ENVSCI 738 : Water Sensitive Cities


2024 Semester One (1243) (15 POINTS)

Course Prescription

This course probes experiments with radical urban change to examine the co-constitution of water-society in the pursuit of improved futures. A case study is built around the aspiration to become a Water Sensitive City. Students first employ quantitative methods to design a water sensitive neighbourhood. Students then critique reductionist approaches to becoming sustainable. The aim is to better understand the sustainable city debate and its emerging logics.

Course Overview

Experimenting with radical urban change is becoming the norm as cities around the world pursue improved futures. Experiments are considered dynamic and provisional and are seen as a way to cut through administrative red-tape and materialise visions of flourishing, sustainability and liveability. Experiments are viewed as an acceptable way to take risks and come with expectations of high failure rates but promises of high returns. But who is doing the experimenting? Who is being experimented on? Can (and should) lessons be applied elsewhere?

This course probes the appeal of experiments with more sustainable cities through a case study of Auckland’s Healthy Waterways strategy. The first half of the course examines the science of Water Sensitive Cities. Students apply and critique deterministic and constructivist approaches to realising more sustainable cities. The second half of the course attempt to makes sense of change that is produced by how improved futures are both imagined and materialised. Students examine how experiments with more sustainable cities are understood to be important. Do they reframe institutions and reconfigure actors? Do they engender radical change? Are they a viable alternative to long-term planning? Are they business-as-usual repackaged in appealing rhetoric? There are three take home messages:
1) Experiments with urban futures carry a politics like any other activity;
2) Visions of the future matter and have to be positioned among competing visions;
3) There is still need to imagine better kinds of human society. 

A student who successfully completes this course will have the opportunity to design a Water Sensitive City to reveal how water scientists envision their role in social change. Through the practice of urban hydrology and academic grounding in critical literature, students will explore the politics of experiments. Students should leave the course with:
1) Knowledge of the water sensitive city;
2) Understanding of how the practice of science involves political propositions;
3) Grounding in dominant ideologies that frame contemporary visions and how they manifests in sociomaterial outcomes.

Course Requirements

No pre-requisites or restrictions

Capabilities Developed in this Course

Capability 1: People and Place
Capability 2: Sustainability
Capability 3: Knowledge and Practice
Capability 4: Critical Thinking
Capability 5: Solution Seeking
Capability 6: Communication
Capability 7: Collaboration
Capability 8: Ethics and Professionalism

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this course, students will be able to:
  1. Define major environmental issues of our time and identify how science is used to approach those issues and propose solutions. (Capability 3 and 4)
  2. Explain and apply scientific method that underpins environmental policy and response. (Capability 5 and 6)
  3. Work collaboratively as well as individually to critique environmentally framed problems and solutions. (Capability 7 and 8)
  4. Identify and describe some of the challenges of applying environmental science. (Capability 1 and 2)


Assessment Type Percentage Classification
Literature review and critical reflection 20% Individual Coursework
Preparation and participation report 10% Group Coursework
Presentation 10% Group Coursework
Exam 60% Individual Examination
Assessment Type Learning Outcome Addressed
1 2 3 4
Literature review and critical reflection
Preparation and participation report


Tuākana Science is a multi-faceted programme for Māori and Pacific students providing topic specific tutorials, one-on-one sessions, test and exam preparation and more. Explore your options at

As part of the University-wide Tuākana community, The School of Environment Tuākana Programme aims to provide a welcoming learning environment for, and enhance the success of, all of our Māori and Pacific students. We are led by the principles of tautoko (support) and whanaungatanga (connection), and hope you find a home here at the School. Students who have identified as Māori and/or Pacific will receive an invitation to our online portal introducing the Programme, the resources we have available, and how you can get involved.
Māori and Pacific students are encouraged to contact Sonia Fonua (s.fonua@auckland.ac.nz) for information about the Tuākana programme.

Special Requirements

There is a one day field trip and participation is optional but strongly encouraged. 

Workload Expectations

This course is a standard 15 point course and students are expected to spend 10 hours per week involved in each 15 point course that they are enrolled in. For this course, you can expect 1-3 hours of lectures and 6 hours of reading and working on assignments each week.

