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Sustainable Cities

GD319-30CAT Term 1 and 2


GDXXX-15 Term 1 only option

Module Leaders
Dr Jonathan Clarke
Dr Alastair Smith
Option - Final year only
10 x 1 hour lectures
20 x 2 hour seminars
Field trip, community event
5 x 1 hour lectures
10 x 2 hour seminars

Not available to students outside of the School of Cross-Faculty Studies

This information relates to the 2021-22 academic year

Principal Aims

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:

  1. The Built Environment (Term 1);
  2. The Political Ecology of Cities (Term 1);
  3. Urban Culture, Media and Arts (Term 1);
  4. Urban Societies (Term 2);
  5. Infrastructure and Data (Term 2);
  6. Visioning and Future Cities (Term 2).

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.

Employability Skills

Through this module, you will develop a number of different skills that are sought by employers which will support your professional development. We have highlighted this to enable you to identify and reflect on the skills you have acquired and apply them throughout your professional journey including during the recruitment processes whether this on an CV/application form or at an interview.

  • Planning and organising skills through prioritising multiple deadliness including assessments and group tasks
  • Undertake effective independent research and critical analysis
  • Compliment photographs and other images with textual analysis for effective multimedia documentary and digital communication
  • Connect abstract concepts, theories and intellectual frameworks to their own lived experience, through the creation of a lived experience account.


Term 1:

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, Media and Arts Unit considers the representations of cities in media, including films, music, art and video games, considering how these shape contemporary imaginaries and our understanding of cities.

Term 2:

The Urban Communities Unit digs deeper into social trends and the ‘superdiversity’ of urban life, including grass-roots and community movements, concepts of space and place and reflections upon the lived experience of citizens.

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:

Term 1

Design Brief (Built Environment Unit)

  • Group or individual-based brief setting out specifications for urban development, including mix of land-uses, design coding and development economics.

 Essay/Photo Essay (Political Economy Unit)

  • This essay, potentially including visual elements, will record and critique urban history and paradigms of urban development across the city.

 Media Reflections Essay (Urban Culture, Media and Arts)

  • Students will complete an essay considering how cultural media depictions have influenced urban policy and practice or an alternative assessment to produce a 15 minute YouTube video, considering this topic.

Term 2

 Lived Experience Account (Urban Community)

  • Students will produce an account of the lived experience of a distinct urban community, including their history, challenges and future lives and based upon primary research.

 Infrastructure Assessment, potentially including a GIS dataset element (Infrastructure and Data).

  • Students will compile an assessment of an urban case study, potentially including a GIS-based dataset of spatial and subject specific knowledge, which will help to illuminate and resolve an emerging infrastructure challenges, for example using citizen experiences of local flooding.

 Visioning Document (Vision and Future Cities)

  • Students will vision a sustainable future for a major city in social, cultural, economic and technological terms, before ‘backcasting’ to design policies and interventions this will help city leaders to achieve this future pathway.