May 11, 2017 at 12:00am ET By Alyssa Walker

Turns out, human networks are important—and the biggest knots of them are in cities.

A combination of urban planning, design, architecture, and sociology, urbanism takes an interdisciplinary look at how people who live in towns and cities interact with their built environments.  What’s at stake?  Human networks. 

As Margaret Mead said, “A city is a place where there is no need to wait for next week to get the answer to a question, to taste the food of any country, to find new voices to listen to and familiar ones to listen to again.”

Let’s take a closer look at five reasons you should study urbanism—the study of cities, and how they—and the people in them—tick.


1. Cities are population centers

Over half the world’s population lives in cities—at least 54 percent as of 2014.  By 2050, that number is expected to hover near 70 percent.  In 2014, the United Nations predicted that China, India, and Nigeria will see the largest urban population growth.    

Where are the most populous cities?  Asia currently has over 53 percent of the world’s urban population.  Europe follows with 14 percent, and Latin America and the Caribbean carry a combined 13 percent. 

Also of note: currently, there are 28 mega cities with populations higher than 10 million inhabitants.  Where are they?  Asia has 16 mega-cities, Latin America has 4, Africa and Europe each have one, and there are two in North America. 

The UN predicts that the world will have at least 41 mega-cities, each with a minimum of 10 million occupants.  It’s no surprise then that universities around the world offer relevant Master’s degrees. Study Urban Management in India, Urban Design in Scotland, Architectural and Urban Studies in Turkey, or Planning in Australia.


2. Be part of something big

To study urbanism is to play a role in how the planet demands—and uses— resources.  The rise of urban populations (see #1) contributes to a rising need for resources for housing, food, and transportation.  Are those resources renewable or not? 

In cities, environmental, economic, and social sustainability need to be addressed and planners are turning to smart solutions for smarter cities.  This requires input from an educated public, places for people to live and work, technology for people to move around, and resources for thoughtful growth and development.

Want to be part of creating a sustainable planet?  Start making cities sustainable by studying urbanism—and you’ll feel larger than life.


3. Opportunities across disciplines

Sure, urban planning, architecture, and design, and urban studies are par for the course.  But urbanists also need folks in sustainability, city design, social science, environmental systems, and transportation, not to mention coding.  Cities run on systems largely influenced by computer technology.  Entrepreneurship and innovation play a role, too—because part of your job is to convince inhabitants of cities that the places they live are worth preserving and improving.  

Did we mention that you can study urbanism online? Check out the LaSalle University in Barcelona, which offers an online master in Environmental Architecture and Sustainable Urbanism.


4. Great job prospects

The need for urbanism is bigger than ever.  (See #1).  Programs like University College Dublin’s Master in Regional and Urban Planning give you the skills to  get paid—and get paid well—for working to revitalize, replace, and repurpose the mechanisms that create infrastructure, schools, and businesses.  Help plan the shape of cities by learning and re-shaping the process of permitting, zoning, developing, preserving, landscaping, cityscaping, and overseeing projects that determine the use of space and place in the world’s largest urban areas.  The world needs thoughtful, creative talent in urban studies—and will pay well for it.


5. Changing the shape of communities

Why should you study urbanism?  You have the chance to make a positive impact on a continually evolving place—cities change literally every second.  People move in and out of them.  Buildings change, are demolished and re-purposed.  Parts of cities change, too. 

With programs like the MSc in City and Regional Planning from CalPoly, you can help prepare socioeconomic and physical design plans on a large scale that make improve the quality of life for people.  You can preserve natural space, encourage economic growth, and mobilize a thoughtful public.  And when you do that?   You make the world just that much better.

Urbanism needs smart, thoughtful, innovative thinkers and doers across wide disciplines who want to improve human networks.  What are you waiting for?   

Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.

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