Delivery Mode

Campus Experience

Attendance is expected at scheduled classes including lectures and laboratories/tutorials to complete components of the course. Lectures will be available as recordings but other learning activities including laboratories/tutorials will not be available as recordings.

Attendance on campus is required for the final examination.

The activities for the course are scheduled as a standard weekly timetable over 12 weeks.

Learning Resources

Course materials are made available in a learning and collaboration tool called Canvas which also includes reading lists and lecture recordings (where available).

Please remember that the recording of any class on a personal device requires the permission of the instructor.

Students are expected to read as part of this course. Students will be provided with links to required readings but also actively encouraged to read broadly and widely. 

Student Feedback

During the course Class Representatives in each class can take feedback to the staff responsible for the course and staff-student consultative committees.

At the end of the course students will be invited to give feedback on the course and teaching through a tool called SET or Qualtrics. The lecturers and course co-ordinators will consider all feedback.

Your feedback helps to improve the course and its delivery for all students.


Academic Integrity

The University of Auckland will not tolerate cheating, or assisting others to cheat, and views cheating in coursework as a serious academic offence. The work that a student submits for grading must be the student's own work, reflecting their learning. Where work from other sources is used, it must be properly acknowledged and referenced. This requirement also applies to sources on the internet. A student's assessed work may be reviewed for potential plagiarism or other forms of academic misconduct, using computerised detection mechanisms.

Class Representatives

Class representatives are students tasked with representing student issues to departments, faculties, and the wider university. If you have a complaint about this course, please contact your class rep who will know how to raise it in the right channels. See your departmental noticeboard for contact details for your class reps.


The content and delivery of content in this course are protected by copyright. Material belonging to others may have been used in this course and copied by and solely for the educational purposes of the University under license.

You may copy the course content for the purposes of private study or research, but you may not upload onto any third party site, make a further copy or sell, alter or further reproduce or distribute any part of the course content to another person.

Inclusive Learning

All students are asked to discuss any impairment related requirements privately, face to face and/or in written form with the course coordinator, lecturer or tutor.

Student Disability Services also provides support for students with a wide range of impairments, both visible and invisible, to succeed and excel at the University. For more information and contact details, please visit the Student Disability Services’ website http://disability.auckland.ac.nz

Special Circumstances

If your ability to complete assessed coursework is affected by illness or other personal circumstances outside of your control, contact a member of teaching staff as soon as possible before the assessment is due.

If your personal circumstances significantly affect your performance, or preparation, for an exam or eligible written test, refer to the University’s aegrotat or compassionate consideration page https://www.auckland.ac.nz/en/students/academic-information/exams-and-final-results/during-exams/aegrotat-and-compassionate-consideration.html.

This should be done as soon as possible and no later than seven days after the affected test or exam date.

Learning Continuity

In the event of an unexpected disruption, we undertake to maintain the continuity and standard of teaching and learning in all your courses throughout the year. If there are unexpected disruptions the University has contingency plans to ensure that access to your course continues and course assessment continues to meet the principles of the University’s assessment policy. Some adjustments may need to be made in emergencies. You will be kept fully informed by your course co-ordinator/director, and if disruption occurs you should refer to the university website for information about how to proceed.

The delivery mode may change depending on COVID restrictions. Any changes will be communicated through Canvas.

Student Charter and Responsibilities

The Student Charter assumes and acknowledges that students are active participants in the learning process and that they have responsibilities to the institution and the international community of scholars. The University expects that students will act at all times in a way that demonstrates respect for the rights of other students and staff so that the learning environment is both safe and productive. For further information visit Student Charter https://www.auckland.ac.nz/en/students/forms-policies-and-guidelines/student-policies-and-guidelines/student-charter.html.


Elements of this outline may be subject to change. The latest information about the course will be available for enrolled students in Canvas.

In this course students may be asked to submit coursework assessments digitally. The University reserves the right to conduct scheduled tests and examinations for this course online or through the use of computers or other electronic devices. Where tests or examinations are conducted online remote invigilation arrangements may be used. In exceptional circumstances changes to elements of this course may be necessary at short notice. Students enrolled in this course will be informed of any such changes and the reasons for them, as soon as possible, through Canvas.

Published on 01/11/2023 10:22 a.m.