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School of Environment, Education and Development

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BSc Geography

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BSc Geography / Course details

Year of entry: 2018

Course unit details:
City Planet: Challenges in theory and practice

Unit code GEOG21891
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Geography
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


In January 2008, Time Magazine published a special issue entitled “Nylonkong,” a portmanteau comprised of the names of three cities – New York, London, and Hong Kong. The aim was to show how the three cities, linked by “a shared economic culture, have come to be both examples and explanations of globalisation” (Elliott, 17 January). And for good reason: these and other cities, such as Tokyo, Shanghai, Dubai, and Johannesburg, share deeply integrated financial, political and cultural relations that have made them into key drivers of the world economy. These cities are critical nodes in long-distance airline networks; they are the points through which major telecommunications traffic flows; they are host to pre-eminent universities, media outlets, news agencies and financial firms that shape and influence everyday life well beyond their city limits. However, globalisation unevenly impacts different social groups and cities, as evidenced by discussions of Detroit and deindustrialization; Los Angeles and the military industrial complex; Dharavi and the informal economy; Cairo and grassroots democracy; Dubai and migrant labour; Buenos Aires and austerity. What happens in cities has increasingly global implications. These concerns are the premise of our inquiry.


This course examines the role of cities in an era of globalisation. Specifically, what role do cities (and urbanisation) play in defining and enacting global processes? This question will be examined from two perspectives. The first approach is theoretical. An historical approach will be taken to investigate the dominant theories employed to conceptualise and categorise the form and function of cities in the global era. The ideas are presented to give students an appreciation for how theories attempt to express the complexity of the ‘real world’, and the opportunities and limits that they hold. This is the theoretical challenge of City Planet.  The second approach to the course is practical. The major challenges discussed in this course have affected urban planners, policy-makers, private businesses, and residents long before the current ‘global’ era. The aim is to understand how different stakeholders in the city attempt to overcome these challenges – what issues they identify, how they conceptualise them, and how their interventions attempt to make the city a better place. This is the practical challenge of City Planet. These sessions will involve three meetings outside the classroom to investigate urban challenges first-hand.  Students will be asked to use these opportunities to critically engage with the theories that they learned in the first half of the course, and critically assess how they support or contest what they have come to understand from the literature. Finally, after a semester examining both theoretical and practical challenges to the city, students will be asked to reflect on the significance of the issues discussed during the semester, and how they see themselves and their role as members of contemporary urban society.


The field interventions and coursework will provide students with a foundational understanding of urbanism in a globalised world. Students should be comfortable with the major concepts used to understand cities and urbanism, have a critical understanding of urban development across contexts, and be able to thoughtfully engage with global challenges bound up in urban development issues.


  • To introduce to students the emergence of a “global urbanism”: the development of the concept, and how it is distinct from previous forms of urbanisation;
  • To examine the different ways cities and have been conceptualised and classified in the global era;
  • To study the different functions and relations which connect cities today;
  • To engage with the different challenges faced by cities, and the various approaches different stakeholders undertake to resolve them. 

Learning outcomes

By the end of the semester students should be able to:

  • Define, describe and debate the major theories relating to urban globalisation as practiced in geography;
  • Identify and critically consider urban typologies and inter-urban relations pertaining to contemporary globalisation in/of cities;
  • To identify and understand urban issues relating to economic growth, political governance, and social power with reference to cities in both the developed and developing worlds;
  • To identify and explain the different approaches city stakeholders have taken to resolve these challenges.   


Course Structure by Week

Part One: Challenges in Theory

1: Introduction: The city and the world system

2: Historical antecedents

3: World city/global city

4: Critiques of an agenda I

5. Critiques of an agenda II


Part Two: Challenges in Practice

6: Uneven development and the city (Field site 1, Northern Quarter)

7: Urban entrepreneurialism and the creative class

8: Megaprojects and spectacular designs (Field site 2, Eastlands)

9: Study Week

10: Study Week

11: Mobilities

12: Resistance and Representation 

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods and e-learning: 

The course unit will be delivered via a 2+1 format, namely a two-hour lecture and a one-hour seminar each week. The lecture sessions will be interactive and include a variety of individual and group activities. Sessions will draw upon a range of resources, from videos to photographic images, from state documentation to other literature. The seminars will provide space for student-led engagement with the supporting documents and other course materials. Three short (less than a day) field visits will encourage student engagement and interaction outside the classroom. Active and imaginative participation will be required from all students throughout the course.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

Skills and employability:

  • Critical thinking, reflection and self-awareness of the conceptual and practical challenges facing cities today;
  • An ability to collect and assess different types of evidence for research; 
  • An ability to formulate and structure rational written and oral arguments;
  • Personal responsibility for organizing research and independent learning; 

Assessment methods

Students will be assessed by two pieces of individual coursework, the first worth 40% and the second worth 60%. There is no exam.

Coursework one assignment must be submitted by 2 PM (GMT) Thursday of week 7, and the timing is deliberate, to allow you to speak to us both over the first few weeks of the course unit and to have the first study week to work on the coursework! There is a 1500 word limit on this first coursework. Coursework two assignment must be submitted by 2PM (GMT) Thursday of week 12. There is a 2500 word limit on this second coursework.

Feedback methods

Feedback and late assignments

Feedback will be provided in the following ways throughout the course unit:

  • Extensive verbal feedback through discussion and interactive activities during lectures and seminars;
  • Verbal feedback during face-to-face consultation hours;
  • Detailed written commentary and constructive criticism on the course assignments.

Recommended reading

Selected readings:

There is no single course text. Readings for each lecture will be made available online. The following represent the range of material covered during the course:


Friedmann, J. 1986. The world city hypothesis. Development and Change, 17(1), pp. 69-84.


Sassen, S. 2001. The Global City: New York, London, Tokyo. Princeton University Press: Princeton,

NJ. pp. 3-22


Robinson, J. 2002. Global and world cities: a view from off the map. International Journal of

Urban and Regional Research 26, pp. 531-554.


Graham, S. & Marvin, S. 2001. The City as Sociotechnical Process in Splintering Urbanism:

Networked Infrastructures, Technological Mobilities and the Urban Condition. London:



Harvey, D. 1989. From managerialism to entrepreneurialism: The transformation in urban

governance in late capitalism. Geografiska Annaler B, 71(1), pp. 3-17.


Florida, R. 2002. The economic geography of talent. Annals of the Association of American

Geographers 92, pp. 743-755.


Davis, M. 2006. Fear and money in Dubai, New Left Review, 41, pp.46-68


Sklair, L. 2005. The transnational capitalist class and contemporary architecture in

globalizing cities. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 23(3):



Swyngedouw, E., Mouleart, F. and Rodriguez, A. 2002. Neoliberal urbanisation in Europe: Large

scale urban development projects and the new urban policy. Antipode, 34(3), 542-577.


Smith, N. 2002. New globalism, new urbanism: gentrification as a global urban strategy,

Antipode, 34, pp. 428– 450.


Key journals:

These are the journals that you will encounter a number of times over the course. You should familiarise yourself with them.


International Journal of Urban and Regional Research

Annals of the Association of American Geographers

Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers

Urban Geography


Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 20
Seminars 10
Independent study hours
Independent study 170

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
William Kutz Unit coordinator

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