Introducing the Cities and Metropolitan Areas Graduate Specialization

Posted on 01/01/1800 | Matt Cohn
New York MTA. Photo: Dr. Brian Jefferson

This fall, the Department of Geography and Geographic Information Science introduced Cities and Metropolitan Areas, a new area of specialization in our graduate program that will put us at the forefront of contemporary urban and metropolitan studies, in America and beyond. Our department has developed this area of specialization just as cities across the globe are experiencing significant regional and global change. More than sixty percent of the earth’s population now lives in cities, and a host of problems are threatening their environments and communities. Our array of urban scholars, both faculty and graduate students, are excited to critically appraise these cities and seek solutions to their multiplicity of problems.

This new graduate concentration has five emphases:
• Urban Health and Quality of Life
• Urban Governance and Politics
• Race, Class, and City Policing
• Critical Studies of Urban Transportation and Mobilities
• Globalization, Neoliberalization, and the City Dr.

David Wilson spearheaded this specialization’s development, working closely with GGIS and affiliated faculty to organize its academic and conceptual contents.

Dr. Brian Jefferson, our newest faculty member, is a key player in the Cities and Metropolitan Areas concentration. He joins the department with teaching and research interests in urban social theory, political economy of disenfranchised urban communities, and current policing practices and their outcomes in cities. Brian will teach graduate courses in urban political and social theory, city regulative policies and strategies, and incarceration systems in cities. Other faculty and graduate students in the Cities and Metropolitan Areas concentration will use geographic research methods, such as field observation, and open-ended interviewing to critically examine social, political, and geographic processes in global cities.

Our department faculty specializing in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) will also utilize the University of Illinois’ renowned computing resources to graphically illustrate how global cities and their inhabitants interact with each other, and with the rest of the world.

For example, Dr. Mei-Po Kwan’s research examines how social class and privilege affect one’s movement within an urban area. She will contribute to the Cities and Metropolitan Areas concentration by critically addressing health, social, transport, economic, and environmental issues in urban areas through the application of innovative GIS methods. Her own work, and collaborations with GGIS faculty and graduate students will increase our understanding of how social differences (e.g., gender, race, ethnicity, and religion) shape urban residents' everyday experiences, perceptions, and use of the built environment.

The Cities and Metropolitan Areas concentration is already flourishing, and there is a wealth of scholarship and activity on campus, and collaboration with other institutions. In September 2014, Dr. Wilson and the Heidelberg University (Germany) Center for American Studies co-organized a conference at the Illini Union, entitled: Making Creative Cities: Tensions, Contradictions, Possibilities. Research faculty from the University of Illinois, including Dr. Wilson and Dr. Jefferson, and international scholars from Heidelberg University and other institutions gathered to discuss pressing issues such as gentrification, urban inequality, and the controversial drive to forge “creative cities.” The conference was a great success! More than 100 people attended, and important discussions and debates marked the morning and afternoon sessions.

We are thrilled to welcome Cities and Metropolitan Areas to our already productive body of faculty research, and it marks one more addition to a vibrant department that specializes in timeliness, theoretical depth, and the search for solutions to vexing local and global issues.