GY449      Half Unit
Urban Futures

This information is for the 2015/16 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Austin Zeiderman


This course is available on the MSc in City Design and Social Science, MSc in Culture and Society, MSc in Human Geography and Urban Studies (Research), MSc in Local Economic Development, MSc in Regional And Urban Planning Studies, MSc in Urban Policy (LSE and Sciences Po) and MSc in Urbanisation and Development. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

This course is capped at 34 students. Students must apply through Graduate Course Choice on LSE for You. Students should provide a short written explanation of why they are interested in taking the course.

Course content

By now we are accustomed to hearing that, for the first time in history, the majority of the world’s population lives in cities. We may also be aware that more than one billion people now live in the urban slums and shantytowns of the global South, and that this is where the majority of world population growth will take place. But what sort of futures are being imagined for the cities of the twenty-first century? In response to this question, GY449 Urban Futures will critically analyse how the future of cities, and the cities of the future, have been thought about and acted upon in different times and places. Students will learn to adopt a geographical and historical approach to urban futures by exploring how ways of envisioning the future of cities differ across time and space. Treating the future as a social, cultural, and political reality with a profound influence on the present, the course will examine how urban areas are planned, built, governed, and inhabited in anticipation of the city yet to come. Each week will be organised around a particular model for the future of the city: the ideal city, the dystopian city, the modernist city, the (post)colonial city, the capitalist city, the (post)socialist city, the organic city, the global city, and the secure city. These models will be examined through concrete case examples and will enable the discussion of broader theoretical perspectives in urban studies, with a specific focus on the critical analysis of urban futures. Though grounded in urban geography, this course will draw upon texts and other materials from anthropology, sociology, history, cultural studies, literature, film, philosophy, social theory, architecture, art, and city planning. Its primary objective is to equip students with sophisticated, critical ways of thinking about the future of cities, since doing so has real significance for the kind of city we want to, and eventually will, ourselves inhabit.


10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of seminars in the MT.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 presentation in the MT.

The formative presentation will be an opportunity for students to begin preparing for their assessed essay and to receive feedback from their peers and from the course leader. Each student will be asked to make a brief presentation, which should include a proposed essay topic, a list of potential sources, and a preliminary outline.

Indicative reading

A detailed syllabus will be provided at the beginning of the course, but will include works such as:

Arjun Appadurai, The Future as Cultural Fact: Essays on the Global Condition (2013)

Raymond Williams, The Country and the City (1973)

Reinhart Koselleck, Futures Past: On the Semantics of Historical Time (2004)

Justin McGuirk, Radical Cities: Across Latin America in Search of a New Architecture (2014)

Thomas More, Utopia (1516)

Ruth Eaton, Ideal Cities: Utopianism and the (Un)Built Environment (2002)

Matthew Gandy, The Fabric of Space: Water, Modernity, and the Urban Imagination (2014)

David Harvey, Spaces of Hope (2000)

Mike Davis, Planet of Slums (2006)

James C. Scott, Seeing like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (1998)

James Ferguson, Expectations of Modernity: Myths and Meanings of Urban Life on the Zambian Copperbelt (1999)

Svetlana Boym, The Future of Nostalgia (2001)

Gwendolyn Wright, The Politics of Design in French Colonial Urbanism (1991)

Timothy Mitchell, Colonising Egypt (1991)

Jane M. Jacobs, Edge of Empire: Postcolonialism and the City (1996)

Friedrich Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England (1845)

Walter Benjamin, “Paris: Capital of the Nineteenth Century” (1935)

Georg Simmel, “The Metropolis and Mental Life”  (1903)

David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change (1990)

Ebenezer Howard, “The Town-Country Magnet” (1898/1902)

Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961)

David Pinder, Visions of the City: Utopianism, Power, and Politics in Twentieth-century Urbanism (2005)

Michel Foucault, Security, Territory, Population: Lectures at the Collège de France (2007)

Teresa P. R. Caldeira, City of Walls: Crime, Segregation, and Citizenship in São Paulo (2000)

Stephen Graham, Cities Under Siege: The New Military Urbanism (2011)


Essay (100%, 5000 words) in the LT.

The assessed essay will be a critical and creative exercise in the analysis of urban futures. Students will be given a choice: 1) Identify and research one vision of the urban future that exists in the present; or 2) Take a particular city and research the ways its future has been envisioned in the past, and how it is currently being envisioned in the present. Essays must contain no more than 5,000 words of text although they may also include images, as well as any other media that pertains to the argument.

Key facts

Department: Geography & Environment

Total students 2014/15: 31

Average class size 2014/15: 15

Controlled access 2014/15: Yes

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication