The 36-credit Master of Arts in Theories of Urban Practice program offers an innovative path for students interested in the critical study of design practices in the context of cities, urban space, and urban ecosystems. The program focuses on design-driven spatial and ecological innovation in relation to social justice, inclusion, and co-production of urban space.
This research-driven program is part of Parsons' School of Design Strategies (SDS), and shares a 12-credit core curriculum with the 60-credit, studio-based MS Design and Urban Ecologies program. Explore our
blog to learn more about the urban programs at Parsons and to see what students, faculty, and alumni are doing in NYC and around the world.
The MA Theories of Urban Practice program is for students who wish to pursue advanced studies in urbanism or careers as urban researchers, designers, teachers, design critics, policy advisors, and leaders of nonprofit organizations, public agencies, and private design and development firms. Students explore design as a vehicle and a catalyst for bringing together government agencies, community-based groups, civic associations, and the nonprofit and private sectors in co-creating and transforming urban and ecological networks. They devise progressive collaboration techniques to empower communities developing socially and ecologically sustainable urban systems including food production and distribution, housing, green spaces, and educational infrastructure.
Recent master’s theses range from a graphic memoir of a Kuwaiti oil town, created to include populations left out of official histories, to a curriculum that engages secondary students in city revitalization through neighborhood-based experiential learning to an interactive exhibition employing interview-based research to promote broader notions of urban diversity.
The program is housed in Parsons’ School of Design Strategies, an educational environment that fosters innovative thinking about and experimentation with the design of cities, services, and ecosystems. Accordingly, they can take a project-based studio in Parsons’ MS in Design and Urban Ecologies program, and have opportunities to participate in interdisciplinary projects offered throughout the university. Parsons is part of The New School, a pioneering university located in the heart of New York City that offers some of the nation’s best-respected programs in design, social sciences, liberal arts, performing arts, and management and policy.
Graduates pursue careers in urban design, city planning, government administration, nonprofit management, collaborative urbanism, teaching, research, and social enterprise. The program also prepares students to pursue doctoral studies at top universities around the world.
The Master of Arts degree is awarded for completion of 36 credits. A maximum of six credits of graduate-level coursework can be transferred from another institution. Students must maintain a 3.0 cumulative grade point average and fulfill all requirements in a timely manner.
In their first year, students choose an elective at Parsons that introduces them to the skills involved in the study and practice of urbanism.
In the spring semester of the first year of the program, each student chooses an elective course offered by another college of The New School. Examples include courses at the Milano School of International Affairs, Management, and Urban Policy; the Julien J. Studley Graduate Program in International Affairs; The New School for Social Research; and the Schools of Public Engagement.
If you are thinking about pursuing an MA in Theories of Urban Practice, please read below for answers to frequently asked questions about the program.
Since this program is transdisciplinary, students who participate in it have different backgrounds, including architecture, industrial design, history, philosophy, geography, anthropology, law, community development and organizing, social art, economics, communication design, and film. Students entering this program may have work experience in their fields.
While this program does draw upon fields and disciplines that are assumed to be under the broad umbrella of "urbanism," this is not explicitly an urban planning or urban design program. It is designed for students who want to understand, question, and challenge the constant shaping and reshaping of cities through urban planning, public policy, real estate development, architecture, and other forms of design. Students have the freedom to pursue their own interests and endeavors, allowing their past experiences to shape their work, leading to multiple ways of practicing. The MA in Theories of Urban Practice is interdisciplinary, meaning that applicants from all bachelor degrees are considered. The program promotes urban theory and practice as a field existing in multiple sectors with a great degree of overlap of disciplines.
The notion of design that the program employs moves beyond the limited scopes of professional design or planning. Design is a medium that brings together teaching, research, knowledge, and action in order to lead critical urban transformations. With its flexible approach to research topics and a curriculum that allows students to go beyond traditional disciplinary boundaries, the MA in Theories of Urban Practice allows students to explore a wide range of topics through electives. This flexibility provides students with a grounding in the field of urbanism while enabling them to benefit from areas and disciplines throughout Parsons and The New School at large.
