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GEOG457 Advanced Urban Geography


Advanced Urban Geography will focus on understanding processes of urban transformation through a series of seminars on key debates in urban geography and a local research project. The built landscape, its urban design and architecture, functions as one of many symbolic communication mechanisms in the conscious and unconscious negotiation of the production and reproduction of social and economic relations. Not only does it have a role in communicating particular relations, the built environment is itself also a product of those relations. These key urban themes form the core focus of the paper and are explored through relevant theory and international and local evidence.

This paper will allow students to analyse the meaning and potential of the built environment by confronting questions as to who is communicating through transformations, what is their purpose, and what is the effect. The complexity of processes of urban transformation should not be underestimated. Urban areas never have a single meaning, rather an unstable plurality of meanings, and their production and interpretation cannot be innocent, neither can they be separated from contextual economic processes which variously shape and reshape urban space (Duncan, 1990: 182; Harvey, 2006). Urban transformation entails duplicitous processes, 'high tension', and continual power contestation. Daniels (1989: 206) calls for an exploration of the oppositional meanings of urban areas. The visual image of a place can easily deceive and depoliticise by veiling the struggles and experiences that have actually taken place in relation to it. These dynamics deserve illumination, not in a merely descriptive sense, but in terms of the history and practice of urban development. This course will give students the opportunity to be ‘illuminators’ in the Otago urban context.

In addition, there is a strong focus in the course on reflecting on the future of urban areas – their planning, design and management. How might we capitalise on a city’s assets, inspiration and potential to create good urban areas that promote people’s health, happiness, and well-being? How might we listen to, and ask questions of the people who are connected with, or live, work and play in a particular urban area, to discover their needs and aspirations, then use this information to create a common vision for that place? During the course, students will give priority to a research project examining the histories, economies and potential futures of the built environment in Otago.

Seminars are designed to engage with key theoretical themes and urban practices, and will involve discussion, student-led presentations and debates. A research project and linked field-trips will form a core element of the assessment.

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Geographical approaches to issues in contemporary urban policy and planning, including employment, housing, transport, social services and health care.

This course provides a critical insight into the social and economic tranformations taking place within cities, current challenges and responses.

Paper title Advanced Urban Geography
Paper code GEOG457
Subject Geography
EFTS 0.1667
Points 20 points
Teaching period Semester 2 (On campus)
Domestic Tuition Fees (NZD) $1,409.28
International Tuition Fees Tuition Fees for international students are elsewhere on this website.

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This paper is available to students at or above the 400 (i.e. graduate) level.

Please contact Professor Etienne Nel for information on the recommended background for this paper.

Teaching staff

Course Co-ordinator: Professor Etienne Nel

Paper Structure

The course is based on lectures, student-led seminars and a research project.

This paper is 100% internally assessed.

Teaching Arrangements

One 2-hour lecture/seminar per week.


Relevant readings are provided for each lecture.

Graduate Attributes Emphasised
Global perspective, Interdisciplinary perspective, Scholarship, Communication, Critical thinking, Environmental literacy, Research, Self-motivation, Teamwork.
View more information about Otago's graduate attributes.
Learning Outcomes

By the end of the course, students are expected to be able to:

  1. Demonstrate a critical understanding of key urban theories, discourses and practices
  2. Collect and analyse data, and draw meaningful insightful conclusions from a local case study that contributes to wider debates in urban geography
  3. Effectively communicate research findings both orally and in written forms
  4. Critique and evaluate how urban space is shaped by and shapes social and economic relations

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Semester 2

Teaching method
This paper is taught On Campus
Learning management system


Stream Days Times Weeks
A1 Tuesday 14:00-15:50 29-34, 36-41