Deland Chan, Lecturer in Urban Studies, received a Curriculum Innovation Award from the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning and Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. The award recognizes educators who develop and implement courses to prepare future planners to solve economic, social, and environmental challenges facing communities worldwide. Her course, Sustainable Cities, was chosen among a competitive pool of submissions from across the world and was the only U.S.-based university course selected.
Chan has been teaching the Sustainable Cities course since 2013. Offered in the Fall quarter, the Sustainable Cities course draws students from across the university. It aims to provide students with an overview of sustainability topics, frameworks that explain how they fit together, and tangible examples of how these issues overlap and unfold in a real-world project. Students collaborate with San Francisco Bay Area government agencies and community organizations to support their sustainability goals. The course provides a scaffold for students to ask critical questions beyond "what is sustainability" and instead "sustainable for whom and how." This approach allows students to connect the dots and see how sustainability issues are interrelated.
According to Chan, "Rapid urbanization and climate change are among the most pressing issues of the 21st century. Cities account for about 2% of the world's surface area but generate up to three-quarters of greenhouse gas emissions." However, she notes that "despite this link between cities and sustainability, there has been slow uptake in adopting sustainability solutions. The obstacles to addressing climate change are not just technical but political and social."
To address this issue, Chan believes that we need to prepare the next generation of future leaders to address climate change effectively. These efforts should be interdisciplinary and encourage students who are outside the built environment fields to have a critical stake in solving these problems, attract students from underrepresented demographics in these professions whose perspectives can bring creative solutions and approaches to the table, and finally, encourage a growth mindset so that students are motivated and equipped to work collaboratively in diverse teams to address problems that lack a linear and straightforward solution.
The Sustainable Cities class aims to achieve these goals. The course is open to students from all disciplines and years, as there are no prerequisites. Past students have ranged from first-year to graduate students and come from departments as wide-ranging as Urban Studies to Public Policy, Computer Science, Mechanical Engineering, Civil Engineering, and Law. Those who have not taken Urban Studies courses have done well in the class with strong motivation and hard work.
Katherine Erdman (B.S. '19; M.S. '20) is studying Computer Science and enrolled in the class in Fall 2018. Her team examined the issue of digital inclusion in the City of Mountain View in partnership with the Director of Economic Development, Alex Andrade. After surveying over 200 residents using an online survey supplemented by focus groups and in-person surveying, Erdman and her team proposed recommendations to the city council to improve internet access for underserved populations.
Reflecting on her experience, Erdman says, "More than a deeper understanding of the technological diversity outside of the Stanford Bubble, I gained a broader view of sustainability and now understand the importance of community-based learning. I'm currently working on a project to help the formerly incarcerated gain employment and, armed with a more nuanced view of sustainability, am considering the social and cultural ecosystem that this economic problem resides in."
The class is made possible with the support of multiple community partners who continue to work with the class each year. One long-time partner is Adina Levin, Executive Director at the Friends of Caltrain. "For the last five years, Friends of Caltrain has been working to explore and address issues with affordable access to Caltrain and public transit on the Peninsula Corridor," said Levin. "In partnership with the Stanford Sustainable Cities class and local cities, we have worked on a series of research projects to uncover issues and propose solutions, contributing to the initiation of innovative programs to provide affordable transit access for low-income commuters."
Many students who take the class are motivated to deliver a high-quality project deliverable as they want to give back to an urban community adjacent to the university that is located in their backyards. They are also eager to learn these skills, which they believe will help them in their future endeavors. Former students have gone on to take leadership roles in their hometowns such as becoming an appointed housing commissioner for the City of Cupertino, undertaking honors thesis research, or leading their alternative spring break trip. Regardless of whether students continue to address sustainable cities in their work—although many do— they are equipped to tackle wicked problems by knowing what questions to ask and possible approaches to take and to shape the world with and for communities impacted by climate change.
Chan looks forward to teaching the class again in the Fall. She says, "A living, breathing curriculum requires constant intention and awareness, and the work is both rewarding and humbling. I am grateful to my students and community partners for inspiring me to be an engaged scholar, practitioner, and citizen of the Bay Area."Sustainable Cities originates from the Program on Urban Studies, an interdisciplinary program that has awarded Bachelor of Arts degrees since 1985. The class is also cross-listed with the Earth Systems Program. Sustainable Cities meets the Program on Urban Studies community-engaged learning requirements for the major. Sustainable Cities is also certified as a Cardinal Course by the Stanford Haas Center for Public Service for meeting high standards for ethical and effective service. Sustainable Cities also qualifies as meeting two Undergraduate General Education requirements for Social Inquiry and Engaging Diversity.