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New Ph.D. Program Trains Students In Tackling Complex Urban Challenges

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Jan Nijman, Director, Urban Studies Institute, Georgia State University

Jan Nijman

By Jan Nijman, Director and Distinguished University Professor, Urban Studies Institute at Georgia State University

This fall, Georgia State University will offer a new Ph.D. program in Urban Studies next fall, the first of its kind in Georgia and only the second in the southeastern United States.

The program will give students at the highest level an understanding of cities, how they work, how they are shaping our society and how they can be managed in ways that promote economic resilience, social inclusion and environmental sustainability. It joins our undergraduate and master’s degree programs.

The Ph.D. program will be taught at the Urban Studies Institute in the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, which ranks third in the nation in urban policy programs. The new program underscores the ascent of Georgia State as one of the nation’s premier urban universities, one that is closely entwined with the growth and development of greater Atlanta. It has been started with support from a range of stakeholders in the Atlanta region, including the Atlanta Regional Commission, the Atlanta Community Foundation, the Federal Reserve Bank, Georgia Power, the Food Well Alliance, the Greater Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, the Urban Land Institute and others.

Every year, hundreds of millions of people are moving to cities, particularly in China, India, Southeast Asia and many African countries. In the United States, cities are restructuring and changing society at large. The rise of the new economy, which is heavily reliant on networking, is biased towards high-density urban areas. Most who can afford it, particularly young people, choose to live and work in urban environs. We don’t have to look far for an example because metro Atlanta today accounts for nearly two-thirds of Georgia’s economy.

With prospects for urban growth, economic opportunities and all the advantages of urban living, come some very substantial challenges. The urban-rural divide is widening and creating major regional imbalances. In Georgia and elsewhere, many rural areas witness shrinking job markets, dwindling populations, reduced services and growing poverty.

This urban-rural divide plays a big part in the polarization that has affected the U.S. in recent years. In urban areas, the scourge of inequality is there for all to see, though for some it requires stepping outside of their neighborhood bubble. Atlanta’s income distribution is roughly twice as unequal as that of the United States at large, and according to some measures it is the most unequal major city in the nation. The life expectancy in some of our city’s neighborhoods is lower than in Bangladesh. In others, it is higher than in Switzerland.

These and other opportunities and challenges of urbanization will be a focus of the program. It will stand out because of its transdisciplinary approach, involving and collaborating with important stakeholders in Atlanta and elsewhere. It aims to deliver professionals, researchers, teachers and policymakers who will contribute to the advancement of urban scholarship and to the betterment of metro Atlanta and the urbanizing world beyond.

For more information about the new program and Urban Studies Institute, visit https://urban.gsu.edu. Applications are open for the Ph.D. and master’s degree programs.

Jan Nijman is the director of the Urban Studies Institute and Distinguished University Professor of Geosciences. His research interests include urban theory, urban and regional development, and global comparative urban studies, with regional expertise and extensive field work experience in North America, West Europe and South Asia.

The Urban Studies Institute is part of Georgia State University’s strategic commitment to addressing the complex challenges of cities in the 21st century. To learn more about this strategic goal and outcomes, please visit https://strategic.gsu.edu/accomplishments/goal-4-accomplishments/.

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