Urban Studies & The Environment
Urban Studies generally implies the study of the sociology, politics, economics, culture and ecological conditions of cities. It often begins with the recognition that global population shifts have moved humans not only toward a predominantly urban existence, but also toward patterns of human settlement that include increasingly large and dense concentrations of the world’s population in so-called “global cities,” the steady encroachment of sprawling urban and suburban development on more and more of what was once natural or agricultural land, and the recognition that the world’s cities are the sites where social, economic, political and ecological problems are confronting us in dramatic forms. The impacts of economic recessions, political upheavals, social problems associated with crime and poverty, and natural phenomena like storms and earthquakes are increasingly manifested (and sometimes exacerbated) by the form and character of our cities.
However, it is important that Urban Studies extends beyond a narrow concern with the city as such. In order to understand the city, we need to understand the patterns of human settlement more generally, and the systemic relationships between the range of human habitats from the most urban to the most rural, and including everything from the scale of the neighborhood to the scale of the metropolitan region. Urban Studies is closely linked with Environmental Studies, with a particular focus on understanding the organized interactions between the human habitat to the natural systems of the planet.
Essentially, Urban Studies involves study of the ways we organize our lives together in places, and the ways that we produce, understand, represent, and engage the places and landscapes that constitute the common world of human lives. It should be understood broadly as the study of the patterns, qualities and consequences of human settlements, as built environments and as social, cultural, economic, and political structures—all with profound implications for the way humans organize their interactions with natural systems of the planet. Neighborhoods, towns, cities, suburbs and metropolitan regions are the immediate contexts in which we work toward a diverse and just society, and they are the practical sites where we are compelled to confront many of the most central social, political, economic, and environmental challenges of the day.
Urban Studies is also therefore not just the study of the cities and human settlement patterns in the abstract, but connects academic study directly to practical efforts toward transformative community change-- in terms of the way our ideas, experiences and aspirations are represented in art and literature, our concerns and hopes are manifested in social critique and political action, and our vision of a sustainable future translated into specific interventions into the physical, social, economic, cultural and political environment of the city.
Students who choose to follow the Urban Studies track at New College are expected to develop a strong background in the tools and perspectives of social science and the humanistic disciplines as they relate to an understanding of human communities, as well as a background in the natural sciences associated with the core requirements in Environmental Studies. They are expected to apply that training to a type of environmental problem-solving that interests them. In the past, NCF students have conducted ISPs, group tutorials, and theses on a wide variety of projects, including urban watershed management, comparative transit systems, and varieties of community-based environmental problem-solving.
David Brain (Sociology)
Urban Studies students should expect to take additional classes, tutorials, and ISPs aimed at developing an interdisciplinary competence in the study of cities as well as a methods course in the social sciences relevant to the kind of thesis research they expect to do. Additional classes should include Urban Sociology, classes or tutorials related urban and architectural history, and other relevant courses in the social sciences (depending on exactly how the student decides to focus her/his program).