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Program Overview

The Urban Studies major is offered by the College of Arts and Letters. This interdisciplinary major focuses on cities and urban communities, with particular emphasis on their environments, peoples and cultures, economies and politics, and urban spaces and places.The program draws upon courses offered by dynamic faculty members from Anthropology, Chicano and Chicana Studies, Economics, Geography, Latin American Studies, Political Science, Sociology and Public Administration. At graduation, students majoring in Urban Studies will obtain a B.A. degree in liberal arts and sciences.

Drawing from an interdisciplinary perspective and embracing different theoretical frameworks, students in the urban studies program explore past and present conditions of urban life. The variety of courses in the major allow students to explore topics such as the origins and spread of cities, contemporary patterns of urbanization at local, regional, national and global scales, city forms and models, migration and ethnicity in urban contexts, different types of urban economies and forms of urban governance, power structures of cities, and urban social movements, to name a few.

In addition, specialized training is provided in methods of analytical research in urban studies, from both quantitative and qualitative perspectives. In lectures, class discussions, computer lab exercises and practical field experiences connected with specific courses, students have the opportunity to gain knowledge regarding urban problems and analyze topics such as housing, land use, organization and management of urban governments, transportation, urban decline and gentrification, public space, border issues, and issues of social justice in contemporary cities. Many of these topics are examined in the context of metropolitan San Diego, the San Diego-Tijuana border region, and the state of California.

Preparation for the urban studies major includes coursework in anthropology, economics, geography, political science, public administration, sociology, and statistical methods. In addition, competency (equivalent to that which is normally attained through three consecutive courses of college study) is required in one foreign language as part of the preparation for the major.

A minimum of 36 upper-division units are required for the major. Besides a set of courses in urban theory and urban methods, students must also select a specialization in one of the following subject areas: Urban Cultures and Societies, Urban Planning, Design and Management, Urban Political Economy and Public Policy, and Urban Sustainability. Courses in each specialization are specifically tailored to urban studies topics, while required courses in urban theory and methods expose students to cross-disciplinary learning.

The educational mission of the Interdisciplinary Major in Urban Studies is to provide students with the knowledge, critical thinking skills, and techniques required to understand contemporary cities and solve pressing environmental, social, and economic urban issues.

As an interdisciplinary major, Urban Studies draws from theories and practices in several of the social sciences including anthropology, economics, geography, political science and sociology, as well as from public policy and urban planning and management.

Through their coursework, students engage with a variety of theoretical approaches and sophisticated analytical methods to gain a better understanding of a wide range of contemporary urban issues, including environmental degradation, social tensions, racism, poverty, affordable housing, transportation, economic development, criminal justice, food access, health and wellbeing, urban politics and management, etc. Fieldwork, community involvement, study abroad, and/or internships bring students outside of the classroom and expose them to problems and solutions on the ground.

Students specialize in one of four areas, including: Urban Cultures and Societies; Urban Planning, Design and Management; Urban Political Economy and Public Policy; and Urban Sustainability.

Through their studies, students develop abilities to conduct research, assess and analyze evidence, and communicate clearly. They also learn to apply knowledge and develop solutions to real problems affecting urban communities. In addition, they learn empathy and social responsibility towards those struggling to live decent lives in cities. These competencies prepare our students for career opportunities in the urban milieu, including urban, regional and environmental planning; economic and community development; education; and urban sustainability – in the private, public and nonprofit sectors.

  1. Interdisciplinary Perspective

    Adopt an interdisciplinary perspective that encompasses common theories and practices from the different disciplines that inform contemporary urban studies, including social sciences, public policy and urban planning and management.

  2. Urban Interdependencies

    Understand the interdependencies between people and urban environments and the relationships between economic, social, environmental, political and cultural factors in shaping urbanization and urban life.

  3. Methodological Application and Analysis

    Learn how to apply an array of methodological techniques, including quantitative, qualitative and spatial and policy analysis methods, to identify patterns, solve problems, and address critical urban issues.

  4. Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

    Use critical thinking to explore, analyze and interpret the urban environment and help develop more effective and equitable solutions to current problems and create livable, sustainable, and just cities.

After completing their degree in Urban Studies, graduates should be proficient in the following areas: 

  1. Urbanization processes

    Explain historical and present-day processes of urbanization, both in US cities and globally.

  2. Urban conditions

    Understand the diversity of urban experiences by focusing on the interrelated social, economic, political, and environmental conditions of cities and their impacts on the wellbeing of individuals and communities. 

  3. Theory and critical thinking

    Contrast competing urban theories about the process of urbanization and the diversity of urban experiences and identify their strengths and limitations in explaining important urban phenomena such as poverty and homelessness, environmental degradation, poor governance, racism and social exclusion, and differentiated access to jobs, housing, food, water, sanitation, transportation, green space, and public services.

  4. Methods

    Collect, analyze, and interpret qualitative and quantitative data about urban populations and environments and their distinctive social, cultural, economic, political, and spatial features, using appropriate, rigorous, ethical, and interdisciplinary research methodologies. 

  5. Problem Solving

    Envision, develop, communicate, and actively engage in ways to create more humane, inclusive, equitable, and sustainable cities through public policy, social initiatives, urban design, and grassroots efforts.

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