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Smart and Sustainable Cities (SSC)

The Smart and Sustainable Cities (SSC) major is one of the first majors of its kind in the United States. In the major, students will learn the dynamics of urban change across time, space, and place. Students will gain a deep understanding of sustainable urban development and how smart technology and urban analytics can be combined to create solutions for the cities of the future.

The core of the major consists of two parallel tracks. The first track focuses on urban analytics and decision-making. In this track, students will develop modeling and data visualization skills that can be applied to understand urban and regional systems in data-driven, quantitative, and computational ways.

The second track focuses on sustainable urbanization and the future of cities. Students in this track will study the process of urbanization. Specific attention is given to the interdependence of social, economic, environmental, and technological factors and how these evolve over time.

Both of these tracks are then integrated through a course on data and the art of decision-making and a fusion studio where students will apply their knowledge to real problems.

SSC students will also be able to develop their own unique area of concentration by selecting three or more courses from five subject areas: Urban Policy and Decision-Making; GIS and Data; Cities, Culture, and Place; Economics, and International Development (which includes study abroad options).

Smart and Sustainable Cities Gradautes Pursue careers in:

  • local, state, and federal government
  • domestic and international nonprofits
  • planning and engineering consulting firms
  • real estate development
  • private industry

Credits Required for Smart and Sustainable Cities Major: 120 Total Credit Hours]

I. Pathways Requirements 45 Credit Hours
II. PUA Degree Core Requirements 26 Credit Hours
III. Requirements for SSC Major 21 Credit Hours
IV. Free Electives 28 Credit Hours


Hours Requirement: A total of 120 hours is required to graduate with a PUA degree of which there are fifty-seven (57) required hours for the Environmental Policy and Planning major.
In-major GPA: All of the courses in sections I and II are included in the in-major GPA calculation. A GPA of 2.0 or above both overall and in-major GPA is required for graduation.
Satisfactory Progress: To proceed satisfactorily toward a degree, a student must complete UAP 1024, PSCI 1014, SPIA 2114, STAT 3604, SPIA 2005, SPIA 2006, and SPIA 2104 by the end of the semester in which 60 hours have been attempted; and maintain an in- major GPA of 2.0 or above.
Dual Use of Courses: No course can double count within or between SPIA-related majors or minors with the exception of the Core Degree Requirements (Section I below).
Intra-SPIA Program majoring and minoring: Students may pursue more than one major or minor associated with the School of Public and International Affairs Program. In this case, the policy pertaining to the “Dual Use of Courses” will apply.
Prerequisites: Some courses listed on this checksheet have prerequisites. Be sure to consult the University Catalog and/or check with your advisor.

Pathway 1 - Discourse (9 credits):
ENGL 1105; ENGL 1106
3 credit hours from 1a

Pathway 2 - Critical Thinking in the Humanities (6 credits):
3 credit hours must be from either: PHIL 1304 Morality or Justice OR PHIL 2304 Global Ethics

Pathway 3 - Reasoning in the Social Sciences (6 credits):
ECON 2005 and ECON 2006 OR 
AAEC 1005 and AAEC 1006

Pathway 4 - Reasoning in the Natural Sciences (6 credits):
No Labs are required

Pathway 5 - Quantitative and Computational Thinking (9 credits):
MATH 1014 Precalculus with Transcendental Functions (5f) 
3 credit hours from 5f
SPIA 4464 Data and the Art of Policy-Making and Planning (5a)

Pathway 6 - Critique and Practice in the Design and Arts (6 credits):
3 credit hours from 6a
3 credit hours from 6d

Pathway 7 - Critical Analysis of Identity and Equity in the U.S. (3 credits): 
SPIA 2554 Collaborative Policy-Making and Planning

The full list of approved courses for each area above can be found in the “Pathways Guide” on the Provost’s Office web page.

Introduces academic requirements for the Environmental Policy and Planning (EPP) and Smart and Sustainable Cities (SSC) majors. Assists students with academic planning and career exploration.

This class introduces some of the most vital concerns and issues challenging democratic capitalistic urban societies today. Topics addressed include different perspectives on the causes and portent of the urban underclass, the growing inequality between the educated and less well educated in the nation’s labor markets, the causes of the marked resegregation of many of the nation’s urban centers by race and income and the implications of privatization and interjurisdictional competition for the public policy behavior and outcomes of subnational governments.

Introduction to government and politics of the United States the Constitution and various institutional designs and structures. Focus on political culture, interest groups, political parties, and elections. Roles and responsibilities of Congress, bureaucracy, Presidency, and federal courts; Discussion of selected current policy issues.

Introduction to multi-stakeholder collaboration and public participation in planning, policy-making, and public administration. Tools and approaches for engagement and effective collaboration. Deliberative and participatory democracy, and transparency in society. Information sharing and access. Civil society, the media, and citizen activism. Ethical and moral issues in collaboration. Barriers to participation, and diversity, and inclusion.

Statistical methods for nominal, ordinal, and interval levels of measurement. Topics include descriptive statistics, elements of probability, discrete and continuous distributions, one and two sample tests, measures of association. Emphasis on comparison of methods and interpretations at different measurement levels. (Pre. MATH 1014 or MATH 1015)

Strategies and skills for transdisciplinary problem solving. Emphasis on integrative thinking strategies and cognitive and interpersonal skills required to bridge scientific discipline-based, non-scientific discipline-based, and cultural knowledge. Strategies to identify important disciplinary, non-scientific, ethical, cultural, and structural elements of a problem. Problem-based learning, ethics, team work, and effective communication skills.

Description and analysis of the processes and institutions involved in the making and implementation of public policy in the United States, with a primary focus on domestic and economic policy. Empirical and normative models of the process of public policy making in the U.S. (Cross-listed with PSCI 3714, pre. PSCI 1014).

Methods and approaches used in the analysis and evaluation of public policy; strengths and limitations of various analytic tools; normative issues in the practice of policy analysis. (Cross-listed with PSCI 3744, pre. PSCI 1014).

Examination of the legal context in which urban planning and public policy operate. Legal structure, role of law, powers of sovereign governments, constitutional limitations on government activities, and public-private conflict and their influence on planning and public policy are examined.

This capstone seminar explores the central questions of the role of the citizen and the citizenry in democratic capitalistic urban societies as well as the nature of accountability in such regimes. Topics such as the processes by which representation occurs, alternate theories of democratic community and the relationship of the public, private, and civil sectors in urban society are treated. (Pre. SPIA 2554, SPIA 3554, and UAP 4754).

Process of urbanization and theories and approaches of urban development. Debates on the meanings of sustainable urbanization and development in cities and how they are measured. Urban sustainability initiatives in the context of urban political economies, land-use practices, urban inequality and diversity, urban nature, and urban policy and politics. Programs and policies designed to enhance sustainable urbanization. Comparative approach and global perspective. (Cross-listed with GEOG 2244).

Introduction to modeling and visualization. How models can be used to examine complex urban problems. Ethical issues in the application of computational models. Basic model building without data.

Identifying data sources for model building and testing. Developing and using a model to understand a complex urban problem. Manipulating models to achieve desired outcomes. Ethical issues in computational models, including data collection and data use.

Use and critique of large-scale computational models for urban planning and decision-making. Information synthesis, agent-based simulation, and simulation analytics techniques for analysis of urban and regional systems. Value-sensitive design and use of computational models.

Overview and application of various methods used to study, represent, and understand communities in their urban and regional context. Data collection and analysis; population, land use, transportation, and economic forecasting; selecting and applying an appropriate method; designing and presenting a community study. Restricted to majors and minors only.

Interdependence of social, economic, environmental, and technological components and how these change over time. Theories about city formation, structure, and change, with implications for sustainability, resilience, and globalization. (Pre. SPIA 2244 or GEOG 2244).

An introduction to urban policy and urban planning. Includes analysis of the basic concepts and principles of urban policy, a review of urban policy in the United States, discussion of the development of urban planning and its role in shaping the urban environment, and an analysis of the relationship between public policy and planning and the organization and structure of the urban environment. (Pre. UAP 1024).

Consideration of one particular issue of immediate importance to the contemporary urban environment. Topics emphasize major social or economic policy issues, and may change each year. (pre. Junior Standing).

This course examines the legal principles and policy debates involved in the regulation and protection of critical environmental resources. Specific topics vary but will likely include wetlands law and policy, endangered species habitat, open space, forestland and farmland protection, coastal zone management, and floodplain regulation and policy.

