Urban Environments

Option G: Urban environments

More than 50% of the world’s population now lives in urban environments, with many living in megacities. This optional theme considers the hierarchy of cities and other urban places as sites of intense social interaction and as focal points of production, wealth generation and consumption. They exhibit diversity in patterns of wealth and deprivation, which can result in conflict. They may share common characteristics and processes irrespective of the national level of economic development.

Transport improvements have led to rapid growth and shifts in population and economic activities, producing stresses and challenges for urban planners. The theme also considers issues of sustainability, wherein cities need to be managed to minimize harmful social and environmental impacts.

Through study of this optional theme, students will develop their understanding of processes, places, power and geographical possibilities. They will additionally gain understanding of more specialized concepts including hierarchies (of settlements), systems (in relation to movements of people and the management of transport and waste flows) and sustainability.


Geographic inquiry Geographic knowledge and understanding

1. The variety of urban environments

Suggested teaching time 6–8 hours

The characteristics and distribution of urban places, populations and economic activities

Characteristics of urban places, including site, function, land use, hierarchy of settlement (including megacities) and growth process (planned or spontaneous)

Factors affecting the pattern of urban economic activities (retail, commercial, industrial), including physical factors, land values, proximity to a central business district (CBD) and planning

Factors affecting the pattern of residential areas within urban areas, including physical factors, land values, ethnicity and planning

The incidence of poverty, deprivation and informal activity (housing and industry) in urban areas at varying stages of development

2. Changing urban systems

Suggested teaching time 6–8 hours

How economic and demographicprocesses bring change over time to urban systems

Urbanization, natural increase and centripetal population movements, including rural–urban migration in industrializing cities, and inner city gentrification in post-industrial cities

Centrifugal population movements, including suburbanization and counter-urbanization

Urban system growth including infrastructure improvements over time, such as transport, sanitation, water, waste disposal and telecommunications

  • Case study of infrastructure growth over time in one city

The causes of urban deindustrialization and its economic, social and demographic consequences

3. Urban environmental and social stresses

Suggested teaching time 6–8 hours

The varying powerof different stakeholders in relation to the experience of, and management of, urban stresses

Urban microclimate modification and management, including the urban heat island effect, and air pollution patterns and its management

  • Case study of air pollution in one city and its varying impact on people

Traffic congestion patterns, trends and impacts

  • Case study of one affected city and the management response

Contested land use changes, including slum clearances, urban redevelopment and the depletion of green space

  • Detailed contrasting examples of two affected neighbourhoods and their populations

Managing the impacts of urban social deprivation, including the cycle of deprivation and geographic patterns of crime

4. Building sustainable urban systems for the future

Suggested teaching time 6–8 hours

Future possibilitiesfor the sustainable management of urban systems

Urban growth projections for 2050, including regional/continental patterns and trends of rural–urban migration and changing urban population sizes and structures

Resilient city design, including strategies to manage escalating climatic and geopolitical risks to urban areas

  • Two detailed examples to illustrate possible strategies

Eco city design, including strategies to manage the urban ecological footprint

  • Two detailed examples to illustrate possible environmental strategies

Smart city design and the use of new technology to run city services and systems, including purpose-built settlements and retrofitting technology to older settlements

Synthesis (Sy), Evaluation (Ev) and Skills (Sk) opportunities
These suggestions can be integrated into the study of the above. No additional teaching time is required.

How urban changes over time are affected by a place’s economic and demographic spatial interactions with other places [Sy]

Contrasts in the scale of changes and challenges facing different urban areas  [Sy/Ev]

Varying perspectives of different social groups on the costs and benefits of different urban strategies, and priorities for action [Ev]

How urban patterns, movements, flows and trends/temporal changes can best be represented graphically  [Sk]