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)

  • Principles in Urban Planning and Urbanism
  • Contemporary Challenges in Urban and Regional Development
  • Urban Population Dynamics
  • Geographies of Innovation and Transition
  • Urban Analysis 3: Research Design and Methodology

Semester 01: Brussels

VUB and ULB / September – January / 30 ECTS


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 > Eva Swyngedouw
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


Principles in Urban Planning and Urbanism

3 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 and Regional Development

4 ECTS > Yvonne Franz, Axel Priebs
This course focuses on contemporary issues that are strongly connected by functional relations at both city and regional scales. While contemporary challenges in cities also contains processes at neighbourhood level, the regional dimension provides the opportunity to integrate debates about cooperative planning and inter-municipal management practices. For both spatial scales, Vienna will serve as a comparative element for theoretical debates and provide empirical examples and applied research questions. This course includes ex-cathedra teaching with elements of blended learning based on individual reading practices. A written exam on the knowledge gained from lectures and readings will be held at the end of the semester.

Urban Population Dynamics

3 ECTS > Patrick Sakdapolrak
Taking as its point of departure the interplay between demography and urbanity, Urban Population Dynamics focuses on three major themes: migration, health, and vulnerability. A translocal perspective on migration studies is employed, emphasizing the dynamics of flows from, to, and between specific places. Environmental, institutional, and social aspects of urban health are explored, especially as they concern and are impacted by urban populations. Finally, the vulnerability of urban populations to environmental threats such as earthquakes, floods, and extreme weather, and the resulting adaptive human-environment relations are examined. The course concludes with a consideration of the interconnectedness of all three themes and the implications they have for urban populations.

Geographies of Innovation and Transition

4 ETCS > Michaela Trippl, Joshua Grigsby
Cities are often characterized as complex adaptive systems. Accordingly, this course applies systems thinking to the study of cities, examining urban transitions and the innovations that enable them through conceptual frameworks such as the Multi-level Perspective, leverage points, and strategic transition management. A special emphasis is placed on the transitions implied by the macro challenges of climate change and planetary boundaries, the kinds of innovation required to enact them, and the uneven geographies of both. Moving from theory to practice, the application of systems thinking to policy analysis and policy making is then explored.

Urban Analysis III: Research Design and Methodology

6 ECTS > Joshua Grigsby
The general aim of Urban Analysis III (UA3) is to add to the toolbox of methods developed in UA1 and UA2, and to prepare students to conduct independent research for their Master’s thesis. The focus is on qualitative and interpretive approaches: document analysis, interviewing, and visual analysis. Special attention is paid to the use of coding in collecting and analyzing qualitative data. Methods are put into practice (and context) through a semester-long group project that interrogates narratives of urban futures in strategic urban planning documents, expert discourse, and popular cinema. The final exam consists of a group presentation and written report.


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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