SUS 7100C Cities and Sustainability

Fall 2017. Subject to refinement/updating.

Instructor: Hillary Brown, FAIA
Schedule: Wednesday 5:00 pm to 7:40 pm
Location: Spitzer Room 107
3 credits 3 hrs/week


Professor Hillary Brown FAIA
Office hours by appointment: Wednesday or Thursday mornings in Spitzer 3M15.

Section leader: Michael Duffy

This course will set out several frameworks for approaching sustainability, explore foundational principles, and examine tools and metrics for measuring social, economic and environmental progress. The course will examine positive roles cities can play in safeguarding the integrity and resilience of natural systems. It will look at policies and practices played out through both traditional and alternative forms of governance - processes based on greater inclusion and participation across the various urban sectors. Through case studies, individual and team assignments, students will become familiar with the dimensions of more ecologically sound decision-making. The term “urban ecology” provides a metaphoric framework for understanding the dynamics of various urban systems and sub-systems. The course will combine seminar lectures with participant presentations of assignment exercises, and presentations of final papers.


Faced with human adaptation to peak oil, climate change, and forecasted scarcity of resources, our professional pedagogies and practices are being realigned to promote an interdisciplinary and cross-sector response to the urban condition, preparing us for this “hot, flat and crowded world.” We examine the challenges faced and opportunities for the next generation of architects, engineers, scientists, and other professionals as we undertake necessary cultural, ethical and behavioral shifts towards more sustainable and resilient urban settlements.


•    Develop understanding of key sustainability constructs and improve ecological literacy as applied to the urban context.
•    Expand understanding of the city as an ecosystem.
•    Appreciate policy trends and emerging roles for alternative technologies in adapting built and natural systems to peak oil, rapid urbanization, and climate disruption.

Course Requirements

Attendance is mandatory at all lectures and seminars; more than 2 unexcused absences will result in automatic failure of the course. Please contact the professors in advance about personal emergencies or difficulties.

All assigned reading are mandatory. Your responsiveness to the material in written synopses and class discussions is key to your grade. All assigned readings will be posted on BLACKBOARD under “Content.”

REQUIRED Synopses of Readings: Please submit weekly a short synopsis (1 to 2 paragraphs; ~total 250-400 words) of each reading. Due by midnight, the night BEFORE class; late synopses will not be accepted. Please bring copies of your synopses to class. Synopses will be evaluated for (i) accurate coverage of the reading; and (ii) clarity, coherence, and cohesiveness. Synopses of Week 1 readings are due by midnight the Tuesday before the first class meeting. Submit synopses as MS Word attachment to emails sent to: .

For library research assistance: Contact Nilda Sanchez-Rodriguez Librarian, Spitzer Architecture Library, 212-650- 8766 or .

Submission of Assignments 1-3. All slides and written work for Assignments 1-3 shall be submitted by midnight of the day they are due. Submission will by via email to an address TBD. All slides and written work shall be submitted as PowerPoint and Word documents. Submit all material labelled as “Last name_First initial_Assign. # _,” e.g., “Jones_P_Assign.#2”.

Turn in all assigned work on time. For Assignments 1-3, the grade will drop one step for each class meeting that the work (slides and/or written work) is late. Incompletes will not be granted except in the case of an extreme medical or family emergency, supported by a doctor’s note or other written proof of a serious situation.

Written work must be your original work, including any synopses, papers, powerpoint, and final assignment. In your papers, cite all sources, including images. Use footnotes, endnotes, or in-text citations, and include a bibliography of references. For the correct format, see the Chicago Manual of Style. Images also must be cited. Be extremely cautious about your citing information posted online! Please be familiar with and in compliance with CUNY Academic Integrity policy.

Required Reading

Selected Readings from:

Newman, Beatley, Boyer. Resilient Cities: Responding to Peak Oil and Climate Change. Island Press 2009.
Heinberg, R. and Lerch, D. eds.I. Watershed Media 2010. (possible recommended purchase)
Pearson, L., Newton, P., and Roberts, P. eds. Resilient Sustainable Cities: A Future. Routledge 2014.


Class Participation (including synopses) 30%
Assignments 1 and 2 40%
Final assignment: presentation 10%
Final assignment: paper 20%
TOTAL 100%

Course Outline

Part I: Frameworks for Sustainability

Week 1: Transformational Ideas

o    Dimensions of the crisis
o    Educating for ecological sustainability
o    Indicators for optimism: emerging ecological and civic intelligence

Newman, Peter. “The Environmental Impact of Cities.” Environment and Urbanization. Pts. I-II (pp. 275-80)
Heinberg, Richard. “What is Sustainability.” The Post Carbon Reader.
Rees, William E. “The Human Nature of Unsustainability.” The Post Carbon Reader.

Assignment # 1 due mid-September

Week 2: Dimensioning the Problem/ Measuring Progress

o    Metrics for environmental sustainability
o    Ecological footprints
o    Government, corporate and institutional sustainability indicators

Rees, Wm. “Ecological footprints and appropriated carrying capacity.” Environment & Urbanization,1992.
Newman, Peter. “The Environmental Impact of Cities.” Environment and Urbanization. Pts.III-IV (pp. 280-94)
Chambers, N. Simons, C. and Wackernagel, M. Sharing Nature's Interest. Earthscan 2001. Chapter 4
Ecological Footprint of Berlin, Germany, 2000 (pdf); San Francisco Ecological Footprint. (skim)

Week 3: Evaluating Resilient Cities 

o    Process, metrics, performance indicators
o    Evaluating success: Testing rating systems

Canadian International Development Agency: Indicators for Sustainability: how cities are monitoring and evaluating their success. (pp. 1 -32 only.)
Santa Monica Sustainable City Plan (2006) and Santa Monica Report Report Card 2010.
Macmillan, S. (2006) Planned Communities and Sustainable Development: A Comparative Review of Recent UK and European Examples. pp. 1-26
Chavez, A. and Ramaswami,A. “Progress toward Low Carbon Cities: Approaches for Transboundary GHG Emissions Footprinting. Carbon Management (2011), 2:4, 471–482.

