Certificate Program in Urban Science & Sustainable Development

The certificate will not be offered in the 2023-24 academic year.

Preparing University of Chicago students to address the connections between urbanization, development, and climate change

With over half of the global population now living in cities, and rapid urbanization in many regions of the world, urban areas must be at the forefront of addressing the challenges of climate change, inequity, and sustainable development. There is an urgent need and demand for training that enables future leaders to meet these challenges and address their interlocking complexity.

Building on the University of Chicago’s long history of urban scholarship, the one-year Graduate Certificate in Urban Science and Sustainable Development prepares students to enter the emerging field of sustainable urban development through the lenses of cities and urban systems. Completed along with another University of Chicago graduate degree program, students are trained in interdisciplinary, advanced methods, perspectives, and theory, along with technology, data collection and analysis, and computational and other scientific tools, to understand urbanization processes in the 21st century. Through a foundational winter quarter graduate seminar, two elected classes, and a research project, students develop frameworks for integrating methods from disciplines in the natural, computational, and social sciences and the humanities, to understand how cities work, grow, and develop and how such processes may be made more equitable and synergistic with natural environments. Students will deepen their understanding of the challenges faced by urban areas locally and globally, from climate change to pandemics and social inequities to economic prosperity. Upon successful completion of the Certificate and their graduate degree, students will have the skills to pursue careers at the intersection of urbanization and the climate crisis, working in government agencies, non-profits, academia, and the private sector.



The Certificate is awarded in conjunction with existing University of Chicago graduate degree programs. All full-time Master’s and PhD students who have completed the first year of coursework are eligible to apply.

  • Master’s students: Master’s students can apply as early as the spring of the first year of their degree program to join the following fall.
  • PhD students: It is recommended that PhD students apply around the time they are creating a thesis proposal but still taking classes, though they may apply earlier.

Students are encouraged to speak with their graduate program advisor before applying, to confirm that Certificate aligns with their existing course of study and academic goals.

Benefits of the Program

Built as a cohort experience across degree programs, Certificate participants are integrated into the Mansueto Institute community of scholars and given access to a wide array of professional development programming and resources, such as:

  • Access to a network of urban researchers and faculty experts
  • Transcript proof of specialization in urban science and development
  • Exposure to rigorous quantitative methods and hands-on research skills
  • Participation in a diverse group of peers passionate about cities and constructive debate, collaboration, and synthesis within the cohort
  • Participation in research talks, and conferences reflecting the state of the art in the field.


Students must complete the following requirements to be awarded the Certificate:

  • Complete the flagship seminar course “Sustainable Systems Science: Cities, Nations, and the Global Commons,” taught by Luís Bettencourt, director of the Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation and Professor of Ecology and Evolution and Sociology
  • Present a major research project at a faculty juried symposium, representing high-level coursework, dissertation research, or equivalent professional experience
  • Take two elected classes during their degree program related to urban science and sustainable development. These may be out of offerings in any graduate program or from advanced University of Chicago College subjects. Courses should have an emphasis on urban concepts, from the social sciences, methods for spatial data analysis, environmental dynamics, and impacts in cities, with a focus on possible urban sustainable futures through policy, technology, design, or other approaches. View a list of current qualifying courses for the Certificate program.
  • Participate in cohort meetings and faculty discussions twice per quarter.

The Major Research Project will emerge from activities in the Certificate Seminar Course. It can also be related to a Master’s thesis or PhD dissertation on a relevant subject of the student’s selection advised by a UChicago Faculty member in accordance with a degree program, and later reviewed by the Faculty Committee to satisfy Certificate requirements. Master’s students who are not required to complete a Master’s thesis (e.g. in the MSCAPP program) can substitute a high-level course project from the Certificate Seminar or another urban-focused course, or relevant professional experience, such as a full-time internship, with the approval of the Certificate Faculty Committee. Participants will be required to submit a formal proposal of their Major Research Project after acceptance into the Certificate Program.

An annual faculty-juried Symposium on Urban Science and Sustainable Development will be held during the Spring quarter, during which all Certificate Program Participants will present their completed Major Research Project or equivalent. Program participants will be required to submit a brief summary of their Major Research Project to the Faculty Committee prior to presenting at the Symposium.

Note: courses previously taken can be submitted for fulfillment of the Certificate requirement.

The certificate will not be offered in the 2023-24 academic year.

