In 1913 10% of the world’s population lived in cities (UN-HABITAT, 2011), in 2018 this had increased to an estimated 55% (UN 2018). Urban areas are expected to absorb virtually all future population growth (UN 2018) and by 2030 are projected to accommodate 60% of the global population: one-third of which will live in cities with at least half a million inhabitants (UN 2018).
Despite covering only 2% of the world’s landmass, cities produce 70% of total carbon emissions, over half of the world’s GDP, are locations of often stark inequality and are uniquely vulnerable to a changing climate, as a result of their concentrated population and infrastructure. Cities are spaces of social and technological innovation, but also some of the most pressing human welfare concerns. Thus understanding the urban context is critical in promoting more sustainable trajectories of human development.
The module is structured around 6 units:
- The Built Environment;
- The Political Ecology of Cities;
- Urban Culture, Media and Arts;
- Urban Societies;
- Infrastructure and Data;
- Visioning and Future Cities.
The module aims to enable students to:
- Critically reflect upon the UN’s SDG 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable;
- Analyse the roles of built form, governance, culture and community, as they contribute to urban development;
- Engage with the opportunities offered by smart, spatial and community-led technologies, as a means to promote more sustainable development;
- Provide vision and engagement with sustainable and resilient urban futures.
Principal Learning Outcomes
By the end of the module, students will be able to:
- Critically analyse the positive positioning of urban spaces within the sustainable development agenda, analysing competing discourses on the subject in scholarship and practice
- Critically engage with physical urban development policy and practice, political ecology, the social milieu, cultural and artistic notions of the city;
- Demonstrate a critical appreciation of urban social dynamics and articulate how this impacts upon different lived experiences;
- Research, envision and design future urban pathways.
The Built Environment Unit will consider the history and theory of urban development, understood through paradigms of urban design which include built form, governance models and political ideologies, such as modernity and neo-liberalism. It will articulate ways of understanding and critiquing the built environment, as well as the processes which drive them. Finally it will interrogate the contemporary urban challenges presented by the Anthropocene, the need for sustainability, technological change and slow-burn societal changes, such as globalisation and de-industrialisation.
The Political Economy Unit will consider models of urbanisation in the West and Developing World, and the impacts of colonialism and neo-liberalism. It will reflect upon concepts of urban competitiveness, creativity, supply chains, the New Urban Crisis (Florida, 2017) the ‘Right to the City’ (Lefevre, 1967), informal and planetary urbanisation (Brenner and Schmid, 2012). Potentially, this unit will include a field trip to London in collaboration with the Prince’s Foundation.
The Urban Culture and Community Unit digs deeper into social trends and cultural representations of urban life, including grass-roots and community movements, concepts of space and place, urban media and reflections upon the lived experience of citizens. This unit is split between terms 1 and 2.
The Infrastructure and Data Unit looks at the clustering of infrastructure in urban settings, examining the traditional infrastructures of energy, water and transport, before considering the expansion of infrastructure to encapsulate social and technological factors. This trend is explored through smart technologies, spatial and community/citizen-science data. Students will be expected to work with GIS data and potentially simple coding.
The Vision and Future Cities Unit reflects upon contemporary urban challenges, concepts of utopia and dystopia, sudden shocks, wicked problems and long-term trends, and how technological innovation will affect the form and function of cities. Cities can be understood as complex, living systems of local and global significance. Students will work towards articulating convincing sustainable, resilient and adaptable pathways for cities.
Students will complete formative work for each unit as they progress, the completion of which will be heavily embedded in the learning opportunities. They will then be invited to develop a selection of pieces for submission as part of a portfolio.
The tasks include:
Design Brief (Built Environment Unit)
Essay/Photo Essay (Political Economy Unit)
Media Reflections Essay (Urban Culture, Media and Arts)
Lived Experience Account (Urban Community)
Infrastructure Assessment, potentially including a GIS dataset element (Infrastructure and Data).
Visioning Document (Vision and Future Cities)