BA Geography with International Study

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Governing Urban Transformation

Course unit fact file
Unit code GEOG30802
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


Cities are seen as the victim and the perpetrator of many 21st century issues: inequality, health, air pollution and anthropogenic climate change to name a few. The flip-side is that cities are also a key part of the solution. Governing Urban Transformation provides the conceptual tools to consider how urban change can happen. It asks how we can transform cities to become smarter, safer, cleaner, fairer and more sustainable.

Central to the transformation of cities is the question of governance. Governance is about steering, controlling or managing society in a given direction. Together, we will consider how we steer cities to do better. We will work to understand the challenges that cities face and how we can bring people together to deliver change. We will consider how we can experiment, demonstrate and implement new ways of organising cities at the rapid pace that these urban challenges demand.

In this course we will think critically about governance, experimentation, sustainability, so-called smartness and the city itself. The course will be grounded real-world case studies and led by the question of how we can realise real world change across numerous contexts.

Our approach to pedagogy and assessment is also in the spirit of realising real world change. The hours of time that are spent on coursework coupled with the intelligence of students means that there is a huge opportunity to link university resources up with the needs of the outside world. Through the completion of your applied sustainability coursework you will be given the opportunity to realise change yourself, working to meet the knowledge needs of partner organisations delivering change on the ground.


The unit aims to:

  • Understand the key sustainability challenges facing cities in the 21st Century
  • Examine theories of governance that can be used to explain urban transformation 
  • Provide an overview of how urban transformation takes place in practice through engaging with a range of case studies from around the world
  • Impart a robust appreciation of the challenges to making cities more sustainable
  • Engage with cutting edge research projects in the field of smart and sustainable cities to understand how these challenges are being addressed
  • Provide students with experience of applied challenges in the field of smart and sustainable cities


1. Introduction: the Urban Century (lecture and seminar)
2. Approaching the City (lecture and seminar)
3. Governance (lecture and seminar)
4. Urban informality and cities in the Global South (lecture and seminar)
5. Introduction to Coursework (off-campus workshop in seminar slot)
6. Transformation: Understanding Change (lecture and seminar)
7. Paradise City: sustainability, smartness and everything in between (lecture and seminar)
8. The Smart City (lecture and seminar)
9. The Experimental City (lecture and coursework support in seminars)
10. Conclusion and Revision (lecture and exam support in seminars)

Teaching and learning methods

The course will be delivered through a combination of lectures, seminars and open sessions to support the group work. The first half of the course provides the theoretical background, while the second half engages with in-depth practical examples from current research projects to explore how these ideas play out in practice.

Lectures will last up to two hours and all seminars are one hour, with attendance to both compulsory. Different content is delivered in the seminars. Exam content will draw upon topics covered in the lectures, seminars and the wider reading.  Coursework will be completed in groups of three and will address a pre-selected applied challenge selected from an extensive list of topics.

We will also use a piazza discussion space, available on Blackboard for students to share reflections and questions on lectures, seminars and coursework.


Lectures will last up to two hours. Podcasts will be made available on These are for revision purposes and are no substitute for attending in person.


Seminars do not simply support lectures in Governing Urban Transformation but are another element of content delivery. Seminars will include three sessions in the Human Geography virtual reality laboratory, which will  be used to immerse students in complex urban environments, fostering deeper understanding of spatial dynamics, governance challenges, and community perspectives within the context of urban transformations. Some aspects of the exam will only be discussed in seminars. As such, attendance to all elements of the course will be necessary to succeed.

Knowledge and understanding

  • Critically explain the major sustainability challenges facing contemporary cities.
  • Articulate key theories and frameworks used to understand and analyse urban governance and its role in driving urban transformation.
  • Understand multi-stakeholder and partnership approaches to urban governance.
  • Propose solutions to address specific sustainability challenges within urban contexts, considering feasibility, ethical implications, and potential trade-offs.

Intellectual skills

  • Articulate key urban challenges at the global scale
  • Provide and critically assess in-depth examples of specific urban responses in a variety of contexts
  • Critically assess theories of governance that can be used to explain urban transformation

Practical skills

  • Work in teams to address applied challenges
  • Develop and articulate clear, structured and reasoned arguments in both written and oral contexts
  • To evaluate sustainability projects using geographic concepts
  • Disseminate academic ideas to a non-academic audience
  • Apply VR technology to navigate and interact with diverse virtual urban environments

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Demonstrate transferable academic skills through conducting independent research and communicating ideas effectively in writing.
  • Demonstrate critical thinking and problem-solving skills applicable to complex real-world scenarios.
  • Communicate inter-personally

Assessment methods


Assessment task


How and when feedback is provided

  1. Applied coursework will be completed in groups of three, chosen from a list of pre-set topics, due end of week 12. Coursework should be presented in a report style to make the findings clear and usable for non-academic audiences.


         2. 2-hour exam


3000 words (1000 words per student)




2000 words

Written feedback via VLE within 15 working days



Written feedback on exam scripts. Opportunity to discuss with AA early in the next semester.


Recommended reading

  • Bulkeley, H. and Castán Broto, V. (2013) ”Government by experiment? Global cities and the governing of climate change”. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 38: 361–75.
  • Cronon W. (1992) Nature’s metropolis: Chicago and the Great West (Norton, New York).
  • De Jong, M., Joss, S., Schraven, D., Zhan, C. and Weijnen, M., (2015) Sustainable–smart–resilient–low carbon–eco–knowledge cities; making sense of a multitude of concepts promoting sustainable urbanization. Journal of Cleaner Production, 109, pp.25-38.
  • Ehnert, F. (2023). Review of research into urban experimentation in the fields of sustainability transitions and environmental governance. European Planning Studies, 31(1), pp.76–102.
  • Evans, J. and Karvonen, A. (2014) Give me a laboratory and I will lower your carbon footprint!’ – Urban Laboratories and the Pursuit of Low Carbon Futures. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 38 (2), 413-430.
  • Evans, J., Thomas, C. (2023) Environmental Governance. Routledge, London.
  • Evans, J., Karvonen, A. and Raven, R. (Eds.) (2016) The Experimental City: new modes and prospects of urban transformation. Routledge, London.
  • Gandy, M. (2002) Concrete and clay: re-working nature in New York City (MIT Press, New York).
  • Kohl, U. and Andersen, J. (2022). Copenhagen’s struggle to become the world’s first carbon neutral capital: How corporatist power beats sustainability. Urban Planning, 7(3), pp.230–241.
  • Voytenko, Y., McCormick, K., Evans, J. and Schliwa, G. (2015) Urban living labs for sustainability and low carbon cities in Europe: Towards a research agenda. Journal of Cleaner Production, 123, pp.45-54.
  • Zinkernagel, R.; Evans, J.; Neij, L. (2018) Applying the SDGs to cities: business as usual or new dawn?  Sustainability, 10(9), p.3201.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 2
Lectures 20
Seminars 10
Independent study hours
Independent study 168

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Craig Thomas Unit coordinator

Additional notes

Formative Assessment Task

Length (word count/time)

How and when feedback is provided

Students will be given the opportunity to submit a 200-word formative abstract toward their coursework (below)


Written feedback via VLE

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