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IHP/Comparative: Cities in the 21st Century: People, Planning, and Politics (Fall 2)

IHP/Comparative: Cities in the 21st Century: People, Planning, and Politics (Fall 2)

Explore how geography, politics, economics, and culture shape social relations and the built environment — and with what consequences — in cities across the globe.

This program examines the intentional and natural forces guiding the development of the world's cities. It combines an innovative urban studies academic curriculum with fieldwork involving public agencies, planners, elected officials, NGOs, and grassroots groups in important cities where exciting changes are taking place. Students learn how to “read a city”—honing their ability to observe, question, document, research, and communicate.

Key Questions:

  • Though human needs may be similar around the globe, why does a city's ability to satisfy those needs vary?
  • How do people create a sense of place, of community, of urban identity?
  • What historical and sociocultural contexts frame the opportunities, constraints, and uncertainties of urban life?
  • What must be done — and by whom — to move toward ecologically sustainable cities?
  • What are the opportunities for political action by individuals, community organizations, social movements, and local governments to shape city life?

Please note that in order to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, program excursions may occasionally vary.

United States: New York, NY
(2 weeks)
The program starts in arguably the most prominent “world” city in the United States. In New York, students will meet classmates and faculty and be introduced to field experiences by exploring neighborhoods, visiting nongovernmental organizations, and hearing from public officials. The world journey commences with a discussion of local conditions and issues as well as an acknowledgment that while every city is local, it is also a piece of the global puzzle.

Argentina: Buenos Aires
(4 weeks)

Coordinated by Carolina Rovetta
The cosmopolitan capital city of Buenos Aires has a history with an enduring legacy: European-influenced architecture, an extraction economy, large landowners, an influential Catholic church, charismatic political leadership and military dictatorships, a tradition of public protest, and a cultural heritage embedded in the tango. Underlying it all are the complex lives of a diverse society where former owners now work to survive and former workers now manage retaken factories.

SenegalSenegal: Dakar
(4 weeks)
Coordinated by Waly Faye

Senegal is a fascinating mix of African and Francophone traditions embedded in decades of stable democracy. From traditional rhythms to modern beats, music infuses daily life. Dakar, the capital city, is undergoing rapid change as it accepts new immigrants, constructs new infrastructure and expands its position as a thriving global crossroad. There will be a one-week vacation in Senegal.

marketIndia: Ahmedabad
(5 weeks)
Coordinated by Sonal Mehta

Ahmedabad, a city whose metropolitan area is approaching six million, is the largest in Gujarat, and is known for its leading role in industry and commerce. It is also known as the city in which M. K. Gandhi began his political work in India, established his ashrams, and built his struggle for freedom from colonial power.  After the city was founded in 1411, both Hindu and Islamic architecture flourished in the form of mosques, city gates, and temples. After independence, the city continued to strengthen its architectural traditions by inviting American architect Louis Kahn, French-Swiss architect Le Corbusier, and Indian architects Charles Correa and Bernard Cohen to design several modern institutional and private spaces. In 2009, bus rapid transit was introduced in the city and has become one of the most advanced of such systems in India. Ahmedabad has witnessed sectarian conflict in contrast with its history as a place of pluralism, tolerance, and nonviolent political action. Today, the city has become a major destination for foreign capital investment, particularly from the Persian Gulf, to which it has been linked through trade for centuries, and is frequently held up as an example of India’s successful efforts at globalization. Contemporary Ahmedabad represents a privileged place from which to analyze how global flows of people and capital intersect with cities whose built environments still encompass the early modern and medieval periods, and where social forms are equally diverse as architectural styles.


None, but previous college-level coursework and/or other preparation in urban studies, anthropology, sociology, political science, or other related fields is strongly recommended.

Access Virtual Library Guide

The program takes a holistic, interdisciplinary view of academic topics, drawing not only on articles and faculty lectures, but also student observations, guest lectures, and homestay interviews to facilitate learning. Assignments typically involve written essays, oral presentations, and more creative projects such as posters and photo stories.

Students enrolled on this program take all courses listed below for a total course load of 16 credits. Syllabi are typically updated just before the start of the program. The syllabi can be useful for students, faculty, and study abroad offices in assessing credit transfer. Read more about credit transfer.

