During the first year of 4CITIES, all students complete a shared core curriculum. The five courses of the first semester, in Brussels, are divided between the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) and the Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB). The second semester also consists of five courses, and is taught at Universität Wien (UW) in Vienna.

Semester 01 / Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) & Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB)

  • Geographies of a Globalizing Europe
  • Urban Social Geography
  • Urban Sociology
  • Urban Economic Geography
  • Urban Analysis 1 & 2

Semester 02 / Universität Wien (UW)

  • Demography of European Cities
  • Principles of Urban Planning and Urbanism
  • Contemporary Challenges in Urban Development
  • Urban Development and Planning in Eastern Europe
  • Urban Analysis 3

Semester 01: Brussels

VUB and ULB / September – January / 30 ECTS

4CITIES-in-Brussels

Geographies of a Globalizing Europe

VUB / 6 ECTS > Bas Van Heur, Gilles Vanhamme, Claire Colomb, Muriel Sacco
The course develops a number of theoretical and thematic perspectives on the geographies of globalisation through a particular focus on Europe and its cities and regions. Focusing on processes of de- and re-territorialization as intrinsic to globalization, analytical and empirical attention is paid to the emergence of ‘Europe’ as an important scale for political, economic and social action. Within Europe, we can observe a restructuring of national states as well as subnational regions and cities, which has led and continues to lead to the development of various kinds of new territories, places, scales and networks. The position of cities and regions within this setting is central to a sophisticated understanding of the geographies of a globalizing Europe.

The course consists of a combination of two-hour lectures and seminars: the lectures (8 in total) are focused on ex-cathedra teaching by various lecturers with each lecture unpacking a different geography of Europe; the seminars (4 in total) are oriented towards interactive discussion. Student evaluation will be structured around the writing of an individual paper on one European city and the seminars will be used to support students in the writing process.

Urban Social Geography

VUB / 6 ECTS > David Bassens
The course introduces students to the key theoretical debates in urban studies, focusing in particular on the spatial/geographical dimensions of cities and urbanization. It adopts a theoretically pluralist approach towards urban studies. The course offers urban systems perspectives, debates political economy perspectives such as world-city formation, discusses urban diversity and segregation, focuses on transport and mobility issues, and explores the intersections of culture and urban development. The course offers a mix of regular sessions, discussion seminars, guest lectures, and a choice of topical excursions in Belgian cities. Students are evaluated on the basis of a group presentation, a short position paper, and a written exam.

Urban Sociology

ULB / 5 ECTS > Martin Rosenfeld
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, economic, political logics, etc. – and an invested environment of social representations and of meanings owing to the social activities that is itself unfolded. This environment is presented as a set of resources and constraints for the actors and social groups.

The first part of the course is dedicated to different theoretical approaches of the city. The second part focuses on specific case studies of cities around the world with students engaging in reading and in class debates.

Urban Economic Geography

ULB / 5 ECTS > Mathieu Van Criekingen
The course consists of a political-economy approach to contemporary change in urban socio-spatial configurations, in Europe and other advanced capitalist contexts. It aims at developing both a critical and empirically-grounded approach to urban change. The course combines insights from theories of macro-economic changes and conceptualizations of the role of actors and institutions who actually drive urban change, in different urban contexts. Particular attention is paid i.a. to processes of metropolitanization, dynamics of re- / dis-investment in urban neighbourhoods and the adoption of entrepreneurial frameworks of urban policy-making and governance.

A major purpose of the course is to unpack the all-too-common representations that tend to naturalize, idealize or de-politicize processes of urban change at times of globalization. Rather, cities and urban change are considered here as social and political con-structs shaped by power struggles between social forces under evolving historical circumstances.

Urban Analysis 1 & 2

VUB and ULB / 3 and 5 ECTS > Tatiana Debroux, Wojciech Keblowski, Corentin Debailleul & Mathieu Van Criekingen
The goal of Urban Analysis I is to make the students familiar with different research methods in the social sciences that are used to analyse the urban environment – its structures and processes. In particular, the students will get a taste of the following methods in class: secondary statistical analysis, urban semiotics and mental mapping, urban ethnography, and qualitative interviewing. In addition, the students will gain some practical research skills. Working in small groups, they will use the different methods learned in class to study a particular neighbourhood of Brussels in depth. At the end of UA I, the students will present their preliminary research findings to their fellow students and the 4CITIES faculty.

