Cities and Metropolitan Areas

The Department of Geography and Geographic Information Science (GGIS) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign offers a graduate program leading to both Master and Ph.D. degrees, with specialization in the study of cities and metropolitan areas.

The program 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


The Cities and Metropolitan Areas program recognizes the dramatic growth in the size, number, and population of cities across the globe in the last ten years as the influence of cities across regions and nations deepens. This track examines the ever-evolving form, function, problems, and possibilities in these places. Empirical focus extends to cities and their relations as they operate in North America, the global north, and the global south. Scholarly work in this track rests on the belief that robust theory and incisive empiricism are equally important elements to deeply understanding the current nuances of cities, their processes, and their relations.

Research methods used in this track to advance understanding of cities and metropolitan regions embrace a diverse set of tools and techniques, centering around the synergistic strengths of qualitative, quantitative, and GIS applications. Qualitative techniques (including field observation, ethnographic analysis, open-ended interviewing, survey research, archival search, and discourse analysis), quantitative techniques (including descriptive and inferential statistics, spatial analysis, analytic modeling, social network analysis), and geographic information systems analysis are equally important approaches. 

Program Emphases

  1. Spatial access to health care
    • Socio-spatial segregation and wellness
    • Social justice and health care provision
    • Neighborhoods and Health
    • Environment and health
  2. Urban Governance and Politics                  
    • Regimes of power and city redevelopment
    • Discourses of city growth and city redevelopment
    • Urban economic development and politics
    • City policing strategies and social justice
    • New and emerging suburban socio-political trends
    • Urban political ecology             
  3. Urban Physical and Social Transformation          
    • City spatial structure
    • City gentrification
    • Creative city making
    • New patterns of segregation
    • Race theory
  4. Critical Studies of Urban Transportation and Mobilities           
    • New infrastructural provision
    • Critical perspectives on infrastructure and economic development
    • Mobilities of people and freight
    • Accessibility for different social groups (by race, class, gender, ethnicity)
  5. Globalization, Neoliberalism, and the City        
    • City-global economic relations
    • Changing neoliberal political dynamics
    • Politics of the local urban state
    • Neoliberalism, ghettoization, and incarceration
    • Cities and the global South

All five emphases are concerned with geographical change, conflict, and development in both historical and contemporary contexts.

Master's Program

Students must meet all GGIS requirements for the Master program, including Geography 471 (Introduction to Contemporary Geographic Thought), a GIS class, and Geography 491 (Research in Geography), or their equivalent. Students can pursue the Thesis option or the Exam Option for the MA Degree. The thesis option may be required for entry into subsequent PhD programs.

Ph.D. Program

Students must meet all GGIS requirements for the PhD in Geography including GEOG 471 (Introduction to Contemporary Geographic Thought) and GEOG 491 (Research in Geography), or their equivalent. The dissertation must be within the advising competence of the faculty in the program and is expected to be an original contribution to the field and to involve the examination of geographic processes using appropriate research methodology. Advanced courses offered in the department:

  • GEOG 410: The Geography of Development and Underdevelopment
  • GEOG 412: Geospatial Technology and Society
  • GEOG 438: Geography of Health Care
  • GEOG 439: Health Applications of GIS
  • GEOG 446: Sustainable Planning Seminar
  • GEOG 465: Transportation and Sustainability
  • GEOG 482: Challenges of Sustainability
  • GEOG 483: Urban Geography
  • GEOG 484: Cities, Crime, and Space
  • GEOG 520: Political Ecology
  • GEOG 556: Regional Science Methods
  • GEOG 557: Seminar in Regional Science
  • GEOG 560: Spatial Epidemiology
  • GEOG 570: Advanced Spatial Analysis
  • GEOG 587: Qualitative Research Methods
  • GEOG 594: Seminar in Social Geography: the Turbulent City
  • GEOG 594: Seminar in Social Geography: the Poststructuralist City
  • GEOG 595: Advanced Studies in Geography
  • GEOG 595: Seminar: The Urban Environment
  • GEOG 595: Seminar: Mobilities

Related Courses Offered in Cognate Departments

  • AAS 479: Race, Medicine and Society
  • ANTH 557: Social Construction of Space
  • ANTH 565: Race and Cultural Critique
  • PS 415: Neighborhoods and Politics
  • SOC 421: Racial and Ethnic Familieis
  • SOC 472: Urban Communities and Public Policy
  • SOC 521: Sociology of Race and Racism
  • SOC 578: Ethnography Urban Communities
  • UP 406 : Urban Ecology
  • UP 407: State and Local Public Finance
  • UP 420: Planning for Historic Preservation
  • UP 423: Introduction to International Planning
  • UP 533: Community in American Society
  • UP 535: Local Policy & Immigration
  • UP 546: Land Use Policy and Planning
  • UP 547: Regional Planning and Policy
  • UP 552: Regional Development Theory
  • UP 587: Qualitative Research Methods
  • UP 589: Research Design and Methods

Participating Faculty

  • Julie Cidell
  • Brian Jefferson
  • Mei-Po Kwan
  • Sara McLafferty
  • David Wilson

Affiliate Faculty

  • Faranak Miraftab, Urban and Regional Planning

For More Information

For information on admission to the department, including financial aid opportunities, visit the Department of Geography and Geographic Information Science website or write:

Geography and Geographic Information Science
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Room 2044 Natural History Building
1301 W. Green Street
Urbana, IL 61801
email Graduate Program contact: Matt Cohn

Dr. Brian Jefferson, Director of Graduate Studies, can be reached at For further information on the Cities and Metropolitan Areas Program, contact a participating faculty member.