GEOG40780 Physical Geography of Cities

Academic Year 2022/2023

This is a seminar course which aims to study the relationship between the city and its physical environment, from which it gathers resources and into which it deposits wastes. Over 50% of humanity now live in urbanised areas, which profoundly alter the ‘natural’ environment in nearly every respect. These areas require enormous investments of materials and energy to be sustained and are designed primarily for their human occupants. Hence, although urban areas occupy just 3% of the ice-free land they are primarily responsible for anthropogenically–driven local, regional and global environmental changes.

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Curricular information is subject to change

Learning Outcomes:

On successful completion of the module the student will have:
• Gained knowledge of global urban geography and the physical geography of cities;
• Shown an understanding of the links between cities, urbanisation and global environmental change and;
• Have conducted a group-based research project.

Indicative Module Content:

The Physical Geography of Cities will meet for two hours each week and will contain both a lecture and seminar component. In the former, I will introduce different topics and concentrate on changes in the ‘natural’ stores and flows of energy and materials in urban areas and their impact. The seminar component will be based on student-led discussions of readings. An important component of the course will be discussions on these topics and the potential for redesigning cities to moderate their local, regional and global impacts. I will introduce each of the topic, which will be discussed in the first hour of class the following week.
1. Introduction & Urban Metabolism
2. Global geography of cities.
3. Biometeorology and architecture.
4. Elements of urban form: Buildings
5. Elements of urban function: Transport
6. Urban effects: Atmosphere
a. Urban Heat Islands
b. Air quality & Heatwaves
7. Urban effect: Hydrosphere
8. Urban effect: Biosphere
9. Climate change and cities
10. Green cities
11. Urban environmental management: vulnerability and risk
12. Sustainable urban design

Student Effort Hours: 
Student Effort Type Hours


Autonomous Student Learning




Approaches to Teaching and Learning:
This is a seminar based so much of the module is concerned with discussing sets of readings that focus on aspects of the city and its physical geography. Maintaining a notebook is a key part of the module learning as it represents both a place where all of your course notes are recorded and a place for reflections. Over the term, your notebook records should become more sophisticated as you start to connect ideas presented in the readings and add your own. The module also introduces the idea of group research including planning and presenting. The essay (which is the work of an individual) draws on the reserach completed by all students. 
Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations

Not applicable to this module.

Module Requisites and Incompatibles
Not applicable to this module.
Assessment Strategy  
Description Timing Open Book Exam Component Scale Must Pass Component % of Final Grade
Essay: Substantial final essay or project on an agreed topic. Coursework (End of Trimester) n/a Graded No


Continuous Assessment: Participation in ongoing seminar discussions including preparation and leading seminars. A course notebook is maintained as evidence of ongoing reading and reflection. Throughout the Trimester n/a Graded No


Carry forward of passed components
Resit In Terminal Exam
Summer No
Please see Student Jargon Buster for more information about remediation types and timing. 
Feedback Strategy/Strategies

• Feedback individually to students, on an activity or draft prior to summative assessment
• Feedback individually to students, post-assessment
• Group/class feedback, post-assessment

How will my Feedback be Delivered?

The feedback relates to the running of a seminar including the presentation on the topic and subsequent enagament with other students. The feedback for the final essay occurs as the student is preparing for submission and then after grading.

1. Metabolism
Grimm, N. B., Faeth, S. H., Golubiewski, N. E., Redman, C. L., Wu, J., Bai, X., & Briggs, J. M. (2008). Global change and the ecology of cities. science,319(5864), 756-760.
Kennedy, C., Pincetl, S., & Bunje, P. (2011). The study of urban metabolism and its applications to urban planning and design. Environmental pollution, 159(8), 1965-1973.
Niza, S., Rosado, L., & Ferrao, P. (2009). Urban metabolism. Journal of Industrial Ecology, 13(3), 384-405.
Rees, W., & Wackernagel, M. (2008). Urban ecological footprints: why cities cannot be sustainable—and why they are a key to sustainability. In Urban Ecology (pp. 537-555). Springer US.

2. Geography of Cities
Small, C. (2004). Global population distribution and urban land use in geophysical parameter space. Earth Interactions, 8(8), 1-18.
Potere D., Schneider A. Angel S. and Civco D.L. (2009) Mapping urban areas on a global scale: which of the eight maps now available is more accurate? International Journal of Remote Sensing 30, 65.
Taubenböck, H., Esch, T., Felbier, A., Wiesner, M., Roth, A., & Dech, S. (2012). Monitoring urbanization in mega cities from space. Remote sensing of Environment, 117, 162-176.31–6558.
3. Biometeorology and Architecture
John, G., Clements-Croome, D., & Jeronimidis, G. (2005). Sustainable building solutions: a review of lessons from the natural world. Building and environment,40(3), 319-328.
Nichol J.F. and Humphreys M.A. 2002: Adaptive thermal comfort and sustainable thermal standards for buildings. Energy and buildings 34, 563-572.
deDear R. 2004: Thermal comfort in practice. Indoor Air 14, 32–39.
Also included is an excel spreadsheet that you should download.
4. Building & Transport
Kenworthy J.R. The eco-city: ten key transport and planning dimensions for sustainable city development. Environment & Urbanization 18, 67–85.
Perez-Lombard L., Ortiz J. & Pout C. 2008: A review on buildings energy consumption information. Energy and Buildings 40, 394–398.
Knowles R. 2003: The solar envelope: its meaning for energy and buildings. Energy and Buildings 35, 15–25.
Steemers K. 2003: Energy and the city: density, buildings and transport. Energy and Buildings 35, 3–14.

