IHP Cities in the 21st Century

People, Planning & 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



Jan 29 – May 13

Program Countries

Argentina, South Africa, Spain, United States

Program Base

USA, Argentina, Spain, South Africa

Critical Global Issue of Study

Development & Inequality

Development & Inequality Icon

Identity & Human Resilience

Identity & Human Resilience Icon


Why Study Cities in the 21st Century?

Through the prism of social justice, examine how four truly 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 academic topics, drawing not only from articles and faculty lectures but also student observations, guest lectures, and the homestay experiences. Meet with thought leaders and academics, public agencies, planners, elected officials, non-governmental organizations, and grassroots groups to see how urban citizens organize to envision, build, and create more just cities. Explore how COVID-19 realities have reshaped urban spaces. Along the way, you will focus on fieldwork methods, practice, and ethics while completing an independent comparative project on a topic of your choice. By immersing yourself in four 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 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.


  • 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 NGO staff members.
  • Observe the 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 or other background in urban studies, anthropology, sociology, political science, or other related fields is strongly recommended.

Program Sites

United States: New York

(10 days)

This program starts in arguably the most prominent “world” city in the United States. In New York, 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 local issues and conditions at the granular level while gaining insights into how, while every city is local, it is also a 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 extraction economy; large landowners; an influential Catholic church; charismatic political leadership and military dictatorships; a proud 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.

Spain: Barcelona

(4+ weeks)

Barcelona’s origins predate the Roman Empire. The city has long 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 international cities, where the theory of “The Right to the City” is ostensibly becoming reality under an administration led by Barcelona’s first female mayor.

South Africa: Cape Town

(4+ 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. Experience 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, and a number of apartheid-legacy townships.

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.


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.
  • 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


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 & 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
Program Director
Carolina Rovetta, MFA
Mauro Castro Coma, PhD
Country Coordinator, Spain
Nicholas Eppel
Country Coordinator, 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 nearly 1 million in scholarships and grants to SIT Study Abroad students.

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    Explore a Day in the Life of an IHP student!

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