This program has been suspended for spring 2022.
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IHP Cities in the 21st Century

People, Planning & Politics

Explore major cities within the global economy and witness how citizens live, work, and organize to advance social justice in urban environments.

At a Glance




Relevant previous coursework recommended

Courses taught in



Feb 7 – May 23

Program Countries

India, South Africa, Spain

Program Base

South Africa, India, Spain

Critical Global Issue of Study

Development & Inequality

Development & Inequality Icon

Identity & Human Resilience

Identity & Human Resilience Icon


Why Study Cities in the 21st Century?

Cape Town, Bilbao, and Delhi: Through the prism of social justice, examine how global cities work and operate within the global economy. This program takes a holistic and interdisciplinary view of academic topics, drawing not only from articles and faculty lectures but also student observations, guest lectures, and field visits. Assignments typically involve written essays, oral presentations, and collaborative group work. Meet with thought leaders and academics, public agencies, planners, elected officials, nongovernmental organizations, and grassroots groups to see how urban citizens organize to envision, build and create more just cities. Along the way, you will focus on fieldwork methods, practice and ethics whilst completing a comparative project on a topic of your choice. By immersing yourself in these international cities undergoing rapid change, compare how global politics, economics, local geography, and culture shape social relations in cities across continents, and how each faces its own unique 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 in spring 2022.


  • Explore politics, economics, geography, and culture in the built environment.
  • Learn how to critically “read” a city and understand interconnected systems.
  • Meet renowned academics, thought leaders, elected officials, and NGOs.
  • Observe community activism, media, and businesses that make a culture thrive.
  • Live and study in three world cities undergoing rapid change and facing unique challenges.


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

Program Sites

South Africa: Cape Town

(5 weeks)

Witness how South Africa, grossly unequal by design, seeks to transform itself into a nation that bridges the urban-rural divide and provides equitable economic opportunity for all. Speak with local government leaders, social activists, and academics involved in Cape Town’s post-apartheid transformation. See the ways in which the social landscape is inscribed upon the geographic one and learn from community leaders in apartheid-legacy townships, a place of contradictions, learn while also experiencing the awe-inspiring beauty of Table Mountain and Cape Point, where the currents of the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet, as well as the charming cobblestone streets of Green Market Square.

India: Delhi

(5 weeks)

Examine the challenges and opportunities of Delhi, the capital city of India and confluence of history and modernity. The Master Plan for Delhi-2041 aims to deliver “housing for all” as well as upgrades to urban systems like traffic, water, and waste management, with a focus on using technology for sustainability. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to deepen inequality and the divide between the “haves and have-nots.” Meet with city planners, organizers, and NGOs to learn more about synergies and solutions.

Spain: Bilbao and Barcelona

(5 weeks)

Explore how Barcelona considers planning and preservation, environment and sustainability, transportation, well-being, and identity to balance the needs of people, institutions, corporations, and NGOs. Learn how civil society becomes part of the discussion about how cities function and how housing is—or is not—a right amid the pandemic and the related economic crises. In Catalonia’s capital city, you will explore a very different approach to the challenges facing international cities. Here, the theory of “the Right to the City” is ostensibly becoming reality under an administration led by Barcelona’s first female mayor. You will have opportunities to compare and contrast experiences in other cities, including Bilbao.

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 that shape cities’ development and urbanscapes. 
  • Assess how power differentials impact policy, development, and urban realities. 
  • Explore theoretical frameworks from a range of disciplines to engage with our own positionality in the global system and the inequalities laid bare in urban settings. 
  • Learn to “read” four cities as physical manifestations of dynamic historical, sociopolitical, and economic forces. 
  • Utilize a variety of methodological skills such as mapping, participant observation, interviewing, framing better questions, and formulating arguments.  
  • 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.


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.
  • With open minds, empathy, and courage, we facilitate intercultural understanding and respect for the commonalities and differences between people.
  • 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.
  • 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
(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? 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.

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. 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.

Contemporary Urban Issues

Contemporary Urban Issues – syllabus
(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 emphasizes the multi-disciplinary analysis of issues and integrates the experience-based learning of the semester.

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.

Homestays / Housing


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

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.

Nicholas Eppel
Country Coordinator, South Africa
Abid Siraj, MSW

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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