Undergrad Major in Urban Studies

Urban Studies furthers understanding of the forces that shape cities and how to redirect those forces. Urbanisation has shaped and continues to shape the processes of social and environmental change.

Co-taught with UBC's Department of Geography, the major in Urban Studies combines foundational and applied knowledge with progressively advanced community-engaged learning. 

The first of its kind in British Columbia, this program provides students with the training and technical skills necessary for future careers in urban-oriented professions. 

Graduates will be awarded a Bachelor of Arts. 

Why Urban Studies matters

If you’re reading these words, you are unique in the history of humanity and the planet.

You are part of the first generation to live in an urban world. While there are many individual cities that can be traced back hundreds or thousands of years, it was only a few years ago that the world crossed the fifty-percent threshold: for the first time ever, the majority of people in the world live in an urban area. 

Over the next century, all of the world’s net population growth will take place in urban regions, and nearly every aspect of economic, social, political, technological, and environmental change is urbanizing.  

The challenges and opportunities of the world are now urban problems and possibilities, and debates about urban futures have only been heightened during the latest global health pandemic.  

Cities are at the forefront of global responses to climate change; urban policy is seen as a key catalyst for transitioning to a sustainable and just society; and the data and technologies available to understand and shape urbanization are leaping forward – now, more than ever, we need people who are deeply trained to be city-makers. 

Students in Urban Studies explore questions such as: 

  • How do different cities reflect different societies and histories? How do urban processes change societies through innovation, rural-to-urban migration, and social and political movements? 
  • How have the cities produced through histories of industrial capitalism and colonialism shaped our relations to one another and to nature? How can today’s cities help create more sustainable and equitable futures? 
  • How do cities concentrate the greatest achievements of human creativity — art, literature, technology, architecture, engineering — into legacies that shape the lives of future generations? 
  • How are separate cities integrated into regional, national, and transnational networks through flows of people, commodities, money, and ideas? 

You'll prepare to shape the vision for future cities through roles as thought leaders, analysts, and advocates. While you have the chance to gear your degree to your own lens and goals, by the time you graduate, you'll have done the following:

Inquire about urban life:

Critically interpret what shapes human settlement, historically and into the future. Learn from the global community of cities and cultures, about planning models, community engagement, and alternative ways of organizing urban life.

Learn urban practice:

Design effective strategies for positive change in cities. Understand how infrastructure and spatial patterns affect one another. Acquire professional-level skills in making policy arguments, gathering and interpreting research findings, and advocacy.

Participate in urban research:

Crtically analyse and then apply state-of-the-art theories, policies, and practices about cities and how they change. Expose new possibilities for the future of urbanisation. Develop analyses and strategies for critical interpretation.

Collaborate with urban communities:

Undertake participatory research. Engage with competing views on how cities evolve. Navigate the ethical implications of collaboration. Understand how place, space, and scale impact urbanisation to create uneven outcomes for communities.

Why should I choose Urban Studies?

Apply specialized skills such as technical data analysis, dialogue and engagement practices, political- and policy-oriented communication, and/or development finance strategies, to broad challenges focused on:

  • Renaturing cities
  • Globalizing cities
  • Indigenous urban life
  • Technology and cities
  • Community engagement in cities

With these tools, graduates will have a professional identity premised on a strong ability to critically integrate urban interventions with broader efforts to address complex societal challenges.

The Urban Studies program gives you understanding and networking connections to several other disciplines, and provides pathways to graduate planning programs and other opportunities.

Students taking the Major in Urban Studies will also have a wide range of potential career paths after graduation, including: 

  • Urban and regional planning 
  • Local and federal government 
  • Environmental design 
  • Social and community service 
  • City administration 
  • Urban agriculture 
  • Social policy research 
  • Green building 
  • Housing innovation 
  • Decarbonisation in cities 
  • Public engagement consulting 
  • Real estate and development 


Please review all information on requirements before you proceed here. 

Application schedule

Applications open:January 01
Applications close:March 31

Admission to the program is by application. Students will normally apply at the end of Year 1 for Year 2 entry.

Your application will include...

  • A copy of your overall transcript
  • Grades from Gateway Courses (if you have taken them)*, including:
    -GEOG 250
    -PLAN 211
  • A statement (500 words maximum) indicating motivations for applying
Youth holding up "Geographers for Climate Justice" sign

UBC's Department of Geography,

in the Faculty of Arts, is a world-leading research department, and home to outstanding teaching practice. They strive for a critical and ethical approach to the world and our place within it. Learn more about our partner department here!

Interested? Questions?

This page comprehensively describes what to expect and where to begin. Read through and something is still unclear? Reach out!

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