Paris: Urbanism

The group poses for a photo on the beach.

Program Term:


Language Requirement:


Application Deadline:


Please note: Offered in alternating years. The next program will run in Autumn 2024.

The College’s Urbanism sequence in Paris provides undergraduate students with the opportunity to conduct a multidisciplinary study of the dynamism of cities.

    Cities have long been an object of study, from artistic inquiry, to historical interpretation, to scientific exploration. Cities and their components are also the subjects of normative theorizing: proposals for how cities ought to be designed. Most recently, cities have become intertwined with concepts of equity and sustainability—that cities should function as places of resiliency, social diversity, and local economic strength. These explorations and design ideals are reflective of broader social, cultural, and political movements that have long yearned for an urbanism that sustains a high quality of life.

    The Urbanism sequence integrates three disciplinary approaches: the history of cities, the theoretical basis of urban dynamics, and the normative understanding of cities as objects of planning and design. These three approaches—history, theory, design—will make use of a range of conceptual frameworks and methodologies important to the study of cities.

    Apart from classroom work, the Urbanism program offers a series of excursions to sites of academic and cultural interest within and around Paris. Indeed, Paris itself plays a central role in components of the curriculum—the local urban context will offer a grounded exploration of urban historical, theoretical, and normative context. Students will be expected to make full use of the city’s cultural resources.

    Autumn 2024 Faculty and Courses:

    • HIST/ANTH/CEGU 23210: Urban History (Leora Auslander)  
      Designed in relation to the following two segments of the three-part urbanism sequence, this history course has three main goals: 1) to give you a sense of how people conceptualized, inhabited, and mobilized urban space in Europe, with a focus on France, from the Middle Ages to the Cold War; 2) to show how the past shapes the present and future of the city, including political and commemorative practices; 3) and, to sketch how historians think about cities. The course is chronological in organization, but each class also focusses on a different theme – the place of politics, religion, migration, culture, and commerce in the transformation of urban forms and experiences. Taking advantage of being in Paris, this course makes full use of the city, including: an investigation of Art Nouveau architecture; a tour of Jewish and Muslim Paris; a visit of two key memorials in the suburb of Drancy; and, a morning spent at a relic of the 1931 Colonial Exposition. You will also have an assignment that will take you into the city. Our first day-long field trip will take us to the medieval town of Provins, the second to the port city of Le Havre that was entirely reimagined after its total destruction in WWII. (Both are World Heritage sites.)
    • ANTH/HIST/CEGU 23825: Social Theory of the City (Alan Kolata)  
      “To think about the city is to hold and maintain its conflictual aspects: constraints and possibilities, peacefulness and violence, meetings and solitude, gatherings and separation, the trivial and the poetic, brutal functionalism and surprising improvisation.” —Henri Lefebrve  
      About fifteen years ago, humankind passed a significant threshold: in 2008 more than 50% of the world’s population lived and worked in cities. The proportion of urban dwellers continues to accelerate. According to projections by the World Bank, rapid urbanization and the overall growth of the world’s population will add another 2.5 billion people to urban populations by 2050, with nearly 90 percent of that increase concentrated in Asia and Africa. Increasingly, to understand and to navigate the contemporary world requires deep familiarity with city life. This intensive course explores the phenomenon of cities and city life from various sociological and anthropological perspectives. The course analyzes major theoretical frameworks concerned with urban forms, institutions, economic structures and social experiences as well as particular instances of city life. We conclude with reflections on the future and fate of cities. The course will consist of brief orienting lectures, class discussion of selected texts concerned with urban phenomena and social theories of the city, and student presentations of their chosen urban ethnography/theory project. In addition to excursions into Paris associated with the urban ethnography project, we will take an extended, four-day field trip to Manchester and Liverpool in the first week of the course to examine the social impacts of the 19th c. industrial revolution on emergent forms of city life that still shape our contemporary world.
    • CEGU/GLST/PBPL 22312: Cities, Nature and the Planet (Sabina Shaikh)  
      Cities face major challenges in addressing environmental risk and vulnerability, but also great opportunity to reconsider the design, planning and economic systems upon which they have traditionally relied. This course takes a contemporary look into how urbanization affects planetary health, focusing on cities as sites of global resource extraction, waste generation, biodiversity loss, and increasing social inequality and climate vulnerability; but also as centers of population, innovation and social organization, which can facilitate climate solutions. Using a range of social science approaches and methods, students will consider critiques of historical urban planning and linear city resource economies, and analyze contemporary approaches related to climate action, green space planning, and nature-based solutions, with specific attention on environmental goals and equity outcomes. Through critical exploration of both historical urban planning, and contemporary frameworks for sustainable city agenda setting, students will consider the environmental past, present and future of global cities. In Autumn 2024, this course will be part of the Paris Urbanism Study Abroad program. Students will focus on Paris but take a comparative look at cities across the Global North and Global South.

    All participants also take a French language course.

    Headquarters for the College’s study abroad programs in Paris is the University of Chicago Center in Paris, the University’s research and teaching arm in Europe. Situated in the thirteenth arrondissement, the Center in Paris is part of an ambitious intellectual project along the river Seine, including the Bibliothèque Nationale and a new home for Université Paris Cité. The Center in Paris features classrooms, offices for faculty and graduate students, computer facilities, a small library, and an apartment for the faculty director. For participants in Chicago’s programs, the Center in Paris provides a focus for academic activities, a central meeting place, and a continuing Chicago “presence” within one of the major capitals of Europe.

    Students in the Urbanism in Paris program are housed in a residence hall within the Cité Internationale Universitaire (Cité). The Cité, a park-like residential complex in the fourteenth arrondissement, is the international student campus in Paris, though French students also live there. Students reside in single rooms with a private bath and have access to Cité facilities, including a library, theater, laundry, and athletic facilities. Students will have access to common kitchens in the residence halls and can purchase inexpensive meals at the Cité’s restaurant universitaire.

    It is important to recognize the cultural context of student housing in France and understand that the amenities of dormitory facilities may vary. Although some of these differences may take some getting used to, remember that cultural differences extend to all aspects of your experience abroad. Having realistic expectations for your term in Paris will help you approach the study abroad experience with a positive attitude.

    Participants in the Urbanism program remain registered as full-time students in the College. They receive one credit for each of the four courses offered through the program. The non-language courses have been pre-approved for use in their respective majors. The use of any of these courses in another major is subject to the approval of the undergraduate chair of the respective department. All courses are usable, without further approval, as general electives. The language course will normally count as an elective. Course titles, units of credit, and grades are placed on the College transcript.

    Please note that these courses may not be used to satisfy the general education social sciences requirement.

    Study abroad students pay regular College tuition, a program fee, and a nonrefundable study abroad administrative fee. The tuition and program fee are paid in conformity with the home campus payment schedule, and the nonrefundable study abroad administrative fee is submitted when accepting a place in a program. Precise figures for the Urbanism program during the 2024–2025 year are listed below:

    Autumn tuition: as set by the Bursar’s Office

    Study abroad administrative fee: $675

    Paris Urbanism program fee: $5,960

    Program fee includes:

    Out-of-pocket expenses include:

    • round-trip airfare to and from the program site
    • passport/visa fees
    • transportation on site
    • meals
    • course materials
    • personal entertainment and travel
    • communications (including cell phone usage)
    • health insurance and upfront payments for care
    • other miscellaneous expenses 

    Previous program participants report spending in the range of $200 to $250 per week on meals and incidentals while on the program, though frugal students may spend less, and others could spend much more. Bear in mind that the cost of living in Paris is relatively high and that, while it is possible to live frugally, it is also possible to run short of money if you are unwary. It is therefore essential that you budget your funds prudently, apportioning your resources so that they last for the duration of the program. If you are planning to travel before or after the program or on weekends, you should budget accordingly.

    Study abroad students retain their financial aid eligibility. For more information about financial aid resources, please see our Tuition, Fees, and Funding section.

    The Urbanism program is open to University of Chicago undergraduate students only. Applications from outside the University are not accepted.

    The program is designed for undergraduates in good academic and disciplinary standing who are beyond their first year in the College. While the program stipulates no minimum grade-point average, an applicant’s transcript should demonstrate that they are a serious student who will make the most of this opportunity. Because the program courses (aside from the French class) are taught in English, there is no language prerequisite, although students are encouraged to take French on campus before the program begins.

    Each application is examined on the basis of the student’s scholastic record and personal statement. If you are interested in applying for this program please fill out the online application.

    To discuss the Paris Urbanism program and the possibility of participating, please contact Damaris Crocker De Ruiter.