Current Qualifying Graduate Courses for the Certificate Program

Qualifying courses will depend on the specific offerings in each graduate program and may change over time. Each student must propose the three required courses that will count toward certificate completion when they apply to be admitted to the program. Courses with an emphasis on urban concepts, from the social sciences, methods for spatial data analysis, environmental dynamics and impacts in cities, and with a focus on possible urban sustainable futures (e.g. via policy, technology or design) are all candidates for qualification for the Certificate. In addition, and where appropriate, graduate students may take advanced courses in the College. Below are some frequently offered courses that meet the certificate requirements:


ANTH 32305: Introduction to Science Studies

This course provides an introduction to the interdisciplinary study of science, medicine, and technology. During the twentieth century, sociologists, historians, philosophers, and anthropologists raised original, interesting, and consequential questions about the sciences. Often their work drew on and responded to each other, and, taken together, their various approaches came to constitute a field, “science studies.” The course furnishes an initial guide to this field. Students will not only encounter some of its principal concepts, approaches and findings, but will also get a chance to apply science-studies perspectives themselves by performing a fieldwork project. Among the topics we may examine are: the sociology of scientific knowledge and its applications; actor-network theories of science; constructivism and the history of science; and efforts to apply science studies approaches beyond the sciences themselves.


ANTH 45600: When Cultures Collide: Multiculturalism in Liberal Democracies

Coming to terms with diversity in an increasingly multicultural world has become one of the most pressing public policy projects for liberal democracies in the early 21st century. One way to come to terms with diversity is to try to understand the scope and limits of toleration for variety at different national sites where immigration from foreign lands has complicated the cultural landscape. This seminar examines a series of legal and moral questions about the proper response to norm conflict between mainstream populations and cultural minority groups (including old and new immigrants), with special reference to court cases that have arisen in the recent history of the United States.

BUSN 31425-81​: Real Estate and Equity: Leveling the Playing Field

This course involves an in-depth exploration and analyses of the lack of equity and how we can work to develop a new reality in real estate development, one that does not displace people and values diversity and inclusion in order to create healthy communities. To start, to develop without displacement sufficient housing must be available for existing residents. One possible solution, and the one that is the focus of this class, is to assemble adjacent parcels so that new taller and denser development can be constructed. Admittedly not without its own controversies, this scenario envisions new residential units designed to meet the needs of existing residents and owners, as well as providing additional workforce housing and adding market-rate renters. Existing landowners can enter their properties into long-term leases with the developer ensuring a continual income stream while retaining ownership of the property. In addition to housing options, these developments offer ground floor retail that provide amenities for residents and contribute to neighborhood vibrancy and diversity. An influx of population can support new retail and increase available jobs. In this way development can be a catalyst that benefits all members of the neighborhood.

BUSN 32200: Artificial Intelligence

It is hard to name a sector that will not be dramatically affected by artificial intelligence (or machine learning). There are many excellent courses that teach you the mechanics behind these innovations — helping you develop an engineering skill set. This course takes a different approach. It is aimed at people who want to deploy these tools, either in business or policy, whether through start-ups or within a large organization. While this requires some knowledge of how these tools work, that is only a small part of the equation, just as knowing how an engine works is a small part of understanding how to drive. What is really needed is an understanding of what these tools do well, and what they do badly. This course focuses on giving you a functional, rather than mechanistic, understanding. By the end, you should be an expert at identifying ideal use-cases and thereby well-placed to create new products, businesses and policies that use artificial intelligence.

BUSN 33701/PPHA 51700: Energy Policy Practicum

This is a directed research course on topics related to energy policy and energy markets. Students will be assigned to small (4 or 5 students) groups that are tasked with writing a white paper on one of several topics related to energy markets and policy. Each group will choose a topic from a list of suggestions provided by the instructors, or it may design its own topic with the instructors’ approval. Class sessions will be of two types. Five of the weekly meetings will have formal lectures on specific energy issues or markets, such as the economics of energy policy, the future of nuclear power, climate change, the prospects for expanded use of renewable energy sources, and the impact of fracking on oil and gas markets. Other sessions will consist of primarily of (a) small group conversations between the instructors and each group and (b) intermediate presentations of results, progress and problems given by each group to the entire class.

BUSN 42300: Global Health and Social Policy

Global health is an interdisciplinary and empirical field, requiring holistic and innovative approaches to navigate an ever-changing environment in pursuit of health equity. This course will emphasize specific health challenges facing populations in low resource settings – here in the US and globally, and the large scale social, political, and economic forces that contribute to them through topical events and case studies. Students will discuss innovations in science and technology; environmental impacts on health; maternal and child health; mental health and wellness; health and human rights; ethical considerations in research and interventions; international legal frameworks, health and social justice and the importance of global institutions including the World Bank and multi-sectoral stakeholders in global health justice and governance. Students will gain skills in technical writing as they construct position statements and policy briefs on global health issues of interest. Career opportunities in healthcare will be explored throughout the course.

