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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.

  1. Data Collection

    Gather quantitative and qualitative data, including maps, planning documents, and other visual and textual representations, to organize information about urban environments and their distinctive social, cultural, economic, political and spatial features.

  2. Sescription

    Describe historical and present-day socio-economic and political processes that shape urbanization and urbanism based on evidence.

  3. Spatial Urban Patterns

    Analyze the spatial organization and morphology of the built and social urban environment.

  4. Urban Populations

    Examine the characteristics, distribution, diversity, and mobility patterns of human populations in relation to cities and the urban environment.

  5. Human Activities and Environment

    Explain how human activities alter cities and the urban environment, historically and at present times.

  6. Urban Environment and Wellbeing

    Interpret the complex relationships between urban environments and human wellbeing.

  7. Methods

    Demonstrate knowledge of quantitative and qualitative methods from the various disciplines constituting urban studies, including statistical analysis, qualitative methods, geographic information science, survey methods, etc.

  8. Critical Perspectives

    Demonstrate knowledge of diverse and opposing urban theories and ability to compare and criticize theoretical assumptions, methods and policy recommendations.

  9. Problem Solving

    Develop solutions to urban problems through policy, social initiatives, and design.

  10. Civic Engagement and Social Responsibility

    Develop empathy towards marginalized urban dwellers, including an appreciation of the humanity of those struggling for a decent life in cities. Engage actively in efforts to create more just and sustainable cities locally and/or globally.

  11. Communication

    Demonstrate written and oral competencies in presenting urban issues and policies

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