Vanderbilt Law School Background Image

Course Information

Sustainable Cities Seminar

The city is returning to prominence as a major policy-making entity across many fronts. In the environmental, land use, and growth management contexts, for example, increasing emphasis is being placed on the role of cities in fulfilling national goals such as climate change mitigation and adaptation and sustainable development. In the absence of clear federal law on these and other emerging issues, however, many cities are charting their own course, which has led to intergovernmental friction. Thus, the exact law and policy contours of the roles cities can and will play are yet to be determined. This course examines the emergence of modern cities as major policy players in the context of the broad sweep of sustainability policy. The course opens with an examination of sustainability theory and modern theories of the city (e.g., New Urbanism and polycentrism) to assess the extent to which cities are engines of sustainability policy innovation and at the same time sinks for policy problems. Class sessions will then move through a series of discrete sustainability law and policy topics, in each case examining the roles cities are and could be playing and the legal context within which cities operate relevant to the topic. Topics will include climate change mitigation (greenhouse gas controls), climate change adaptation (responding to impacts), green building and green infrastructure, retrofitting suburbs, affordable housing, environmental justice, land conservation, agricultural policy, infill and densification of residential land uses, and energy and transportation policies. The course readings will be compiled from various government and academic sources, and guest speakers ideally will be scheduled to help enrich the class discussions. Students will prepare a research paper on an approved topic and fulfill other course requirements such as occasional reaction papers and a topic presentation. Enrollment limited.