CCCT 40244: Climate change, history and social theory

This course considers some of the major approaches to climate change and society that have been elaborated by contemporary social and environmental theorists. Key topics include the legacies of environmental thought in classical social theory; the histories and geographies of environmental crises under capitalism; the conceptualization of “nature” in relation to societal dynamics; the role of capitalism and fossil capital in the production of “metabolic rifts”; questions of periodization and associated debates on the “Anthropocene,” the “Capitalocene” and the “Plantationocene”; the interplay between urbanization and climate emergencies; the (geo)politics of decarbonization; insurgent struggles for climate justice; and possible post-carbon futures.

CHDV 43600: Processes of Judgement and Decision Making

This course offers a survey of research on judgment and decision making, with emphasis placed on uncertainty and (intrapersonal) conflict. An historical approach is taken in which the roots of current research issues and practices are traced. Topics are drawn from the following areas: evaluation and choice when goals are in conflict and must be traded off, decision making when consequences of the decision are uncertain, predictive and evaluative judgments under conditions of uncertain, incomplete, conflicting, or otherwise fallible information.

CHDV 40315: Inequality in Urban Spaces

The problems confronting urban schools are bound to the social, economic, and political conditions of the urban environments in which schools reside. Thus, this course will explore social, economic, and political issues, with an emphasis on issues of race and class as they have affected the distribution of equal educational opportunities in urban schools. We will focus on the ways in which family, school, and neighborhood characteristics intersect to shape the divergent outcomes of low- and middle-income children residing with any given neighborhood. Students will tackle an important issue affecting the residents and schools in one Chicago neighborhood. This course is part of the College Course Cluster: Urban Design.

CHDV 43600: Processes of Judgement and Decision Making

This course offers a survey of research on judgment and decision making, with emphasis placed on uncertainty and (intrapersonal) conflict. An historical approach is taken in which the roots of current research issues and practices are traced. Topics are drawn from the following areas: evaluation and choice when goals are in conflict and must be traded off, decision making when consequences of the decision are uncertain, predictive and evaluative judgments under conditions of uncertain, incomplete, conflicting, or otherwise fallible information.

ENSC 21100: Energy: Science, Technology, and Human Usage

This course covers the technologies by which humans appropriate energy for industrial and societal use, from steam turbines to internal combustion engines to photovoltaics. We also discuss the physics and economics of the resulting human energy system: fuel sources and relationship to energy flows in the Earth system; and modeling and simulation of energy production and use. Our goal is to provide a technical foundation for students interested in careers in the energy industry or in energy policy. Field trips required to major energy converters (e.g., coal-fired and nuclear power plants, oil refinery, biogas digester) and users (e.g., steel, fertilizer production). This course is part of the College Course Cluster program: Climate Change, Culture and Society.

ENSC 24400: Ecology and Conservation

This course focuses on the contribution of ecological theory to the understanding of current issues in conservation biology. We emphasize quantitative methods and their use for applied problems in ecology (e.g., risk of extinction, impact of harvesting, role of species interaction, analysis of global change). Course material is drawn mostly from current primary literature; lab and field components complement concepts taught through lecture. Overnight field trip required.

Prerequisite(s): BIOS 20150, BIOS 20151 or BIOS 20152

Note(s): BIOS 20196 is identical to the previously offered BIOS 23251. Students who have taken BIOS 23251 should not enroll in BIOS 20196.

ENST 24600: Introduction to Urban Sciences

This course is a grand tour of conceptual frameworks, general phenomena, emerging data, and policy applications that define a growing scientific integrated understanding of cities and urbanization. It starts with a general outlook of current worldwide explosive urbanization and associated changes in social, economic, and environmental indicators. It then introduces a number of historical models, from sociology, economics, and geography that have been proposed to understand how cities operate. We will discuss how these and other facets of cities can be integrated as dynamical complex systems and derive their general characteristics as social networks embedded in structured physical spaces. Resulting general properties of cities will be illustrated in different geographic and historical contexts, including an understanding of urban resource flows, emergent institutions, and the division of labor and knowledge as drivers of innovation and economic growth. The second part of the course will deal with issues of inequality, heterogeneity, and (sustainable) growth in cities. We will explore how these features of cities present different realities and opportunities to different individuals and how these appear as spatially concentrated (dis)advantage that shape people’s life courses. We will show how issues of inequality also have consequences at more macroscopic levels and derive the general features of population and economic growth for systems of cities and nations.

ENST 27101/1, PBPL 27101/1: Sustainable Urbanism in Context

Sustainable urbanism presents a great range of challenges at conceptual, practical, and spatial levels. But solutions to these challenges are only meaningful insofar as they can be implemented at local scales and in a context-appropriate manner. This hands-on seminar-studio takes students into the heart of the Calumet, a region with complex environmental, industrial, and urban histories. Students will learn to assess the conditions of the built environment, to identify needs, and, working in concert with local stakeholders, to propose design solutions to help reinvigorate a sense of place and restore a fragmented landscape.

