Urban Planning 532:  Sustainable Development, Winter 2014


last updated Tuesday, April 22, 2014 10:00 PM

Prof. Scott Campbell (home page)
College of Architecture and Urban Planning
University Of Michigan
office:  2225C A&AB
(734) 763-2077

Students are expected to complete all the required readings before the scheduled class time, actively participate in class discussions and presentations, and prepare several written assignments over the semester.  Evaluation of your work will be based on substantive content, analytical rigor, and writing quality.  Be sure to follow appropriate citation guidelines in all your work. Late assignments will result in point reductions.

Assignments and deadlines (subject to change) Format (papers double-spaced) Date posted Date due Percent of Grade
Short Paper #1 5-6 pages Feb 5 Feb 20 15%
Short Paper #2 5-6 pages Mar 12 Apr 1 15%
group project: select groups (2-3 students) email to instructor with names   Feb 11  
group project: submit a concise description of the proposed project 2 pages   Feb 18  
group project: presentation 15-20 minutes   Apr 15, 17 15%
group project: written final version 12-15 pages suggested, plus any graphics.   Apr 24 (5:00 pm) 30%
Take-home Final Exam/Essay (questions handed out April 22) 6 pages Apr 22 Apr 30 (5:00 pm) 20%
Class participation       5%









Format and Style Guidelines (READ CAREFULLY):


Assignment One (due Thursday, Feb 20)

Answer ONE of the questions below. Read the instructions above about format and style. Please refer to assigned readings to support your argument. (Feel free to refer to other sources as well.) Page length: 5-6 pages (not counting the bibliography).

  1. Water and Sustainability: The path towards more sustainable communities arguably requires changes in ways that cities and regions extract, use, distribute and conserve natural resources: air, land, energy, minerals, flora, fauna, water, etc. Examine the distinctiveness of water as a natural resource and the resulting form/dynamics of water resource policies and politics/conflicts. That is, how is water different from other natural resources, and what implications do these specific characteristics of water resources have on shaping a sustainable water resource strategy?
  2. The compact cities debate: The current state of thinking about the relationship between urban form and sustainability can be confusing. Are compact cities really more environmentally friendly? Referring to class readings (and, optionally, selected other readings), distill the central areas of agreement and controversy. What claims are best supported by the evidence, and what claims are the weakest? Explain the difference. (Where useful, distinguish between the different methods used to evaluate the compact cities/sustainability relationship: e.g., before-after studies, large-scale statistical modeling, simulation, etc.). In the end, under what circumstances should planners pursue the compact city as a path towards sustainability?
  3. Fracking: Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) represents a major source of potential domestic energy production, a high-paying growth sector, and a new set of complex environmental challenges. For urban planners, fracking also raises a complex set of questions about sustainability, land use regulation, state vs. local authority, etc. Your task: select a hypothetical audience: (a) a city council, (b) a local planning commission, or (c) an audience of professional planners. Write a concise document (e.g., a primer) on what planners should know about fracking, including the implications for local (or regional) land use planning.
  4. Local Sustainability Plans: Referring to a selection of sustainability plans (e.g., from the February 6-11 readings and/or elsewhere), what is the current state of local planning for sustainability? For example, what common goals and strategies do you identify among the plans? Is there a shared definition (either explicit or implied) of "sustainability"? What differentiates stronger vs. weaker sustainability plans? Where might there be room for improvement?



Assignment Two (due Tuesday, April 1) [REVISED date]

  1. Greenbelts: Should greenbelts be a central element of sustainability efforts? Examine the power and limitations of greenbelts (especially in an era of large, poly-centric regions and mega-regions). Can you point to examples of greenbelts as evidence of either success or failure in promoting sustainability? (Be sure to provide a clear definition of "greenbelt" and describe its elements and variations.)
  2. West Coast Regionalism: We read about both Portland and San Francisco. Each region has the reputation of embracing progressive environmental politics and strong local identification with their respective natural settings. In your essay, using either one or both of these cases, examine whether these reputations are deserved, and if this translates to being more "sustainable" than other regions. What lessons can other regions learn about constructing such a combination of economic vibrancy and environmental engagement?
  3. Ecoregions: Bioregionalists (among others) assert that the region is the best scale to work towards sustainability. In your essay, examine the promises and downsides of the regional scale. (Where appropriate, distinguish between logical, ideological and empirical arguments.) Do some elements of sustainability (transportation, energy, land use, water resources, agriculture, food systems, etc.) work better at the regional scale than others?
  4. Sustainability outside the U.S.:Most of the course readings have focused on sustainable development in advanced, late-industrial countries (primarily the United States). When the focus shifts to the rest of the world (especially rapidly developing nations with large urban poor populations), how does the discussion of sustainability change? (To focus your essay, you might select several issues to examine, such as land, property rights, social justice, poverty, livability, technology, population health, the resource cycle, access to water and other resources, the role of the state, etc.)
  5. Measures: If we are planning for the sustainable city, how do we know if we are making progress? That is, how can we measure sustainability? Identify and compare several specific measures of sustainability at the local level. What is being measured? What data is required? What is the unit of analysis? What is the reference point (e.g., does the city track the measure over time and/or compare its measure to that of other cities?) How well or poorly do you think it measures sustainability? Finally, what specific recommendations might you give a city considering developing measures of sustainability?




