The Urban Curriculum

at The University of Chicago

The University of Chicago offers a wide array of urban-focused coursework at the undergraduate and graduate levels across the social, natural, and computational sciences, as well as the humanities—building upon UChicago’s rich history of urban scholarship.

Undergraduate Programs

Program in Environmental and Urban Studies

The Environmental and Urban Studies program encourages interdisciplinary approaches to the complex interactions and intersections of urbanism, environment, and society by incorporating frameworks, theories, models, and methods from the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, urban planning and design, and urban science. Students can choose to focus on either the Environmental Track or the Urban Track. A student interested in urban environmental topics can design a program of study through either track.

Photo: UChicago Program on the Global Environment

  • The Environmental Track of the major emphasizes critical thinking and rigorous applications to the study of the environment through the social sciences and humanities. Central concepts to this track include human behavior and its relationship to the environment, moral and ethical dimensions of environmental preservation and conservation, the evolution of environmental discourse, communications, and media, and cultural and historical constructions of nature and the human. The track provides emphases in environmental economics and policy, law and politics, sustainable development, human ecology, environmental ethics and justice, and the social and humanistic study of climate change.
  • The Urban Track of the major emphasizes perspectives on human interaction with the urban, built environment. The track encourages a spatial and place-based urban perspective, meaning that built form and environmental context provide the conceptual core through which the social, economic, and political understanding of urbanism is pursued. The track approaches the nature, dynamics, and human experience of cities by capitalizing on the growth of interest in urban design, urban planning, and emerging urban science.

Students in other fields of study may also complete a minor in Environmental and Urban Studies with an emphasis on one of these tracks.

Learn more here: Course Catalog Description

Minor Program in Architectural Studies

The minor in architectural studies combines course work in art history, which equips students to analyze the form and changing history of the built environment in diverse cultures, places, and times, with up to four courses on architectural or urban topics offered in any department. Thus the minor enables students to enrich art historical analysis with methods from other disciplines.

Photo: Tom Rossiter

A student might choose to minor in architectural studies because the student is interested in the built environment—the inescapable setting of our lives—from a liberal arts perspective or because the student is considering applying to architecture school. The minor could represent an interest distinct from the student’s major or it could complement a major in the social sciences or humanities by exploring the material setting of history and social life or the context for works of literature, film, music, or drama. It could equally complement a major in the sciences, such as medical fields, ecology, geology, physics, or mathematics.

See the list of Autumn 2020 course offerings that relate to urban architecture, design, and the built environment.

Learn more here: Course Catalog Description

Graduate Programs

Certificate Program in Urban Science and Sustainable Development

The Mansueto Institute’s Certificate in Urban Science and Sustainable Development trains students for careers that address the most challenging and important systemic issue of our time – sustainable urban development. The certificate, which University of Chicago students take in conjunction with existing UChicago degree programs, establishes the scientific and intellectual underpinnings for continued work in this emerging field. It is a response to the challenges of our times, as well as the growing demand for an urban-focused curricular pathway for UChicago scholars.

Photo: Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation

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:

Current Qualifying Graduate Courses for the Certificate Program

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.

CHDV 37950: Evolution and Economics of Human Behavior

This course explores how evolutionary biology and behavioral economics explain many different aspects of human behavior. Specific topics include evolutionary theory, natural and sexual selection, game theory, cost-benefit analyses of behavior from an evolutionary and a behavioral economics perspective, aggression, power and dominance, cooperation and competition, biological markets, parental investment, life history and risk-taking, love and mating, physical attractiveness and the market, emotion and motivation, sex and consumer behavior, cognitive biases in decision-making, and personality and psychopathology.

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.

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: Earth and Human System Science: Food, Energy, and Water Cycles

Earth system science should now explicitly include human activities, since humans both affect many major biogeochemical cycles on Earth, and human societies are dependent on those cycles. One third of the Earth’s surface is now used for production of food for humans, and waste product of human energy use 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 water and carbon cycles, their interactions, and the role that humans 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 humans have become a global force. 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.

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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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.

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.