GEOG 42400: Urban Landscape as Social Text

The seminar explores conceptually how urban landscapes are formed (literally) and reciprocally how they inform social perceptions of community settings (figuratively). This is done through an initial program of reading and discussion, as well as pursuit of individual student projects, discussed as they progress, leading to a final research paper. The course serves students searching for and defining possible thesis and dissertation topics, as well as those interested in exploring an intellectual curiosity for its own sake.

GEOS 22060: What Makes a Planet Habitable

This course explores the factors that determine how habitable planets form and evolve. We will discuss a range of topics, from the accretion and loss of atmospheres and oceans, to the long-term carbon cycle, climate dynamics, and the conditions that sustain liquid water on a planet’s surface over timescales relevant to the origin and evolution of life. Students will be responsible for reading and discussing papers in peer-reviewed journals each meeting and for periodically preparing presentations and leading the discussion. This course is part of the College Course Cluster program: Climate Change, Culture and Society.

GEOS 24220: Climate Foundations

This course introduces the basic physics governing the climate of planets, the Earth in particular but with some consideration of other planets. Topics include atmospheric thermodynamics of wet and dry atmospheres, the hydrological cycle, blackbody radiation, molecular absorption in the atmosphere, the basic principles of radiation balance, and diurnal and seasonal cycles. Students solve problems of increasing complexity, moving from pencil-and-paper problems to programming exercises, to determine surface and atmospheric temperatures and how they evolve. An introduction to scientific programming is provided, but the fluid dynamics of planetary flows is not covered. This course is part of the College Course Cluster program: Climate Change, Culture and Society.

GEOS 24750: Humans in the Earth System

Human activities now have global-scale impact on the Earth, affecting many major biogeochemical cycles. One third of the Earth’s surface is now used for production of food for humans, and CO2, the waste product of human energy use, now substantially affects the Earth’s radiative balance. This course provides a framework for understanding humanity as a component of Earth system science. The course covers the Earth’s energy flows and cycles of water, carbon, and nitrogen; their interactions; and the role that humans now play in modifying them. Both agriculture and energy technologies can be seen as appropriation of natural energy flows, and we cover the history over which human appropriations have become globally significant. The course merges geophysical and biological sciences and engineering, and includes lab sessions and field trips to agriculture, water management, and energy facilities to promote intuition. One year of university-level science is recommended.

MACS 30150: Perspectives on Computational Modeling for Economics

Students are often well trained in the details of specific models relevant to their respective fields. This course presents a generic definition of a model in the social sciences as well as a taxonomy of the wide range of different types of models used. We then cover principles of model building, including static versus dynamic models, linear versus nonlinear, simple versus complicated, and identification versus overfitting. Major types of models implemented in this course include linear and nonlinear regression, machine learning (e.g., parametric, Bayesian and nonparametric), agent-based and structural models.We will also explore the wide range of computational strategies used to estimate models from data and make statistical and causal inference. Students will study both good examples and bad examples of modeling and estimation and will have the opportunity to build their own model in their field of interest. This course will be specifically tailored to students concentrating in Economics.

MACS 33002: Introduction to Machine Learning

The course aims to train students fundamental skills of applying machine learning models in computational projects. It covers the key techniques in standard machine learning pipelines: data processing (e.g., data acquisition, data annotation, data cleaning, feature engineering), classification models (e.g., logistic regression, decision trees, naive bayes), regression models (e.g., linear regression, polynomial regression), model evaluation (e.g., cross-validation, confusion matrix, precision, recall, and f1 for classification models; RMSE and Pearson correlation for regression models), and error analysis (e.g., data imbalance, bias-variance tradeoff, parameter tuning). In the exercises, students will gain hands-on experience by applying the machine learning skills in their domain of interest.

MAPS 25216, ANTH 32925: Gender, Sex and Culture

This introductory graduate course examines the social construction of gendered identities in different times and places. We study culturally-specific gendered experiences, ‘roles,’ rights and rebellions around the world, discussing the individual and social consequences of gender and the interrelationships between gender and other categories for identity including race, class and sexuality. While focusing on the global diversity of gendered experience and expectations, we also examine gender in the US, taking a critical approach to understanding gendered inequality and gender-based and sexual violence both abroad and at home. Finally, we examine the role of gendered expectations in Western science, the relationship between gender and ‘globalization,’ and the contemporary movements affecting change in gendered norms, especially in the arts and media. Advanced Undergraduates admitted with Instructor consent.

