Urban Ecosystems: Structures, Functions and Designs

Course content

Cities may be regarded as semi-closed ecosystems, consisting of a number of subsystems. The course seeks to combine urban design with scientific knowledge on how to optimize these sub-systems, to obtain sustainable resource management and climate adaptation. This is done through lectures, paper readings, study tours and exercises.

Cities are hot spots in terms of resource consumption, waste production and emission of greenhouse gasses. At the same time cities are global centers for economy and culture, and home to more than half of the world’s population. Climate resilience and sustainable resource management depend – among other things - on our ability to design cities. This is true for both developing and developed countries.

The course focuses on the ability of green infrastructures to contribute to resource management, climate adaptation and social-cultural performance of urbanized areas. This is sometimes referred to as ecosystem services. How can knowledge on vegetation, soil, air, climate and water be used to suggest overall green structures and specific elements for stormwater management, water supply, biodiversity support, mitigation of urban heat island, food production, etc.? The suggested physical changes must at the same time enhance urban livability, and be doable in terms of administrative and economic resources. Which theories and methods can be applied, and what is the role of environmental experts, landscape architects and urban planners in this context? The main focus of the course is on the freshwater cycle in urban settings and there is a special focus on adaptation to more extreme weather conditions, especially stormwater management and flood control.

The course is inviting students from a number of disciplines to participate. It is relevant for urban designers and planners as well as for agronomists, geographers, biologists, etc. The ambition of the teachers is to make students able to transfer scientific knowledge into new urban designs at multiple scales, in order to increase sustainability and climate resilience. As such the course contains a number of lectures in which relevant knowledge from environmental chemistry, agronomy, climatology and biology is presented. The lectures are supported by several exercises and study tours for a better understanding. By means of innovative learning methods the theory is transferred to design criteria and specific design proposals.


MSc Programme in Landscape Architecture

Learning outcome

This course provides an understanding of structures, functions and dynamics of urban ecosystems, and how ecosystem services can be optimized, re-designed and managed to support sustainable urban development. The course combines urban planning and landscape architecture with soil hydrology, environmental chemistry, agronomy, climatology and biology. The aim is to have students, teachers and external actors that represent different disciplines to exchange, apply and evaluate concepts and methods for sustainable urban development.

- To be familiar with theory and principles of urban ecosystem science
- To understand causes and effects of climate change in urban areas
- To be familiar with urban growth and dynamics in Denmark and globally
- To know quantitative and qualitative components of the urban water cycle
- To be familiar with major factors controlling biodiversity in cities
- To understand relations between natural processes (e.g. urban climates, the water cycle, biodiversity, soils) and urban form and function
- To gain an overview over case studies of sustainable urban water management and climate change adaptation, from city to site scale.

- To be able to transfer ecosystem concepts and principles to problem oriented studies.
- To be able to apply knowledge and methods for the analysis and design of sustainable urban ecosystems.

- To work in multidisciplinary groups and present results and knowledge to other students and external actors
- To undertake a problem oriented study, suggest design solutions and make evaluations
- To acquire in-depth knowledge on specific aspects of urban ecosystems structure and function in an independent manner
- To reflect upon and discuss the value systems that underlie the structure and functioning of various urban ecosystems.

The course consists of approx. 15 lectures, approx. 15 in-class exercises, a number of paper sessions, one full day excursion or two half day excursions, an individual written assignment and a group project. Guest lecturers are included ad hoc.

A number of compulsory papers and book chapters constitute the course texts. Further literature will be recommended during the course in connection with specific themes.

Academic qualifications equivalent to a BSc degree is recommended.

Compulsory tasks (participation in paper presentations, completion of compulsory exercises) must be successfully completed.

Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
Peer feedback (Students give each other feedback)
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written assignment, During course
Type of assessment details
The mark is based evenly on two written assignments: 1. an individual assignment (50 %) and 2. individual reflections on a group assignment (50 %). The individual assignment is a short report, handed in halfway through the course, dealing with the subjects presented in the first part of the course. The individual reflections on a group assignment is an 8 hours written assignment conducted in block week 9 (exam week). It is based on the group assigment, which is a 2 min video of an urban ecosystem design.
Exam registration requirements

Compulsory tasks completed

Group assignment ( 2 min video of an urban ecosystem design) must be presented and uploaded to Absalon.

All aids allowed
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
Several internal examiners

Identical to ordinary exam.

Students who have not met the exam registration reuqirement have to hand in a written report of  6-8 pp. as substition for the group assigment and the 8 hour written assigment.

Criteria for exam assessment

Please see learning outcome.

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Lectures
  • 20
  • Preparation
  • 90
  • Exercises
  • 56
  • Excursions
  • 10
  • Guidance
  • 30
  • English
  • 206


Course number
7,5 ECTS
Programme level
Full Degree Master

1 block

Block 1
Study Board of Geosciences and Management
Contracting department
  • Department of Geoscience and Natural Resource Management
Contracting faculty
  • Faculty of Science
Course Coordinator
  • Marina Bergen Jensen   (3-70656d436c6a71316e7831676e)

Mark Taylor Randall

Saved on the 28-02-2023

Are you BA- or KA-student?

Are you bachelor- or kandidat-student, then find the course in the course catalog for students:

Courseinformation of students