Environmental factors involved in land use planning and development, including topography, soils, geologic hazards, flooding and stormwater management, ecological features, and visual quality. Techniques used in conducting environmental land inventories and land suitability analyses. Policies and programs to protect environmental quality in land use planning and development. (Pre. Junior Standing).

Practical design fundamentals for small scale renewable energy systems: solar building heating and cooling; solar domestic hot water; wind, photovoltaic, and hydroelectric systems; alcohol, methane and other biomass conversion systems. Developing plans, programs, and policies to stimulate development of renewable systems. (Pre. MATH 1025 or MATH 1016).

Course examines the interdependences among the elements of the built environment of the city and those between the elements of the built environment and the policy/planning structure of the city. Considered are those elements associated with the primary urban activities (residential, commercial, industrial) as well as the urban form-giving infrastructure facilities that support those land uses (water supply, sewerage, solid waste disposal, transportation, education, recreation, health, and safety). (Pre. UAP 4754).

This seminar is the integrative forum for the principal elements of the Washington Semester experience. The course explores both the role of political institutions in policy formation and implementation and the primary managerial and leadership challenges that arise for implementing organization managers in American democratic public policy-making. Pre: Junior standing or instructor consent and acceptance into the Washington Semester program. (Cross-listed with PSCI 4624, pre. Junior Standing).

This course is part of the Washington Semester. Explores the relationship between the imperatives of democratic mobilization, policy choices, and organizational choices through intensive study of the operating context of a selected public or nonprofit organization. Examines implications of policy-maker choices for implementing institution dynamics and challenges. Pre: Junior standing and acceptance into the Washington Semester program required. (Cross-listed with PSCI 4644, pre. UAP 3714).

Institutions, functions, and policies of state, county, and municipal governments in the U.S.; issues confronting these governments in the federal system. (Pre. PSCI 1014).

Basic concepts of urban politics; governmental structures, policy processes, and political conflicts in U.S. cities, policy options for coping with urban problems. (Pre. PSCI 1014).

Connections among active transportation, physical activity, health, the environment, and the economy on local to global scales. Methods to assess walkability in a community and the influence of the built environment on rates of active transportation. Approaches to evaluate demographic and psychosocial predictors and physical and policy barriers to use of active transportation. Successful strategies to increase active transportation through community design guidelines, behavior change tools, transportation planning, and policy.

Principles and diverse applications of Geographic Information Systems, geographic coordinate systems, Cartesian map projections, spatial data sources, GIS databases, map representations, and illustrated spatial applications of GIS. Requires regular use of computer systems for geographic data analysis.

(Cross-listed with GEOS 4084, pre: GEOG 2084 and Senior Standing) – Use of automated systems for geographic data collection, digitization, storage, display, modeling and analysis. Basic data flow in GIS modeling applications. Development of proficiency in the use of current GIS software. Senior Standing.

Developing computational problem solving skills and software solutions to a variety of multimedia, scientific, and engineering problems using the Python programming language. Statement sequencing, conditional program flow, iteration, functional decomposition, and recursion. Simple numeric data types, strings, lists, list comprehensions, sets, and dictionaries. Input/output of file-based data, content obtained from the web, and manipulation of digital images. Basic object-oriented concepts, classes, objects, and methods.

(Pre. LAR 1004) – Introduction to the concepts and methods of ecological resource survey and analysis at regional and site scales. Approaches to environmental problem solving with an emphasis on data collection, evaluation, and synthesis using applicable technologies such as geographic information systems. Interpretation of landscape resource data for the purpose of physical planning and design.

Introduction to experiential and cultural content of designed landscapes. Physiological, functional, and psychological factors that affect experience of the landscape. Study of cultural values, attitudes, and philosophies that have shaped historic and contemporary landscapes.

(Pre: LAR 2254) – An advanced course focusing on landscape/behavior interactions and implications for the design of outdoor environments. Study of factors that affect social interaction in community and public spaces; perceptions and needs particular to various sub-populations; ecological, social, and cultural approaches to theories of place and place attachment.

Examine and interpret physical changes in the rural and urban landscapes of the United States as they reflect cultural values; technologic innovations; immigration patterns; the roles of diverse professions over time; changing views of use, conversation, and preservation of national resources; and expectations for places of live, work, and play using an iterative writing process and reflective course discussions.

