Sustainable Cities

Cities are home to half the world’s seven billion people and contribute to about 75% of global economic output. An additional three billion people are estimated to live in cities by 2050, increasing the urban share of the world’s population to two-thirds. 

Yet, cities and urban areas across the world face major challenges: poverty, unemployment, poor housing and lack of basic services for over 1 billion slum dwellers, constraints on productivity due to lack of basic infrastructure, and a concentration risk due to natural disasters and climate change. This classical view of the city, as a site of inextricable problems has inhibited interest and investment in them as sites of opportunity and change.  

Sustainable cities build on the extraordinary potential of urban areas to enable change due to concentration of economic activity, innovation and job creation; the potential for social transformation, high levels of concentration of culture, people, infrastructure and buildings and the ability to redefine the relationship between rural and urban, to enable rural prosperity. 

Recognising this, in September 2015, member-countries of the United Nations, adopted a historic stand-along goal on Sustainable Cities “to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable“ by 2030, leaving no person and no place behind.  

This course explores what Sustainable cities are all about. It examines how urban sustainability can be delivered: how cities function as systems of systems; how we can increase urban productivity and reduce urban poverty and inequality, enable urban inclusion and safety; provide universal basic services, housing and infrastructure; protect the urban environment, reduce risk and vulnerability . It further explores what actions need to be taken to improve urban governance and financing for sustainable development and key institutions and agents that can make this possible. 

Course Objectives & Delivery Team

The course delivered by global thought leaders and practitioners aims to equip participants with an interdisciplinary understanding of thinking and practices on Sustainable Cities. It blends practical experiences and cases from cities and regions in five continents, along with urban theory to help develop an understanding of the key issues and responses to the challenge of sustainable urbanisation. 


The course is led and curated by Aromar Revi, Director of IIHS, members of the Urban SDG Campaign and leading urbanists.  Members of this delivery team were involved in bringing Sustainable Cities into the heart of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) process. 



Course Structure and Requirements

The course is structured around a series of pre-recorded lectures, readings, quizzes, discussion forums, and other activities. Each of these course components can be completed at a time that is convenient for the student, and most quizzes and timed activities are given a two-week window for completion. The material for each week is made available each Tuesday, and once the material has been opened, it remains open for the duration of the course. There are no written assignments for this course.


In addition to the asynchronous components of the course, the instructors will hold real-time Google Hangouts to encourage students to ask questions and engage directly with the instructors. These Hangouts will be announced 1-2 weeks in advance. The estimated time commitment to complete all course components is 4-6 hours per week, though this depends heavily on the student and her objectives in taking the course.


All students who successfully complete the course will receive a digital certificate of completion, signed by the instructors. In order to successfully complete the course, students must score an average of 70% or higher on the quizzes and final exam, all of which are multiple choice. Students that score 85% or higher will receive certificates of completion with distinction. While this course is not credit granting, we encourage students to work with their own institutions to explore the option of granting credit for online coursework. 



Module 1: 15 Nov - 21 Nov 2016

LECTURE 1 The Urban Opportunity

Chapter 1. The Urban Opportunity (I&II) - Aromar Revi, Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS), Bangalore

Chapter 2. Cities as centers of cultural and social transformation (I&II) - Aromar Revi, IIHS, Bangalore

Chapter 3. The challenge of urban politics, planning and governance (I&II) - Edgar Pieterse, UCT, ACC, Cape Town 

Chapter 4. Urban theory and history - Susan Parnell, University of Cape Town, African Center for Cities, Cape Town 

Chapter 5. Understanding Urban Systems - Aromar Revi, IIHS, Bangalore


Module 2: 22 Nov - 28 Nov 2016

LECTURE 2 How does the city function?

Chapter 1a. Municipal, regional and national governance - Aromar Revi, IIHS, Bangalore

Chapter 1b. Lessons from London and Mumbai on how cities function - Aromar Revi, IIHS, Bangalore

Chapter 2. Land Management and planning (I&II) - Raf Tuts, UN-Habitat, Nairobi 

Chapter 3. Urban Utilities and Services - Aromar Revi, IIHS, Bangalore

Chapter 4. Urban Public Finance and Taxation - Aromar Revi, IIHS, Bangalore

Chapter 5. Law, order and conflict - Aromar Revi, IIHS, Bangalore


29 Nov - 05 Dec 2016



Module 3: 06 Dec - 12 Dec 2016

LECTURE 3 How can we reduce urban poverty and make cities inclusive and safe?

Chapter 1.What is urban poverty? -David Satterthwaite,International Institute for Environmental Development, London

Chapter 2. Cities as sites for poverty reduction - William Cobbett, Cities Alliance, Brussels  

Chapter 3. Affordable and adequate housing - Gautam Bhan, IIHS, Bangalore

Chapter 4. Inclusive urban development - Eugenie Birch, University of Pennsylvania, Penn IUR, Philadelphia 

Chapter 5. Safety and violence - Joshua Castellino, Middlesex University, School of Law, London 


Module 4: 13 Dec - 19 Dec 2016 

LECTURE 4 How can we make cities productive and reduce inequality?

Chapter 1. Cities as loci of production - Aromar Revi, IIHS, Bangalore

Chapter 2a. Women in the Informal Economy - Renana Jhabvala, WIEGO/SEWA Bharat, Delhi 

Chapter 2b. Case Study of SEWA, India - Renana Jhabvala, WIEGO/SEWA Bharat, Delhi 

Chapter 3. Migration, mobility and the urban-rural continuum - Aromar Revi, IIHS, Bangalore

Chapter 4. Perspective on migration and the refugee crisis - Clare Short, Cities Alliance (CA), Manchester

Chapter 5. Wealth and inequality in urban areas - Aromar Revi, IIHS, Bangalore


20 Dec 2016 - 02 Jan 2017



Module 5: 03 Jan - 09 Jan 2017 

LECTURE 5 How can we improve human development in cities?

Chapter 1. Human rights and justice - Joshua Castellino, Middlesex University, School Law, London 

Chapter 2. Urban Health - Srinath Reddy, Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), Delhi

Chapter 3. Education and skills - Chandrika Bahadur, SDG Academy, Delhi 

Chapter 4. Gender in the city - Gautam Bhan, IIHS, Bangalore

Chapter 5. Case study: South African Cities - Susan Parnell, University of Cape Town, ACC, Cape Town


Module 6: 10 Jan - 16 Jan 2017  

LECTURE 6 How can we provide universal urban services and infrastructure?

Chapter 1. Sustainable environmental services and infrastructure- Aromar Revi, IIHS, Bangalore 

Chapter 2. Sustainable transport planning- Peter Newman, Curtin University, Perth

Chapter 3. Information, Communication, and Technology- Jeffrey Sachs, Columbia University, New York

Chapter 4. Sustainable energy- Aromar Revi, IIHS, Bangalore

Chapter 5. Case study:  Bangkok- Apiwat Ratanawaraha, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok 

Module 7: 17 Jan - 23 Jan 2017   

LECTURE 7 How can the urban environment be protected?

Chapter 1. Air, water, food and natural resources - Aromar Revi, IIHS, Bangalore

Chapter 2. Urban agriculture for sustainable cities - Aromar Revi, IIHS, Bangalore

Chapter 3. Environmental planning, management and the politics of change- Raf Tuts, UN-Habitat, Nairobi 

Chapter 4. Case study: Durban- Debra Roberts, EThekwini Municipality, Durban 


24 Jan - 30 Jan 2017


Module 8: 31 Jan - 6 Feb 2017

LECTURE 8 How can we achieve urban resilience?

Chapter 1. How do cities accumulate risk exposure? - Aromar Revi, IIHS, Bangalore

Chapter 2. Urban risks and vulnerabilities - Allan Lavell, FLASCO, San Jose

Chapter 3a. Climatic impacts, adaptation and mitigation Part 1- Aromar Revi, IIHS, Bangalore

Chapter 3b. Climatic impacts, adaptation and mitigation in Chinese Cities - Seth Schultz, C40 Cities, New York

Chapter 4. Post-disaster Recovery - Kamal Kishore, National Disaster Management Authority, Delhi

Chapter 5. Building Urban Resilience - Aromar Revi, IIHS, Bangalore


Module 9: 7 Feb - 13 Feb 2017

LECTURE 9 How can cities and urban areas be governed better to make them more sustainable?

Chapter 1. New institutions and forms governance - Aromar Revi, IIHS, Bangalore

Chapter 2. Public participation and democracy-Edgar Pieterse, UCT, African Center for Cities, Cape Town

Chapter 3. Financing Sustainable Development- Michael Cohen, The New School University, New York

Chapter 4. SDGs and other global processes - Part 1- Aromar Revi, IIHS, Bangalore

Chapter 5. SDGs and other global processes - Part 2 - Eduardo Moreno, UN-Habitat, Nairobi

Chapter 6. Addressing the Opportunities of Secondary Cities - David Simon, Mistra Urban Futures, London


Module 10: 14 Feb - 20 Feb 2017

LECTURE 10 Who can enable and implement this change?

Chapter 1a. Local, regional and national government leadership - Edgardo Bilsky, UCLG, Barcelona

Chapter 1b. Local leadership: a case study of Melbourne - John Thwaites, Monash University, Melbourne

Chapter 2: International Development Agencies - Gino Van Begin and Eduardo Moreno, ICLEI and UN-Habitat

Chapter 3. Urban innovation: community based organisations and civil society - Sheela Patel, SDI/SPARC, Mumbai

Chapter 4. Urban research and methods - Eugenie Birch, University of Pennsylvania, Penn IUR, Philadelphia 

Chapter 5. The 9-point agenda to achieve sustainable cities - Jeffrey Sachs, Columbia University, New York

0 Student
Cost Free Online Course
Pace Finished
Institution SDSN.Edu
Provider Independent
Language English
Calendar 16 weeks long

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