Challenge Themes

The Urban ID project will work across four interconnected challenge themes which comprise financially and politically significant complex and pernicious obstacles that will need to be overcome by any city seeking to move away from ‘business as usual’ assumptions and solutions.


These areas will pose very real and serious challenges to researchers and practitioners in the development of an appropriate diagnostic framework and toolset: they are made up of interconnected, so-called ‘wicked’, complex problems, which can only be addressed by interdisciplinary approaches. As a result, only by diagnosing and tackling these types of urban challenges together with citizens will we begin to make the necessary innovations and create the diagnostic tools needed to generate transformative changes in city-wide systems and their governance.

The Carbon-Neutral City

Theme leaders: Professor Jim Longhurst (UWE), Ian Townsend (Bristol Green Capital Partnership)

This case study will focus on working towards a zero carbon transport system for Bristol.


This challenge theme looks at how the Bristol urban area might become ‘carbon neutral’, that is producing zero greenhouse gas (CO2) emissions, and what the barriers to this change might be.


Local authorities covering the urban areas, Bristol City Council and South Gloucestershire Council, both of which are also Urban ID partner organisations, have ambitious aims committing them to reduce emissions. Action locally will also make an essential contribution to the UK’s climate change targets.


Transformation to a zero carbon city-region can provide many benefits locally and improve people’s lives.  For example, a move to more sustainable and active transport will improve the environment, citizens’ health and their quality of life by reducing congestion and improving air quality, in addition to reducing carbon emissions.  Also, moving to a less energy-intensive and so more sustainable society can create jobs, and contribute to the region’s economy. Switching to renewable energy will make the city region less reliant on energy from outside the region, and improve resilience to the effects of climate change.


Key to understanding this challenge, how to achieve it and what barriers need to be overcome are definitions: what does ‘carbon neutral’ mean for the Bristol Urban Area? What is the relevant area for such a target? Does carbon neutral just include the area’s energy production needed to meet the needs of local homes, businesses, transport and industry?  Alternatively, is the scope much wider, including carbon ‘embodied’ in the goods and services we consume as well? Over what timescale should such a vision be achieved? The project will outline an option for the way forward that could be adopted by policy-makers, including geographic extent, scope and timescale.


Bristol Green Capital Partnership CIC, joint theme leaders on the carbon neutral city challenge theme, is a cross-sector leadership organisation whose aim is to make Bristol a sustainable city. See their website or the Urban ID partner page for more information.


Contact theme leaders: Jim Longhurst, Ian Townsend

Health and Happiness

‌Theme leaders: Professor Katie Williams (UWE), David Relph (Bristol Health Partners)

This case study will focus on rethinking resource allocation – from patient services to a healthy environment.


Bristol struggles with a significant difference in life expectancy between adjacent wards. Henleaze and Southmead are separated by only a few streets, and yet there is a c. 9.5 year life expectancy gap between them. Current research suggests that, typically, c. 20% of life expectancy gaps in urban areas can be explained by access to good health services, with c.40% explained by broader environmental factors. Applying this logic, there is a legitimate argument that the £1.3bn currently invested in the provision of services to patients in the city might be more effectively targeted to improving the healthiness of place.


However, there is no common legitimised forum in Bristol to discuss the health of the city, nor is there a clearly articulated theory of value that would help us allocate resources in a way that accounts for the systems in which patients reside. In recent years much effort has been focussed on preventative campaigns, targeted to help individual patients prevent negative health outcomes (e.g. quitting smoking, eating better, or exercising more). However, we feel there is a need for a move towards a different kind of prevention – one that tackles the city system at large, and enables healthier lifestyles through change to the city system and place. However, progress towards this goal is slow, and we suspect that many of the challenges lie in how we collaborate, lead change, and develop a theory of value around our service provision. Diagnostics tools and frameworks applied to current working in this field will help us to diagnose the rate-limiting steps to progress, and help to establish a roadmap for overcoming these factors. This is essential to the smart and holistic allocation of future resources, for the betterment of city health and happiness.


Contact theme leaders: Katie Williams, David Relph

Mobility and Accessibility

Theme leader: Professor Graham Parkhurst

This case study will focus on more inclusive and lower carbon mobility.


In the denser part of the Bristol urban area we have seen considerable successes with sustainable mobility policy, eg growing numbers of people walking and cycling to work. In contrast, in the peripheral areas represented within the SGC boundaries, while we have seen improvements infrastructure and services, including through the Local Sustainable Transport Fund investments, and strong engagement with businesses via the coordinating bodies such as Suscom and Severnet, nevertheless the mobility and accessibility problems remain endemic due to the fundamental socio-spatial nature of the area. The suburbs are mostly, with some exceptions, reasonably affluent, with high employment, but are hard to serve with the same solutions that are applied in the urban core.


Cycling is increasing, but the distances somewhat longer and the road network more oriented to fast and heavy traffic. The public transport network is less dense than in the urban core, the frequencies lower, the distance to walk to stops higher, whilst car use remains attractive due to a purpose-designed road network and free parking opportunities. Metrobus will help with movements to and from the central area, but the suburbs remain fundamentally car dependent. This pilot will enable us to apply targeted diagnostics to understand the complexity of the different mobility trajectories of neighbourhoods, taking a holistic view across the whole urban area. This will better inform policy and decision making, and support understanding of how they might be better aligned across the LA boundaries.


Contact theme leaders: Graham Parkhurst

Inclusion and Equality

Theme leaders: Dr David Manley (University of Bristol Cabot Institute), Sarah Toy (Bristol City Council)

This pilot will focus on building on Bristol Is Open for equality and inclusion.


Bristol has benefitted from a rapid surge in wireless and digital infrastructure innovation, and recently established ‘Bristol Is Open’ (BIO) – a joint venture between the University of Bristol and Bristol City Council which will provide the technology to ‘observe’ the city in order that we can create a ‘living laboratory’ in Bristol. Its physical backbone is a network of hyper-fast computing facilities; fibre optics, wireless networks, routers and computer services. While hidden from sight, this infrastructure can assimilate, process and stream large volumes of data collected in real time from an array of smart devices at record speeds. But what makes Bristol Is Open unique is not its sheer computing power. Core to its philosophy is enabling experimentation by citizens, partners, technology companies and universities.


The initiative aspires to make Bristol an ‘open programmable city’. ‘Open’ in that data and knowledge about the city as well as the code and methodology of their use are available to the public (open data), and ‘programmable’ in that it offers the technology to enable anyone (using any type of software or device) to ‘plug in’ to the architecture and develop applications that will make the city more inclusive, and the Council more responsive to people’s ideas. But who has access to this technology, and how might it benefit the lives of people in the city? The new €25M initiative titled ‘REPLICATE’ (Renaissance of places with innovative citizenship and technologies) will use BIO to learn how to use smart metering and city sensing opportunities in East Bristol (as well as collaborating cities overseas – San Sebastián and Florence), how to understand traffic congestion, air quality and sustainable energy use in what is typically deemed a less wealthy area of the city. It will offer a major diagnostics challenge and opportunity.


Contact theme leaders: David Manley, Sarah Toy