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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 3 units, currently defined as:

  1. The Built Environment;
  2. The Political Ecology of Cities;

  3. Urban Culture, Media and Arts.

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, through perspective of spatial and physical planning and political ecology, as well as examine the role art and culture in representing the city.

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 of sustainable cities in scholarship and practice
  • Apply a selection of perspectives on the discourse of “sustainable cities”, including physical urban development policy and practice, political ecology and cultural and artistic notions of the city
  • Undertake individual research working with and within the above perspectives
  • Identify opportunities for more sustainable urban life and make proposals for their realisation
  • Produce rigorous mixed media outputs that analyse the urban fabric and its representation
  • Collate and rework individual outputs into a coherent portfolio of research and analysis, connected by appropiate metanarrative(s)

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.


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 Ecology Unit will consider models of urbanisation in the West and lower income countries, along with the impacts of colonialism and neo-liberalism. It invites learners to view the urban space for the lens of ecological resources and processes, the operations of which are heavily influenced by the nature of human power relations and politics.

The Urban Culture Unit digs deeper into social trends and cultural representations of urban life, drawing on a range of contemporary media examples, such as comic book representations and films, before culminating in a critical media reflection for the output



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.

 Photo Essay (Political Ecology Unit)

  • This work will record and critique urban history and paradigms of urban development across the city using the transdisciplinary lens of Political Ecology.

 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.