BA Geography / Course details

Year of entry: 2023

Course unit details:
North American Cities - Change and Continuity in the Metropolis

Course unit fact file
Unit code GEOG20552
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Geography
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course complicates our understanding of North American cities.  It takes us through the histories and geographies of the emergence of the first North American cities.  Both Canada and the US are examples of settler colonialism – where European settlers evicted through violence those on whose land the two nation’s cities were built.  And the labour of slaves from inside and outside of Canada and the US was used to build these cities.  On this basis were founded the two nations – problematic “origins” at best I think you would agree.  And “race” remains a central issue in both countries.  So, the course builds upon critical understandings of the two nations and their cities.  It troubles their representation on the television, in the movies and on vinyl (sorry, Spotify) – although, of course, vinyl is now hip again, with record shops to be found in hipster hangouts in many gentrifying North American cities.  Not all North American cities are like Chicago, Los Angeles or New York.  Not all Canadian cities are like Toronto or Vancouver.  In fact, most are not.  This course examines the changing ways in which North American cities have been governed and their changing position in American and Canadian societies, particularly with the emergence of suburbanization from the late 1940s and the gentrification-driven-renaissance of some of their downtown from the late 1980s.  It ends by considering social justice in the contemporary North American city and who has the right to it in light of the Black Lives Matter movement, and the continued presence of the COVID 19 global pandemic.


  • To examine the emergence of, and changes in, the North American (primarily American but also Canadian) city over the late twentieth century and the first two decades of the twenty first century
  • To theorize the emergence, reproduction and restructuring of the North American city in the context of the transformation in the wider North American capitalist space economy
  • To appreciate the role of certain US cities in the generation of urban theory, most particularly Chicago, Los Angeles and New York
  • To discuss the various methods which have been used to study the North American city, particularly with a view to thinking about your own research project, the dissertation

Teaching and learning methods

A combination of lectures and seminars, with the use of a variety of on-line resources (blogs, podcasts, videos) in addition to more traditional materials in the form of academic journals and books 

Knowledge and understanding

  • An understanding, and be able to explain, the key changes in the geographies of the North American city over the course of the late twentieth century and the first two decades of the twenty first century
  • An understanding, and be able to explain the different theoretical perspectives on the emergence of, and restructuring of, the North American city, and specifically, the contribution of geographers in understanding the North American city
  • An understanding and be able to explain the various methods that have been used to study the North American city, and their various advantages and disadvantages
  • The ability to reflect on what this course has meant empirically, methodologically and theoretically for their own piece of research, the dissertation
  • The ability to illustrate your arguments with examples and case studies drawn from North American cities

Intellectual skills

  • Critical thinking, reflection and self-awareness
  • An ability to assess the merits of contrasting theories, explanations and their policy implications
  • An ability to develop, articulate and sustain structured and reasoned written and oral arguments

Practical skills

  • Information handling skills, evaluation and analysis of different kinds of evidence

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • An ability to structure and present material in creative ways
  • Inter-personal and group working skills
  • Motivation and self-directed learning
  • Awareness of your responsibility as a global citizen

Assessment methods

Assessment task


How and when feedback is provided

Weighting within unit (if relevant)



Coursework essay



Unseen exam (seen exam if COVID19 necessitates) (students choose 2 questions out of 7)


2500 words



Normally 2-4 pages, so around 1200 to 1500 words

On-line through BB, with an option for one-to-one, face to face feedback or virtually if COVID 19 necessitates 


On-line through BB, with an option for one-to-one, face to face feedback or virtually if COVID 19 necessitates 






Feedback methods

Feedback will be provided in the following ways during this course unit:

  • Extensive verbal feedback through Q&A, discussion and interactive activities within lectures and seminars;
  • Verbal feedback on any course unit issue through consultation hours;
  •  Detailed written feedback on the coursework assignments.

Recommended reading

There is no overall reading list for the course. Each week there are a small number of required readings, mostly academic journal articles, PDFs of which are provided on BB. You will also been encouraged and supported to discover other, supplementary academic readings for the particular themes on the course. There are a couple of  urban geography textbooks that are referred to at various points in the course:

Jonas AEG, McCann E and Thomas M (2015) Urban Geography: A Critical Introduction, Wiley Press, Oxford

Knox P and McCarthy L (2013) Urbanization: An Introduction to Urban Geography, Pearson, Harlow, Essex

Study hours

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

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Kevin Ward Unit coordinator

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