Leeds-based Holistic Sustainability Think Tank (‘Urbal’ explained)


TRUG is hosted by
The Urbal Institute 
in association with: 

Leeds Sustainability Institute
Leeds Beckett (Landscape Architecture, Urban Design, Planning, Built Environment and Design Departments)
The University of Leeds (Schools of Geography, Earth and Environment and Engineering)
Permaculture UK and Schumacher North
plus local partner individuals and organisations

If you would like to contribute to the TRUG project, please connect via Linked-In

See below for the current academic panel, and the links above for further information.

Trug Panel members are independent of The Urbal Institute, and do not necessarily support or endose ideas presented elsewhere on this website.

(In alphabetical order)

Dr Sangaralingam Ahilan Water at Leeds / Green Blue Cities, School of Civil Engineering University of Leeds

Prof Tim Benton UK Champion for Global Food Security & Professor of Population Ecology University of Leeds

Prof Franco Bianchini Professor of Cultural Policy and Planning, Cultural Studies And Humanities, Leeds Beckett University

Tom Bliss The Urbal Institute, TRUG Co-ordinator, Landscape Architecture at Leeds Beckett.University Director

Anzir Boodoo Former PhD Student, Institute for Transport Studies, University of Leeds

Edward Butt PhD Student, United bank of Carbon University of Leeds

Dr Paul Chatterton Reader in Cities and Social Change, University of Leeds

Ian Fletcher Senior Lecturer, Architecture, and PhD Student on closed loop systems, Leeds Beckett University

Prof Leslie Firbank Senior Research Fellow & Visiting Professor (specialising in Agriculture and Biodiversity), School of Biology, University of Leeds

Dr Tim Foxon Reader in Sustainability and Innovation, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds

Andy Goldring CEO of The Permaculture Association

Dr Mark Goddard Urban Pollinators Project, Faculty of Biological Sciences, University of Leeds

Prof Chris Gorse Professor of Construction & Project Management and Director of Leeds Sustainability Institute Leeds Beckett University

Prof Andrew Gouldson Professor of Sustainability Research; Director – ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics & Policy, University of Leeds

Margo Hanson Administrator Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy, University of Leeds

Katie Hill Lecturer, Design Department, Leeds Beckett University, Director, Leeds Love It Share It CIC

Dr Simon Holland – Barefoot Lightning

Justin Lunn Senior Teaching Fellow and Architect, School of Civil Engineering, University of Leeds

David Midgley Schumacher North

Dr Andy Millard former Ecologist and Senior Lecturer Landscape Architecture and Garden Art & Design at Leeds Beckett University

Emma Oldroyd Senior Lecturer in Landscape Architecture at Leeds Beckett University

Dr Dan O’Neill Lecturer in Ecological Economics, University of Leeds and chief economist for CASSE

Dr Andy Ross Academic Research Fellow Energy Research Institute (Biochar, next generation fuels, bioenergy from algae) University of Leeds

Chris Royffe Principal Lecturer Leeds School of Art, Architecture and Design at Leeds Beckett University

Dr Cat Scott Research Fellow, United bank of Carbon and LEAF at University of Leeds

Dr Geoff Seavers, Part Time Lecturer (ecology and arable weeds) School of the Built Environment and Engineering, Leeds Beckett University

Alan Simson Reader in Urban Forestry and Landscape Architecture at Leeds Beckett University

Dr Rebecca Slack Water at Leeds Researcher in Environemtal Chemistry at The University of Leeds

Dr Lindsay Smales Senior Lecturer in Planning, Housing & Human Geography at Leeds Beckett University

Craig Stott Course Leader MA Architecture at Leeds Beckett University

Prof Ian Strange Professor of Spatial Planning and Director of CUDEM at Leeds Beckett University

Kevin Thomas Senior Lecturer in Town Planning at Leeds Beckett University

Dr Chiara Tornaghi Former Research Fellow in Geography (Urban Agriculture) University of Leeds, project coordinator; Urban Food Justice Social Platform

Dr Rachael Unsworth Former Lecturer in Urban Geography, University of Leeds

Dr Phil Webber Chair: Scientists for Global Responsibility. Visiting Professor at University of Leeds working to develop and finance city scale low carbon programmes

See links above for further information


To what extent could a city the size of Leeds sustain itself within its own ecological territory, and how should that territory be defined and managed if the city is to be truly sustainable?

For example:

How can we grow food within the city zone in harmony with / in enhancement of biosequestration, ecosystem service delivery (especially soil / pollinator health and water management), amenity provision and traditional green infrastructure values and uses?

How can we measure and improve ecosystem service delivery and psychospiritual connectivity, using both phased temporary and permanent links, through cities that have green spaces isolated from each other and the countryside?

What food can we grow, how can we grow it (grafting, forest gardens, ornamental beds, polytunnels, green walls and roofs), who will grow it, what resources will be needed and where, and how do we overcome problems like contamination, soil damage, loss of biodiversity, theft and vandalism?

