| 5 minute read

Tackling Pressing Urban Challenges in the Urban Living Lab

Elena Galán-Muros

At UIIN, our work is underpinned by research. With 15 large-scale research initiatives currently running across various topics in the field of university-industry collaboration, we are excited to share our insights with you in our research projects blog series. Today, we are proud to present the Urban GoodCamp project, an Erasmus+ project aimed at empowering Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) to participate in joint actions with urban stakeholders to tackle challenges in their respective urban regions.

Cities are economic hubs that fuel the economy of almost every European nation. Characterised by their dynamism and diversity, urban areas are constantly growing and changing in different ways.

Today, more than 70% of Europe’s citizens live in cities. Considering this figure, the threats of global change on urban areas and their inhabitants are clearly urgent, and it becomes difficult to ignore the need for sustainable means of growth and development.

To reduce the pressure on the European urban ecosystems, a collaborative effort of social actors is needed. Therefore, the Urban GoodCamp project was initiated earlier this year, with the aim to empower HEIs and their urban stakeholders to tackle pressing urban challenges by creating and actively engaging urban communities of practice. The project is led by a consortium of European HEIs and businesses, who will each create and engage urban communities consisting of local stakeholders. The partners will also develop and implement multidisciplinary innovative teaching methodologies for students in HEIs, to develop their creative thinking and problem-solving skills and give them practical experience in a real-world context.

In collaboration with students, the communities of practice will actively participate in the selection of specific challenges that will be addressed in each city through challenge-based learning. Students will work alongside the urban stakeholders to better understand the nature of challenges that are being faced, in order to develop viable sustainable solutions. Examples of such challenges may include lack of accessible public transport, urban biodiversity loss, or youth unemployment.

Living labs to solve urban challenges
Throughout the implementation of the project, cities will function as ‘living labs’: collaborative, practical, and innovative centres of research. Using real-world experiments, living labs allow researchers to generate relevant, user centred solutions to issues. Considering the interdisciplinary nature of sustainability issues, they are ideal for developing solutions to complex urban challenges.

The Urban GoodCamp living labs have the potential to incorporate open spaces, institutions, and the local community into research and education, and allow students to develop a deeper, more practical understanding of the challenges faced by cities and their inhabitants, with the opportunity to apply their knowledge to these challenges.

Challenge based learning in action
The method of challenge-based learning is increasingly being used to expose students in HEIs to real-life complex challenges. Several universities have even already employed the method across subjects of different disciplines to solve urban challenges.

At Dublin City University for instance, students and stakeholders work together to tackle pressing sustainability challenges in the hackathon, Hack4Change. The event gives students practical experience in collaborating with industry partners, and the opportunity to directly engage with relevant societal topics. During the Hack4Change event, students are teamed up with one another according to their topics of interest and develop viable social enterprise ideas based on the event’s themes: climate, equality, and mental health & wellbeing. Throughout the hackathon, participants receive advice from industry leaders and mentors from a mixture of backgrounds. Finally, participants go on to pitch their concepts to judges at the end of the week and are assessed based on the reflection papers they submit after the experience.

The University of New South Wales Sydney hosts the VIP ChallENG Programme (Urban AI), which exposes computer science and engineering students to challenge-based research and connects them with industry partners to develop creative solutions to urban sustainability challenges. At the start of the programme, students are requested to choose between three focus areas, which are waste reduction, urban heat islands, and traffic remodelling. Students are then asked to indicate their skills and interests and, using this information, they are matched up with industry partners that are facing related urban challenges or have related interests. The industry partners thus propose real-life challenges on which students will focus their research. Students go on to work in the industry partners’ offices for roughly 12 weeks, with the goal of better understanding the challenges being faced and coming up with appropriate solutions.

Impact and outcomes
Following these examples of good practice, the Urban GoodCamp project aims to contribute to a new generation of critical thinkers, with the skills and knowledge to confront environmental, social, and economic challenges in an interdisciplinary and collaborative way. Participating higher education institutions will also be better equipped to exploit their urban environments as living labs and innovate in their educational environments.

To learn more about the Urban GoodCamp project visit the project website, and follow the project on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Authored by Catherine Hayward, Junior Project Officer at UIIN
Cover image by Paweł L. on Pexels, in-text image by Josh Hild on Pexels

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