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Redesigning the Urban Environment - Lesson Plan

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Nia Gipson
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Redesigning the Urban Environment - Lesson Plan
East Asian Design: Architecture and Urbanism


Redesigning the Urban Environment - Lesson Plan



With over 50% of the human population residing in urban areas, urban landscapes are a profound sustainability challenge for environmental scientists. In this lesson, students in a high school environmental science class will examine the city that they live in and consider some of the environmental challenges that residents face. They will then learn about some sustainable urban environments in South and East Asia and compare them to the urban planning of their own municipal government. Finally, they will write up and present three proposals that they think that their government should implement to create more sustainable cities.


Next Generation Science Standards - High School Strand

  • HS-ESS3-2. Evaluate competing design solutions for developing, managing, and utilizing energy and mineral resources based on cost-benefit ratios.

  • HS-ESS3-3. Create a computational simulation to illustrate the relationships among the management of natural resources, the sustainability of human populations, and biodiversity.

  • HS-ESS3-4. Evaluate or refine a technological solution that reduces impacts of human activities on natural systems.

Lesson Plan

Day 1

  • 5 minutes Warm-Up: Ask students, what makes an urban environment unsustainable? What challenges do urban planners have when considering environmental issues?

  • 20 - 60 minutes Outside: Take the students on a walk around the school building, what environmental challenges can they identify? As you walk ask students to generate questions about the built environment that they are seeing that might help them characterize other environmental challenges.

    • Examples of good questions: 

      • Where does the street runoff go? Is it treated?

      • How does the city handle MSW?

      • What is the composition of asphalt? Is it toxic?

    • Extention activities for the walk:

      • Heat Islands: Take data on the ambient temperature on different surfaces

      • Water Quality: Take samples of surface water, runoff, and potable water in your area and analyze them for pollutants

      • Invasive Species: Map the invasive species in the area

Day 2

  • 20 - 30 minutes Lecture: Learning from East Asian Cities

  • Ask students: 

    • Is there anything that we can learn from these examples and apply to our own city?

  • 20 - 30 minutes Have students research what their local municipality is doing to be more environmentally friendly. Students can jigsaw the following topics and prepare a presentation 3 - 5 minute presentation on them:

    • Energy, buildings, water, air, land use, strategic plan/policies, transportation, emissions

Day 3

  • 30 minutes Students will present the research that they did during the last period to the rest of the class. 

  • 30 minutes In groups of 3 - 4, students should begin brainstorming ideas on how their city/town can be more sustainable. They will come up with 3 proposed solutions that they think should be implemented to help make the city more sustainable. They will then present their ideas to the class in a 10 minute presentation. 

Day 4

  • 60 minutes Students will continue to work on their proposal presentation. 

Day 5

  • 60 minutes Groups will present their proposal to the class. 


  • Students can write to their local legislature with their ideas.