The two programs are run by the same faculty, use the same space for courses, and share an educational philosophy that fosters social justice and community engagement. In addition, the faculty encourage cooperation between the programs in the form of events and activities, both formal and informal. The MA Theories of Urban Practice program is not studio based but instead relies on research-based projects and papers. Students in the MA program analyze and challenge current urban practices including policymaking, economic and social development, and professional urban design practice, both past and present. Students may propose practice-based thesis projects depending on their previous education and/or work experience. Students complete 36 credits during a two-year period, which gives them the opportunity to intern, work, or continue their artistic practice outside of the program should they choose to do so.
The work within compulsory courses of the first year focuses on locations in New York City and the surrounding areas, allowing students to take advantage of available resources such as nonprofits, community organizations, and city agencies. However, students are encouraged to investigate a wide range of global topics to learn from and understand different sociospatial politics and culturally motivated approaches and can also explore the possibility of focusing on an international location in their thesis fieldwork. The program also offers opportunities for working abroad (see Travel Opportunities, below).
Projects vary greatly between classes and elective courses. Student will be expected to carry out advanced research using different methods and tools such as ethnography, mapping, site analysis, historical, quantitative, and qualitative research. The findings can lead to recommendations, interventions or demonstrate a different understanding of a certain topic, site, historical moment, phenomenon, etc. All projects should have the objective to create new forms of knowledge or different tools that can inform ways of practicing as an urbanist.
Travel opportunities in the form of individual exchange agreements, graduate student travel funds, and other possibilities are offered by centers at The New School. Students interested in traveling for their research may also work with the Tishman Environment and Design Center and the India China Institute at The New School. Both of these groups offer fellowships, travel grants, and scholarships to contribute to students' scholarly work. The urban programs at The New School also offer a three-credit global intensive elective each semester (locations vary) that provides students with a two-week travel component to their coursework.
Throughout the two years, students carry out both group and individual projects. There is a strong emphasis on the benefits of collaboration and peer learning between students, as each brings different kinds of expertise to one project. The thesis can be completed as either an individual or a group project.
The final year focuses on providing support for the student's final thesis through a series of compulsory classes on thesis preparation and advanced research methods. Students are still able to take one elective each term. The thesis research starts at the beginning of the year, and students are expected to achieve a substantial amount of work, including theoretical analysis and development of a theoretical framework, local and/or global case studies, recommendations, and (optionally) an intervention. Different formats and mediums, such as audio or video documentaries and curatorial practices, can also be used in the thesis.
The MA Theories of Urban Practice program seeks students who are critical, creative, and curious. Critical students are willing to challenge the status quo, including fundamental assumptions about how cities are designed and built. Creative students have the capacity to explore a wide range of ideas and experiment with unconventional strategies and practices. Curious students have a genuine desire to open their minds and learn about different ways of thinking and different types of urban practice all over the world.
The application deadline is January 1. To be most competitive for admission and merit scholarship consideration, please apply before the deadline. We will continue to review applications submitted after the January 1 priority deadline pending space availability in the program. The Admission Committee will make a decision on your application only after all the required materials have been received. Spring term admission is not offered for this program.
Financial Aid Deadline
All applicants selected for admission into our program are considered for a merit scholarship award that is determined by the strength of their application. Scholarship award notification is communicated at the same time as the admission decision. International students are eligible only for merit scholarships. If you are a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen, we encourage you to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which can be found on the Web at
www.fafsa.gov. The FAFSA is available each year on October 1. You do not need to wait for an admission decision to apply for federal aid; we recommend submitting by our FAFSA priority deadline of February 1 for fall applicants. (The New School’s federal school code is 002780.)
All applicants are required to apply online. Save your work frequently and print a copy for your records. You must complete all required fields and uploads prior to submission.
Any additional supporting documents that need to be sent by mail must include an
Application Materials Cover Sheet. All supporting materials must be received before your application can be reviewed.
See below for additional information regarding submission of transcripts and recommendations.
Learn more about what Parsons students, faculty, and alumni are doing throughout the city and around the world.
Explore the Theories of Urban Practice Community
SDS Urban Council
Gabriela Rendon, Co-Chair
Evren Uzer, Co-Chair
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