Design Action Studio for Research, Architecture, and Urbanism

Global Urban Ecologies

Global Urban Ecologies: Urbanization, Sustainability, and the Politics of Public Space

I’ll begin with the following hypothesis: society has been completely urbanized. This hypothesis implies a definition: an urban society is a society that results from a process of complete urbanization. This urbanization is virtual today, but will become real in the future.
— Henri Lefebvre

When Lefebvre opened his classic book La Révolution Urbaine (1970) with this statement, only 37% of the global population lived in cities. Today, more than 50% of the world’s population lives in cities. According to the World Bank, by 2050, the population is expected to grow by about 7 billion – 95% of which will live in developing world cities. This has significant political, environmental, and disciplinary implications; how do architects and urbanists strategize new forms of practice in a hyper-urbanized world? Though a series of interrelated case studies, readings, and discussions, this lecture/seminar will explore relationships between sustainability and development, the environmental implications of urbanization, and the politics of public space. We will ask:

1) What does the rural-urban shift mean for the culture of cities and their public spaces? 2) How has the conception of public space changed during the 20th century and how do we define “public space” – or commons – in the 21st century? 3) How do cities manage and distribute finite natural resources and what are the social, political, and economic consequences? and 4) What does “sustainability” mean at the scale of planetary urbanization? 

We will look at a variety of cities (and urbanities) across the globe – ranging from the major cities of the North to the emerging megacities of the Global South and their informal peripheral urbanisms. We will think critically about the emergence of new “sustainable” cities such as Dongtan and Masdar and question the status of migrant workers in developing countries. Who are the stakeholders involved? What are the (possible) relationships between private and public space? 

Global Urban Ecologies website here.

Seminar sessions include:

Module 1: Urbanization

1. The Urbanization Question

2. Changing Conceptions of "The City"

3. Western Modernity or Global Modernities?

4. Slums: The Real New Urbanism?


Module 2: Sustainability

5. The Environmental Impacts of Rapid Urbanization

6. Global Resources: Food, Water, and Energy

7. Urban Subnatures: Pollution and Waste

8. The Economics of (Un)Sustainability


Module 3: The Politics of Public Space

9. What is Public Space?

10. Critical Urbanism: The Right to the City

11. Politics of Resistance

12. Cities and (In)Equity