nl en

The Material City


Admission requirements

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


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. Solutions 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, and 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

The student is able to:

  • 1) describe the main material elements of cities

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

  • 3) describe the main environmental impacts of cities

  • 4) use the concept of biodiversity and ecosystem services in relation to sustainable cities

  • 5) interpret metrics like ecological footprint and material flow indicators on the level of cities


The timetable is available on the Urban Studies website

Mode of instruction

  • Lecture

  • Work group (compulsory attendance)
    This means that students have to attend every work group session of the course. If a student is unable to attend a workgroup, they should inform the lecturer in advance, providing a valid reason for absence. The teacher will determine if and how the missed session can be compensated by an additional assignment. If they are absent from a workgroup without a valid reason, they can be excluded from the final exam in the course.

  • Excursion

Course Load

Total course load for this course is 5 EC (1 EC equals 28 hours), which equals 140 hours, broken down by:

  • Attending lectures: 26

  • Attending work groups: 10

  • Assessment hours (exams): 4

  • Study of compulsory literature: 20

  • Completing assignment(s), preparing for classes and exams: 80

Assessment method


  • Midterm exam
    Written examination

  • Final exam
    Written examination

  • Four written assignments


Partial grade Weighing
Midterm Exam 25
Final Exam 25
Work group grade: written assignments 50

End grade

To successfully complete the course, please take note of the following:

  • The end grade of the course is established by determining the weighted average of work group grade, midterm exam grade and the final exam grade.

  • The weighted average of the midterm exam grade and paper grade needs to be 5.50 or higher.


If the end grade is insufficient (lower than a 6.0), or one or both of the exam grades is lower than 5.50, there is a possibility of retaking the written examination(s), replacing the previous exam grade(s). **

Faculty regulations concerning participation in resits are listed in article 4.1 of the Faculty Course and Examination Regulations.

Inspection and feedback

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 organised.


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. N. Soudzilovskaia dr. S. Cucurachi dr. E.G.M. Kleijn