PBPL 24756: Exploring the Resilient City

In recent years, sub-national units of government have enacted meaningful policy plans in the wake of the ongoing failure of the international community to address global climate change. Cities in particular have shaped their plans to address the now-inevitable effects of climate change by adopting policies that emphasize resilience and environmental protection, without sacrificing economic growth, and with attention to the ongoing challenges of poverty and inequality. This course will take a comparative look at the policies adopted by cities on an international basis, while defining what it means to be a resilient city and how much the built environment can be adjusted to limit the environmental impact of densely populated metropolises. It will also consider what impact citizen activism and input had upon the shape of each plan and the direction that its policies took. Students will also be asked to consider what might be missing from each plan and how each plan could be improved to foster greater resiliency.

PHSC 13400: Global Warming: Understanding the Forecast

This course presents the science behind the forecast of global warming to enable the student to evaluate the likelihood and potential severity of anthropogenic climate change in the coming centuries. It includes an overview of the physics of the greenhouse effect, including comparisons with Venus and Mars; an overview of the carbon cycle in its role as a global thermostat; predictions and reliability of climate model forecasts of the greenhouse world. This course is part of the College Course Cluster program, Climate Change, Culture, and Society.

PPHA 30545: Machine Learning

We live in an information age where many of our decisions and actions are tracked. Digital information is being produced and recorded at a stifling pace. This has led to an explosion of “big data” questions. Coupled with cheap computing power and expanded data storage, new developments across statistics, computer science, and data-driven social sciences like economics have led to new ways to answer those questions. This class will teach you a set of tools to detect patterns in data, then use what you have learned from the data to predict important outcomes or describe the salient relationships among inputs. While these machine learning tools are being used extensively in marketing, finance, and business, we will focus on their public policy applications.

PPHA 30590: Big Data and Public Policy

This course examines the conceptual underpinnings of data science and social science approaches to policy analysis. We discuss epistemologies of quantification, data production and the phenomenon of “datafication,” predictive versus causal analytic paradigms, algorithmic fairness, and issues of data ethics, regulation, and governance. The course is open to graduate and advanced undergraduate students who have taken at least one course in quantitative methods.

PPHA 34600: Program Evaluation

The goal of the class is to familiarize students with principles and methods of program evaluation. The lectures will cover a mix of theory and applications; the problem sets will involve extensive data analysis and a fair bit of coding. The objective is for students to be able to evaluate program evaluation reports written by others and carry out basic program evaluations themselves.

PPHA 35550: Economic Development and Policy

The history, current pattern, and causes of the distribution of the wealth of nations remains one of the most fascinating and fundamental of all questions in economics and policy. This course will attempt to give an overview of economic growth and development, focusing on real-world data, by looking at the empirical and theoretical research that has been used to understand them and subsequently form the basis of development policies. The course is divided into three major sections: measuring and modeling growth and development, human capital, and markets. Throughout the quarter, we’ll explore sets of “development facts” – the way that the world currently appears to us as policy-makers – by looking at contemporary data. For each topic, we will discuss contemporary methodology and debates in development policy.

PPHA 35501: Poverty and Economic Development

This course will focus on developing countries. We will study causes of poverty and underdevelopment, poverty measurement issues, and policies to improve wellbeing. We will concentrate on topics such as nutrition and health, education, labor markets, intra-household allocation of resources, and policies to alleviate poverty. Empirical evidence from developing economies will be used extensively.

PPHA 36930: Environmental Economics

This course presents a broad-based treatment of the theory and application of environmental economics. Topics are introduced in the context of real-world environmental policy questions (with special emphasis on energy policy), then translated into microeconomic theory to highlight the salient constraints and fundamental trade-offs faced by policymakers. Topics include property rights, externalities, Pigouvian taxes, command-and-control regulation, cap-and-trade, valuation of environmental quality, costbenefit analysis, policymaking under uncertainty, and inter-regional competition. Prerequisites: Intermediate microeconomics.

PPHA 37103: Crime Prevention

The goals of this course are to introduce students to some key concepts in crime policy and help develop their policy analysis skills, including the ability to frame problems and policy alternatives, think critically about empirical evidence, use cost-effectiveness and cost-benefit analysis to compare policy alternatives, and write effective policy memos. The course seeks to develop these skills by considering the relative efficacy of different policy approaches to controlling crime including imprisonment, policing, drug regulation, and gun-oriented regulation or enforcement, as well as education, social programs, and active labor market policies that may influence people’s propensity to commit crime or be victims of crime. While policy choices about punishment and crime prevention involve a range of legal and normative considerations, the focus in this class will be mostly on answering positive (factual) questions about the consequences of different policies.

PPHA 38720: Urban Economics and Policy

This course will discuss the policy implications of economic and financial decisions in urban governance.

