Minor in Urban Sustainability

Wayne State's Minor in Urban Sustainability shares the urban emphasis of the major in urban studies and planning but focuses more closely on environmental issues in the city, including the impacts of climate change on cities and environmental justice.

The urban sustainability minor provides students with an opportunity to further their understanding of the myriad issues in fostering environmental preservation, equity and economic development — the "3-Es" of sustainability in urban areas while providing them with a foundation for advancing their academic and professional interests in the many directions related to sustainability. The minor is underpinned by knowledge of urban planning and the wider social sciences, but it gives students opportunities to take science electives if they wish.

Learning outcomes

Upon completion of all requirements for the minor in urban sustainability, students will be proficient at:

  • Understanding the connections between environmental preservation, inequity and economic development as they pertain to urban sustainability
  • Recognizing how urban areaswhether growing, shrinking, or revitalizingshape and are shaped by the connections between environmental forces, inequity and economic development
  • Identifying elements of urban sustainability and recognizing the complexities of measuring it
  • Advising policymakers on how best to incorporate the 3-Es of urban sustainability

Why take a minor in urban sustainability?

In the 1950s, about two-thirds of the world's population lived in rural areas and one-third lived in cities. However, mass migration to cities has dramatically changed this spatial distribution. Around 2008, the population between rural areas and cities was evenly split; today, about 54% of the world's population lives in cities; by 2050, two-thirds of the world's population, or some six billion people, are expected to live in cities. These populations currently place enormous stresses on natural and built environmental systems. While comprising less than 5% of the world's landmass, urban areas account for 70% of the world's energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. But evidence shows that well-designed urban places can more efficiently use resources than non-urban places.

Notwithstanding these broad facts about urban growth, there are, of course, pockets of urban areas that have seen decline, particularly in post-industrialized cities. Many Midwestern cities exemplify this decline. Detroit offers its own unique challenges with revitalization in core neighborhoods and continued challenges in outlying neighborhoods. These areas present different challenges from consistently growing areas. On the one hand, growing urban areas must take active measures to preserve the environment, while at the same time sustaining economic growth and ensuring that gains are equitably distributed. On the other hand, declining regions have to address legacy contaminants, brownfields, pollution and pockets of disconnected, vacant land, even as they seek to ensure that disadvantaged groups do not face disproportionate effects of decline.

Professionals are needed to address these changes in sustainable ways. Wayne State is the home of many planning and social sciences courses that can prepare students to tackle these challenges. A minor in urban sustainability will leverage Wayne State's existing strengths to provide students with an understanding of the 3-Es of sustainable development and with a broad policy framework to address these challenges.

How does the minor in urban sustainability meet the needs of development?

The required classes in the minor provide students with a ladder to understanding the 3-Es of sustainability. First, in Introduction to Urban Studies (US 2000), students are provided with an introduction to how urban form drives and is driven by socioeconomic (often inequitable), cultural, political, environmental and natural forces, in the context of growing, shrinking post-industrial cities, and revitalizing cities such as Detroit. In the Introduction to Urban Geography (GPH 3130) course, students apply the knowledge gained in US 2000 to a broader global context as they are introduced to urban development patterns across the world. They will be able to not only study how natural, social, political and economic forces shape and are shaped by cities everywhere but are also be introduced to contemporary discussions on urban form and climate change.

Sustainable Cities (UP 4460), uses the 3-Es of sustainability to explore the ways in which the natural world affects and is affected by both growing and shrinking cities, and how cities may manage growth, shrinkage or redevelopment to create a more green, just, and prosperous urban future.

Students complement these three required classes with seven elective credits. The broad set of elective courses, when combined with the required courses, demonstrates the rich offerings at Wayne State University, which, if corralled, can offer students a credentialed understanding of urban sustainability. To account for the fact that some students may wish to explore more science-based offerings, the list of electives includes pertinent courses from biology and geology (with the understanding that students may have to meet certain prerequisites).

Being credentialed with a minor in urban sustainability leaves students in a good position to pursue professional and academic objectives in areas that can draw on their learning. Professionally, this would include various levels of government, the consulting industry, the not-for-profit sector, and the private sector. Academically, the minor enhances graduate applications to diverse disciplines including law, education, social work, urban planning or more traditional academic disciplines.

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See our full list of minors that you can match with your major. Hear more about why you should add a minor.