Interdisciplinary Studies Field

Urban Planning and Sustainability

Field Description

Urbanization in Europe has a long history, but the explosive growth and scale of modern urban areas and mega-cities are both recent and largely extra-European.  In 2008, for the first time, more than half the world’s population live in towns and cities, while nine out of the world’s ten largest cities are in Asia or Latin America.  How can the scale of cities and human proximity within them enable new sustainable forms of living? Given new concentrations of poverty within them, how can cities continue to create new activities in response to the dynamics of desire that they themselves create? How will the politics of the struggle over space and gentrification play out? What new forms of district, city and metropolitan governance will emerge and how will the struggles waged in squatter neighborhoods for recognition be resolved? What new forms of urban agriculture will develop in response to the new food movements?

Students interested in this research field should understand the long historical process of urbanization and grasp how the forces driving it today differ from those of the past, and understand these changes across the time and space of cities in the context of broader economic, cultural, and political transformations.  Taking courses from a wide range of disciplines and departments, students study land use and the history of zoning, the rise of mega-cities; transitions and transformations of energy systems; waste management; water management and challenges; urban agriculture; the history of public and private transport, cities and suburbs.  Students building Courses of Study in this Research Field can select from a wide range of courses taught in departments across campus, including Anthropology, History, City and Regional Planning, Demography, English, Environmental Economics and Policy, ESPM, Geography, Landscape Architecture, Political Science, Psychology, Public Policy, and Sociology.

Library Resources is forthcoming; meanwhile, please contact Lynn Jones at

Recent ISF Senior Theses

  • Promoting Agriculture in the City: Urban Agriculture, City Planning, and Public Policy in Cuba and Brazil
  • Getting Around: The Failure of Mass Transportation and the Advent of Car-Sharing in Modern Western Cities
  • Urban Renewal in the Modern City: Can We Redevelop Without Marginalizing?
  • Greening the City: What can Detroit learn from Sussex?
  • The Present and Future of Sustainable Buildings: How They Emerged, Why They Matter
  • Healthy Cities? How Cities in Western Europe and the United States are Becoming Spaces for Longer, More Meaningful Lives
  • Public Housing Programs in Singapore and the United States: A Historical and Comparative Analysis
  • Planned Urban Development? How Rocinha Was Integrated into Rio de Janeiro
  • Going “Green”: How and Why Buildings are Turning the Leaf and Adopting Greener Practices
  • What Would Happen if Our Policies Worked? The Consequences of Eliminating Urban Informal Sectors in Developing Countries
  • The Democratic Transition to Sustainability in Urban Environments
  • How Do We Protect Them? Disaster Planning for People with Disabilities in Modern Urban Contexts

Relevant UC Berkeley Courses

  • Sociology 136: Urban Sociology
  • Education C181: Race, Identity, and Culture in Urban Schools
  • Environmental Design 102: Critical Debates in Sustainable Urbanism
  • Architecture 170A: An Historical Survey of Architecture and Urbanism
  • City and Regional Planning 140: Urban Design: City-Building and Place-Making
  • City and Regional Planning 119: Planning for Sustainability
  • Economics 155: Urban Economics
  • Anthropology 189: Cities and Citizenship
  • History 134A: The Age of the City, 1825-1933
  • International and Area Studies 158AC: Social Movements, Urban Histories, and the Politics of Memory

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Fernandes, Edésio. 2007. “Constructing the ‘Right To the City’ in Brazil.” Social & Legal Studies 16(2):201–19.

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Hao, Zhidong. 2011. Macau: History and Society. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.

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Hall, Peter. 2014. Cities of Tomorrow: An Intellectual History of Urban Planning and Design Since 1880. 4th ed. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell.

Hamnett, Chris. 2003. Unequal City: London in the Global Arena. New York: Routledge.

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Klinenberg, Eric. 2003. Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

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Logan, John R. and Harvey Molotch. 1988. Urban Fortunes: The Political Economy of Place. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

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Massey, Douglas S. and Nancy A. Denton. 1998. American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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Campus Resources