Urban Geography: How can we create inclusive and thriving cities?

It started with ten minutes of awkward silence and ended in a riveting course on the essence of urban geography. Finally, our self-organized seminar (GEO 838) covered almost everything from daily waste management to the fragmentation of Palestinian territories through infrastructure.

The self-organized seminar gave us the opportunity to choose a topic of mutual interest and organize seminar lessons about it. The course thereby aimed to develop students› pedagogical skills through planning lessons, structuring discussions, organizing excursions, and conducting critical reflections on the specific topics.

Our topic – Urban Geography – was chosen due to the perceived underrepresentation of this subject in the general geography curriculum at UZH. As most of the world’s population resides in cities, it is crucial to delve into the distinctive phenomena of urban spaces that often go unnoticed if not explicitly addressed. This seminar focused on five key areas: infrastructure and power, accessibility, gentrification, sustainable urban development, and waste management.

The link between accessibility, gentrification and sustainability

Not only can stairs or reading signs be exclusive for physically disabled people, but infrastructure can also serve as a tool to exclude certain social groups from an area, restricting access and additionally transforming the socio-demographic structure. Accessibility and gentrification are thus intricately linked with urban planning and shed light on the complexities surrounding urban transformation.

Furthermore, waste management is closely intertwined with sustainable development, as efficient and sustainable waste management systems contribute to environmental preservation, resource conservation, and overall urban sustainability. These subjects cannot be analysed in isolation but are rather interconnected aspects of urban geography. They must be addressed collectively to create inclusive and thriving cities.

The seminar on urban geography offered us a comprehensive exploration of interconnected topics, highlighting the intricate relationships between sustainable planning, infrastructure and accessibility, urban transformation and waste management. We discussed different urban geography aspects that also pose challenges in the present and future, such as gentrification processes leading to displacements and exclusion, urban heat island effect, or waste accumulation. During the semester, we were able to experience these topics at first hand. We visited an exhibition at Stadtgärtnerei about how to cool down Zurich, we had an excursion to Zentralwäscherei Zurich, talking about gentrification and resistance, and got insights into waste management at Hagenholz Zurich.

The question that remains after these intense weeks is: How can this knowledge be integrated into tackling contemporary urban conflicts and sustainable planning?

GEO838 Self-Organized Seminar
The Self-Organized Seminar is designed and taught by the participants themselves. It aims at de-hierarchizing teaching and strengthening students’ independence and their responsibility for their personal learning process. The elective module addresses master students and takes place each spring semester. Module organizers: Annina Michel (module responsible person) and Asebe Regassa Debelo.
GEO838 Self-Organized Seminar in the UZH Course Catalogue