PPHA 38790: Introduction to Peacebuilding

This course aims to provide students with a solid foundation in the theories and practices of contemporary peacebuilding operations, paying attention to the role of external actors, namely international organizations, bilateral donors and non-governmental organizations. Students will gain an understanding of the complex and multifaceted dimensions of peacebuilding, including transitional justice, liberal-democratic statebuilding, stabilization operations, economic restructuring and gender reforms. We will explore these diverse and intersecting themes as they relate to the broader goal of supporting lasting peace and rebuilding war-affected states and societies in meaningful and effective ways. This course pays special attention to the current policy initiatives and operational challenges in Afghanistan, examining the prospects for peace after over more than a decade of international interventions. Without doubt, international peacebuilding endeavors are complicated, costly and fraught with structural limitations and shortcomings. Students will gain familiarity with these challenges and will learn about the various approaches used by the international community to monitor and evaluate the impact of peace processes. Finally, this course concludes with critical theoretical perspectives on liberal peacebuilding and highlights alternative frameworks proposed by scholars to help mitigate future failures and advance successes.

PPHA 38900: Environmental and Science Policy

With a strong emphasis on the fundamental physics and chemistry of the environment, this course is aimed at students interested in assessing the scientific repercussions of various policies on the environment. The primary goal of the class is to assess how scientific information, the economics of scientific research, and the politics of science interact with and influence public policy development and implementation.

PPHA 39925: Energy Policy and Human Behavior

The success of many environmental and energy-related policies depends on the support and cooperation of the public. This course, drawing from multiple fields of behavioral science, will examine the psychological and social aspects of different energy-related behaviors, ranging from household energy conservation to public support and opposition for emergent energy technologies (e.g., wind farms, fracking, etc.). Through a mix of lecture and discussion, we will explore questions such as: what are potential motivations and barriers – beyond financial considerations – to the uptake of energy efficient and renewable energy technologies? How can policies be designed to enhance adoption? Why is climate change such a divisive issue and what are the psychological barriers that prevent concerned people from acting? Why do people support clean energy broadly but object to developments when proposed in their own communities? By taking a behavioral approach, the course aims to equip students with an enhanced framework for evaluating energy and environmental policies that goes beyond traditional economic and regulatory perspectives. There are no prerequisites for this course.

PPHA 40700: Early Childhood: Human Capital Development and Public Policy

This course is designed to provide an overview of current policy issues involving children and families, and will emphasize the scientific perspective of developmental psychology. The following topics will be addressed: family structure and child development, the role of the father in children’s lives, poverty and family processes, maternal employment and child care, adolescent parenthood, neighborhood influences on families, and welfare reform. Theoretical perspectives and measurements, (e.g., the tools of the science), regarding how children develop from infancy to adulthood, will be stressed.

PPHA 41020: Health Impacts of Transportation Policies

Transportation systems affect human health through complex pathways. Governments invest in transport infrastructure because it encourages economic growth and mobility of people and goods, which have direct and indirect benefits to health. Yet, an excessive reliance on motorized modes of transport harms population health, the environment and social wellbeing. The impact on population health is substantial: Globally, road traffic crashes kill over 1.3 million annually. Air pollution, to which transport is an important contributor, kills another 3.2 million people. Motorized modes of transport are also an important contributor to sedentary lifestyles. Physical inactivity is estimated to cause 3.2 million deaths every year, globally. This course introduces students to the pathways through which transport systems, especially road transport systems, affect population health, environment and wellbeing. The course has a strong focus on road safety, which is the most important health impact. The goal of this course is to prepare students in designing transportation systems and policies that are safe, sustainable and equitable. About half the sessions will involve guest lectures, typically practitioners with experience and expertise in transportation policy.

PPHA 41120: Political Economy of Development

This course is intended as an introduction for Ph.D. students to the research literature in the political economy of development. Its purpose is to give you both a sense of the frontier research topics and a good command of how social science methodological tools are used in the area.

PPHA 45211: Regional Innovation and Growth

This applied course will focus on the roles of research and innovation in driving regional economic growth. Learning from the successes of tech‐driven “superstar” cities and the challenges of smaller cities, this course will prepare students to develop realistic, region-specific development goals and strategies, whether coming from the private, public, or nonprofit sector perspective. Our discussions will also familiarize students with the critical and rapidly evolving technology market, and the proper role of government in managing that market and protecting citizens.

PPHA 45700: Environment and Development

The course objective is to introduce and familiarize the students with the political approaches and methods of environmental analysis and assessment used to support decision‑making and the development of policies and regulations at local, regional, national, and global scales.