To what extent is it viable to grow coppiced or short rotation biofuels for urban consumption in harmony with food, ecosystem services and amenity growing? And what would be the optimal heat and power generation systems for those fuels?

How can we measure and improve carbon-negative practices (especially planting and carbon interment, but also around existing buildings and infrastructure) in urban areas?

To what extent can sustainable urban drainage systems, especially berms, swales, soak-aways and planting be retro-fitted into the urban fabric? And what are the challenges opportunities and synergies around sustainable water and sewage management at the metropolitan scale?

How can creative design be used to win hearts and minds while delivering holistic biodiverse food (and other plant-based) production – in parks, streets, fields, SLOAPS, private gardens and backyards?

What are the financial (funding) and legal implications, and how can obstacles be overcome?

What are the challenges around economic vs other forms of growth, and to what extent can green economic theory be applied at metropolitan level? What are the implications/opportunities for land ownership, land stewardship/access, land values, and the financing of green development (new housing, new transport systems, new food systems, new green businesses)?

Where are the job and business opportunities and routes to market? What are the business (and pension/benefits) models, and how do we create boundaries (actual and financial) and synergies between free-to-harvest, home consumption and commercial production and sales?

How do we re-configure the shape of the city (by design, custom and law) to enable leg-powered local living, including access by active travel to well-being-inducing green space (and, by connectivity, countryside), jobs, schools, healthy food outlets?

How do we engage with local communities, local, regional and national businesses, city elders, the media and others to deliver buy-in for urbalism and to effect sustainable social change across the city?

What political / co-operative / managerial systems will be required, and how might they be introduced?

And how does all of the above fit with the drive to decarbonise, relocalise and resile our cities.


TRUG aims to find and collate robust ideas around urban sustainability, then employ new thinking to concatenate best practice into an holistic, robust, sustainable and adaptive ‘Plan C’ for medium-sized cities. (‘Plan B’ now being defined as a return to unsustainable growth).

As an open source project, in which researchers will enhance their own areas of interest through trans-disciplinary (and even post-disciplinary) collaboration, it will deliver a variety of outputs relating to urban resilience.

These will be published as a diverse but coherent body of work in the form of academic papers, websites, films, leaflets and booklets, ‘coffee-table’ book/s and more, all collated and directed from the website, to form, in effect, an Urbal Fix Manual for cities.


The Urbal Map and the concept of Urbalism will form strong technical and philosophical cores at the heart of TRUG, allowing the project to have permeable boundaries while maintaining a central focus. They will also encourage spatial, ecological, social and economic connectivity, at diverse levels, simultaneously from bottom up, top down and centre out.


In 2010, Tom Bliss – inspired by a re-evaluation of his forebear Ebenezer Howard’s theories on walkable cities and mutual economics – coined the word ‘Urbal’ to describe an holistic approach to sustainable metropolitan resilience for his film The Urbal Fix. He summarises; “We are used to viewing cities as having an historical-commercial heart feeding arteries that radiate through the metropolis and out into the rural hinterland. This is the model which has given us ‘Rurban’ consumerism – and most of the problems we face today. The ‘Urbal’ model suggests a polar opposite where the heart of the city is described as the surrounding countryside with its fresh food, fresh air and fresh water, and its psychospiritual power. From here green veins inject local produce, ecosystem services and well-being into the city, while helping to encourage a new localised, productive, ecologically robust and equitable walking-based social structure.”

It is hoped that the adoption of a new word to describe a heightened level of resilience will help to discourage habitual and reactionary thinking, (though this is by no means essential to the success of TRUG).


The Urbal Map is a new public interactive on-line map (also at which provides both a technical and a metaphorical tool towards urbal transition. With its associated pages it will form a pivot and lightning rod through society, harvesting data, bringing together researchers from different disciplines, enabling change, sharing best practice, and providing a channel for dialogue with communities, committed actors and opinion-makers at different levels across the city.

• Merely reading the map will be educational and enabling. Zooming from regional to domestic scales will promote holistic thinking, while the layers of information will empower users in the recognition of opportunities and the resolution of conflicts.

• The public crowd-sourced element will provide detailed data on food growing, fruit trees, land share opportunities, and outlets for fresh local food.

• The membership element will provide detailed data on soils, growing systems, land use, planning issues, biodiversity, food markets and more.

• The research element will use all of the above interactively to explore new spatial connections, territorial values, ecological and social connectivity and more.


This being an holistic, trans-disciplinary project, it will be important that all participating parties are willing to engage across traditional expertise boundaries. That said, we will need expert knowledge and experience to bring to the melting pot, and then to contextualise the outcomes.

We would therefore be advised to start with a representative range of relevant skill-sets, which can be enhanced as we go along.

We are initially looking for staff and students (and others) with existing projects that fit our areas of interest with whom we can engage and collaborate. In time we hope to initiate and assist with the initiation of single disciplinary, multidisciplinary and trans-disciplinary projects.

