Courses & Universities

The 4CITIES programme comprises 15 academic courses from six universities in four cities and a master thesis. You can find on this page a description of each course and participating university department as well as information on the master’s thesis and links to completed theses from previous cohorts. To jump to a course of your choice simply use the shortcuts immediately below.

Semester 01 / Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) & l’Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB)
01 European Urban Studies
02 Urban Social Geography
03 Urban Sociology
04 Urban Economic Geography
05 Urban Analysis 1 & 2

Semester 02 / Universität Wien (UW)
06 Demography of European Cities
07 Principles of Urban Planning and Urbanism
08 Contemporary Challenges in Urban Development
09 Urban Development and Planning in Eastern Europe
10 Urban Analysis 3

Semester 03 / Københavns Universitet (KU)
11 Urbanism and Architecture
12 Urban Culture and Cultural Theory
13 Urban Analysis 4

Semester 04 / Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (UAM) & Universidad Complutense de Madrid (UCM)
14 The Sustainable and Liveable City
15 Governance and Local Welfare

Master’s Thesis

Semester 01: Brussels

VUB and ULB / September – January / 30 ECTS


Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB)

Cosmopolis Centre for Urban Research

The VUB research-unit Cosmopolis is responsible for the contents of the Brussels block (in close cooperation with the ULB). A transdisciplinary research centre in urban studies, Cosmopolis focuses on the relationship between city, culture, and society. Cosmopolis is linked to the Department of Geography and is responsible for a number of activities at the levels of academic education, academic networking, and extramural projects.

l’Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB)

Institut de Gestion de l’Environnement et d’Amenagement du Territoire (IGEAT)

IGEAT is an interdisciplinary institute of planning and environment studies, uniting about 50 researchers from several disciplines (geography, sociology, political sciences and economics).

Centre for Urban Research (CRU)

The Centre for Urban Research, which is part of the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences at the ULB, focuses mainly on urban spaces. The sociology of spaces implies that spaces should not be considered as passive elements onto which social organisation is projected but as elements with their own social effects: firstly a capacity to organise networks of interactions and secondly a capacity to produce meaning.

01 European Urban Studies

VUB / 6 ECTS > Nick Schuermans, Bas Van Heur
This course is intended to set a frame for the whole curriculum. It introduces the general agenda for the master program in ‘Urban Studies’ and aims at clarifying “Europe” as a unit of analysis in the globalisation-localisation process and as a significant scale to discuss urbanity and urban development.

The course consists of eleven classes, two workshops, a discussion seminar and a feedback session. The classes deal with a number of theoretical and thematic perspectives on globalisation and its effects on European cities. Two workshops will teach you how to write an academic paper and to find the source materials for it. In the seminar, we will discuss the specificities of European urbanity and the use of a comparative approach to understand the similarities and the differences between contemporary European cities.

02 Urban Social Geography

VUB / 6 ECTS > David Bassens
The course delivers an introduction to urban geography. It deals with the history of cities and the history of urban geography with a focus on human ecology and derived model-based developments, critical urban theory (Harvey, Friedmann, Sassen, Brenner) and postmodern/postcolonial urbanism (Massey, Robinson). The course studies both the internal sociospatial differentiation of cities as well as their insertion in (global) urban networks. Theories and methods are supported by examples taken from cities in the Global North and Global South. Students are expected to practice their skills by doing a social area analysis of Brussels. The course requires active involvement of the students, particularly in a reflecting on the reader seminar and a seminar dedicated to a discussion of position papers that reflect on a selected guest lecture.

03 Urban Sociology

ULB / 5 ECTS > Perrine Devleeshouwer
The course consists in developing a sociological approach of the city in terms of interdependencies between society (social organization) and city (spatial organization). The city is both a social product – a physical and social space shaped by social, economical, political logics, etc. – and an invested environment of social representations and of meanings owing to the social activities that itself is unfold. This environment is presented as a set of resources and constraints for the actors and social groups.

Part of the course is dedicated to theoretical approaches that, historically situated, illustrate both the evolution of the principal mains of interest of urban research and the different paradigms used by researchers. The second part focuses on the sociological factors that accompany the process of metropolisation.

04 Urban Economic Geography

ULB / 5 ECTS > Mathieu Van Criekingen
The course consists of a critical, political-economy approach to contemporary urban transformations, in Europe and beyond. It builds on the notion of social production of space as a way to combine insights from both theories of macro-social/economic change (i.e. transition to a neoliberal configuration of capitalism) and mid-range theories shedding light on the roles of actors who actively “make” the city (i.a. urban regime theory). A specific focus is set here on restructuring of the economy as major driver of urban change. Particular attention is paid i.a. to processes of metropolitanization, dynamics of re- / dis-investment in urban neighbourhoods (gentrification, contrasted evolutions of suburban areas), and the adoption of new, entrepreneurial frameworks of urban policy-making.

