BA Geography with International Study / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

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
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.  In addition, the labour of slaves from inside and outside of Canada and the US built 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.  Thus, 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 governance and financing of North American 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 COVID 19 global pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement.



  • 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


  • Emergence and expansion of North American Cities
  • US advanced capitalism: restructuring the contemporary North American City
  • Governing the contemporary North American City
  • Financing the contemporary North American City
  • Labouring in the North American City
  • Class and the North American City
  • Race in the North American City
  • The right to the North American City

Teaching and learning methods

The delivery of the course is through weekly 2-hour lectures and 1-hour seminars. The lectures 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 grey literature. The seminars will provide space for student-led engagement with the supporting literature and other course materials. A high level of student participation will be required from all students throughout the course. 

Knowledge and understanding

  • Understand and 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
  • Understand and 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 
  • Understand and explain the various methods that have been used to study the North American city, and their various advantages and disadvantages
  • Illustrate arguments with examples and case studies drawn from across North American cities

Intellectual skills

  • Demonstrate critical thinking, reflection and self-awareness
  • Assess the merits of contrasting theories, explanations and their policy implications
  • Develop, articulate and sustain structured and reasoned written arguments

Practical skills

  • Demonstrate information handling skills and evaluate and analyse different kinds of evidence  

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Structure and present material in creative ways
  • Demonstrate motivation and self-directed learning skills
  • Have a hightened awareness of their responsibility as a global citizen

Assessment methods

Assessment taskLengthHow and when feedback is provided

Weighting within unit (if relevant)



Coursework essay





2000 words



2 hours

Comments on scripts through VLE within 15 working days, with an option for one-to-one, face-to-face feedback 


Comments on scripts.  Opportunity to discuss with AA early in the next semester






Formative Assessment Task: Discussion of key ideas in class, including those specifically relating to the coursework essay, and revision of semester in the final lecture class.  Feedback will be provided in class discussion.  Verbal feedback through consultation hours.


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, links to which are provided on BB. You will also be 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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