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

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

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 combines an innovative urban studies curriculum with fieldwork involving key actors and stakeholders — public agencies, planners, elected officials, NGOs, and grassroots organizations. Students spend time in four cities across the globe to better understand the interconnected social, physical, economic, environmental, and political systems affecting urban environments. In addition, students complete an independent comparative research project on a topic of their choosing.

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.

Brazil: São Paulo

(4 weeks)
Graffiti BrazilBrazil provides an excellent opportunity to see how participation, democracy, and a mobilized citizenry affect change. In multi-ethnic São Paulo, the largest urban area in South America, public infrastructure takes aggressive steps forward, but never seems to catch up to the expanding city’s growing needs. Land and water are plentiful, but how much is available to the secluded rich, the hard-working middle class, or the tenuous poor remains a question.

India: Ahmedabad

(5 weeks)
Spice MarketAhmedabad, 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.

South Africa: Cape Town

(5 weeks)
In Cape Town, see how a society that was grossly unequal by design is attempting to transform itself into one that provides equal economic opportunity for all. Contrast the awe-inspiring beauty of Table Mountain of Cape Point, where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans’ currents meet, and the charming cobblestone streets of the bustling Green Market Square with apartheid-legacy townships such as Langa, Khayelitsha, Joe Slovo Park, Guguletu, Nyanga, and the Cape Flats. Observe effective community radio stations, food cooperatives, informal traders, taxi companies, and the variety of small businesses, art, crafts, music, and vibrant personalities that make township culture thrive. Meet with government leaders, social activists, and academics from local universities, all involved with transforming Cape Town in the wake of apartheid.


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.

Links to syllabi below are from current and forthcoming courses offered on this program. Because courses develop and change over time to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, actual course content will vary from term to term.

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)
Cities are simultaneously centers of individual opportunity and civic engagement and sites of inequality and economic disparity. In this course students explore, question, and critique the intersection of politics and development in cities at multiple scales, from local to global, and examine how related institutions, policies, and processes shape the evolution of cities.

Culture and Society of World Cities – syllabus
(ANTH 3500 / 4 credits / 60 class hours)
This course examines the many ways people make urban life meaningful. What are the historical, political-economic, and sociocultural contexts that frame the opportunities, constraints, and uncertainties of urban life? How do people create a sense of place, of community, or of urban identity? 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)
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. This course introduces key concepts about the history, theory, and practice of urban planning and sustainability. It emphasizes how the physical elements of cities are related to and interact with the social, cultural, economic, and political aspects of cities.

Contemporary Urban Issues – syllabus
(URST 3000 / 4 credits / 60 class hours)
This research and methods seminar is designed to give students the tools to identify and analyze challenges common to cities across continents and cultures, and to distinguish such challenges from others that are rooted in particular histories and human geographies. It is also focused on developing in students the ability to make meaningful comparisons, particularly concerning configurations of political, economic, and social power as they are manifested in urban space. Using these tools, students 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.

These letters home are from previous terms. Site locations may vary from term to term.

Letters Home: Cities (Spring)

May 5, 2014
Letter Home from Dakar, Senegal
A Letter Home from students on the IHP Cities: People, Planning, and Politics spring 2014 program: After a tearful goodbye to our loving homestay families in Ahmedabad, India, we began the trek towards Dakar, Senegal, a city that remained an elusive mystery. The journey over the Arabian Sea and across the width of Africa left […]
April 1, 2014
Letter Home from Ahmedabad, India
A Letter Home from students on the IHP Cities in the 21st Century: People, Planning, and Politics Spring 2014 program: New York City was a cocktail of raw talent, concentrated within blocks and blocks of an urban planner’s dream landscape.  As we, IHP Cities in the 21st Century students, skated up and down the grid, […]
May 31, 2013
Letter Home from Senegal
 A Letter Home from students on the IHP Cities in the 21st Century Spring program: In Wolof (a major Senegalese ethnic group but also the name for one of the most commonly spoken languages in the country), there is no exact equivalent for the phrase “you’re welcome.” Instead, you say “Noko bok,” which literally means “we […]

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.

Tabitha 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.

Sally Frankental, PhD, Country Coordinator: South Africa

Sally FrankentalSally Frankental is a sociocultural anthropologist who taught at the University of Cape Town for many years. She directed the university’s Kaplan Centre for Jewish Studies and Research from 1980 to 1992. Her current research interests are in the areas of migration, identity, ethnicity, and citizenship. Her association with the SIT Study Abroad/IHP Cities program (since 1999) has been facilitated by her teaching of anthropology of development and applied anthropology, her supervision of a wide variety of graduate students’ research projects conducted locally, and the consultancy work she has done for the city of Cape Town. Her book South Africa’s Diverse Peoples (with Dr. Owen Sichone), commissioned as part of a series specifically for American university and public libraries, was published by ABC-CLIO in 2005. She was a founding member of the anti-apartheid organization Jews for Justice

Glenda de la Fuente, MA, Country Coordinator, Brazil

Glenda de la FuentaGlenda de la Fuente holds a bachelor’s degree in translation and a postgraduate degree from King’s College, University of London, in applied linguistics and English language teaching. She was a professor for and coordinator of the extracurricular English program at the University of Buenos Aires, where she was in charge of teacher training courses. Since 1987, she has been a member of the Humanist Movement, an international volunteer organization engaged in the promotion of equity and human rights worldwide; through this work, she has served as a lecturer and promoter of grassroots groups committed to the principles of nonviolence and nondiscrimination in Argentina, Paraguay, Spain, and Brazil. Born in Argentina, for the last nine years she has lived in São Paulo, where she currently works as a freelance conference interpreter and translator. She also promotes humanist education programs with community-based groups. She has been the country coordinator of the SIT Study Abroad/IHP Cities program since 2008, and since 2010 she has also coordinated the SIT Study Abroad/IHP Health and Community program in São Paulo.

Sonal Mehta, Country Coordinator, India

Sonal 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.

Carmen Medeiros, PhD, Traveling Faculty

Carmen MedierosCarmen Medeiros holds a PhD in cultural anthropology from the City University of New York (2005). She specializes in Latin America with particular emphasis on critical development and postcolonial theories, indigenous movements, and modern discourses on race, mestizaje, and hybridity. Currently, she teaches at the graduate institute for development research (CIDES–UMSA) in La Paz, Bolivia. Before settling in Bolivia, Dr. Medeiros was the academic director of the SIT Study Abroad program in La Paz (2010–2012) and taught at NYU´s Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies in New York; the Facultades Latinoamericanas de Ciencias Sociales in Ecuador; the Trent University in Ecuador Program; Wheaton College in Massachusetts; and the City University of New York in New York. She has also been a consultant with Bolivian research centers, ministries, and international development agencies.

Juan Manuel Arbona, PhD, Traveling Faculty

Juan ArbonaJuan was originally trained as an urban designer and worked in several projects in the US and Guatemala. His graduate work at Cornell University focused on urban political ecology (MRP) and urban political economy (PhD), with particular emphasis on Andean urban systems. He was a professor at Bryn Mawr College from 2002 to 2013, where he taught courses on cities of the developing world, urban theory, the right to the city, and urban neoliberalism. His research and publications have incorporated a wide range of issues from the informal economy and neighborhood politics, to urban histories and ethnographies. His work has been published in places like Le Monde Diplomatique, Nueva Sociedad, Bulletin of Latin American Studies, and GeoForum. His current research focuses on trade dynamics between Aymara merchants and Chinese family consortiums, framed by the literature on “globalization from below.”

Meghan Phadke, Trustees Fellow

Meghan Phadke

Meghan Phadke is a New York City public school teacher and alumna of the Cities program. She has spent the last six years working in a high-poverty public school in Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen neighborhood where she built, from the ground up, a comprehensive music program that now serves over 400 students. In this role, she has worked closely with arts foundations and nonprofits as well as city arts agencies in order to obtain, and maintain, resources.

Meghan completed her master’s degree in urban affairs in the fall of 2013. She is interested in issues surrounding the building and sustaining of educational reform, in particular, the use of participatory processes and the privatization of educational services. Meghan was a Trustees Fellow in the spring of 2014 and will continue in this role with the spring 2015 Cities cohort.


Students live with a host family for between two and four weeks at each program site, with the exception of the first US location. Homestays are the primary form of accommodation on the program; other accommodations can include guest houses, hostels, dormitories, and/or small hotels.

Homestay families provide students with the opportunity to live as integrated members of their host communities. In sharing daily life, conversations, family stories, celebrations, and community events, students not only learn a tremendous amount, but also develop lasting friendships.

Family structures vary in every place, and SIT values the diversity of homestay families. For example, the host 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 the idea of what constitutes a “home” (i.e., the physical nature of the house) may be different from what one expects. Students 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 arrange homestay placements. In most cases, students will be placed in homestays in pairs, with placements made to best accommodate health concerns, including allergies or dietary needs. Students do not receive information about homestay families until they arrive in each country.

  • IHP/Comparative: Cities in the 21st Century: People, Planning, and Politics (Spring) is available only in the Spring semester.
  • The Spring 2016 semester generally begins in late January and ends in late May.

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:   Oct 1, 2015


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: Not yet available.

The tuition fee covers the following program components:

  • Content and logistics for field programs in New York City, São Paulo, Ahmedabad, and Cape Town
  • Cost of all lecturers who provide instruction to students in:
    • Urban Planning and Sustainable Environments
    • Culture and Society of World Cities
    • Urban Politics and Development
    • Contemporary Urban Issues
  • Guest lectures and panel discussions
  • Site visit hosts and facilitators
  • Transportation to classroom spaces and daily program activities
  • All educational excursions and final program retreat, including all related travel costs
  • Traveler’s health insurance throughout the entire program period 
  • Instructional materials
  • Other direct program costs

Airfare: Not yet available.

  • Group airfare during the program

Room & Board: Not yet available.

The room and board fee covers the following program components:

  • All accommodations during the entire program period. This includes during orientation, time in all four countries, all excursions, and the final retreat. Accommodation is covered either by SIT Study Abroad directly, through a stipend provided to each student, or through the homestay. 
  • All homestays in São Paulo, Ahmedabad, and Cape Town
  • All meals for the entire program period. Meals are covered either by SIT Study Abroad directly, through a stipend, or through the homestay.  

Estimated Additional Costs:

Domestic Airfare to Program Launch Site

Domestic airline pricing can 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: Not yet available.

Immunizations: Varies

Books & Supplies: Not yet available.

International Phone: Each student must have a phone in each country. Cost varies according to personal preferences, phone plans, data plans, etc.

Discretionary Expenses

Personal expenses during the program 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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