SSAD 44800: Urban Adolescents in their Families, Communities and Schools: Issues for Research and Policy

Early and mid-adolescence is a critical stage in the life course. Urban adolescents face special risks and often have fewer supports and opportunities to guide them through this critical period. As the United States population becomes increasingly diverse, particularly in urban areas, families, communities, and schools may need to create new social institutions and relationships to meet the needs of this new population. This course focuses on three central questions. First, how are the education and developmental trajectories of adolescents shaped by their experiences in their families, schools, and communities as well as the interrelationships among these domains? Second, what are the special needs or issues that arise for adolescents who are from immigrant families, who are cultural, racial, or ethnic minorities, or who are from educationally and economically disadvantaged households? And third, how do we translate an understanding of the needs of adolescents and the conditions in families, communities, and schools that foster positive development into the design of policies and practice?

SSAD 45312: Urban Social Movements

Social groups with limited access to normal politics often engage in mobilization, or contentious politics, in order to gain rights, resources or recognition. Many of these social movements have emerged in cities. In this course, we will attempt to answer the following questions: What are urban social movements? What sorts of mobilizing opportunities and constraints do cities pose for disadvantaged social groups? How have these groups sought to take advantage of urban-based opportunities, and how successful have they been? What kinds of urban justice movements do we observe in early-twenty-first-century cities, and how might we understand and expand their potential? The course begins by looking briefly at “classic” approaches to social movements, followed by an examination of selected work on urban social movements, including foundational contributions from sociology and subsequent research in geography that explores issues of place, network and scale. The second half of the course will examine several sets of case studies, focusing particularly on recent instances of immigrant mobilization. The fundamental goal of the course is to strengthen analytical and strategic thinking about the relationship between social mobilization and the urban environment. We will also be evaluating academic work on social movements in terms of its utility for ongoing mobilization efforts. This course is one of SSA’s global and international course offerings.

SSAD 46312: Race, Crime and Justice in the City

The size and growth of the U.S. jail and prison census, and its deleterious consequences for poor people of color living in urban, suburban and rural neighborhoods have been well documented. This course examines how the targets of mass incarceration experience crime control policy, how those experiences shape their relationship with the state, and how they work to bring about change in the laws and policies that regulate their lives. The course is organized around three lines of inquiry; 1) What do our crime control strategies tell us about the nature of urban life and contemporary forms of urban citizenship? 2) What would it mean to live in a city that was socially and racially just? 3) What work has been done by the people directly affected by mass incarceration to bring such a city about?

SSAD 48200: Seminar in the Political Economy of Urban Development

This seminar develops the conceptual basis for understanding and addressing urban problems within a political economy framework. Drawing from an interdisciplinary literature on cities, the course introduces a range of analytical approaches to the economic and political forces that shape urban development, including the capitalist economy, governmental institutions, city/suburban divisions, machine/reform dynamics, urban land markets, regime politics, economic globalization, and social movements. Particular attention will be given to the relationship between politics and markets in generating urban growth, employment, real-estate development, housing, and neighborhood revitalization, as well as poverty, urban decline, racial exclusion, educational inequality, and residential displacement. The course examines a number of strategies to address problems at multiple levels of the urban system, including federal urban policies, decentralized planning and localism, electoral mobilization, political advocacy, public-private partnerships, social entrepreneurialism, arts/cultural/entertainment strategies, and regionalism.

SSAD 57800: Communities, Organizations and Democracy: Key Challenges in Urban Governance

How do things happen in cities, and why? This core question of urban governance is the focus of this course. Urban governance flows from a web of organizational actors, not simply from the official institutions of government. To understand why community organizations focus on certain issues, government bureaucracies prefer particular approaches to problem solving, social movements build strategy, and many other urban phenomena, it is critical to think about how the many different kinds of organizations found in cities perceive and enact their commitments, relationships, and limits. This course develops theoretical tools to think about cities at the organizational level of analysis, with a focus on the application of those tools to communities, community organizations, and public bureaucracies. The course is guided by an overarching concern with the implications of existing urban governance on the democratic promise of cities, and will be useful for students interested in community organizing, public policy formation, institutional politics, and the emergence of legitimate authority in all these domains.

SSAD 62600: Philanthropy, Public Policy, and Community Change

This course will examine the role philanthropy plays in supporting social and community change efforts designed to reform and/or enhance public policy. Patterns of giving, policy intervention strategies, structural issues, as well as programmatic opportunities and constraints will be illuminated. Course materials include policy analysis and contemporary American social change efforts, as well as research examining pertinent policies and practices governing the field of philanthropy. Students will have opportunities to analyze proposals for funding, identify public policy and community change implications and opportunities and recommend new strategies. Student discussion and independent research is a major class focus. The learning experience will be enriched by presentations from practitioners involved in public policy reform activities and by foundation representatives engaged in funding those efforts.

