The city is among the most fundamental of human institutions. Throughout history, cities have been sites of innovation in economic, political and cultural life. They have been centres of trade, seats of empire, and the locale of scientific, social, and artistic creativity. Increasingly, cities have also become key sites for understanding contemporary social life. In the 21st century the future is urban. Over half of the world's population (since 2007/08) now lives in cities that are often located in large urban regions in the global south. It is estimated that by 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population will live in urban areas, resulting in a very different urban geography from that of the 20th century.

Often, as is the case in the Canadian context, urban regions are marked by significant social and cultural complexities. These include increasing levels of inequality, with striking contrasts of wealth and poverty, as well as a challenging array of planning, political, governance, and environmental concerns. These themes, from the scale of the global to that of the neighborhood, are the focus of York University’s Urban Studies Program.

The program offers a framework for an undergraduate liberal arts education based in the study of modern metropolitan life in all its forms and of the social and spatial fabrics of the wide range of urban areas that exist. Drawing on the work of scholars and researchers who have explored the urban field from a range of perspectives in the social sciences and humanities, the program’s courses encourage a critical appreciation both of the everyday life that we experience as city-dwellers today and of the modern city in historical and comparative context.

An important aspect of the Urban Studies Program is its strong emphasis on first-hand exploration of the city as a complement to classroom and library learning. The program’s “core” courses include tutorial or small-group workshops focused on the practical crafts of urban research and on students’ personal fieldwork projects.  This generally involves students spending time immersed in one of the world's best-equipped urban laboratories, the Greater Toronto Area, as well as trips to other cities such as Buffalo and Montreal. Opportunities also exist through the iBA to travel to cities outside North America.

The program offers a good foundation for graduate study in such fields as urban planning, community development, municipal affairs, architecture, international development, and other social science disciplines, and for professions in such areas as education or journalism. Program graduates often pursue careers in urban planning or other areas of city government, in private sector urban design or urban development work, in agencies concerned with community development or environmental management, or in departments of the provincial and federal governments. Students may explore these possibilities in the program’s 4000-level work-placement course. The program also has other skill and professional based courses to help students prepare for life beyond university.

Some of the many interests pursued by students in the Urban Studies Program are reflected in the research topics chosen by those in the program’s senior seminar. These topics have included studies of Toronto communities such as Cabbagetown, Kensington Market and Woodbridge; the development of Toronto’s downtown and of emerging suburban downtowns in North York, Mississauga and Vaughan; the ways in which deindustrialization and globalization have affected Toronto’s waterfront and old industrial suburbs; planning and architecture in Toronto’s Spadina district, Regent Park’s public-housing neighbourhood, and in a major new suburban development in Markham; everyday life in Toronto’s South Asian, Portuguese, Chinese and Italian communities; the SkyDome/Roger’s Centre and the St. Clair Avenue streetcar line; and many other themes about people and places in the Toronto urban region.

Students with an interest in international studies may wish to pursue the International BA (iBA).  The iBA is a unique option for students who recognize the value of a global perspective for their future career prospects and who desire an opportunity to experience daily life and study in urban contexts outside Canada.  This option combines a strongly international program of studies at York and a requirement to develop or improve language skills, with a full term abroad at one of York’s many exchange partner institutions.