Assignment # 2 due mid-October

Week 4: Foundational Principles

o    Cities as eco-systems
o    Resilient systems
o    Resilient cities

Rees, William.”Thinking Resilience." The Post Carbon Reader pp. 25-40
UN Centre for Human Settlements. “Cities as Solutions in an Urbanizing World.” Chapter 3, Earthscan Reader.
Newman, Beatley, Boyer. Resilient Cities: Responding to Peak Oil and Climate Change. Island Press, 2009. Chapters 3 & 4.
Wiseman, J. Edwards, T. and Lukins, K. “Economic Paradigm Shifts and Policy Priorities.” Resilient Sustainable Cities, pp. 31-40

Part II: Towards Sustainable Urban Ecosystems - Governance & the Elements (earth, water, sun, air)

Week 5: Earth: ‘Shaping form to guide flow’ and other Site Planning Strategies

o    Climate zones/building form
o    Site microclimate/’urban heat islands’
o    Climate change: adaptation and mitigation Readings:

ESPERE Climate Encyclopedia: Climate in Cities. pp. 21-31
Hough, M. Cities and Natural Process. Chapter 6, Climate: Making Connections. pp. 189-218
Zimmerman, R. and Faris, C. “Infrastructure impacts and adaptation.” Annals NY Academy of Sciences, Climate Change 2010 Report

Week 6: Earth: Bio-diversity, Eco-system Services and the City

o    Urban expressions of bio-diversity/green infrastructure
o    Urban  agriculture/community-based  agriculture
o    Biophilia – theory and practice

Ackerman, Diane. “Is Nature “Natural” Anymore? In The Human Age: The World Shaped by Us, pp. 111-127.
Allen, Erika. “Growing Community Food Systems.” The Post Carbon Reader pp. 140-152. Mills, Stephanie. “Peak Nature.” The Post Carbon Reader pp. 97-115
Savard, Cleregeau, Mennechez. “Biodiversity Concepts and Urban Ecosystems.”Landscape & Urban Planning
Smit, J. and Nasr, J.”Urban Agriculture for Sustainable Cities - skim.

Assignment # 3 due mid-November

Week 7 : Sun: Receiving the Sun/ Rejecting the Sun

o    Passive solar design principles in urban design (solar envelope)
o    Overview of central and decentralized energy systems
o    Sun, wind, tide: renewable technologies at the building and city scale

Murphy, David. “The Landscape of Energy.” The Energy Reader, pp. 1-27.
Fridley, D. “Nine Challenges of Alternative Energy.” The Post Carbon Reader, pp. 229-246
Decker, Kris De. “The Solar Envelope: How to Heat and Cool Cities without Fossil Fuels.”
Dodman, David. “Blaming Cities for Climate Change.” Environment & Urbanization, pp. 1-18 (optional)

Week 8 : Water and the City

o    Hydrological cycle and urbanism
o    Regenerative water systems

Postel, Sandra. “Water: Adapting to a New Normal.” Post Carbon Reader, pp. 77-94
Jefferies, C. and Duffy, A. “The Switch Transition Manual.” Section 1 only, skim 1 or 2 case studies
Wong, T. and Brown, R. “Integrated urban water planning” in: Resilient Sustainable Cities, pp. 132-138

Week 9: Urban Agility, Urban Resilience

o    Coping with beach erosion, rising seas, flooding
o    Diverse, multimodal transportation

Birkeland, J. “Resilient and Sustainable Buildings,” in: Resilient Sustainable Cities, pp. 146-159.
Carmin, J., Nikhil, N., and Rhie,C. 2012. “Progress and Challenges in Urban Climate Adaptation Planning: Results of a Global Survey.” Cambridge, MA: MIT.
TARU, Resilience Strategy Team (2012): “Final Report on City Resilience Strategy, Indore,” eds. Bhat, G., Kulshreshtha,V., Bhonde, U., Rajasekar, U., Karanth, A., Burvey, M., SKIM but look especially at “Prioritized Strategies.”
Week 10: Takings and Leavings: Environmental Justice

o    Environmental degradation/diminishing quality of life
o    Social equity valuation

Bullard, R. “People of Color Environmentalism.” The Sustainable Urban Development Reader, pp.143-156.
EJ Working Group. “Environmental Justice and the Green Economy.”
Stephenson, W. “From Occupy to Climate Justice.” The Nation.

Week 11: Green Building Blocks – [Case Studies: Student findings]

o    Rating systems
o    Policy making: regulatory and voluntary mechanisms
o    “Living building Challenge’/towards zero energy buildings

National Science and Technology Council. Federal Research and Development Agenda, Net-Zero Energy High Performance Buildings, pp. 1-16.
Brown, H.”Towards Zero Carbon Building.” The Post Carbon Reader, pp. 322-334
Feist, W. “What is a Passive House?” Passive Haus Institute.

Week 12 - 14: Case Studies: Student Findings, December

Presentations of final research projects (Assignment # 3): PowerPoint presentations – 20 minutes.
Final paper due: late December