Sustainable cities – finding the right study programme

SDG Ziel 11: Nachhaltige Städte und Gemeinden
Three-lane road that is used as a cycle lane in both directions. The road is lined with trees.
© Getty Images/Orbon Alija

Some 30 higher education institutions in Germany offer study programmes involving , a few of them entirely in English. Sustainability issues play an important role in these programmes.

The United Nations estimates that two thirds of humanity will be living in cities by 2050. This accelerated urbanisation, especially in Asia and Africa, results in major challenges with respect to urban planning: the lack of affordable housing exacerbates social inequality, there is an increase in water and air pollution, and climate change raises the risk of heatwaves or flooding in many cities. The Alumniportal’s therefore recognised innovative ideas aiming to make cities more sustainable, more equitable and more resilient.

Practical study programmes and international cooperations

Experts in urban and regional planning – collectively also referred to as ‘spatial planning’ – are to be educated in Germany at some 30 higher education institutions. The German Chamber of Architects (BAK) reports that in 2023 there were around 6,300 students registered in the spatial planning sector, with approximately 22 per cent coming from outside Germany. Some English-language master´s degree courses are especially attractive to international students. Omar Aboutaleb is shortly due to complete his master thesis in (TU Berlin). His topic: redesign of the village square in Kladow at the western edge of Berlin. As he was preparing and writing his thesis, the 27-year-old DAAD scholarship holder entered into intense dialogue with committed citizens who are members of the ‘Kladower Forum’ association. ‘Our objective is to make the urban fabric that has been disjointed by roads more people-friendly again’, says Aboutaleb.

Sustainable Cities: Crash Course Geography

Sustainable Cities: Crash Course Geography
Sustainable Cities: Crash Course Geography ©

His holistic development strategy envisages reuniting the village centre with the Havel. Seating areas and an outdoor café are planned to emerge on the village square in place of the parking spaces, and the intention is for a weekly market to be introduced there in the future. The next step foresees the plans being presented to all Kladow residents. Aboutaleb participated in the Alumniportal panel discussion ‘Urban Storytelling’ in November as part of the digital conference . ‘I believe in the impact of bottom-up activism’, he states. He finds it appropriate that German policy seeks to increase citizen participation in planning proposals. The freedom to plan as an individual is an aspect of his master’s degree course in Berlin that he particularly liked. ‘And it was great that the programme grants a lot of discretion in the selection of courses and methods.’

Financing option: funding via EPOS scholarships

Urban Management is a further English-language master’s study programme at TU Berlin. This study programme aims to contribute towards the global development of more socially integrative, more sustainable and safer cities, according to its coordinator Dr Bettina Hamann: ‘Urban Management deals with the most urgent challenges presently facing urban agglomerations, such as sustainable mobility, adaptation to climate change and uncertain land tenure arrangements among impoverished elements of the urban population.’ Urban Management is one of three ‘development-related postgraduate study programmes’ in spatial planning for which students from developing and emerging countries can receive so-called . The other two are ‘Integrated Urbanism and Sustainable Design’ at the University of Stuttgart and the Ain Shams University in Cairo alongside at the Technical University of Dortmund. In the case of this joint master programme, which was introduced as early as 1984, the students spend the first year in Dortmund and the second at one of the five partner universities in Ghana, Tanzania, the Philippines, Brazil and Chile.

‘Our cooperation under the SPRING joint study programmes went smoothly from the outset, apart from the traditional north-south hierarchies’, says Dr Raffael Beier from the Technical University of Dortmund. Around 800 students from 76 countries have already completed the programme. They are working around the world in ministries and public authorities, international organisations and private planning offices, many of them in managerial positions.

Sustainability as a guiding principle

With 17 professorships, the Technical University of Dortmund has the largest independent planning faculty in Europe. Beier affirms that sustainability is firmly anchored in all the faculty’s study programmes: ‘Nearly all our courses are closely related to the .’ The spectrum ranges from environmental management and climate protection, ecological construction materials through to social aspects like housing, land use and neighbourhood development.

EPOS scholarship holder Ramya Khare from New Delhi has decided to spend her second year of studies in São Paulo. ‘Brazil faces similar problems to India, such as the housing situation endured by the impoverished population’, the 29-year-old believes. She is currently preparing for her master’s thesis in which she intends to analyse the social divide and its historical causes within the largest slum in São Paulo. ‘I’ve really enjoyed studying the theoretical approaches at the Technical University of Dortmund’, she relates. It is very interesting to see how ideas travel, f. i. how the concept of the Garden City reflects in the modern gated communities in the Global South. But practical aspects also play a significant role in her studies. This includes Ramya Khare collaborating with other students to elaborate a development concept for a region in Tanzania. ‘I learned a lot from that’, she says, ‘including how to manage negotiations, collaborate in multicultural teams and resolve conflicts.’

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