5. Urban Effects: Atmosphere
Fenger J. 1999: Urban air quality. Atmospheric Environment 33, 4877-4900
Gurjara B.R., Butler T.M., Lawrence M.G. and Lelieveld J. 2008: Evaluation of emissions and air quality in megacities, Atmospheric Environment 42, 1593–1606.
Ng, E. 2009: Policies and technical guidelines for urban planning of high-density cities – air ventilation assessment (AVA) of Hong Kong. Building and Environment 44 (2009) 1478–1488.
Nemery B., Hoet P.H.M. and Nemmar A. 2001: The Meuse Valley fog of 1930: an air pollution disaster, Lancet 357: 704–08

6. Urban Effects: Heat Islands & Heat Waves
Fouillet A., Rey G., Laurent F., Pavillon G., Bellec S., Guihenneuc-Jouyaux C., Clavel J., Jougla E. and He´mon D. 2006: Excess mortality related to the August 2003 heat wave in France. Int Arch Occup Environ Health 80: 16–24.
Grimmond S. 2007: Urbanization and global environmental change: local effects of urban warming. Cities and global environmental change, 83-88.
Klinenberg E. 1999: Denaturalizing disaster: A social autopsy of the 1995 Chicago heat wave. Theory and Society 28, 239-295.
Pascal M., Laaidi K., Ledrans M., Baffert E., Caserio-Schönemann C., Le Tertre A., Manach J., Medina S., Rudant J, and Empereur-Bissonnet P. 2006: France’s heat health watch warning system. Int J Biometeorol 50: 144–153

7. Urban Effects: The hydrologic cycle
Barles S. 2007: Urban metabolism and river systems: an historical perspective – Paris and the Seine, 1790–1970. Hydrol. Earth System Science, 11, 1757–1769.
Mentens J., Raes D. And Hemy M. 2006: Green roofs as a tool for solving the rainwater runoff problem in the urbanized 21st century? Landscape and Urban Planning 77, 217–226
Paul M.J. and Meyer J.L. 2001: Streams in the Urban Landscape. Annual Review of Ecological Systems 32: 333–65
Shepherd, J.M. 2005: A Review of Current Investigations of Urban-Induced Rainfall and Recommendations for the Future. Earth Interactions 9, Paper No. 12.
Stone, B. 2004: Paving over paradise: how land use regulations promote residential imperviousness. Landscape and Urban Planning 69, 101–113.

8. Urban Effects: Biosphere
Ningal T, Mills G. and Smithwick P. 2010: An inventory of trees in Dublin city centre. Irish Geography 43, 161-176.
Nowak D.J. 2006: Institutionalizing urban forestry as a ‘‘biotechnology’’ to improve environmental quality. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening 5, 93–100.
Skarback E. 2007: Urban forests as compensation measures for infrastructure development. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening 6, 279–285.
Slabbekoorn H. and den Boer-Visser A. 2006: Cities Change the Songs of Birds. Current Biology 16, 2326–2331.
Ziska L.H., Dennis E., Gebhard D.A., Frenz M.D., Faulkner S, Singer B.D. and Straka J.G. 2003: Cities as harbingers of climate change: Common ragweed, urbanization, and public health. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 111, 290-295.

9. Climate Change
Coburn J. 209: Cities, Climate Change and Urban Heat Island Mitigation: Localising Global Environmental Science. Urban Studies 46, 413-427.
de Sherbinin et al 2007: The vulnerability of global cities to climate hazards. Envronment and Urbanisation 19, 39-64
Dodman 2009: Blaming cities for climate change: Ananalysis of greenhouse gas inventories. Environment and Urbanization 21: 185-201.
Kennedy C. et al 2009: Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Global Cities, Environ. Sci. 43, 7297–7302.
McGranahan G. et al 2007: The rising tide: assessing the risks of climate change and human settlements in low elevation coastal zones. Environment and Urbanisation 19, 17–37.
The World Bank 2010: Cities and Climate Change: An urgent agenda. Published by The World Bank.

10. Sustainable Cities
Campbell S. 2007: Green Cities, Growing Cities, Just Cities?: Urban Planning and the Contradictions of Sustainable Development. Journal of the American Planning Association 62, 296-312.
Chance T. 2009: Towards sustainable residential communities; the Beddington Zero Energy Development (BedZED) and beyond. Environment and Urbanization 21, 527-544.
Haughton G. 1997: Developing sustainable urban development models. Cities 14, 189-195
Jabareen Y.R. 2006: Sustainable Urban Forms: Their Typologies, Models, and Concepts. Journal of Planning Education and Research 26, 38-52
Nader S. 2009: Paths to a low-carbon economy – the Masdar example. Energy Procedia 3951-3958.
Timetabling information is displayed only for guidance purposes, relates to the current Academic Year only and is subject to change.
Lecture Offering 1 Week(s) - 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33 Wed 11:00 - 12:50