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The Material City


Admission requirements

This course is only available for students in the BA Urban Studies.


New concepts like compact cities, urban agriculture including vertical farming, eco-cities will change the use of materials within cities themselves as well as the the well-being and sustainability of city-dwellers. The physical aspects of cities are closely linked to behaviour of its inhabitants and the way they interact.

The metabolism of the city (Urban Metabolism) largely determines the sustainability of cities and city-dwellers. The material infrastructure of cities is now sometimes referred to as ‘above ground mines’.

The stocks of materials within the infrastructure of our cities are for many materials in the same order of magnitude as size of the mineral reserves. This means that for future cities we need to move towards a circular city in which materials are reused and recycled. Cities will also need to be much more self-sufficient if it comes to the supply of energy and water. Rooftop solar panels, heat pumps and zero-energy buildings, smart grids and car-as-powerplant concepts will all contribute to this. Likewise, cities have a huge impact on biodiversity, directly through their land-use, emissions, light pollution and noise, while biodiversity as well affects the life of city inhabitants. Solution such as green rooftops, gray water recycling, and parks as biodiversity spots and retention basins contribute to sustainable water management, climate control, air quality regulation, and biodiversity preservation. Hence, future cities will be an integral part of the biological, energy and resources supply systems and the way in which they are organised will be of crucial importance to the total ecological footprint of humanity.

The development of more sustainable cities will change the way cities operate and thereby also the way of living and interaction of its inhabitants. In this course we will introduce the concepts given above and discuss show these developments will change city-life as well as the ecological footprint of cities, through a series of lectures and assignments. Students will also be introduced to the tools that are used to analyse sustainability problems (Material flow analysis, Life Cycle Assessment) and the metrics that are used to measure the sustainability (e.g. ecological footprints, ecosystem services, biodiversity assessments, material flow indicators).

Course objectives

After having followed this course students will be able to:

  • Describe the main material elements of cities

  • Discuss and interpret material and resource use at the city scale in relationship to other urban issues

  • Describe the main environmental impacts of cities

  • Use the concept of biodiversity and ecosystem services in relation to sustainable cities

  • Interprete metrics like ecological footprint and material flow indicators on the level of cities


The timetable is available on the BA Urban Studies website

Mode of instruction

  • Lecture

  • Seminar

  • Excursion

Course Load

Total course load is 5 EC (1 EC = 28 hours), equal to 140 hours, devoted to:

  • Lectures: 26

  • Practical work: 14

  • Preparation tutorials: 10

  • Tutoring: 10

  • Study of compulsory literature: 20

  • Assignment(s): 20

  • Tutorials: 10

  • Preparation exam: 20

  • Exam(s): 4

  • Other components: assessment assignment 6

Assessment method

Assessment and weighing

  • Written exam with closed questions (50%)

  • Papers based on the assignments (50%)

Both should be passed with at least a 6 to pass the course.


Yes. A re-sit is possible for the final exam, the grade of the re-sit will count as final grade for the course.

Exam review

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • communication with students

  • assignments

  • plagiarism check (Turn-it-in)

  • links to the literature

Reading list

Series of articles (will be further updated before the beginning of the course):

  • Biodiversity and ecosystem services: a multilayered relationship. Georgina M. Mace, Ken Norris and Alastair H. Fitter. Trends in Ecology and Evolution, January 2012, Vol. 27, No. 1.

  • Integrating the ecological and economic dimensions in biodiversity and ecosystem service valuation. Rudolf de Groot, 2010

  • Kennedy, C., Cuddihy, J. and Engel, Yan, J., 2007. The changing metabolism of cities. Journal of industrial ecology, 11(2), pp.43-59.

  • Kennedy, C.A., Stewart, I., Facchini, A., Cersosimo, I., Mele, R., Chen, B., Uda, M., Kansal, A., Chiu, A., Kim, K.G. and Dubeux, C., 2015. Energy and material flows of megacities. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112 (19), pp. 5985-5990.

  • Krook, J. and Baas, L., 2013. Getting serious about mining the technosphere: a review of recent landfill mining and urban mining research. Journal of Cleaner Production, 55, pp. 1-9.

  • Johansson, N., Krook, J., Eklund, M. and Berglund, B., 2013. An integrated review of concepts and initiatives for mining the technosphere: towards a new taxonomy. Journal of cleaner production, 55, pp. 35-44.

  • Kral, U., Lin, C.Y., Kellner, K., Ma, H.W. and Brunner, P.H., 2014. The copper balance of cities. Journal of industrial ecology, 18 (3), pp. 432-444.

  • Beyond monetary measurement: How to evaluate projects and policies using the ecosystem services framework. Frans J. Sijtsma , C. Martijn van der Heide, Arjen van Hinsberg, Environmental Science & Policy 32 (2013) 14–25

  • Longcore & Rich 2004. Frontiers in Ecology

Bennie et al. 2016. Ecological effects of artificial light at night on wild plants, Journal of Ecology


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


Dr. Nadia Soudzilovskaia – course coordinator Dr. Stefano Cucurachi Dr. R. Kleijn Dr. Ester van der Voet