In an epistemological perspective, the main purpose of the course is to unpack the all-too-common representations that tend to naturalize, or de-politicize processes of urban change. Rather, cities are considered here as social and political constructs shaped by power struggles between social forces under evolving historical circumstances. The course aims at developing both a critical and empirically-grounded approach to urban socio-spatial change.

05 Urban Analysis 1 & 2

VUB and ULB / 3 and 5 ECTS > Eva Swyngedouw, Corentin Debailleul & Mathieu Van Criekingen
Students learn through fieldwork how to look at and understand neighbourhoods in the city: how neighbourhoods define the structure of the city, the roles they play in how we read the city, and their importance as an object for urban policy making. Analysing the neighbourhood is done at different levels such as refining its morphology, making a mental map(as used by Kevin Lynch), conducting qualitative research, interviewing the main actors, looking at the dynamics and social practices that are specific to the neighbourhood by summing these up in a SWOT analysis. On the basis of this analysis student propose a planning profile that is embedded in the research done. The result is presented publicly and in a written report.

In Urban Analysis 2, new ingredients about planning regulations and existing projects are added to the initial neighbourhood diagnosis realised for UA1. The expected final product of UA2 is a revised version of the development proposal designed at the end of UA1, based on students’ initial neighbourhood diagnosis. The course is articulated around four workshops and a final presentation which takes place at the end of January and involves ULB and VUB colleagues. In this second part, new ingredients about planning regulations and existing projects will be added to your neighbourhood diagnosis. The specific aim of UA2 is to bring you to think about and be confronted to planning documents and the broad range of institutional conditions and constraints framing existing neighbourhood (re)development projects in a city like Brussels.

Semester 02: Vienna

University of Vienna / March – June / 20 ECTS


Universität Wien (UW)

Institute for Geography and Regional Research

One of the strongholds of the institute is urban geography and demography, with a long tradition and international repute. Today the institute is making comparative studies of the structures and political regulations of the housing markets in Europe, the differing approaches to a revaluation of shabby housing areas in European metropolises, and the measures taken for integrating immigrants

06 Demography of European Cities

4 ECTS > Ramon Bauer
This course has three main objectives:

  1. To provide an overview of the main demographic trends in Europe and especially in European cities;
  2. To sensitise the students to the political and societal consequences of these trends;
  3. To strengthen the ability of the students to calculate and interpret demographic indicators (fertility rates, migration rates, death rates, life expectancy, age structure ratios…) in a correct way.

To reach these aims, the students attend a series of lectures in which special attention will be devoted to migration issues and to the different approaches to integration in selected European Cities. In tutorials, the students work with statistical data, they will calculating different rates and ratios, as well as they learn how to draw diagrams and small maps.

07 Principles of Urban Planning and Urbanism

4 ECTS > Walter Matznetter
This lecture course will take you through the long history of urban planning in Europe, from ancient beginnings to recent examples of urban management. Such a long view is considered helpful to understand contemporary attempts to renovate, re-utilize and reinterpret urbanist and urban planning solutions from the more immediate to the more distant past. A wealth of material will be presented in the course, drawing on a great variety of sources, not only those available in English. Supplementary readings, however, will be in the language of instruction. When available, examples will be taken from the cities visited during the 4Cities course, or from their neighbours.

The basic structure of the course is chronological, but with a focus on the non-synchronism of urbanist styles and planning philosophies across Europe. Civil engineering, zoning legislation, development planning, entrepreneurialism and project planning all arrived at different times and in different forms in our cities. At the end of the course, all students should have acquired a solid understanding of how urban planning developed in Europe and beyond. This knowledge will be evaluated in a written exam, in the last week of the Vienna term.

08 Contemporary Challenges in Urban Development

4 ECTS > Gerhard Hatz
The course “Contemporary Challenges in Urban Development” will be divided up into three parts. The first part focuses on contemporary issues and strategies of urban development and related policies. US-American and European cities will serve as examples to examine these topics from various perspectives, including disciplines like geography, economics or sociology. Perspectives of urban development will be discussed at different spatial levels and explained by theoretical concepts and empirical evidence. Theoretical concepts discussed in this section will comprise a variety of economic and sociological approaches as well as geographic theories.

The link between theoretical approaches and society is provided in the second part by discussing issues of urban development on-site on selected projects of urban development in the City of Vienna. Applied field work and studies, comprising surveys as well as interviews and discussions with experts of local private and public institutions aim at putting knowledge and skills acquired in this section into practice. Smaller empirical projects organized by the students themselves are foreseen.

In the third part of the course the students will presents their impressions, their results of the empirical work and will summarize the main findings.