Take-Home Essay/Final Exam (6 pages total; due April 30, 5:00 pm)

This is a take-home essay exam. Your answers are due no later than 5 pm April 30.   Please structure your essay carefully (i.e., think and outline your argument before you write), and illustrate with brief examples where necessary. Be sure to answer each part of the question.  Refer to the class readings where appropriate. (If you use direct quotes, place the material inside quotation marks and provide a citation, including the page number. Even if you just summarize material, be sure to cite. See my web page on writing & citation formats.)  You will be graded based on your knowledge of the material; the logic, structure and thoughtfulness of your argument; and the fit between the question and your answer. Your answers are short, so be concise; get to the point quickly. Avoid restating platitudes and truisms; instead, strive for analytical rigor (and don't be afraid to note contradictions where necessary). Clearly define terms. Be sure your answer is double-spaced, with page numbers, and a single staple. Good luck! 

Two options:    (a) Select two questions and write two short essays (3 pages each), or (b) Select one question and write a single, longer essay (6 pages)     [total length: 6 pages, double-spaced, not counting the bibliography].

Choose your question(s) from the following list:

  1. Resilience: Contrast the concepts of resilience and sustainability. Does each refer to a process, a characteristic (e.g., of cites or systems), an outcome and/or an ideology? Are these two terms synonymous, complementary, in conflict, etc.? How does the discussion of "resilience" change (enrich, complicate) our approach to sustainable development?
  2. Before and After the Emergence of Global Climate Change: How does global climate change (GCC) alter our approach to sustainable development? To what extent does this new emphasis on reducing greenhouse gases and preparing for GCC impacts (e.g., sea level rise, changing weather patterns, more dramatic weather events) transform the sustainability movement and its ideas, priorities, strategies? Does GCC remap the social and spatial distribution of risk and reward of environmental change?
  3. Conceptions of Nature: One finds diverse, varied conceptions of "nature" in the literature on sustainability. Using selected readings and examples, examine the connection between specific approaches towards sustainability and the corresponding views of nature. (You might consider such issues as the interaction/relationship/distance between humans and nature; the sharp or blurry boundaries between nature and the city; the idea of nature as wholly separate or instead a human-nature cyborg; nature as sanctuary; nature as dangerous wilderness; nature as warehouse of natural resources; nature as a featureless spatial plain awaiting development; etc.).
  4. Social Justice: Some have argued that the path towards a more sustainable city is also the path towards a more equitable city, or even that sustainability is not possible without social justice. Critically examine both the interdependence and the tensions between environmental sustainability and social justice. What recommendations would you make to advance the fruitful confederation of the two movements?
  5. Sustainability across Disciplines:  Pick two disciplines (e.g., planning, architecture, civil engineering, public health, economics, environmental science) and contrast their approach to sustainability.  Identify a few key similarities and differences and explore (e.g., the relationship between humans and nature, working definition of sustainability, causes of unsustainability, preferred strategies towards sustainability, biggest threats, scale of intervention, etc.)
  6. Rethinking Sustainability Education: Twenty years ago, designing a graduate course on sustainable development was simpler: there were few courses offered, students knew far less about the term, and there was little written on the idea, so the instructor simply searched for the small set of writings on sustainability, added related ideas from ecology, environmental economics and policy, and had a fairly wide and new field to explore. Today students are far wiser and more informed about sustainability, the literature is huge, sustainability is incorporated into many other courses, and both the glut of writings (boosteristic, technical, critical) and saturated skepticism towards sustainability have created a far higher standard for structuring a course that adds real value and makes a substantive, fresh addition to a student's evolution.
    Your task: rethink the teaching of sustainability (specifically, in graduate professional programs), either in the context of how to construct a single course on sustainability or a series of courses. What exactly do we need to know and learn and teach about sustainability? Is it a way of thinking? A value system? A set of case studies (loosely organized around the idea of sustainability)? A set of methodologies for measuring sustainability? A set of professional best practices for sustainability (e.g., how to plan a compact city, reduce VMT, etc.)? If aspects of sustainability are now integrated into many other courses throughout a graduate program, what additional or unique value (if any) arises from teaching a separate course focused explicitly and wholly on sustainability?



Group Project: An Analysis of an eco-eco conflict and/or a sustainability effort

Due Dates (revised):


PRESENTATION FORMAT and What to Distribute BEFORE the presentation


You may choose to examine either a single or multiple cases. The case(s) may be either in the US and/or international. Be sure to examine both economic and environmental concerns. Your emphasis may be either on the sources of the conflict itself and/or on strategies to resolve the conflict (ideally both). Below is a selected list of student-selected topics from past years that suggests the broad range of possible topics for either the individual paper or group project.

Here are some possible topics that are particularly timely: