The Urban Studies Coordinating Committee

Lisa Cooper
Classical, Near Eastern, and Religious Studies

Kevin Fisher
Classical, Near Eastern, and Religious Studies

Amin Ghaziani
Sociology

Tom Hutton
School of Community and Regional Planning

Nathanael Lauster
Sociology

Sherry McKay
School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture

David Morton
History

Jamie Peck
Geography

Robert VanWynsberghe
Educational Studies
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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 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’?” [1]

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, the School of Architecture, and the School of Community and Regional Planning. Although not a degree program, Urban Studies at UBC allows students to pursue urban-oriented electives as part of their chosen majors.

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 [2]. 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 [3]. An Urban Studies Major at the University of California Berkeley is the first new degree program offered by the College of Environmental Design in thirty-six years [4]. At Yale, a grassroots campaign of students mobilized to demand a 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) [5]. In 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 [6].

References

[1] David Harvey (1997). “Contested Cities: Social Process and Spatial Form.” In Nick Jewson and Susanne MacGregor, editors, Transforming Cities. London and New York : Routledge.

[2] Urban Affairs Association (2005). “Institutional Members of the Urban Affairs Association.” http://www.udel.edu/uaa/instmems.html

[3] Jessica Daniel (2003). “Stanford Urban Studies Shows Increased Enrollment.” The Stanford Daily, October 23.

[4] Mark McLaughlin (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.”

[5] Michael Schamy (1999). “Creation of Urban Studies Major Still Up in Air.” Yale Daily News, November 19.

[6] Piper Fogg (2002). “ U. of Southern California Will Add 100 to its Faculty.” The Chronicle of Higher Education, October 4.




"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.
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