The following aims should be reached:

  • Gain an overview about the current issues of urban development in North American and Europe
  • Strengthen the ability to analyse and to present specific research questions in an independent way
  • Practice the communicative skills and competences necessary for dealing with planners and politicians

09 Urban Development and Planning in Eastern Europe

4 ETCS > Tamás Egedy
The module is an integrated part of the Vienna block of the 4Cities UNICA Euromaster in Urban Studies Project. The main aims of this module are to present the main tendencies of urban development in Eastern–Central Europe and in Hungary, the similarities and differences between the Eastern and Western European urban development models, and to explain the specificities, and the social consequences of Eastern–Central European and Hungarian urban planning processes. The module examines the changes in the spatial-social structures of Hungarian metropolitan areas and the spatial and social urban issues after the political and social transition in the context of Eastern-Central European models.

The module will be presented not only by academic lectures, and by meeting urban experts but especially by a scientific excursion in Budapest and in Székesfehérvár. In connection with the mission of this module, based on the guided trips the students can empirically recognise the physical and social fabric and the modern urban issues of the presented cities, the changes of historical city centres, the slum and rehabilitations areas, the exclusion problems, the development of agglomeration zones, the inequalities between the highly developed and underdeveloped zones. They will also have the chance to compare the similar zones of two different cities.

10 Urban Analysis III

4 ECTS > Ramon Bauer
The general aim of Urban Analysis III (UA3) is to deepen and extend methods that have been lectured in UA1 and UA2 in order to provide a comprehensive and complete understanding of key methods. In UA3 qualitative and quantitative methods are used in order to collect useful data that can be analyzed and presented in a suitable way. For example, text and discourse analysis will help to identify relevant discourses in terms of urban studies. Semi-structured interviews will support the students in collecting data and enriching their research outcomes. Additionally, participant observation will be tried out and analyzed. To complete the methodical tool box, basic methods in cartography will be lectured during an individual workshop.

Additionally, reflective thinking and a culture of constructive discussion will be continued as core elements of the course. To achieve this objective, we will provide on the one hand a well-balanced combination of lecture sessions, practical teamwork, field-work and presentations. On the other hand we will discuss current literature regularly on a scientific level.

Semester 03: Copenhagen

University of Copenhagen / September – December / 20 ECTS


Københavns Universitet (KU)

Department of Studies in Culture and the Arts

This department comprises sections of comparative literature and modern culture, of art history and visual culture, of theatre and dance studies, and of musicology. The 4CITIES courses are taught by professors from the section devoted to studies of modern culture, which employs specialists in cultural history, urban theory, painting, sculpture, photography, cultural policies, and, avant-garde movements. Thanks to the Center for Urbanity and Aesthetics, founded in the early 1990s, there are close connections between the professors of modern culture and, notably, the Danish schools of architecture. Lecturers from other relevant disciplines and cultural institutions may be invited for some of the sessions.

11 Urbanism and Architecture

7,5 ECTS > Martin Zerlang
The aim of this course is to present the main developments of 19th and 20th century European cities and to explore the form and the function of selected types of architecture. Copenhagen is a central reference but throughout the course, these developments will be related to international developments as well. The course addresses the following themes:

  • Urban history and the city square: the square as the organizing element of the city;
  • modernisation as a de-centering of the urban structure
  • Modern institutions in the city: parliaments, universities, schools
  • The harbour and the bridges, the train station, the airport and the metro
  • Bourgeois culture and entertainment: museums, theatres, concert houses.
  • Mass culture: amusement parks e.g. the Tivoli Gardens, zoological Gardens, panopticons, panoramas…
  • Class cultures; on the bourgeois family, the working class family, interior decoration…
  • Functionalism and modernism: the Nordic development of functionalism
  • Urban growth, suburbanisation and development of new cities
  • Cities in the experience-economy

12 Urban Culture and Cultural Theory

7,5 ECTS > Henrik Reeh
This course aims at establishing principles for a culture-theoretical approach to the city. The course delves into seminal texts from the tradition of 20th-century cultural theory in order to outline key concepts that allow us to understand the city as urbanity, i.e. as a complex cultural phenomenon.

A variety of discourses may contribute to this project: architectural and literary as well sociological and philosophical issues will be discussed via readings of major theoretical texts. Examples from the history of the European metropolis from 1850 to the present shall enable us to reflect upon the analytic perspectives of cultural theory. In this way, the conditions for the interdisciplinary study of modern urbanity will be outlined.

13 Urban Analysis IV

5 ECTS > Martin Zerlang & Henrik Reeh
Principles for an interdisciplinary analysis of modern urbanity will be developed and tested in case-studies that address the differentiated spatial and socio-cultural reality of a metropolitan region such as Copenhagen around 2000. A number of professional and academic approaches to the present development of the urban field will be illustrated during this course.