SOCI 30104: Urban Structure and Process

This course reviews competing theories of urban development, especially their ability to explain the changing nature of cities under the impact of advanced industrialism. Analysis includes a consideration of emerging metropolitan regions, the microstructure of local neighborhoods, and the limitations of the past American experience as a way of developing urban policy both in this country and elsewhere.

SOCI 30116: Global-Local Politics

Globalizing and local forces are generating a new politics in the United States and around the world. This course explores this new politics by mapping its emerging elements: the rise of social issues, ethno-religious and regional attachments, environmentalism, gender and life-style identity issues, new social movements, transformed political parties and organized groups, and new efforts to mobilize individual citizens.

SOCI 30253: Introduction to Spatial Data Science

Spatial data science consists of a collection of concepts and methods drawn from both statistics and computer science that deal with accessing, manipulating, visualizing, exploring and reasoning about geographical data. The course introduces the types of spatial data relevant in social science inquiry and reviews a range of methods to explore these data. Topics covered include formal spatial data structures, geovisualization and visual analytics, rate smoothing, spatial autocorrelation, cluster detection and spatial data mining. An important aspect of the course is to learn and apply open source software tools, including R and GeoDa.

SOCI 40233: Sociology of Immigration

This graduate seminar seeks to cover the main topics in this vast field. Topics include: determinants of migration, immigrant assimilation, transnationalism, immigration and race, immigration policies, immigration attitudes and public opinion, and illegality. We will also devote some time to immigrant-receiving contexts outside of the U.S. especially Western Europe. The purpose of the class is to encourage graduate students to develop their own immigration research projects. We will pay special attention to research design and methodological issues.

Certificate Faculty Committee


  • Marc Berman | Associate Professor, Department of Psychology; Principal Investigator, Environmental Neuroscience Lab; Faculty Lead, Urban Cognition Lab Initiative, Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation; Faculty, Committee of Geographical Sciences
  • Luis Bettencourt | Inaugural Director; Faculty Lead, Kreisman Initiative for Housing Law and Policy, Million Neighborhoods Initiative; Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation; Professor, Department of Ecology and Evolution; Associated Faculty, Department of Sociology; External Professor of Complex Systems, Santa Fe Institute
  • Kavi Bhalla | Assistant Professor, Department of Public Health Sciences, Biological Sciences Division; Affiliated Faculty, Harris School of Public Policy
  • Neil Brenner | Lucy Flower Professor of Urban Sociology, Department of Sociology
  • James Evans | Professor, Department of Sociology; Director, Knowledge Lab; Faculty Director, Masters Program in Computational Social Science (MACSS); External Professor, Santa Fe Institute
  • Micere Keels | Associate Professor, Department of Comparative Human Development
  • Anup Malani | Lee and Brena Freeman Professor at the University of Chicago Law School, Professor at the Pritzker School of Medicine, Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research in Boston, Senior Fellow at the Schaeffer Center at the University of Southern California, and editor at the Journal of Law and Economics.
  • Nicole Marwell | Associate Professor, Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice; Associated Faculty, Department of Sociology; Faculty Fellow, Center for Spatial Data Science
  • Elisabeth Moyer | Associate Professor, Atmospheric Science, Department of Geophysical Sciences; Faculty Lead, Environmental Frontiers Initiative, Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation; Affiliate, Energy Policy Institute
  • Mercedes Pascual | Louis Block Professor, Department of Ecology and Evolution
  • Trevor Price | Professor, Department of Ecology and Evolution
  • Bob Rosner | William E. Wrather Distinguished Service Professor, Departments of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Physics; Enrico Fermi Institute; and the College; Founding Co-Director, Energy Policy Institute; Faculty, Harris School of Public Policy
  • Emily Talen | Professor of Urbanism, Division of Social Sciences; Director, Urbanism Lab; Faculty, Committee of Geographical Sciences; Fellow, American Institute of Certified Planners

2022-2023 Cohort

Congratulations to our new cohort of Certificate in Urban Science and Sustainable Development graduate students.

Name Degree Department/School Expected Graduation Year
Daisuke Kageyama MPP Harris School of Public Policy 2023
Griffin Ong MPP Harris School of Public Policy 2023
Gabriel Hernando Angarita Tovar MPP Harris School of Public Policy 2023
Sam Pavlekovsky MSCAPP Harris School of Public Policy 2023
Ilina Mitra MPP Harris School of Public Policy 2023
Meredith Gavin MPP Harris School of Public Policy 2023
Ezra Serrins MPP Harris School of Public Policy 2023
Marc Loeb MSCAPP Harris School of Public Policy 2023
Javad Eshtiyagh MACSS Division of the Social Sciences 2023
Jeanne Sorin Ph.D. Department of Economics 2024


View the slide presentation and video recording from the Virtual Information Session held on September 9, 2020.

For questions, email Heidi Lee, ehlee@uchicago.edu.