For the first time in human history, a majority of people in the world live in urban areas. Over the next quarter-century, the global urban population is projected to grow from three billion to five billion – advancing at an annual rate almost twenty times faster than rural areas. For the foreseeable future, metropolitan areas will account for an increasing share of global population growth and economic activity.
Statistical statements like this often pervade popular discussion of urban issues. At times the barrage of rankings and indicators is overwhelming. Yet despite the proliferation of categories and quantities, the problems and possibilities of cities and urban life are often ignored or sidelined. As social and cultural theorist David Harvey (1997) asks, “why is it that the urban so frequently disappears from our discussions of broader political-economic processes and trends? … The urban rarely appears as a salient category in our analyses. The crucial categories seem to be those of modernization, modernity, post-modernity, capitalist, and industrial society. So what has happened to the category ‘urban’?”
Urban Studies is the interdisciplinary effort to answer this question, and to disentangle the paradoxical invisibility and centrality of cities in human affairs. At the University of British Columbia, Urban Studies was launched in 1971, and is supported by faculty in Geography, Art History, Sociology, History, Classical, Near Eastern and Religious Studies, Gender, Race, and Social Justice, the School of Architecture, and the School of Community and Regional Planning. The Urban Studies Minor allows students to explore a wide range of urban themes in combination with their chosen major.
As the roster of “millionaire” cities – places with at least a million inhabitants – continues to grow, attending to the economic, cultural, and social issues of the world’s “urban future” has assumed an integral place on the policy agenda. Academics and activists alike have sought to identify and respond to specific urban social justice questions, creating a networked and international community of urbanists.
One way of mapping this community is to skim through the institutional members of the Urban Affairs Association, the international organization for urban scholars, researchers, and public service providers . Members include the University of Toronto (the Center for Urban and Community Studies), the University of Glasgow (the School of Urban Studies), Central European University, El Colegio de Mexico (the Center for Demographic and Urban Development Studies), Harvard (the Graduate School of Design), Penn, UNC-Chapel Hill, Temple, Cornell, Clemson, SUNY-Buffalo, Rutgers, Minnesota, Delaware, and UCLA.
Urban Studies is a vibrant and growing area of graduate and undergraduate study at many universities. Simon Fraser University recently launched a Master of Urban Studies degree. Enrollment in Stanford University ’s Urban Studies Program doubled in only three years (Daniel, 2003). A new Urban Studies Major at the University of California Berkeley became the first new degree program offered by the College of Environmental Design in thirty-six years (McLaughlin, 2002); Ananya Roy, then an Assistant Professor of Urban Studies at Berkeley, offered an eloquent summary of the mission of this interdisciplinary area of inquiry: “Above all, the intent of the major is to produce urban citizens willing and able to imagine an alternative world order through innovative forms of social praxis.” At Yale, a grassroots campaign of students mobilized to demand an Urban Studies Major that would combine and strengthen the institution’s existing urban programs (an Architecture major with an Urban Studies track, and an American Studies major with an Urban Studies focus) (Schamy, 1999). Even within the constraints of a climate of widespread budget cuts, the University of Southern California’s College of Letters, Arts and Sciences recently embarked on a $100-million effort to hire scores of “world-class” senior faculty members – and Urban Studies was one of only three target hiring areas (Fogg, 2002).
Daniel, Jessica (2003). “Stanford Urban Studies Shows Increased Enrollment.” The Stanford Daily, October 23.
Fogg, Piper (2002). “ U. of Southern California Will Add 100 to its Faculty.” The Chronicle of Higher Education, October 4.
Harvey, David (1997). “Contested Cities: Social Process and Spatial Form.” In Nick Jewson and Susanne MacGregor, editors, Transforming Cities. London and New York : Routledge.
McLaughlin, Mark (2002). “UC-Berkeley Introduces New Urban Studies Major.” The Daily Californian, August 13. Ananya Roy, Assistant Professor of Urban Studies, offers an eloquent summary of the mission of this interdisciplinary area of inquiry: “Above all, the intent of the major is to produce urban citizens willing and able to imagine an alternative world order through innovative forms of social praxis.”
Schamy, (1999). “Creation of Urban Studies Major Still Up in Air.” Yale Daily News, November 19.
Urban Affairs Association (2005). “Institutional Members of the Urban Affairs Association.” http://www.udel.edu/uaa/instmems.html
"In the ideal democratic city, the walls have fallen. Across the divides of difference, people connect; they agree to differ. Collective memory is organized into a then and now that celebrates the present as a collective achievement. The vision is one of tolerance and diversity, shared values and complexity -- not all for one, but the many for the all. ... Socioeconomic polarities are minimized, and injustice, oppression, and exploitation are muffled. In this imagined city, frictions are not dispelled, failures are frequent, and disagreements are impassioned. The city of our imagination is not utopia." Sophie Body-Gendrot and Robert A. Beauregard (1999). "Imagined Cities, Engaged Citizens." In Beauregard and Body-Gendrot, editors, The Urban Moment: Cosmopolitan Essays on the Late-20th Century City. Urban Affairs Annual Review 49, pp. 3-22, quote from pp. 14-15.
Mapping the Hedge City: Vancouver and Global Capital
September 23, 2016
New Course for January 2018!
Indigeneity and the City
Urban Indigeneity in Canada Today
PLAN 321 | January 3rd thru April 6th **Rescheduled for term 2**
Credit hours (3)
Tuesdays & Thursdays, 12:30pm to 2:00pm
This course introduces students to the multiple, complex, and contested ways urban Indigeneity is constituted in Canada today. Through various strategies such as lectures, guest speakers, presentations, videos and site visits, students will critically engage with settler colonial constructions of Indigeneity and urban space, with attention to how such narratives continue to be expressed today. These issues will be examined from interdisciplinary and comparative perspectives drawing on material from the fields of Indigenous Studies, History, Cultural Geography, Planning and Community Health Studies. Through focusing on the role of local governments in addressing Indigenous/non-Indigenous relationships, students will gain a deeper understanding of how community and municipal development is closely connected to Indigenous self-determination and resurgence. The major assignment will immerse students in a city engagement project in which they will have the opportunity to activate the principles of place-based learning while engaging in contemporary urban development issues.
This course is taught by Lyana Patrick, member of the Stellat'en First Nation and a PhD Candidate in the School of Community and Regional Planning whose research focuses on urban Indigenous peoples and pedagogical practices that advance Indigenous Knowledge for the benefit of Indigenous communities.
The full course description is here and the direct link to the Course Schedule entry is here.
New Course for January 2018!
New Course for Winter 2019!
HIST 104B Topics in World History:
Cities in History
An introduction to the urban past that explores one of the key dynamics of human history: how people have shaped cities while at the same time cities have shaped what people have produced, what they have thought, and how they have related to each other. The course takes a distinctly global approach, with the cities of Africa, Asia, and South America featuring prominently. And while we will touch on cities of the more distant past, we will give particular attention to the modern era, from about 1800 to the present, and concentrate on three topics: the making of urban poverty; the politics of planning; and cities as incubators of creative and imaginative life.
Photograph by Max Battison, UBC Urban Studies alum
"Urban science is a budding discipline that has exploded over the past half-decade, and multidisciplinary programs have cropped up at mostly private institutions like New York University, Northeastern University, the University of Southern California, and Carnegie Mellon. In some places, it goes by “urban informatics,” in some, “spatial science,” but taken together, these departments ask: What can researchers glean from all this new data? What can’t they? And how much can that new knowledge really improve people’s lives? Aarian Marshall (2018). "Cities are Watching You: Urban Sciences Graduates Watch Back." Wired, June 25.
Urban Studies Commons
is Room 126 of the Geography Building
Springtime conversations! A wonderful discussion with an interdisciplinary think tank, convened by Professor Steven Taubeneck, Cora Hermary, Mani Adib, and many other brilliant students and colleagues. The agenda for this meeting's conversation was this:
The World is Gentrifying
The term "gentrification" often evokes images of poor, inner-city neighborhoods transformed into suddenly-attractive destinations for free-spending tourists, middle-class or wealthy residents, and savvy investors. But gentrification is no longer just a neighborhood-scale process -- every neighborhood is the product of multiple social processes operating at multiple spatial scales -- and indeed it never was. From the very first moment when the term "gentrification" was introduced in 1964 to describe something new and unexpected, it referred to the local consequences of intensifying competition amidst collapsing global colonial empires, defensive nationalism and racism, and the free-market doctrines we would today recognize as neoliberalism. Today, variegated forms of gentrification co-evolve with the wider scales of colonial pasts and presents in the Global South and East, at the same time that planetary urbanization blurs most of the distinctions been urban, suburban, and rural areas. The essence of gentrification is intensified human competition for the benefits of (certain kinds of) lives in a world that has now, for the first time in history, become a majority-urban planet.