The Theory and Practice of Sustainable Urban Development: SDG #11 and Beyond

This project-based course seeks a critical yet constructive approach to the emerging urban agenda formulated within the UN’s 2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The inclusion of SDG#11 (“Sustainable Cities and Communities”) is considered ground-breaking for its formal embrace of cities within the international framing of sustainable development goals, by focusing attention not only on how cities can be made sustainable but also how they can become drivers of sustainability more broadly. The larger aim of the class is to develop materials to be displayed in a Virtual Pavilion on sustainable urban development sponsored by the Urban Economic Forum (UEF), in partnership with UN-Habitat and others. In preparation for these deliverables, students will examine sustainable urban development through five dimensions: scale, infrastructure, governance, technological innovation, and ethics. They also will determine whether synergies between these dimensions exist in practice, how and why, and will ask whether opportunities may exist for more robust cross-sectoral approaches to sustainability, emphasizing the range of SDGs beyond #11. In the process, we underscore the necessity of achieving sustainable development with a better appreciation for urban space and with attention to processes and metrics that help cultivate effective, long-term sustainability.

The class begins with an initial historical and theoretical exploration of sustainable urban development and its relationship to other environmental domains and international development over the past three decades. The process through which particular goals were established as part of the UN’s 2030 Agenda and through which indicators were chosen as the means of measuring “success” will be a key area of focus, with a view to how they relate to local practice.  Weekly readings and discussions will provide the foundational elements for students to develop a compendium of sustainable urban development practices as a key deliverable from the class. Comparative case studies will be directed towards understanding differences within and between sustainability in the Global South and North. In addition, students will produce an analytical research essay that develops a critical analysis of sustainable urban development in engagement with the case study research and/or through one or more of the five dimensions explored in class.