This program is currently enrolling for spring 2021.
Please see our list of available and modified programs for fall 2020.

IHP Cities in the 21st Century

People, Planning & Politics

Explore issues of race, urbanization, and social and spatial justice in four cities within the global economy. Witness how citizens live, work, and organize to advance social justice in urban environments.

At a Glance




Relevant previous coursework recommended

Courses taught in



Sep 14 ‎– Dec 22

Program Countries

South Africa, United States

Program Base

United States (Jackson, Mississippi, and New York City) and South Africa (Johannesburg & Cape Town)

Critical Global Issue of Study

Development & Inequality

Development & Inequality Icon

Identity & Human Resilience

Identity & Human Resilience Icon


Why Study Cities in the 21st Century?

Examine issues of urbanization and social justice at a time when millions of urban citizens across the world have come together to overcome structural inequality and the legacies of racial segregation and oppression in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic. Your program will begin in two sites in the United States—Jackson, Mississippi, and New York City—before moving on to two South African cities, Johannesburg and Cape Town. Over the course of seven weeks in the U.S. and seven weeks in South Africa, you will explore diverse localities and meet with local residents, leading academics, activists, government officials, experts, and community organizations. You’ll examine the history of racial segregation, urban planning, innovative alternative city governance movements, and urban social movements mobilizing around basic human rights like housing and water. These four cities, with their unique histories of the trade in enslaved peoples, settler colonialism, and state-sponsored racial oppression, are specifically suited to understanding the question of how race shapes cities and how cities shape the lived experiences of citizens across racial divides.

Explore a Day in the Life of an IHP student!


  • Explore politics, economics, geography, and culture in the built environment.
  • Learn how different cities responded to the Covid-19 crisis and how the pandemic revealed existing inequalities.
  • Meet renowned academics, thought leaders, elected officials, and NGOs.
  • Observe community activism, media, and businesses that make a culture thrive.
  • Live and study in four world cities undergoing rapid change and facing unique challenges.


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

Program Sites

Jackson, Mississippi

(4 weeks)

Often referred to as the epicenter of the Jim Crow South and long associated with deep urban racial segregation and oppression, Jackson, Mississippi, today is a bright spot for what’s possible in creating just cities. Following a cooperatively drafted blueprint to make Jackson “the most radical city on the planet,” Mississippi’s capital is bursting with thought, debate, and action. Groups such as Cooperative Jackson are working to build a solidarity economy alongside formal policymakers, including recently elected Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, and struggling explicitly for black self-determination and economic democracy.

New York, New York

(4 weeks)

Your time in New York will be a deep dive into one of the world’s most iconic cities. While living and taking classes in Brooklyn, weekly site visits and guest lecturers from leading thinkers on urban issues will immerse you in key challenges facing the city: the housing crisis and real estate market, the impacts of gentrification, the history of racist practices such as red-lining, and everyday citizen’s daily struggle to survive in one of the U.S.’ most expensive cities.

Johannesburg, South Africa

(2 weeks)

South Africa’s largest city has its roots in colonial capitalism and the gold rush. The township of Soweto was home to Nelson Mandela and the site of infamous uprisings during Apartheid. Today, Johannesburg is the most cosmopolitan and diverse city in South Africa, boasting the highest level of post-apartheid racial integration in the country. Nonetheless, it still faces challenges, which you will explore from an urban studies perspective. Academics, community activists, and people from the formal and informal economy will take you on a journey through the legacy of apartheid, the impacts of economic austerity, grassroots resistance, and the creation of a vibrant African city.

Cape Town, South Africa

(5 weeks)

Cape Town is mostly known for its exquisite beaches and rich nightlife. However, it is also the most unequal city in the world, and social and racial inequality is inscribed into its urban landscape. You will take an unflinching look into the root causes of inequality, the lived reality of the majority of Cape Town’s citizens, and social movements working to change the social realities. You will have conversations with trade unions, anti-eviction movements, anti-apartheid activists, township residents as well as examine the relationship between the wealthiest citizens and the poorest.

Please note that SIT will make every effort to maintain its programs as described. To respond to emergent situations, however, SIT may have to change or cancel programs.



Access virtual library guide.

The following syllabi are representative of 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.

Please expand the sections below to see detailed course information, including course codes, credits, overviews, and syllabi.

Key Topics

  • Sociological and historical contexts and constraints and opportunities of urban life
  • Understanding and defining what is a “just city”
  • How political action by individuals, community organizations, social movements, and local governments shape city life
  • How urban citizens create a sense of place, community, and identity
  • What must be done to move toward ecologically sustainable cities
  • Who has the right to the city? Who belongs and who can access a city’s benefits?
  • How past policies of racial segregation live on in these cities today

Urban Politics and Development

Urban Politics and Development – Syllabus
(DVST3500 / 4 credits)

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. How have these politics and power structures of cities impacted the ways in which the Covid-19 pandemic played out in each site? This course examines a variety of structural elements and processes, including relationships between municipal and regional institutions, privatization, community development, economic growth, industrial restructuring, informal economy, and poverty and income distribution. We will pay particular attention to these guiding questions: What economic, social, and political factors (local, national, and international) shape the development/organization of cities? Who exercises power in cities and what are their sources of power? Whose voices are considered relevant in the discussion of what the city could be. In the Urban Politics and Development course, we will explore how and why urban development is a tension filled, conflictual process that occurs at multiple scales. This course is taught by local faculty.

Culture and Society of World Cities

Culture and Society of World Cities – Syllabus
(ANTH3500 / 4 credits)

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? How has the Covid-19 pandemic shaped societies, networks, and identities in cities? In addressing these questions, we will explore the core concepts and conceptual frameworks that anthropologists and sociologists use to understand lived experience in cities. Our study of social and cultural urban processes emphasizes the relationship of space to identity and power. The course examines aspects of identity, including race and ethnicity, gender, class, family, and citizenship. In each city, we will grapple with conflicts, struggles, and celebrations that are embedded in and emerge from specific historical, socio-economic, and political contexts. We will examine cities as physical and imagined spaces, exploring how spatial and social life are mutually shaped, and how the meanings of cities are multiple and contested by different groups and actors with often incompatible agendas. This course is taught by traveling faculty.

Contemporary Urban Issues

Contemporary Urban Issues – (updated syllabus coming soon)
(URST3000 / 4 credits)

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 and country coordinators to emphasize the multi-disciplinary analysis of issues and to integrate the experience-based learning of the semester. This course is taught by traveling and locally based faculty.

Urban Planning and Sustainable Environments

Urban Planning and Sustainable Environments – Syllabus
(URST3500 / 4 credits)

Within cities we find key challenges to long-term social, economic, and environmental sustainability; processes of exclusion and deepened inequalities are occurring at such a scale that new geographies of power and injustice arise. In this context, planning and socio-spatial practices have become key instruments to understanding and intervening in complex realities that require both physical and social comprehension. 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, especially in light of recent events and the debates about how pandemics will shape urban planning of the future. This course is taught by locally based faculty.

Homestays / Housing

Homestays / Housing

Students accommodations include a mix of hostels, guesthouses, small hotels/dorms, and homestays.

Career Paths

Positions recently held by alumni of this program include:

  • Reporter for American Public Media’s Marketplace, Los Angeles, CA

  • Program director at Helmsley Charitable Trust, New York, NY

  • Director of cross agency partnerships at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s Center for Health Equity, New York, NY

  • Executive director of LivableStreets Alliance, Cambridge, MA

  • Analyst in the urban investment group at Goldman Sachs

Faculty & Staff

IHP Cities in the 21st Century: People, Planning & Politics

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.

Kelly Rosenthal, MS
Program Director
Nicholas Eppel
Country Coordinator, South Africa
Sam Ryals
Program Manager
Sonny Singh, MEd
Coordinator, New York
Merrit Corrigan
Coordinator, Jackson, Mississippi
Nombuso Mathibela
Coordinator, Johannesburg, South Africa

Discover the Possibilities

  • Cost & Scholarships

    SIT Study Abroad is committed to making international education accessible to all students. Scholarship awards generally range from $500 to $5,000 for semester programs and $500 to $3,000 for summer programs. This year, SIT will award more than $1.5 million in scholarships and grants to SIT Study Abroad students.

    See Full Breakdown

    Explore a Day in the Life of an IHP student!

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