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SDG Academy

Shaping Urban Futures

SDG Academy via edX


If we are to make sense of the future of humanity, we must understand the future of the city. For some scholars the 21st century globe will see the most significant change of human history - the move of most of the world to live in cities - a planetary urbanism that has changed the way we live globally, the way we organise ourselves economically and the impact humanity has on our environment in an age that we consequently now describe as the Anthropocene.

Most of the urban growth on the planet will be in the global South and this is where we concentrate the attention of this course, drawing on the work of a five-year programme known as PEAK Urban, involving a collaboration of researchers from China, Colombia, India, South Africa and the United Kingdom.

Through the partnership of five renowned academic institutions around the world - the University of Oxford, Peking University (Beijing), The African Centre for Cities (Cape Town), Indian Institute for Human Settlements (Bengaluru) and EAFIT University (Medellín), the PEAK Urban programme aims to aid decision-making on urban futures by:

  • Generating new research grounded in the logic of urban complexity;
  • Fostering the next generation of leaders that draw on different perspectives and backgrounds to address the greatest urban challenges of the 21st century; and,
  • Growing the capacity of cities to understand and plan their own future.

Shaping Urban Futures aims to demonstrate how complementary research projects have applied the PEAK Urban framework – Prediction, Emergence, Adoption and Knowledge – to uncover interrelated issues of health, climate change, migration and informality in places that will face the biggest challenges from rapid unplanned urbanisation.

This course consists of 6 modules, with an Introduction and a Closing module sandwiching 4 core modules. Each module involves around 5-6 hours of learning. To get the best out of the course, learners are encouraged to view all the video lectures and conversations, go through other learning material, work on all the assignments and assessments, and participate in discussions in a constructive and respectful manner.

This course is designed principally for people working in cities who want to make a difference and for all urban scholars, from early career researchers to veteran urbanists and everyone in between. This course will also hopefully inspire workers in local government, community organisations and the private sector as well as urban scholars to build upon the experiences of a global network to develop their own methods and frames to view, interpret and define urban changes in their local geographies and contexts.


Module 1
Shaping Urban Futures: An Introduction

An introduction and setting of context for your learning experience on the Shaping Urban Futures course. The goal of this course is to help you discuss the importance of cities in the 21st century global context and encourage you to share your understanding of cities and the frameworks and lenses under which they are studied.

In this module, you will get an overview of what to expect from this course, meet your instructors and have the opportunity to meet your fellow learners. It will help you familiarise yourself with the course and its contents so you are prepared to learn most effectively from the subsequent set of core modules.

Module 2
How to Know a City: New Urban Sciences

  • New Ways of Knowing the City
  • Understanding COVID-19 and other disaster scenarios through mobility data
  • Transport planning
  • Downscaling census data using satellite imagery
  • Using satellite imagery and machine learning to predict urban growth
  • Using smart phone big data to examine spatial-temporal patterns of urban park visitation
  • Using big data to study the impact of green space and the built environment on health

Module 3
What to Know in a City: New Urban Formations

  • Recognising the Emergent City
  • Climate change, plastics and drains in Delhi
  • "Invisibilised Territories": Emerging Urbanisms in Geographies of Displacement1
  • Emergent Mobilities in an Age of COVID
  • Social Solidarities, Sexualities and Health in the Urban South
  • Using Land to Finance Urban Development in the Global South

Module 4
How Cities are Changing: Urban Disruptions

  • Exploring Socio-Technical Systems
  • Fintech Remittances
  • Blockchain Cadastration
  • Platform Mobilities
  • African Kitchens and New Migrant Places in New Delhi
  • Domestic Energy

Module 5
Transforming the City: Making a Difference on the Ground

  • Grounding Knowledge
  • Questions of Knowledge and Practice in the City
  • Practice
  • Co-production in Gendered Cities
  • Rethinking Urban Health Data
  • Knowledge Transfer and Co-production for Achieving the SDGs in Cities
  • Shaping Cities with Evidence: The Important Role of Policymakers, Practitioners and Civil Societ

Module 6
Reflections on the Future City: Conclusion

  • Closing Reflections
  • Bringing It All Together: A Conversation
  • Recapping Course Learning Outcomes

Taught by

Michael Keith, Juan Carlos Duque, Pengjun Zhao, Aromar Revi, Neave O'Cleary, Susan Parnell, Edgar Pieterse, Tim Schwanen and Gautam Bhan


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