• Offered by Fenner School of Environment and Society
  • ANU College ANU Joint Colleges of Science
  • Course subject Environmental Science
  • Areas of interest Geography, Human Ecology, Interdisciplinary Studies - Sustainability, Environmental Studies
  • Academic career UGRD
  • Mode of delivery In Person
  • Co-taught Course

Biennial course. Not offered in 2021. Next offered in 2022.

Sustainable Urban Systems aims to provide an in-depth understanding of urbanization and sustainable urban systems to students without a systemic previous exposure to the topic. Urbanization is one of the major social transformations of our time that has profound impacts on people and the planet. Cities play an increasingly critical role in local, regional and global sustainability, presenting enormous challenges but also a window of opportunity to “get it right”. The course will explore key topics such as the trend and impacts of global urbanization, the role of cities in sustainability, theoretical and conceptual understanding of cities as systems, analytical tools in measuring sustainability performance of cities, managing urban environment, and urban sustainability experiments and transition towards sustainability. A systems perspective is a common thread throughout the course. The course is strongly interdisciplinary, drawing on both classic and most recent literature in urban geography, urban ecology, urban environmental management, urban sustainability, systems innovation and transition. The course builds on Human Ecology, where the evolutionary history of human-nature relationships as well as a systems approach towards understanding such relationship is explored. 

Honours Pathway Option

Subject to the approval of the course convenor; students taking this option will be expected to complete advanced weekly readings and to be prepared to discuss this advanced material in tutorials. In addition, students will be expected to make a seminar presentation on one week's reading and to lead the subsequent discussion. A concise paper must accompany the presentation. The paper, quality of presentation and quality of subsequent facilitation will all form part of the student's mark (a minimum of 15% of overall assessment). All other assessment and requirements remain the same.

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion, students will have the knowledge and skills to:

  1. Demonstrate a basic understanding of the state, drivers and impacts of global urbanization, and the role of cities in global sustainability
  2. Demonstrate a conceptual understanding of various key perspectives towards understanding urban system, from cities as place, as organism and super organism, to cities as human dominant complex systems, as well as associated concepts and analytical tools, including urban metabolism, ecosystem approach in cities, urban-rural gradient, etc.
  3. Demonstrate a basic understanding of the challenges and opportunities in managing and governing real world cities, and exposure to innovative and successful practices in cities.
  4. Develop a systemic understanding of cities with appreciation of various interconnections among different urban structures, functions, agencies, and processes, being able to identify and avoid the siloed approach in their future professional practices.

Other Information

If you do not meet the requisites for this course, it may be possible to receive a permission code. If you are prompted for a permission code on ISIS, please request one online via the following form

Indicative Assessment

  1. Open book test/quiz on basic concepts (25) [LO 1,2]
  2. Participation and contribution to class discussion and other course related activities, and facilitation of, student-led seminar activities (10) [LO 1,2,3,4]
  3. Research project report, a quantitative or qualitative, reflective exploration of a chosen element of a real world city (solid waste management, transportation, urban material energy flow, inequalities and urban poverty etc), and recommended strategies to improve the situation. (45) [LO 2,3,4]
  4. Poster and presentation of the findings of the research project (20) [LO 2,3,4]

The ANU uses Turnitin to enhance student citation and referencing techniques, and to assess assignment submissions as a component of the University's approach to managing Academic Integrity. While the use of Turnitin is not mandatory, the ANU highly recommends Turnitin is used by both teaching staff and students. For additional information regarding Turnitin please visit the ANU Online website.


The expected workload will consist of approximately 130 hours throughout the semester including:

  • Face-to face component which may consist of 1 x 2 hour lecture plus 1 x 3 hour workshop per week
  • Approximately 70 hours of self directed study which will include preparation for lectures, presentations and other assessment tasks.

Students are expected to actively participate and contribute towards discussions.

Inherent Requirements

To be determined

Requisite and Incompatibility

To enrol in this course you must have completed 24 units towards a degree including ENVS2011. Incompatible with ENVS6005.

Prescribed Texts

Not applicable.

Preliminary Reading

There will be weekly readings. In addition, the following books are recommended, both for better understanding course contents and good examples for potential student project topics.

  • Elmqvist, T., X. Bai, N. Frantzeskaki, C. Griffith, D. Maddox, T. McPhearson, S. Parnell, P. Romero-Lankao, and D. Simon, M. Watkins (eds). 2018. Urban Planet: Knowledge towards sustainable cities. Cambridge University Press. Open access www.cambridge.org/9781107196933.
  • Boyden, S., Millar, S., Newcombe, K. and O'Neill, B., 1981. Ecology of a city and its people: The case of Hong Kong. Australian National University.
  • Tim Beatley Green Urbanism: Learning from European cities. Island Press 2000.
  • Pelling, M., 2012. The vulnerability of cities: natural disasters and social resilience. Routledge.)

Assumed Knowledge

Note: The requisite statement indicating a requirement to have completed ENVS2011 can be waived in some cases, e.g. for engineering students with a systems understanding.



Tuition fees are for the academic year indicated at the top of the page.  

Commonwealth Support (CSP) Students
If you have been offered a Commonwealth supported place, your fees are set by the Australian Government for each course. At ANU 1 EFTSL is 48 units (normally 8 x 6-unit courses). More information about your student contribution amount for each course at Fees

Student Contribution Band:
Unit value:
6 units

If you are a domestic graduate coursework student with a Domestic Tuition Fee (DTF) place or international student you will be required to pay course tuition fees (see below). Course tuition fees are indexed annually. Further information for domestic and international students about tuition and other fees can be found at Fees.

Where there is a unit range displayed for this course, not all unit options below may be available.

6.00 0.12500
Domestic fee paying students
Year Fee
2021 $4110
International fee paying students
Year Fee
2021 $5880
Note: Please note that fee information is for current year only.

Offerings, Dates and Class Summary Links

ANU utilises MyTimetable to enable students to view the timetable for their enrolled courses, browse, then self-allocate to small teaching activities / tutorials so they can better plan their time. Find out more on the Timetable webpage.

There are no current offerings for this course.

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