Urban Ecology Seminar:
Technology Enhanced
Blended Learning

Urban Ecology Challenges:   Assignments, questions and student projects

Rules of the Game:   Assigments are (self selected or defined) topics for short written contributions by the seminar participants. They can address any one of the questions below, be based on the list of topics defined or in the lecture notes, or discussed during the lectures. Innovative self-defined questions welcome !

An assignment (a minimalistic term paper) consists of

  1. a well posed question related to any one of the topics;
  2. a hypothesis formulated as an (initially) speculative answer to the question, taking a clear position to be tested in the body of the exposition.
  3. The body of the exposition, a set of arguments based on data and information compiled from any and all sources that either corroborate or refute the hypothesis. Anything from one to three pages will do.
  4. A clear conclusion based on the arguments.
  5. References for the data and information, quotes, used.
Scientific argument where it can not be based, for obvious reasons on original data compiled in the field or laboratory, must necessarily depend on secondary data (wikipedia et al., to be realistic). That is fine, but the requirements for cut and paste are:
  • reformulate edit and interpret, literal quotes are not enough;
  • cite carefully, correctly, completely (there are rules ...).
Anybody selecting or defining a question or topic to work on may want to announce this (by eMail) to stake a claim avoiding to that too many (similar ??) answers arrive (clones risk to be discarded !). Recommened strategy: decide early, discuss it in an appropriate web forum (create your own if necessary), get feedback, suggestions, grab an audience (that counts !)

Expectations: The expected volume for the various contributions is an estimated effort around 20+ hours. They will be "graded" based on quality, quantity, and innovation, summed and normalized (within limits to avoid excessive social contructivism .....).

Suggestions (to get you started, to be dramatically improved upon)

  1. Cities: definitions, history, statistics: what are we talking about. Can you explain them to a Martian ?
  2. History: with working and affordable time travel, in which historical period would you like to be an urban dweller ? Why ?
  3. City hyperspace: for any selected (individual, pair or group of ) parameters, draw a histogram of the frequency of "cities" (maybe different size classes ?) all over the world or in any given region. Examples: size, population density, household size, age, income, HDI, latitude, elevation, average temperature, rainfall; What about the relationship of parameters ? Any significant "correlation" (use non-parametric methods - WHEN ? WHY ?)
  4. Ecology: can you "apply" some of the basic principles to cities, their function, development ? Examples ? The more, the merrier. How close to GAIA can you come ?
  5. Beehive, ant hill, city: where are the differences ?
  6. City marketing: How would you sell a city ? What do you sell ? To whom ? What for ? Consider yourself a used city salesperson: what are the features of your luxury model ?
  7. Quality of life: what defines the quality of urban life ? Your favourite 10 point wishlist (criteria, objectives, constraints), and WHY would that be good for everybody, in the city and around ?
  8. Pollution: What is it, who does it, why is it bad, how bad is it, and how could it be stopped ?
  9. Urbanization I: Since half the world population seems to prefer to live in cities, there must be a very good reson for rural-urban migration ? What makes cities so attractive ?
  10. Urbanization II: On October 19, 2008, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the People's Republic of China (quite a name) issued a seminal decree: Farmers will be allowed to trade and extend beyond 30 years their lease on (government owned) land. This will dramatically affect urbanisation in China. WHY ? HOW ? Analyse (some numbers ?) and describe likely impacts on urbanisation, and what that means for urban development !
  11. Resources: Resource use by cities, (normalized: per capita, household, area), cities grouped by region, size class: water, energy, fuel, food, ... Cluster analysis ? But where does it come from, how do we pay for it, can it go on for ever ? A few thousand years seem to have been possible by now.
  12. Sustainability: what exactly is it ? Are cities sustainable ? If they are not, where are the "failed cities" ? What would make a city sustainable ?
  13. Sustainable city: HOW MUCH area would a city need around it to supply enough: energy, water, food (a few scenarios for different regions/climate, lifestyles, levels of technology/efficiency. Enough space? For how many cities, citizens ?
    Use Innsbruck as an example !
  14. Entropy: Since a city is a rather unlikely concentration of energy, structure, order (sort of) and people (on a cosmic scale): where did the entropy go ?
  15. Efficiency: What is it ? What would make a city more or less efficient ?
  16. Structure: spatial structure, layout, distribution of services and land use affect efficiency. WHY ? HOW ?
  17. Ideal City how would it look like ? How to agree - could you get elected on that platform ?
    How to get there, technically, economically, politically ?
  18. Politics and regulations: Assume you are "the king"; what three laws would you enact to improve cities ? Fiat WHAT ? (in a constitutional monrachy, you have to get through parliament though ...)
  19. City planning: Could direct democracy, eVoting, help to improve city planning ? HOW ? How to reach consensus ?
  20. Zero emission: can you imagine, "design" a zero emission city ? Carbon neutral ? And where does that leave (a) the second law of thermodynamics; (b) TANSTAAFL (there ain't no such thing as a free lunch), and: ever been to Güssing ?.
  21. Asimov et al.: how are cities going to look like in 2050, 2500, 3000, 5000 ? (will there be any ?)
  22. Energy I: energy (now based on fossil fuels) is what really drives cities. To be sustainable, as the oils runs out or gets ridiculously expensive, any strategy has to include: effectiness of energy use; efficiency of energy use; reneable, alternative sources of energy. Comment, elaborate, provide some estimates for IF and HOW that could make current urban structures sustainable ?
  23. Energy II: nuclear fusion (preferrably cold, microscale with portable pocket generators) working smoothly, safely, cheaply: would that solve all our problems ? Unlimited (urban) growth and hapiness for all ?
  24. Energy III: not exactly in the same class, but somewhat more realistic: electric cars, fuel cells (emission free -- are they ?) -- the solution to urban transportation problems ? DECIDE (either way) and ARGUE (credibly ...)
  25. Energy IV: we cover all our roofs with solar panels -- home free ?
  26. Millennium goals: Goal 7, target 4 calls for a "significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020". Comments ? Define, turn into proposals for measurable improvements, and submit a plan of what, where, and how (to finance it ?).
    What would it take ?
Other most attractive tasks   that will get you brownie points:

  • Collect and submit a few tested and annotated, exiting, instructive and hitherto unknown links;
  • Read ! and annotate PDF files from the background reading list, add/select keywords for classifiction.
    ADD you own favorite reading.
  • Take the multiple choice test; suggest improvements or corrections, provide reasoned comments, submit your own questions (and answers !).
    Design your own test with 10 or more questions = bonus points ...
  • Check the city data base: compile indicator data for many cities, or ADD a detailed description of an individual city.
    Suggest additional, well defined measurable criteria or indicators !
  • Provide an insightful, constructively critical comment worthy of a Beckmesser to any or all of your colleagues' submissions.


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