The Minor in Urban Sustainability provides students with an opportunity to further their understanding of the myriad issues in fostering environmental preservation, equity, and economic development—the 3-Es of sustainability— in urban areas, while providing them with a foundation for advancing their academic and professional interests in the many directions related to sustainability. The program requires 18 credits, with 11 required credits and seven elective credits. The minor is underpinned by knowledge in urban planning and the wider social sciences, but it give students opportunities to take science electives if they wish. 

Why a Minor in Urban Sustainability?

In the 1950s, about two-thirds of the world’s population lived in rural areas and one-third lived in cities. However, mass migration to cities has dramatically changed this spatial distribution. Around 2008, the population between rural areas and cities was evenly split; today, about 54 percent of the world’s population lives in cities; by 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population, or some 6 billion people, are expected live in cities. These populations currently place enormous stresses on natural and built environmental systems. While comprising less than 5 percent of the world’s land mass, urban areas account for 70 percent of the world’s energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. But evidence shows that well-designed urban places can more efficiently use resources than non-urban places.

Notwithstanding these broad facts about urban growth, there are, of course, pockets of urban areas that have seen decline, particularly in post-industrialized cites. Many midwestern cities exemplify this decline. Detroit offers its own unique challenges with revitalization in core neighborhoods and continued challenges in outlying neighborhoods. These areas present different challenges from consistenly growing areas. On the one hand, growing urban areas must take active measures to preserve the environment,while at the same time sustaining economic growth and ensuring that gains are equitably distributed. On the other hand, declining regions have to address legacy contaminants, brownfields, pollution, and pockets of disconnected, vacant land, even as they seek to ensure that disadvantaged groups do not face disproportionate effects of decline.

Professionals are needed to address these changes in sustainable ways. Wayne State is the home of many Planning and Social Sciences courses (see Requirements for the Minor) that can prepare students to tackle these challenges. A Minor in Urban Sustainability will leverage Wayne State’s existing strengths to provide students with an understanding of the 3-Es of sustainable development and with a broad policy framework to address these challenges.

How does the Minor in Urban Sustainability meet these needs?

The required classes in the Minor provide students with a ladder to understanding the 3-Es of sustainability. First, in Introduction to Urban Studies (US 2000), students are provided with an introduction to how urban form drives and is driven by socio-economic (often inequitable), cultural, political, and environmental and natural forces, in the context of growing, shrinking post-industrial cities, and revitalizing cities such as Detroit. In Introduction to Urban Geography (GPH 3130) students apply the knowledge gained in US 2000 to a broader global context as they are introduced to urban development patterns across the world. They will be able to not only study how natural, social, political, and economic forces shape and are shaped by cities everywhere, but are also be introduced to contemporary discussions on urban form and climate change.

Sustainable Cities (UP 4460), uses the 3-Es of sustainability to explore the ways in which the natural world affects and is affected by both growing and shrinking cities, and how cities may manage growth, shrinkage, or redevelopment to create a more green, just, and prosperous urban future.

Students complement these three required classes with seven elective credits. The broad set of elective courses, when combined with the required courses, demonstrates the rich offerings at Wayne State University, which, if corralled, can offer students a credentialed understanding of urban sustainability. To account for the fact that some students may wish to explore more science-based offerings, the list of electives includes pertinent courses from Biology and Geology (with the understanding that students may have to meet certain prerequisites).

Being credentialed with a Minor in Urban Sustainability leaves students in a good position to pursue professional and academic objectives in areas that can draw on their learning. Professionally, this would include various levels of government, the consulting industry, the not-for-profit sector, and the private sector. Academically, the Minor enhances graduate applications to diverse disciplines including Law, Education, Social Work, Urban Planning, or more traditional academic disciplines.

Learning Outcomes
Upon completion of all requirements for the Minor in Urban Sustainability, students will be proficient at:
  • Understanding the connections between environmental preservation, inequity, and economic development as they pertain to urban sustainability.
  • Recognizing how urban areas—whether growing, shrinking, or revitalizing—shape and are shaped by the the connections between environmental forces, inequity, and economic development.
  • Identifying elements of urban sustainability, and recognizing the complexities of measuring it.
  • Advising policymakers on how best to incorporate the 3-Es of urban sustainability.

Required Courses

The Minor requires 18 credits. The required classes are:

  • US 2000 (SS) Introduction to Urban Studies Cr. 4 (Equivalent: GPH 2000, HIS 2000, PS 2000, SOC 2500): Offered every semester, including summers
  • GPH 3130 (SS) Introductory Urban Geography Cr. 4: Offered winter semesters
  • UP 4460 Sustainable Cities Cr. 3, a new course that has been proposed: Offered winter semesters

Elective Courses

Students must complete seven elective credits from the following list of courses (there is flexibiliity is choosing elective classes; please see Undergraduate Advisor Professor Carolyn Loh, or the Academic Advisor Ms. Stacie Moser):

  • ANT 5060 Urban Anthropology Cr. 3: Offered yearly
  • BIO 3500 Ecology and the Environment Cr. 3: Offered fall
  • BIO 5540 Ecosystem and Landscape Ecology Cr. 3: Offered biannually
  • ENG 5795 Topics in Rhetoric and Writing Cr. 3 (when offered as Environmental Rhetorics; not repeatable for additional credits): Offered irregularly
  • GEL 3100 Environmental Systems Analysis Cr. 4: Offered fall
  • GPH 3600 Geographic Information Systems Cr. 4: Offered fall, winter, spring/summer
  • HIS 5425 American Environmental History Cr. 3: Offered fall
  • HIS 5540/GLS 5540 Cr. 4: World Environmental History Since 1900: Offered fall or winter
  • HIS 5665 Global Cities Cr. 3: Offered irregularly
  • HIS 5725 African Cities Cr. 4: Offered winter
  • PS 2420 Ethics and Politics of Public Policy Cr. 4: Offered yearly
  • PS 4460 Techniques of Policy Analysis Cr. 4: Offered yearly
  • PS 3450 Environmental Policy and Politics Cr. 4: Offered biannually.
  • SOC 2205 Sociology of the Environment, a new proposed course
  • SOC 3300 (SS) Social Inequality Cr. 4: Offered yearly
  • SOC 3510 (SS) People on the Move: International Migration and its Consequences Cr. 3: Offered biannually
  • UP 4210 Urban Design Elements Cr. 3: Offered biannually (course exists at graduate level; application filed to propose this 4000-level undergraduate version)
  • UP 5430 Cities and Food Cr. 3: Offered biannually
  • UP 5670 Modern American Cities Cr. 4: Offered irregularly


Undergraduate Adivsor: Professor Carolyn Loh: Associate Professor, Dept. of Urban Studies and Planning, 3215 FAB, 313-577-0541,

 Academic Advisor: Stacie Moser, Academic Advisor III, 2248 Faculty Administration Building, 313-577-2355,

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