Contacts are now being made with landscape architects, urban designers, planners, urban geographers, urban foresters, permaculturalists, horticulturalists, small business/social enterprise experts, (alternative) economists, sociologists, social activists and engagement / communication specialists.


The Urbal Institute, Leeds Beckett (through the new LSi), Leeds University, (other colleges and universities over time) Permaculture Association, Feed Leeds (LCC Parks and Countryside, Groundwork, Urban Harvest, Edible Public Space, Back-to-Front, B/TCV and others), Leeds City Council’s new Parks and Green Spaces Forum, the new West Yorkshire Local Nature Partnership, and various local groups active in this field, including Shumacher North.

See here for the current academic team. Others will be joining, and details of business partners to be added soon.


We are confident that major funding can be justified for a project of this importance, and applications will be made through a number of routes (not all of them academic). However, it should not be necessary for full funding to be in place for work to begin. Much can be achieved though the sharing of emerging information via existing platforms and channels, between departments at both universities, various public, private and civic organisations, and the many active groups and individuals already working in this field. Much can also be achieved by re-orientating existing student modules and design projects, within existing definitions and outcomes, towards TRUG – with dedicated research being added over time, as funding comes on stream.

Funding is now coming on stream.


By utilising existing local teaching resources in new holistic / trans-disciplinary ways and drawing in expertise from established providers around the UK, TRUG will be able to add value to existing modules within existing courses, enable the establishment of new dedicated modules (including e-learning) within existing schools, and run dedicated modules outside existing schools through local institutes and institutions. There will also be significant scope for CPD activity, including seminars, conferences and accredited local and e-learning courses.


As well as the existing interactive web map, green calendar and forum, TRUG hopes to provide research and active/volunteer support to local initiatives like Feed Leeds, run dedicated teaching modules for BA and MA students at both Unis, establish a range of short courses (with qualifications) on everything from green roofs, farm-scale permaculture, fruit tree grafting, contamination bioremediation and suds retrofit, to pop-up markets and cycling veg box business models, build a physical home and community learning resource in an iconic ultra-low-impact building, run a major survey of attitudes and opinions among active groups and the general public, and initiate media coverage, films, art projects and more.


‘Committment’ Phase (Current).

This period involves the establishment of the management group, (initially involving academics at Leeds Beckett, Leeds Uni and The Permaculture Assn, but later significant actors at LCC and local organisations), using an e-list and meetings to focus the core strategy, plan the launch, establish viability and timetables for the development of teaching, research and CPD, and to explore, then follow up, funding options. It also involves on-going development of the wider expert and community network, seeking opportunities for live research projects and engagement, and the stress testing and rolling out of the crowd-sourced data systems (mainly the urbal map, calendar and forum, but also other vehicles as appropriate).

Launch: October 17th (p.m)

The launch will need to be inspirational and motivational. It will provide a showcase to maximise buy-in of staff and students to existing courses (as feasible) for 2012/13. It will test the market for potential CPD, and strengthen engagement with local experts and professionals. It will also establish a platform for collaboration with other cities and universities (especially in Europe), using a webinar – with, ideally, some European delegates present, and it will begin the wider engagement process with the Leeds community by generating media coverage.

The launch will be promoted at significant related events such as the launches of Feed Leeds, The Leeds Parks Forum and the Urban Food Justice Platform, and will fit with the next season of Green Vision, (the October event will take place on the same day and will be co-linked), and the planned UFP workshops and seminars.

‘Production’ Phase 1 – Action Research (Autumn 2012 to Summer 2013 – or longer as agreed)

Different organisations will move at different speeds. For example; during the first academic year there will be more scope for the reorientation of existing student modules at Leeds Beckett University than at Leeds Uni, while established community projects will forge ahead to their own timetables. This will not be a problem as long as the TRUG communication channels remain open and productive.

Existing modules (especially LMU Landscape at Planning) can feed into and draw from TRUG, and there will be opportunities for theses and dissertations in 12/13, including by students at non-Leeds universities (we already have some on stream).

In this phase CPD will probably take the form of high-level seminars, with ongoing development towards accredited short courses.

The public engagement and data collection systems will be promoted and developed.

‘Production Phase 2 – Specific Research (2013 – 14 and on-going)

In this phase, as well as developing the existing activities, we will launch dedicated TRUG U/G and P/G teaching modules, a full timetable of accredited CPD courses, and targeted live community and expert projects, aimed at filling the emerging gaps in our understanding and investigating areas which existing projects have not yet tackled. Some of these may become actual businesses, ground schemes, organisations and other initiatives which outlive TRUG.

‘Post-production’ Phase – Outputs

Outcomes of many kinds will be produced throughout the project. In the final analysis, all will be assessed, collated and published, both in academic journals and, crucially, in accessible user-friendly form via various popular media outlets and websites (including films, articles, books, leaflets etc), with the website (and urbal map) functioning as a central, permanent reference resource. Teaching, CPD activity and business activity should endure beyond the project, and the impact on the city should be permanently beneficial and of value to other cities and national governments.

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