Urban Politics and Development – syllabus
(DVST 3500 / 4 credits / 60 class hours)
Understanding the political process and its role in urban development is central to comprehending how cities work and grow. Who exercises power in cities and what are their sources of power? What is the structure of cities and how does this enhance or impede their growth? What is the role of state and local government in formulating development policies in a changing world economy? What challenges are faced by public policymakers and other stakeholders? This course examines a variety of structural elements and processes including government structures, relationships between city and regional institutions, privatization, community development, economic growth, industrial restructuring, technological change, workforce development, the informal economy, and poverty and income distribution.

Culture and Society of World Cities – syllabus
(ANTH 3500 / 4 credits / 60 class hours)
How do people identify and construct boundaries for various social groupings (race, class, ethnicity, gender, and locality)? What strategies do people use to adapt to living in cities? How do neighborhoods become distinctive? What are the celebrations and festivals? Who participates in each? What are the sources of information on these social categories and symbolic activities? This course examines how these elements combine to form the rich layers of multicultural urban society, how communities are structured and destroyed, and how values relate to urban life. An emphasis is placed on how anthropologists have adjusted their research methods in response to the study of urban life, and a specific focus is placed on providing students with the tools necessary to conduct preliminary fieldwork in urban areas.

Urban Planning and Sustainable Environments – syllabus
(URST 3500 / 4 credits / 60 class hours)
What are the intentional and natural forces that guide the development of the world’s cities? How has urban planning attempted to guide these forces toward a prosperous and equitable reality? This course studies the lifelines that sustain dense human habitation. As the pace of urbanization increases in developing countries, the process of modernization and globalization often seems at odds with traditional, and frequently sustainable, systems of land and energy use. Do contemporary environmentally conscious approaches toward sustainability have any chance of success? In response to rapid automobilization and de-densification of cities around the globe, are planners having any success at choreographing the development of city systems and services in equitable and sustainable ways?

Contemporary Urban Issues – syllabus
(URST 3000 / 4 credits / 60 class hours)
Are today’s headlines a fleeting concern or a clue to understanding broad forces at work—forces that define the lives of the people in the cities and countries we visit? Throughout the Cities program, a broad spectrum of contemporary topics is presented. In each city, topics of special significance to that city are examined in depth through lectures, field visits, and case studies. In this course, students also have an opportunity to pursue individual comparative research on topics of their own choosing. The course will be co-taught by all faculty to emphasize the multi-disciplinary analysis of issues and integrate the experience-based learning of the semester.

The faculty/staff team shown on this page is a sample of the individuals who may lead your specific program. Faculty and coordinators are subject to change to accommodate each program’s unique schedule and locations.

DeckerTabitha Decker, PhD, Program Director
Tabitha is a sociologist with extensive experience conducting comparative research on cities. She earned a BA with honors in international relations from Wellesley College and a PhD in sociology from Yale University.

Tabitha’s recent research and publications focus on interrelated aspects of social and spatial change, and she is particularly interested in urban transportation. Her dissertation, completed with fieldwork support from a Fulbright-Hays Fellowship and the Social Science Research Council, investigates the planning and realization of the Dubai Metro. This project uses the metro, specifically why and how it was created, as a probe into Dubai’s transnational boom-time social and economic foundations.

Research and study have taken her to several cities in the Middle East, including Dubai, Damascus, and Sana'a. A former Thomas J. Watson fellow, Tabitha conducted an ethnographic study of female taxi drivers in Cape Town, Dubai, Melbourne, and Kuala Lumpur. Her urban research trajectory was launched on an SIT Study Abroad program (Gender and Development in India) where she completed an independent study of an all-female police station in Mysore. She returned to SIT as a traveling faculty member on IHP Cities in 2012. Tabitha resides in Brooklyn, New York, and is a native of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

westcottChris Westcott, MA, Program Manager
Chris is a social justice educator, and changemaker based in Brooklyn, New York. Chris’s professional background combines experience working with social change–oriented study abroad programs, along with on-the-ground experience with grassroots US-based and international NGOs. Before becoming program manager of the Human Rights and Climate Change programs, Chris was a traveling faculty member, then country coordinator with the Cities program. Additionally, Chris was a program facilitator for two years on CIEE Thailand’s study abroad program focusing on globalization and development. Through his work experience with NGOs, Chris has coordinated NYC-based campaigns for worker’s rights and the right to housing and international campaigns for trade justice and sustainable agriculture. For three years, Chris worked in San Francisco as a founding staff member of ENGAGE, a network that organizes returned study abroad students to effect local and global change. Chris has a BA in environmental studies from Bates College, and an MA in international educational development from Columbia University. While at Columbia, Chris was a teaching assistant for courses on social identity, social change, and human rights education.

Sonal Mehta, Country Coordinator, India
MehtaTrained as a space scientist and technologist, Sonal Mehta has a master’s degree in physics and a postgraduate diploma in space sciences. She worked as a space scientist at the Indian Space Research Organization in her early career. She then worked in the field of science education, developing creative and activity-based learning for science education programs and national science textbooks. She was engaged in the science and environment movement and conducted research on science policy and philosophy. She has been a human rights and women’s rights activist for more than twenty-five years. As a grassroots activist she has worked with several national and state movements to improve the social, political, and economic rights of marginalized, indigenous, and untouchable communities in India. She has travelled extensively in India, Canada, Europe, and Asia. She has participated in and coordinated the World Social Forum process at regional, national, and international levels. She is also actively involved with the International Women’s Movement of rank-and-file women. A founder of Eklavya Foundation, she is currently working on sustainable development alternatives for an indigenous community of forest dwellers and bamboo workers in the state of Gujarat in western India.

Waly Faye, MA, Country Coordinator, SenegalWaly Faye
Waly Faye is a development manager. He has been coordinating study abroad programs at the West African Research Center in Dakar, Senegal, since 2007, and he has coordinated several faculty development programs in Senegal. He has been the country coordinator of the SIT Study Abroad/IHP Cities in the 21st Century in Dakar since 2010. Waly has significant experience in international development and international education as well as experience planning field trips. He has a deep understanding of the social, political, economic, and cultural environments of Senegal through working with many NGOs and grassroots organizations in different areas of the country. Waly holds a master’s degree in development projects management and is finishing another MA in public administration. Waly is interested in public financial management, international development, and urbanization.

Carolina Rovetta, MA, Country Coordinator, Argentina
RovettaCarolina holds a five-year degree in arts from the University of Buenos Aires and a postgraduate degree in contemporary cinema and theater. She has been working in the field of international education for many years. Carolina is in charge of designing academic and immersion programs in Argentina for students and institutions from abroad. Her focus is on the interaction between academic content and cultural sensitivity. She is very interested in arts and culture and works as a cultural facilitator for the city of Buenos Aires. She has written several pedagogical guides on cultural activities in immersion. Ms. Rovetta serves as an academic advisor for American students studying abroad in Argentina. She first began working with IHP in 2005 and helped establish the Cities in the 21st Century program in Buenos Aires.

Rick Miller, PhD & MArch, Traveling Faculty – P&D
Rick MillerRick lectures on world cultures and urbanization processes in the UCLA Department of Geography, where he received his PhD. Trained as both an architect and a social scientist, Rick researches people and the landscapes they construct and inhabit. He promotes on-site investigation using multiple methods of visual and ethnographic inquiry. His dissertation, “Nomadic and domestic: dwelling on the edge of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia,” with fieldwork support from FLAS and Fulbright fellowships, explores how the building of informal settlements reshapes both landscape and society in Inner Asia. This research contributes toward better analysis of housing and land tenure issues for rural-to-urban migrants, who increasingly underpin urbanization in developing economies. Rick maintains several ongoing projects on city-building: in colonial-era Rangoon, early modern Los Angeles, and contemporary China.

On the side, Rick is a member of the Compton Cricket Club—a team comprised of homeless men from downtown Los Angeles and at-risk youth from Compton.

Sabina Uffer, PhD, Traveling Faculty
Sabina UfferSabina holds a master’s degree in political science from the University of Geneva and a PhD in urban and regional planning from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). During her studies in London, she taught LSE undergraduate students Methods in Human Geography and Spatial Analysis, and supervised undergraduate dissertation projects.

Her research focuses on urban politics and socio-spatial inequality. Her dissertation investigated the process of financialization of Berlin’s housing provision—from the political decision to privatize state-owned housing developments to the entrance of institutional actors through real estate private equity funds, and its consequences for the city and its residents. After her PhD, Sabina worked as a research officer at LSE Cities where she did comparative research on urban neighborhoods in Hong Kong, Singapore, New York, Paris, London, and Berlin.

After moving to New York, Sabina worked at a global urban planning and engineering firm working on post-Sandy resiliency and energy master planning projects.

Samantha Hodges, Trustees Fellow
hodgesSamantha is an anti-poverty advocate with a strong commitment to creating responsive pathways to civic engagement for the racially and ethnically diverse communities most affected by policy. Over the past several years she has led efforts around anti-hunger advocacy and managed programs focused on elevating the leadership of local advocates from low-income communities and communities of color. She has a double degree is environmental studies and sociology from Wesleyan University and is an IHP alumna. An avid dancer, she is most looking forward to exploring traditional and modern dance forms in each city.

senegal busStudents live with a host family for between three and four weeks at each program site other than in the US. Homestays are the primary form of accommodation on the program. (Other accommodations include hotels or hostels.) Host families provide students with the opportunity to live as an integrated member of their community. In sharing daily life, conversations, family stories, celebrations, and community events, students not only learn a tremendous amount, but often develop lasting friendships.

Family structures vary in every place, and SIT Study Abroad values the diversity of homestay families. For example, your family may include a single mother of two small children or a large extended family with many people coming and going all the time. Please bear in mind that, in many countries, the idea of what constitutes a “home” (i.e., the physical nature of the house) may be different from what you expect. You will need to be prepared to adapt to a new life with a new diet, a new schedule, new people, and possibly new priorities and expectations.

Country coordinators in each location will arrange homestay placements. In most cases, students will be placed in homestays in pairs. These placements are made first based on health concerns, including any allergies or dietary needs, to the extent possible. You will not receive information about your homestay family before you arrive in each country.

  • IHP/Comparative: Cities in the 21st Century: People, Planning, and Politics (Fall 2) is available only in the Fall semester.
  • The Fall 2015 semester generally begins in early September and ends in mid December.

The dates listed above are tentative. Please note that travel to and from the program site may span a period of more than one day.

Student applications to this program will be reviewed on a rolling basis between the opening date and the deadline.

Application Deadline:   Apr 1, 2014


SIT Pell Grant Match Award. SIT Study Abroad provides matching grants to all students receiving Federal Pell Grant funding; this award can be applied to any SIT semester program. View all SIT Study Abroad scholarships.

Tuition: $17,350

The tuition fee covers the following program components:

  • Group excursions
  • Emergency sickness and accident insurance
  • Books
  • Other direct program expenses

Airfare: $4,000

  • Group airfare and group related travel

Room & Board:$4,400

The room and board fee covers the following program components:

  • All accommodations during the entire program period.

Estimated Additional Costs:

International Airfare

International airfares vary greatly due to the volatility of airline industry pricing, flight availability, and specific flexibility/restrictions on the type of ticket purchased. Students may choose to take advantage of frequent flyer or other airline awards available to them, which could significantly lower their travel costs.

Visa Expenses:$300

Immunizations varies

Books & Supplies :$100

Discretionary Expenses

Personal expenses during a semester abroad vary based on individual spending habits and budgets. While all meals and accommodations are covered in the room and board fee, incidentals and personal transportation costs differ depending on the non-program-related interests and pursuits of each student. To learn more about personal budgeting, we recommend speaking with alumni who participated in a program in your region.  See a full list of our alumni contacts.  Please note that free time to pursue non-program-related activities is limited.

Please Note: Fees and additional expenses are based on all known circumstances at the time of calculation. Due to the unique nature of our programs and the economics of host countries, SIT reserves the right to change its fees or additional expenses without notice.


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SIT was founded as the School for International Training and has been known as SIT Study Abroad and SIT Graduate Institute since 2007. SIT is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Inc. (NEASC) through its Commission on Institutions of Higher Education

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