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Urban Living Partnership - taking a whole city approach

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Analysing all aspects of a city's problems

Cities' governments and local authorities are facing diverse and inter-dependent challenges that emerge from a combination of their history, culture, demographics, infrastructure, economies and environment.

Teasing out the factors behind problems such as social mobility, health and care provision, anti-social behaviour, congestion, flooding, air pollution and disease requires analysis across all aspects of a city.

Travel habits and their impact on health

A study for the Department of Health showed that shifting Londoners' travel habits from cars and buses to just 5 km more walking and 10 km more cycling a week would save the NHS over £1 billion within 10 years and avoid 3500 premature deaths.

The knock-on effects on ‘lifestyle’ diseases (such as diabetes) as well as improved air quality were the main contributors. It would also have a big impact on congestion.

The impact of silos

So how could London achieve this with a road network that doesn’t favour cyclists and with budgets for transport and health in separate silos?

More importantly this type of solution would be easier and less costly to provide than tackling each outcome separately.

Do you invest in trying to reduce air pollution directly, manage the road network to ease congestion and invest in ways of tackling the projected 625,000 diabetics in London by 2025 or instigate ways to make it easier for Londoners to use active travel options?

City complexity

As cities become more complex and more of us live in them (75-80% of Europeans are urban) these types of solution are becoming more important to realise. The business opportunity in delivering the integrated solutions cities need to integrated challenges is huge (we estimate it at over £200 billion by 2030). However, to articulate the opportunity, first we need to be able to understand and describe the problems.

Creating the Urban Living Partnerships

To do this, city governments, business and academics need to work across traditional organisational boundaries and policy silos.

Innovate UK has come together with all seven Research Councils to form the Urban Living Partnership, to enable this.  This single, combined programme will fund research into the integrated challenges of cities and provide the breadth and depth of expert firepower needed to develop the holistic view of these challenges.

The physical, digital, environmental and social systems of a city

For the first time, researchers and innovators with expertise across all the systems critical to a functioning city, can be supported to come together and study the interplay between the various systems:

  • physical infrastructure such as buildings, public space as well as transport, energy, water and waste systems
  • digital infrastructure such as sensors, telecommunications and data services
  • environmental systems and ecosystem services
  • social systems such as health & care, governance, education, culture, communities and citizen engagement

The pilot phase opened on 23rd September and will fund up to five projects with a total fund of £2 million.

A ‘Town Hall Meeting’ will take place on 20th October in Birmingham where more details of the call will be discussed and the opportunity to connect with potential partners. 

Addressing the global challenges and the complexity of future urban living is beyond any single business, sector or discipline. We are working across our silos to enable academics, industry and cities to do the same.


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