cities and their metropolitan area, and on the social networks of people was obtained through various sources, including written documents and statistical data. The main sources of information were primary interview data obtained from over six hundred members of the target groups  identified (long term unemployed, unemployed immigrants, and single mothers without a job) and from several hundreds of key-actors in the field.

Screen Shot 2018-04-24 at 17.38.53