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Sustainable Cities, MSc in Engineering

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The degree offered is Master of Science in Engineering (Sustainable Cities). The courses and the project work are carried out in English. Therefore, the programme is open to Danish as well as international students with a relevant Bachelor of Science degree in engineering or equivalent. All courses are offered at the Copenhagen campus. 

It is a priority for us that you have the opportunity to work with external partners, for instance in your semester projects, which can be carried out in cooperation with authorities, companies, NGOs, etc. This way you get to work on real life problems, preparing you for your professional carreer.

Semester 1
The role of organisations and business in sustainable cities

Each project group chooses a topic for their semester report within the theme of the semester. The topic can be primarily theoretical or empirical, and usually takes its point of departure in a specific policy, organisation, or an environmental problem. Our aim is to understand how planning can create niches within path dependent systems to foster transition at the organisational level. 

Courses at the 1st semester:

Tools and approaches to sustainable development (5 ECTS)

The course aims to inspire the students to use different tools and approaches to analyse and understand the opportunities and transition pathways for cities. These opportunities involve new technologies and new ways of organising and developing sustainable cities; which creates a new transition path. The course focuses on a variety of tools and approaches for each of the four infrastructure sectors looking at behavior, participation and planning. The course is focused on providing you with specific tools to work with sustainable transition in the cities, and to critically reflect on the tools. The teaching will mainly include lectures and workshops, where the students will use the tools in practice. Students can practice using the tools develop their skills during their project work. The course enables the students to navigate between different types of tools (sector specific/cross-sector/project focus/policy focus). The content taught for the different infrastructural sectors include:

- Resources: We will present tools for assessing resource use from a life cycle assessment and waste planning perspective in cities. The life cycle assessment approach enables students to examine which parts of a products life cycle has which environmental impacts, and gain knowledge about where to take action. Waste planning will present different considerations about the waste hierarchy from disposal to prevention.

- Energy: The students will be introduced to the advanced energy systems modeling tool EnergyPLAN, to enable them to model complex energy systems and assess impacts from increasing renewable energy, energy efficiency or changes in transport technologies. Energy planning frameworks will also be presented to allow the students to work with models for city energy planning. The students will be introduced to energy consumption and use tools for measuring and understanding the drivers behind energy consumption and what potentials exist for increasing energy efficiency and lowering demand.

- Mobility: Transport models used at the city and national levels will be introduced for the students to get an understanding of how to generate knowledge about transport demand. The students will be presented current plans to introduce intelligent transport systems in cities and their potentials for managing transport.

- Cross-sectoral: The students are introduced to sustainability tools at the organizational level including ISO standards, certification schemes and tools for measuring the sustainability of organizations and business. We will also examine CSR, environmental management systems and green accounts as ways for organizations to work and monitor sustainability action. Sustainable certification schemes for the built environment are presented, allowing the students to quantify and compare different buildings and neighborhoods on several measures. Fundamental investment theory and economic principles will be presented to allow the students to assess economic costs and values of different projects, as well as being able to critically assess other project proposals.

Challenges and planning for sustainable cities (5 ECTS)

The course aims to provide a basic understanding of the challenges that cities face today in terms of providing more enduring infrastructures and supporting sustainable everyday practices. The course aims to enable the students to cope with the complexity and challenges that the transition poses. We examine which challenges the four infrastructure sectors face in order to move towards more sustainable cities. Navigating within different theoretical frameworks the course provides analytical concepts and perspectives for understanding these infrastructural sectors in relation to sustainable transition in cities. The content taught for the different infrastructural sectors include:

- Resources: We will discuss challenges from resource intensive production and consumption at city level and strategies of mitigation such as waste planning and circular economy. The topic in centered on the waste hierarchy, describing possible ways of addressing waste from reduction, re-use and recycling towards incineration or landfills.

- Energy: We will discuss which challenges the transition towards a 100% renewable energy system meets.  How to plan for new renewable energy technologies on different organization levels, their impact on the functioning of the established energy systems in cities, thermodynamic principles of energy technologies, the need to include all energy-intensive sectors as transport, industry, households etc., and how consumption patterns influence the energy use. This also involves a quantification of the size of the problem.

- Water: Water planning will focus on city climate adaptation and water management strategies in cities facing climate change and increasing severe weather events. It centres on how adaptation strategies often can produce alliances with other city agendas such as the need for increasing green and leisure space.

- Mobility: We examine cases of planning for different modes of transport in cities, from bus-rapid-transit and car sharing to car-free transport. Further we examine the energy consumption in the transport sector by breaking transport demand down into end user demands, types of vehicles, infrastructure etc.

- Cross-sectoral: Perspectives on the need of moving beyond silo-specific planning into more holistic views are presented to promote sustainability in the city environment. We will look at the role of planning in changing unsustainable socio-technical development paths.

theories of Science and Research Designs (5 ECTS)

The course prepares students to become engineers that work with ‘knowledge generation’ in their projects, their thesis, as well as in their professional life as engineers. The course gives you an understanding of the different theories of science, and how they are connected to choices of research design. It addresses how we can understand the ‘processes of knowledge generation and methods’ that characterizes engineers in their work practices as ‘ sustainable engineers’. We ask questions like do engineers work as applied scientists and use scientific knowledge generated by a ’superior’ and rational scientific method’? We will also discuss what impact these questions have on the outcomes from the use of analytical models such as EnergyPLAN or economic models. Are models objective in their knowledge production, or are they performing a specific outcome? It will make you capable of assessing and communicating choice of and background for research design. 

