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Sustainable Cities (30 CATS)

GD319-30CAT Term 1 and 2
Module Leaders
Dr Jonathan Clarke
Dr Jane Webb
Option - Final year only
10 x 1 hour lectures
20 x 2 hour seminars

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


Expected Student Workload

At Warwick 1CAT = 10 expected/predicted hours of student work.

Therefore, the module is planned to provide 300 hours of student work effort overall: including all learning and assessment tasks.

Each task will be explicitly associated with the number of expected / suggested hours, and these are distributed across the timetable to maximise the responsibility taken to avoid any unreasonable workload spikes (defined as more than 10 hours of work for one module in a given week).

These working times should never be taken as indisputable "laws of physics", but they might be useful to help plan your learning as you progress through the module.

The detailed plan for student working time can be found here:

Sustainable Cities 30 CAT

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, currently defined as:

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

  3. Urban Culture, Media and Arts.

  4. Urban Society
  5. SMART Cities and Data
  6. Visioning the Future City

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.
  • 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 of sustainable cities 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;
  • 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.

Cultural Representations of the Urban Unit digs deeper into cultural representations of urban life, drawing on a range of contemporary media examples, such as comic books and films, before culminating in a critical media reflection for the output.

The Urban Society and Community Unit focuses on interactions between grass-roots networks and the formal planning system, the creation of places and embedded cultural creations. Overall, the Unit reflects on the lived experience of citizens and learners choose a subject of their choice to generate their own critical personal reflection as an output.

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 Visioning Unit offers the opportunity to learn about concrete methodologies for reflecting on the role of "utopias" in academically grounded research and reflection on the future of urban spaces and places. Students will
work towards articulating intelecutally grounded and practically illustrated proposals for sustainable cities of the future.


Students will complete and submit formative "outputs" for each unit as they progress, the completion of which will be heavily embedded in the learning opportunities. They are then be invited to develop a selection of these pieces for submission as part of a Portfolio at the end of the module.

Overall, the Portfolio must include:

1) Two of the 1,800 word outputs from Term 1, choosing from:

The 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.

The 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.

The Media Reflections Essay (Cultural Representations): 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.

2) Two of the 1,800 word outputs from Term 2, choosing from:

Lived Experience Account: A critical reflection of the students choosing, focusing on one or more related urban experiences.

Infrastructure Assessment:

Visioning Document: A Vision for urban futures, composing of both an intellectual framework and illustrative examples of its practical realisation.

3) A summary narrative of 800 words that connects the outputs in an overall discussion that adds value and shows learning beyond the individual content of each component.

The total maximum length for the Portfolio submission is 8,000 words or agreed equivalent.

  Please note: Module availability and staffing may change year on year depending on availability and other operational factors. The School for Cross-faculty Studies makes no guarantee that any modules will be offered in a particular year, or that they will necessarily be taught by the staff listed on this page.