The aim of the Urban Initiative is to generate original and transformative research as well as creative thinking based on interdisciplinary collaborations amongst researchers interested in the various aspects of urban environments and systems.

To achieve this, we will connect urban researchers together to jointly work on interdisciplinary project ideas and maximise funding opportunities and outputs. We will also encourage cross-disciplinary discussions about innovative methods of data collection, community engagement and impact in order to stimulate transformative ideas.

The Urban Initiative is currently focusing on three main themes:


Risky cities: conditions of persistent stress and the (re)construction of urban life led by Dr Eric Chu, Dr Sara Fregonese, and Dr Anne Van Loon

Contemporary urban societies must be prepared to deal with multidimensional risks such as emerging environmental hazards, socio-political disruptions, and economic perturbations. However, not only are we currently ill-equipped to deal with such multidimensional risks in a holistic and systemic manner, we are also seeing an increase in protracted, persistent, and slow-onset risk events. Such persistent risks include those associated with long-term political economic transformation of cities, mobility (and displacement) of communities, as well as ecological shifts on a geologic timeframe. In contrast to theories and practices developed around managing extreme risk events and preparing for natural disasters, the issue of persistent – and often ineradicable— socio-ecological risks necessitates new policy and theoretical approaches. These approaches must take into account long-term natural resource scenarios, probabilities of protracted political/communal conflicts, political uncertainties around the pathways of socioeconomic transformation, and the variegated forms of everyday urban practices that enable sustained risk tolerance.

This research theme focusses on the chronic character of contemporary urban risks and how they inevitably structure and reconstitute life in cities. The theme builds upon emerging scholarship on socio-ecological risk and urban resilience, but we also extend this to engage with the protracted nature of the associated scientific ‘knowledges’, sociocultural identities, and political ideologies that frame the values, norms, practices, and symbols that underlie persistent urban risks and conflicts.  Areas of interrogation include:

  • The long-term, interactive construction of human-made and natural risk events (physical geography).
  • The multidimensional nature of persistent ecological, social, and political uncertainties (physical and human geography).
  • The everyday experiences of chronic risk and the adaptive behaviours around protracted stress (human geography, sociology and anthropology).
  • The development of new political, infrastructural, and technological apparatuses to address chronic urban risks (human geography, political science, engineering).

Through these primary conceptual entry points, this research theme includes a number of empirical domains:

  • Long-term urban ecological scenarios and the different approaches to remedy uncertainty.
  • Structural transformations to address persistent risk scenarios in cities.
  • Urban violence and conflicts attributed to long-term environmental changes.
  • Policy gap between emergency preparedness and prolonged socio-ecological stressors.
  • Urban socio-spatial tactics for adapting to chronic stress.
  • ‘Smart’ technologies to interface with chronic urban risks.
  • Everyday practices for enabling tolerance to persistent risks and protracted conflicts.

The objective of this research theme is to bridge the scholarship on risk and resilience across the natural and social sciences as well as different humanities disciplines. Through this transdisciplinary approach, the research theme will uncover the emergent practices that structure and reconstitute urban life under conditions of chronic and protracted risks.

Health and Wellbeing  led by Dr Jessica Pykett and Professor Jon Sadler

The future of the world’s cities depends on how well we are able to respond to the challenge of shaping urban spaces, environments and their ecologies in ways which support health, wellbeing and collective happiness.  Despite increasing emphasis on the detrimental effects that particular urban environments can play on mental and physical health, our relationships with the natural environment, and a range of social, economic and political divides offer important opportunities to address these impacts. 

Investigating the embodied, emotional, psychophysiological and cultural experiences of urban living, urban encounter and urban nature can provide new insight into the conditions necessary for developing urban wellbeing and reducing urban stress.  Objective and subjective forms of health and wellbeing data can be combined to assess and map the ‘emotional pulse’ of the city, its relation to green-blue infrastructure and atmospheric pollution, and shining an important new light on inequalities in health and wellbeing, that go beyond the outcomes of the Marmot review. 

Researchers in Geography, Planning, Environmental Sciences and Environmental Health Sciences in the School of Geography, Earth and Envrionmental Sciences have an established track record on research which investigates these phenomena, and the capacity to kick-start new interdisciplinary collaborations both locally and globally. We have experience working in diverse teams across the natural sciences, social sciences and humanities to develop innovative approaches to investigating urban health and wellbeing.