Semester 2

Sustainable cities from an institutional and societal perspective

The 2nd semester is focused on developing knowledge and competences aimed at developing urban strategies that have a transformative effect on sustainable transition of cities.

Each project group chooses a topic for their semester report within the theme of the semester. The topic can be primarily theoretical or empirical, and usually takes its point of departure in a specific policy, institution, or an environmental problem. 

Courses at 2nd semester:

Politics, planning and governance (5 ECTS)

The course is focused on power, politics and policies as well as stakeholders, institutions and discourses in relation to decision-making processes based on international and national research. The lectures will be based on current research and aim at critical reflections on planning and decision-making processes. It provides an important theoretical basis for comprehending the close linkages that exists between planning, policy‐making and governance in practice. This course explores the complex context and practicalities of city planning with special emphasis on the challenge of making cities more sustainable.

systems and structures of the city (5 ECTS)

The course aims to teach students a deeper knowledge about the existing systems and structures which exist within a city. The key focus is on the four main infrastructure sectors. The course will also examine the type of services that these sectors provide and how these infrastructures can be understood as complex systems.

Systems consist of many different components which interact with one another. It is important to understand these interactions to recognise that one individual decision can affect a range of other components within a sustainable city. These relationships will be the key focus of this course and it will most often be from a technical rather than a social perspective. The course is organised into five main themes that are applicable to each sector in the city. In order to cover each sector during the semester each theme is illustrated with a case study from one of the sectors. The five themes are:

- Evaluating alternative systems and structures
- The importance of the time horizon considered for systems and structures
- Interactions between systems and structures and end-users
- Resilience and complexity of systems
- The risk of lock-in for systems and structures

The content taught for the different infrastructural sectors include:

- Energy: By analyzing the energy sector as an integrated system in the city and nationally, we will examine how this can be used as an advantage by utilizing fluctuating electricity production in the heating and transport sectors. For example building wind turbines introduces more fluctuating electricity production, affecting the operation of established plants. Also, in Denmark, where the majority of plants are co-producing heat and power, this also impacts the district heating sector.

- Mobility: The transportation sector should also be seen as an interconnected system in the city. By understanding transport as a demand, it becomes clear that changes for public transport users will impact car and bike users. By upgrading public transport, it may be possible to shift users towards train, metro, tram and bus use. However, this will at the same time reduce travel time by car, as roads become less congested, thereby again making it more attractive to use cars.

- Cross-sectoral: After the completion of all the themes the course will end with discussions about the synergies and conflicts that exist across the different systems in the different sectors in cities. We will examine how, just as the different infrastructural sectors behave as systems, they also interact with one another. By increasing electric vehicles, this impacts electricity consumption, or how waste and resource planning have ties to district heating production, gas production for transport and efficient re-use of resources.

Economic, social and environmental impact assessment (5 ECTS)

The course is focused on assessing the sustainability of different solutions for handling the challenges in cities. This course will provide students with a basic understanding of the key tools and techniques used globally to analyse economic, social and environmental dimensions of planning and sustainability. The topics may include: feasibility studies, risk assessment, future studies, environmental impact assessment and strategic impact assessment.

Semester 3

Professional development

Internship, study abroad or “prolonged project period”

This semester will provide the student with the option of applying the theoretical and methodological knowledge gained during the 1st and 2nd semesters into practice in real life situations in Denmark or abroad. This could take form as an internship within for example a private consultancy firm, a public authority or a private NGO. The choice of internship is made on the basis of your interests. During the internship, you participate in the activities of an organisation and collect information for the project report. The project report is expected to have both a theoretical and empirical part relating to the actual experience of the internship.

An alternative option is to enrol at another (Danish or foreign) university in order to undertake a semester's study there.

Finally there is an option for adding the 3rd and the 4th semester into a 'prolonged project', if for instance the research question demands more time and energy for collecting data or conducting field studies.

semester 4: Master's Thesis

In the final semester the main focus is on the writing of the Master's Thesis. The students work individually or in small groups, under the guidance of supervisory staff. The Master's Thesis, being the highest level of work undertaken, should aim at synthesising theories and methods in order to perform a potential solution for real life environmental planning and management problems.

Sister Programmes

Sustainable Citites has three sister programmes, which are also hosted by the Department of Development and Planning at Aalborg University in Aalborg:

The bachelor's degree programme which precedes these three Master's programmes is Urban, Energy and Environmental Planning (By- Energi og Miljøplanlægning). Unlike the Master's programmes, the bachelor's programme is carried out in Danish.


Study Method at AAU - Problem Based Learning

Study Method at AAU - Problem Based Learning

The study method at AAU is called Problem Based Learning (PBL). Together with your fellow students you will work with real life problems by way of problem based project work.

learn more about Pbl at aau