Modern concepts of sustainability changing plant use in urban settings. Fundamentals of urban plant systems in the context of urban ecosystem management. Philosophy and critical analysis of sustainability related to green infrastructure, including urban forests, green roofs, urban soils, urban wildlife, urban agriculture, and innovations merging plant and ecosystem functions with building and site engineering. Multi-disciplinary emphasis at site, regional, and global, scales.Modern concepts of sustainability changing plant use in urban settings. Fundamentals of urban plant systems in the context of urban ecosystem management. Philosophy and critical analysis of sustainability related to green infrastructure, including urban forests, green roofs, urban soils, urban wildlife, urban agriculture, and innovations merging plant and ecosystem functions with building and site engineering. Multi-disciplinary emphasis at site, regional, and global scales.

(Pre. Junior Standing) – The economic, political, and social forces driving urbanization in the United States. The American city in historical context with particular emphasis on the rise of manufacturing, deindustrialization, and suburbanization. Case studies from the manufacturing and sunbelt regions to illuminate key constructs from urban and human geography. “Border” examples of comparative urbanization from the U.S. -Mexican border, the Caribbean, and Canada.

Growth and development, form and functioning of American cities from the settlement of the country to the present. 1870 to present.

(Cross-listed with REAL 2004) – Introduction to real estate, including markets, land use planning and zoning, development, finance, construction, sales, marketing, management, and property valuation. Examines the key actors and processes in each of these areas. Explores major public policies impacting real estate.

(Pre. ECON 2005 & ECON 2006) – This course explores how different assumptions regarding the basis of claims for access to economic resources lead to different outcomes. Students will explore a variety of theories and examine their own beliefs about economic justice.

(Pre. ECON 2005 or 2116 or 2126 or 2025H) – Economic dimensions and aspects of programs designed to impose quality controls upon the environment. Special emphasis on problems of controlling air and water pollution.

(Pre. AAEC 1005 or ECON 2005) – Economics of environment and sustainable development. Topics include economic efficiency, property rights, externalities, benefit-cost analysis, economic evaluation procedures, public and private conflicts in land use, water quality, and international growth/development/environmental issues.

(Cross-listed with SOC 4764 & GEOG 4764, pre. Junior Standing) – Examination of major development theories and contemporary issues and characteristics of low-income societies (industrialization, urbanization, migration, rural poverty, hunger, foreign trade, and debt) that establish contexts for development planning and policy-making.

Free electives make up the remainder of the credits for the SSC major. Take as many as needed to reach 120 credits.

(No Credits Count Toward the Degree)
Complete one of the following options

  • 2 years of a single foreign, classical, or sign language in high school.
  • Complete FL 1105-1106 or the equivalent in college (these 6 hours do not count toward the 120 required for graduation)

SPIA offers students a unique set of experiential learning opportunities that integrate with the SSC major.

Washington Experience

Students will have an opportunity to study in the National Capital Region through the new Washington, D.C. Semester in Global Engagement or the well-established Washington, D.C. Semester in Leadership through Policy and Governance.

Washington, D.C. is at the center of global affairs. It is home to government agencies, many of the world’s leading think-tanks, numerous international organizations and a range of non-governmental organizations. Here, the most significant policy decisions are debated and made, holding both domestic and international importance.

The Washington Semester in Global Engagement is a unique 15 credit program open to all Virginia Tech majors. The Washington Semester consists of a combination of courses on global affairs, internships opportunities, workshops, seminars, and networking opportunities with DC professionals and policy makers. It offers students the opportunity to experience policy-making firsthand, and explore the wealth of political and cultural opportunities available in Washington D.C area.

The Washington Semester in Leadership through Policy and Governance extended summer session program offers a unique 11-week immersion into work experience within the nation’s capital. Students will learn about and work on challenging public policy issues that shape communities locally and nationally while obtaining academic credit. Washington Semester Fellows will also attend seminars that enable them to understand their internship from a range of analytical perspectives.

Study Abroad

SPIA offers study abroad courses for SSC majors here

SSC majors may choose to double major with Real Estate at Virginia Tech. Students pursuing a double major will meet with an academic advisor from each program to review their plan of study regularly. An example plan of study can be accessed here

Thinking of applying? Talk to us!

We highly value offering a tailored educational experience. Our undergraduate advisors will be able to answer any questions you may have about the degree and whether it meets your professional and academic needs. They can also guide you through the application process.

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