Designing London Recovery – Design Led Innovation

Designing London’s Recovery

I had just moved to New York City in 2012, fresh, excited and just getting settled into our new apartment when Hurricane Sandy swept in and flooded the building I had just moved into, taking out our electricity, water and heat. For the next 2 months I bounced around motels and hotels, uncertain when we would be allowed back, until the installation of a temporary generator allowed residents to return just in time for Christmas. I was one of the lucky ones. Hurricane Sandy cost the city of New York an estimated $70 billion in damages, making it among the costliest storms in U.S. history. destroyed neighbourhoods and businesses and years later people were still displaced. 

What happened next was interesting. The City could have simply looked at what caused the devastation – the storm surge, and “solve” the problem by increasing the coastline’s flood defenses by building a sea wall. Thankfully over the coming months, huge efforts were made to look at not only the immediate recovery of the city, but also at solutions that would get at the root of the problem – coastal erosion, climate change, and social inequalities that meant the most poor and vulnerable were hardest hit – and prevent future events from having as devastating an impact. Initiatives like Rebuild By Design brought together designers, engineers, and communities together to co-design long-lasting, sustainable solutions like Living Breakwaters, connecting physical, social, and ecological resilience by creating a “necklace” of offshore breakwaters that reduce risk, revive ecologies, and connect residents and educators to Staten Island’s shoreline. Nature-based solutions, like the Billion Oyster Project was set up to re-establish the much needed natural coastal defenses that the city famously quite literally ate away, over a century ago. The initiatives and the innovative thinkers behind those ideas were many – and helped to catalyse a powerful movement together to help build back a more resilient city.

It’s 2021 – I now live in London, and we are in the midst of a different crisis. The elements of the story are different, but somehow similar as the city looks to recover, greener, fairer, smarter. London has developed a Recovery Programme, with a grand challenge to restore confidence in the city, minimise the impact on communities and build back better the city’s economy and society. 

On March 16, 2021, the Mayor of London launched Designing London’s Recovery, an open innovation challenge that puts design-led innovation at the heart of London’s recovery from COVID-19. Funded by the London Economic Action Partnership (LEAP) and created in partnership with the Design Council, Designing London’s Recovery invites Londoners to take a radically creative and collaborative approach to co-creating transformative solutions to reshape London as a fairer, greener and resilient city than it was before the crisis.

We are all experts in our own way. We have intimate knowledge – of the street or neighbourhood that we live in, the businesses and communities we work with, and the experiences, both good and bad, of how life changed during the pandemic. Combined, our knowledge is powerful. We have a chance to reimagine our city and define our aspirations for the recovery effort. We are standing at an inflection point – what we do together now can catalyse a movement to a reimagined, better London.

That’s why I’m excited about this Challenge, and I hope you are too!

If you are interested in hearing more, join us at our upcoming Roundtables, where you’ll hear from a panel of speakers that will share their experiences and insights of the missions taking part in this Challenge – Helping Londoners into Good Work, Building Strong Communities, a Green New Deal, and High Streets for All. 

Register to attend now:

  • May 28, 10:30am -12:00pm 

Designing London’s Recovery Launch Event: Brief One & Two:

  • June 11, 10:30am -12:00pm 

Designing London’s Recovery Launch Event: Brief Three:

About the Challenge

Three innovation briefs based on the priorities of London’s Recovery Programme have been created to inspire you, focus your thinking and get you started. Send us your ideas in response to the brief by submitting an Expression of Interest on our Challenge page.

Successful applicants, who must be London-based, will form multi-disciplinary Innovation Teams that will work closely with the Greater London Authority (GLA), boroughs and London’s communities to co-design and test solutions with expert coaching, mentoring and support. 

You will have the chance to bid for funding to design, test and scale up your solutions with continued support through 2022.

You will also :

  • Benefit from access to the GLA and Design Council’s network of experts  to help you understand where and how your idea might grow.
  • Have an opportunity to showcase your ideas and work widely. 
  • Be exposed to new markets, people and organisations who will help challenge and support you to develop your thinking and work.


You can find out more about the challenge and entry requirements on our new ChallengeLDN platform, developed in partnership with Nitrous


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Sandy Tung



Posted 14/05/21

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