By taking a situated and relational approach, the Urban Initiative advances knowledge and understanding of health and wellbeing which is place-based and sensitive to spatial inequalities and social difference. We pay attention to the role of communities, health, welfare and wellbeing service provision, and policy regimes in creating specific infrastructures which might support or prohibit healthy and happy cities. 

We explore the flows and conduits of stress and wellbeing in both formal spheres of governance and economic and cultural exchange, as well as through informal economies, socialities, emotions and psycho-evolutionary links of people to environments. By addressing both barriers to and facilitators of urban health and wellbeing as processes under constant reconstruction, we identify the relations of power which shape the city’s metabolic flows and provide insight into the social and political production of notions of urban pathology and contagion, and their normative counterparts, wellbeing and biosecurity.

By situating healthy city initiatives and urban wellbeing and emotions in their wider economic, political, social, historical and environmental contexts, we examine how urban health and wellbeing is intimately bound up with particular idealisations of the ‘good city’, normative claims about city governance, and symbolism around the city as a locus of social and public (dis)harmony, all of which vary between eras and places.  The aim of this Urban Initiative’s theme is therefore to combine interdisciplinary data and evidence with new conceptualisations of the ethical, governance and citizenship implications of knowing and shaping urban health and wellbeing.

Migration and cities led by Dr Melanie Griffiths and Dr Irina Kuznetsova

Cities have always been built on migration, attracting people from other places with the possibility of new opportunities and lives. Today, cities are the main destination for both international and internal migrants both in Global South and Global North. With transnational and internal mobility key issues of the day, cities are critical spaces in which emigration, immigration and migration policies are debated. The arrival of new people brings opportunities, risks, challenges and to cities. This can include providing extra pressures on services, infrastructure and utilities, as well as producing socio-political affects, e.g. on community relations, cultural difference and integration. Migration and diaspora may bring new business sectors and opportunities, as well as challenges to the job market and regulations.

Migration controls play a central role in these developments, creating different urban experiences for different nationalities and categories of migrants, including those without lawful immigration status. Cities have often offered irregular migrants spaces in which to live and work anonymously and without formal permission. The spread of immigration and identity checks into everyday service provision in some cities, disrupts such spaces and presents new challenges for both cities and migrants.

Contemporary cities must adapt to new migratory realities, not only in terms of changed flows, nationalities and numbers, but also in terms of developing immigration policies, and requirements to enact immigration controls that are placed by central governments on local urban authorities. This research theme considers the challenges placed on urban societies and how migrants and immigration policies are reconstituting urban spaces and what can be undertaken to improve social inclusion of migrants. In 2018, the international Global Compact for Migration was adopted, placing individuals and their wellbeing at its core. Members of the research theme have a strong expertise in studying everyday life of migrants, refugees and their families, including exploring the intersections with gender, age, ethnicity and disability.

Areas of work in this research theme include:

  • Everyday urban experiences of migrants and refugees
  • The spread of immigration controls into everyday urban service provision (e.g. under the ‘hostile environment’ in the UK)
  • The informal economy
  • Mental health and wellbeing of migrants
  • Diaspora and cultural enclaves
  • Migrants’ access to health care and social services
  • The role of the police in migration enforcement roles
  • Public spaces and urban mobility of migrants
  • Migration and urban planning
  • Urban governance of migration
  • Urban and peri-urban informal settlements
  • The role of cities in responding to forced population displacement

The objective of this transdisciplinary theme is to bridge research on different aspects of migration and cities, including policy, lived experience, infrastructure, policing, community relations, diaspora, utilities and service provision. Geographically, the academic expertise of research theme members includes the UK, countries of the EU, Russia, Ukraine, Nepal, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Nigeria, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, China, India, Japan and others. We provide expert consultancy in various aspects of migration systems, for the UK and international bodies, and disseminate our research findings within academia, as well as via think tanks and international organisations, including Chatham House, the UNHCR, Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, European Asylum Centre and others.

Our projects

Researchers involved in the Urban Initiative are involved in a range of projects addressing key urban challenges.

See some of our projects


Researchers involved in the Urban Initiative are actively publishing in the field of the ‘urban’.

View selected publications