Interdisciplinary PhD Program in Urban Design & Planning

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The Ph.D. in Urban Design and Planning at the University of Washington is one of 39 Ph.D. programs in urban and regional planning in North America, and one of the oldest, founded in 1967.

This program brings together faculty from disciplines ranging from Architecture to Sociology to focus on the interdisciplinary study of urban problems and interventions. Covering scales from neighborhoods to metropolitan areas, the program addresses interrelationships between the physical environment, the built environment, and the social, economic, and political institutions and processes that shape urban areas. The breadth of this program permits students to pursue doctoral studies in the various aspects of urban design and planning as well as in a number of related social science, natural resource, and engineering areas.

The Program seeks to prepare scholars who can advance the state of research, practice, and education related to the built environment and its relationship to society and nature in metropolitan regions throughout the world. The program provides a strong interdisciplinary educational experience that draws on the resources of the entire University, and on the laboratory provided by the Seattle metropolitan region and the Pacific Northwest. The program emphasizes the educational values of interdisciplinarity, intellectual leadership and integrity, and the social values of equity, democracy and sustainability. It seeks to promote deeper understanding of the ways in which public decisions shape and are shaped by the urban physical, social, economic, and natural environment. The program envisions its graduates becoming leaders in the international community of researchers, practitioners and educators who focus on improving the quality of life and environment in metropolitan regions.

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This research cluster focuses on the interactions between urban system dynamics, ecosystem function, and human wellbeing across multiple spatial and time scales. It is grounded in the emerging science of coupled human-natural systems and its interface with the theories and policies of planning and design. The conceptualization of human wellbeing draws on theories from preventive medicine and health promotion, which address both physical and mental health at the individual and the group levels.

This research cluster inquires into the social, political and cultural norms and functions of planning and other forms of spatial collective and cumulative individual actions, manifest in the community, city and region. The cluster addresses core problems of how entities acting at these scales negotiate or contest access to urban space, and participate in economic, housing, real estate, and community development. Concerns include social and economic vitality of city regions; urban design as an expression of socio-political relationships; equity in benefits and access across economic groups and geography; gentrification pressures; addressing market failure; and assessing, apportioning, and reducing risk.

This research cluster examines the connection between urban (built) environment and transportation at scales ranging from neighborhood to metropolitan region. Drawing from multiple disciplines including behavioral sciences, economics, geography, engineering, and public health, it explores ways to improve the spatial organization of urban activities to make cities more accessible, viable, and sustainable.