SOAS University of London

Centre for Development, Environment and Policy (CeDEP)

Urban Sustainability (30 credits)

30 credits

This module provides an overview of the major contemporary issues in urban sustainability, which has increasing relevance for policy, planning and development practice in both the developed and developing world. The module examines definitions and changing ideas of urban sustainability; it examines the key aspects of governing and planning for sustainability in changing urban contexts with respect to climate change, resource management including water and energy research, health, sustainable urban food systems and the built environment; and it examines the ways in which urban sustainability is promoted through policy and planning and in practice through the use of case studies.

The themes explored in this module are applied to a variety of sustainability issues, including the tasks of finding appropriate urban responses to the challenges of climate change and persistent, and in some cases widening health inequalities.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

  • Examine and evaluate current challenges and trends of urbanisation and urban growth – particularly at the global scale – and their linkages with environmental and sustainability issues in urban environments
  • Explore historical aspects of urban development and their linkages with the emerging discourse and concerns of environmentalism and concepts of sustainable development
  • Critically examine case studies to identify challenges, policy approaches and outcomes in major global urban centres
  • Explain and evaluate the role of the urban environment as a contributor to climate change and how urban management can mitigate this
  • Outline the nature of hazards, exposure and vulnerability in urban areas and evaluate the major approaches to measuring and tracking resilience as well as interventions for improving resilience
  • Critically examine alternative ways of applying contemporary sustainability practice to different aspects of the urban context such as transport, communication, energy and water provision and health systems
Module learning outcomes
  • Demonstrate knowledge and critical understanding of the terminology and discourse of cities, urban geography, urbanisation and urban sustainability
  • Identify and critically analyse aspects of governance, policymaking and citizenship in cities
  • Synthesise and critically evaluate different perspectives around the ways in which urban sustainability is conceptualised in contemporary literature and policy
  • Distinguish the complex interactions and impacts between urban development and major contemporary environmental issues: biodiversity loss and conservation; climate change; energy and water resource management
  • Engage critically with debates around key management options for urban sustainability relating to energy and water resources, food security and the built environment
  • Recognise the complex linkages between the urban context, human health and disease, including strategies for promoting both urban population health and sustainable development
  • Understand and critically evaluate the main features and challenges of addressing urban sustainability through the post-2015 sustainable development agenda, through the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)


We recommend students dedicate 15 – 20 hours of study time per week. This can be broken down to 15 – 20 hours per unit and 30 hours per assignment and 45 hours for exam revision.

Scope and syllabus

The module comprises 14 units to be studied over 15 weeks:

  1. Introduction: Defining and framing urban sustainability
  2. Urban sustainability challenges and trends
  3. Evolving ideas of urban sustainability
  4. Sustainable cities? Case studies on trends, policy and practice
  5. Urban governance
  6. Urban sustainability and climate change
  7. Urban climate change resilience
  8. Independent research unit
  9. Urban water resources
  10. Urban energy resources
  11. The built environment
  12. Transport and communications
  13. Food security and food systems
  14. Urban sustainability and health

Method of assessment

This module is assessed by:

  • 500-word commentary and critical discussion (10%)
  • 2500–3000 word examined assignment (EA), with an element of online interaction and discussion (40%)
  • two-hour written examination (50%)

Since the EA is an element of the formal examination process, please note the following:

  • The EA questions and submission date will be available on the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE).
  • The EA is submitted by uploading it to the VLE.
  • The EA is marked by the module tutor and students will receive a percentage mark and feedback.
  • Answers submitted must be entirely the student’s own work and not a product of collaboration.
  • Plagiarism is a breach of regulations. To ensure compliance with the specific University of London regulations, all students are advised to read the guidelines on referencing the work of other people. For more detailed information, see the FAQ on the VLE.

Suggested reading

Brand, C., Bricas, N., Conaré, D., Daviron, B., Debru, J., Michel, L. and Soulard, C.T. eds., 2019. Designing Urban Food Policies: Concepts and Approaches. Springer.

Elmqvist, T., Bai, X., Frantzeskaki, N., Griffith, C., Maddox, D., McPhearson, T., Parnell, S., Romero-Lankao, P., Simon, D. and Watkins, M. (eds.) 2018. Urban Planet: Knowledge towards Sustainable Cities, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Seto, K.C.Y., Solecki, W. and Griffith, C. eds., 2016. The Routledge handbook of urbanization and global environmental change. New York, NY: Routledge.

Simon, D. ed., 2016. Rethinking sustainable cities: Accessible, green and fair. Policy Press.

Troy, A. 2014. The Very Hungry City: Urban Energy Efficiency and the Economic Fate of Cities, Yale University Press.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules