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IHP Cities in the 21st Century

People, Planning, and Politics

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

At a Glance




Relevant previous coursework recommended

Courses taught in



Sep 1 – Dec 14

Program Countries

Argentina, South Africa, Spain, United States

Program Base

USA, Argentina, Spain, South Africa

Critical Global Issue of Study

Development & Inequality

Identity & Human Resilience


Why Study Cities in the 21st Century?

Through the prism of social justice, examine how four global cities—New York, Buenos Aires, Barcelona, and Cape Town—work and operate within the global economy. This program takes a holistic and interdisciplinary view of critical urban issues, drawing not only from urban studies coursework but also student field-based observations, guided excursions, guest lectures, and homestay experiences. Meet with thought leaders and academics, public agencies, planners, elected officials, nonprofits, and grassroots movements to see how urban citizens organize to envision, build, and create more just cities. Along the way, you will focus on fieldwork methods, and ethics while completing a comparative research project on a topic of your choice. By immersing yourself in four truly international cities undergoing rapid change, compare how politics, economics, culture, and local history and geography interact with global forces to shape urban social relations, institutions, and the built environment in unique ways and with particular challenges.

Explore a Day in the Life of an IHP student!

Photos on this page may depict program sites from previous semesters. Please view the Program Sites section of this page to see where this program will travel.


  • Live and study in four global cities undergoing rapid change and facing unique challenges across four continents.
  • Explore how politics, economics, culture, and geography shape built urban environments.
  • Learn how to critically “read” a city and understand complex interconnected urban systems.
  • Meet renowned academics, innovative thinkers and activists, grassroots entrepreneurs, public officials, and NGO leaders.
  • Observe the community activism, political organizing, and social entrepreneurship that produce thriving urban environments.


None, but previous college-level coursework or other background in urban studies, including through anthropology, sociology, economics, political science, geography or other related fields in the social sciences is strongly recommended.

program map

Program Sites

United States: New York

(12 days)

This program starts in New York, arguably the most prominent global city in the United States. Interact with classmates and faculty while conducting fieldwork, exploring neighborhoods, visiting nongovernmental organizations, meeting with actors from the private sector, and hearing from public officials. Understand critical urban issues and conditions at the local level while gaining insights into how cities are also a crucial piece of the global puzzle.

Argentina: Buenos Aires

(4+ weeks)

The cosmopolitan capital city of Buenos Aires has a history with an enduring legacy: European-influenced architecture; an extractivist economy; large landowners; an influential Catholic church; military dictatorship; charismatic political leadership; a tradition of resistance and public protest; and a proud cultural heritage embedded in the tango. This context makes Buenos Aires a unique city in which to explore how political, socioeconomic, and cultural processes have shaped the reproduction of urban inequalities in the global south, and how people live in/through and challenge these inequalities.

Spain: Barcelona

(4+ weeks)

Barcelona’s origins predate the Roman Empire. The city has long been influential, both regionally in Catalonia and globally. One of the most densely populated cities in Europe, it is a place where progressive urban policies and practices are implemented and tested. Explore a very different approach to the challenges facing global cities, where the “Right to the City” was recently put into practice under an administration led by Barcelona’s first female mayor, and now fights to endure through shifting political currents.

South Africa: Cape Town

(4+ weeks)

Cape Town is world renowned for its awe-inspiring Table Mountain, sandy beaches, and Cape Point, where the currents of the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet. Yet, almost 30 years into democracy, the country is still grappling with the legacies of colonialism and Apartheid. Examine the role played by urban planning, politics, and power in creating the conditions for South Africa to be considered the most unequal country on Earth. Speak with academics, professionals, government officials, and social activists trying to transform the country into a nation that bridges the urban-rural divide and provides equitable opportunity for all.

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.


Program Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of the program, students will be able to: 

  • Analyze the processes and range of actors involved in shaping cities’ development and urbanscapes
  • Assess how social relations of power impact policy, development, and urban realities.
  • Learn to “read” four cities as physical manifestations of dynamic historical, geographic, cultural, and political-economic forces.
  • Utilize a variety of methodological skills such as participatory mapping, participant observation, and interviewing to conduct critical urban research.
  • Practice the values of our learning community in community interactions—in particular, humility, empathy, solidarity, self-reflection, respect, open-mindedness, reflection, embracing discomfort, and moving beyond individualism.

Read more about Program Learning Outcomes.


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.

This is SIT

  • We value active togetherness, reciprocity, and respect as the essential ingredients for building a sustainable community.
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  • With open minds, empathy, and courage, we facilitate intercultural understanding and respect for the commonalities and differences between people.
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  • We champion social inclusion & justice in all that we are and all that we do, from ensuring our community and our programs amplify the voices, agency, and dignity of all people to deliberately instilling the principles and practices of inclusion in all of our work.
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  • We are committed to human and environmental well-being through sustainability and contributing to a better world for all living and future generations.

Culture and Society of World Cities

Culture and Society of World Cities – syllabus
(URST3505 / 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? 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 space 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.

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 urbanization processes shape the evolution of cities. 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 conflictual process where competing agendas clash at multiple scales.

Contemporary Urban Issues

Urban Research Methods and Fieldwork Ethics
(ANTH3500 / 4 credits)

This course is designed to provide you with the tools and ethical
orientations to gather and analyze information/data, develop arguments and participate in debates about the future of the city. The focus of this course is the Comparative Analysis (CA) research project. The readings and activities in this course will provide you with the research skills and tools needed to identify and analyze challenges that are common to cities but also rooted in particular histories and social geographies.

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 on the history, theory, and practice of urban planning and sustainability. It employs a socio-ecological lens to emphasize how the physical elements of cities are related to and interact with the social, cultural, economic, and political aspects of cities in complex ways. The course unpacks both the possibilities and the challenges of creating more socially just, inclusive, and sustainable cities.

Homestays / Housing


Student accommodations will include a mix of homestays, hostels, guesthouses, and small hotels/dorms. Students will experience homestays where possible, given COVID-19, and will be oriented as they move from place to place.

More About Homestay Experiences:

Family structures will vary. For example, a host family may include a single mother of two small children, or a large extended family with many people coming and going. 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 you would 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.

In most cases, students will be placed in homestays in pairs, with placements made to best accommodate health concerns, including allergies or dietary needs. Information about homestay families will only be available upon arriving in each country.

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, and 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.

Nicolas Stahelin, EdD bio link
Nicolas Stahelin, EdD
Program Director
Corinna J. Moebius, PhD bio link
Corinna J. Moebius, PhD
Visiting Faculty
Carolina Rovetta, MFA bio link
Carolina Rovetta, MFA
Country Coordinator, Argentina
Sonny Singh, MFA bio link
Sonny Singh, MFA
Launch Coordinator
Nokubonga Ralayo bio link
Nokubonga Ralayo
Country Coordinator, South Africa
Mauro Castro Coma, PhD bio link
Mauro Castro Coma, PhD
Country Coordinator, Spain

Discover the Possibilities

  • Cost & Scholarships

    SIT Study Abroad is committed to ensuring that international education is within reach for all students. We believe in the transformative power of immersive, intercultural experiences and are dedicated to supporting students in their educational journey.

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    A critical step in preparing for your study abroad program is planning how you will maintain your health and wellbeing. Please review the following information carefully and contact [email protected] with any questions or concerns.

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    Explore a Day in the Life of an IHP student!

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