Semester 04: Madrid

Universidad Complutense de Madrid (UCM) & Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (UAM) / February – May / 20 ECTS


Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (UAM)

Department of Geography

The Department of Geography at the UAM is grouped into three subject areas: regional geographical analysis, physical geography, and human geography. It is a department with many lines of work within Spain and beyond, notably between European cities and both rural and urban areas of Africa and Latin America. Critical analysis and the explanation of territorial processes are of central importance to the Department, and geographers are taught to apply territorial terms to proactive planning and capacity, assessment, and management.

Universidad Complutense de Madrid (UCM)

Department of Sociology

At the Faculty of Sociology, the wide field of sociology is divided into five departments, with the Department of Sociology II devoted to demographic and territorial studies from a sociological perspective. The department has a long tradition in urban, rural, and regional research and its members are often advisors of public institutions dealing with applied urban policies.

14 The Sustainable and Liveable City

UAM / 10 ECTS > Valenzuela, Molini, Barrado
Southern European cities are characterised by a relatively high density, many privatised services, a high proportion of homeowners and of secondary homes, by a rate of growth higher than average and by a deep transformation in its social and economic position in the last years because of the increase of foreigners and the development of services.

The development of social cohesion under the impact of the flux of immigrants and of housing shortage is one of the main challenges to the sustainable and liveable city in Southern Europe. The different welfare system could explain this different model of services and housing. A range of planning tools and public policies (e.g. transport, construction, housing) shall be presented by means of cases that illustrate different scales, geographical situations and urban models. The small and middle size inner city model as well as the seaside tourism city will be addressed. The metropolitan model will be analysed at macro and micro levels in Madrid where most of the fieldwork will take place. Special attention shall be paid to the transversal subjects such as environmental or innovation policies.

15 Governance and Local Welfare

UCM / 10 ECTS > Leal, Barañano, Perez, De La Fuente
The general aim of this course is to explore the local governance system with a special analysis of the provision of essential public goods in relation to three aspects:

  • The residential practices: considering the housing patterns, household dynamics and social housing provision with the uses and transformations of public spaces.
  • The access and use of local services: analyzing the specific characteristics of the local services in relation with the different social spaces in the city, taking into account their relation with the cultural and economic diversities of these spaces; considering the local services both from the supply and the demand sides, and the characteristics of the inhabitants of these spaces. Special attention is given to the question of the proximity and the distance of the services in relation to its impact in the local welfare.
  • The urban governance: all these topics are approached taking into account from one side the perspective of the inhabitants of specific areas, and from the other the dynamics of their neighborhoods. It will consider the diversity of the inhabitants in terms of its social and economic position, age, gender, ethnic or national conditions and other criteria relevant in each case, such as the type of household in which they live. The course also examines the structure of local power in different European countries and the system of decisions in the context of the current multiscale distribution of competencies. It will devote special attention to the citizens’ participation and the different ways of its organization, as well as the formation and dynamics of the local social movements.

The course will also consider the production and change of the local welfare and the power struggles, the political options and cultural disputes. All these processes are analysed combining the quantitative with the qualitative research.

Master Thesis

The 4CITIES master thesis

A unique piece of independent research that proves you have developed the skills and knowledge to do scientific research in the field of Urban Studies, the thesis consists of a well written text in English which has the potential to be published in an academic journal. You will also demonstrate your oral skills by defending your thesis during a public session. A thesis which is judged to be of very good or excellent quality will be a guarantee that the student is fit for an academic career as researcher.

The topic of the thesis will de decided in consultation with you, depending on your interests, your professional expectations, your disciplinary background, and our capacity to supervise a certain topic. The topic should be in the field of Urban Studies, using a disciplinary angle you are acquainted with, but with the ambition to explore new disciplinary grounds. The thesis should be a mix of theory and case-studies whereby you take full advantage of the European and comparative approach of the 4CITIES programme. The thesis should consequently have of a strong international comparative angle.

Supervision in 4CITIES

The guidance and supervision of your thesis is done at three levels. You will attend group meetings and have individual feed-back on your thesis in each of the four cities, monitored by the local staff. Additional to this, three international thesis meetings will be organised in Vienna, Copenhagen & Madrid, involving members of staff from the other cities. Your progress will be collectively discussed during these meetings. Once your thesis has advanced sufficiently you will be appointed an individual supervisor. The public thesis defence will be held in Brussels in September.

The thesis accounts for 30 ECTS out of the programme total of 120 ECTS.



Who is 4CITIES?

In their academic and geographic backgrounds, research interests, and personalities, the people who teach, coordinate, and otherwise shape 4CITIES are nearly as diverse as the students. The common bond is an understanding of the city as a complex socio-spatial system that is best understood and engaged through manifold perspectives, approaches, methods, and narratives.

Meet the people of 4CITIES »


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