Urban Analysis II is designed as a follow-up of UA I, as two elements in a chain. Whereas the focus in UA I was on inhabitants’ and users’ views, perceptions and experiences of the neighbourhood, the focus in UA II will be on institutional actors – aka stakeholders –, their visions, projects and power. Accordingly, planning regulations, main actors and existing projects will be added to the initial neighbourhood analysis realised for UA1. The expected final product of UA2 is a development proposal, a master plan based on the students’ neighbourhood diagnosis. The course is articulated around four workshops and a final presentation which takes place at the end of January and involves colleagues from both ULB and VUB.


Semester 02: Vienna

University of Vienna / March – June / 20 ECTS

4CITIES-in-Vienna

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 neighbors.

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.

Contemporary Challenges in Urban Development

4 ECTS > Yvonne Franz
This course focuses on contemporary issues in urban development processes and strategies in urban policies. Starting with public and theoretical debates on cities (mostly in Europe and the US), Vienna will serve as an “urban laboratory” to examine these topics on-site, from various perspectives, and in a contextual manner. Perspectives of urban development will be discussed at different spatial levels and will be explained by theoretical concepts and empirical evidence. Theoretical concepts discussed in this course will cover the economic and sociodemographic dimensions of urban transformation as well as aspects of urban governance and ecological transition.

This course truly benefits from the daily relevance of urban development for society, policy, environment, and economics. Therefore, the link between theoretical approaches and society is provided by discussing issues of urban development within the domains of public and academic discourses. Applied fieldwork and analyses, including qualitative interviews, visual analysis, observations, or GIS analysis and mapping aim at putting knowledge and skills acquired in this section into practice. The methodological design is based on a comparative case study analysis. The empirical work is part of the practical assignments in Urban Analysis III.

The following aims should be reached:

  • Gain an overview about the current issues of urban transformation processes in European and North American cities
  • Identify and analyse the local context by focusing on the relevant actors networks and political framework conditions
  • Strengthen the ability to analyse and to present specific research questions in an independent way
  • Apply adequate methods to answer research questions
  • Practice the communicative skills and competences necessary for dealing with planners and politicians
  • Improve the academic writing skills that contribute empirical results to an academic debate

Demography of European Cities

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

  • To provide an overview of the main demographic trends in Europe and especially in European cities;
  • To sensitise the students to the political and societal consequences of these trends;
  • 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.

Urban Development and Planning in Eastern Europe

4 ETCS > Yvonne Franz, Walter Matznetter, Joshua Grigsby
Urban Development and Planning in Eastern Europe examines the relationship between planning (the ideal) and development (the real) and how local contexts and contested multiscalar agendas influence both. In this module, students focus on the economic, political, and social challenges of East Central European cities based on the core cases of Budapest, Bratislava, and Ljubljana. Invited experts contribute to a wider understanding of post-socialist cities such as Budapest, Prague, Cluj, or Zagreb.

Taking into account the historical aspects and path dependency, the course highlights the main impacts of the transition on the urban development of the Budapest metropolitan region. The study tours to Budapest, Bratislava, and Ljubljana allow students to learn about urban planning & development on-site, with theoretical and practical knowledge further improved under the supervision of local professionals and experts. Special emphasis is given to joint and individual fieldwork carried out by students in different case study areas, so these activities provide good opportunities for comparative empirical studies resulting in a short academic paper.

Urban Analysis III

4 ECTS > Yvonne Franz, Michael Holzapfel, Sandra Guinand, Markus Speringer
The general aim of Urban Analysis III (UA3) is to add to the toolbox of methods developed in UA1 and UA2. A mix of qualitative and quantitative methods are employed in order to collect useful data that can be analyzed and presented in a suitable way. We offer four modules from which students must select three:

  • Qualitative interviewing & analysis
  • Descriptive statistics
  • GIS and mapping techniques
  • Visual research methods

Additionally, reflective thinking and a culture of constructive discussion will be continued as core elements of the course. To achieve this objective, this course applies an interactive approach with practical teamwork, field-work, and presentations. The course leaders are experienced researchers and practitioners capable of connecting research relevancy with appropriate methods. The empirical work of UA3 is integrated in the larger case study analysis of the course Contemporary Challenges in Urban Development.

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What is 4CITIES?

4CITIES is an international, interdisciplinary, immersive master programme in urban studies. Supported by Erasmus Mundus, its perspective is European while its context is global. Students learn to see the city, to hear it, to understand it, to engage it, and to choose their role in shaping it.

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