This field aims to prepare students to undertake research related to urban areas and the problems that they face. Fundamentally, cities are about proximity and heterogeneity, which bring both benefits and costs. Bringing large numbers of diverse people together in small spaces means opportunities for exciting and productive interaction on the one hand, but also greater possibilities for conflict, contagion, and congestion on the other. We expect students to gain a solid understanding of these benefits and costs and how they are related.
To do so, students must have some knowledge of contributions from a variety of disciplines, including political science, economics, sociology, and history. But students are expected to achieve substantial expertise in the urban subfield of one of the core social science disciplines, understand its theories regarding cities, and be familiar with the leading empirical research. We expect students to appreciate, for instance, why cities exist in the first place and why some grow more rapidly than others. To what extent does the empirical literature provide support for different theories of growth? We will also assume knowledge of theories and evidence regarding urban spatial structure. For example: How do people and businesses sort themselves within urban areas? What drives these decisions and what are their consequences? How does the fragmented structure of American local government contribute to residential sorting? Finally, to assess the efficacy of different urban policies, students must clearly understand what research has taught us about urban political dynamics and the role that governmental and nonprofit organizations play in implementation.
The field is divided into two main parts. The first—cities and urban government—provides a foundation in urban growth and development, government, and public finance. The second half of the field focuses on specific policy areas. We include a broad array of issues, such as racial segregation, infrastructure, transportation, high housing costs, homelessness, crime, health problems, education, economic development, and poverty. The areas are tied together by their focus on the spatial aspects of these problems and the policies directed at them. What does theory and research tell us about the ways in which location affects these problems and the ways in which these problems affect location decisions in turn? We expect students to gain substantial expertise in three of these areas and to be sufficiently familiar with the others so as to understand their many interactions.
In advance of taking the exam, students should meet with faculty members supervising the field to discuss their course preparation and outside reading and to declare which three policy sub-areas they intend to focus on. While questions will not be limited to these areas, faculty will take into account student interests when writing and reading exams. Moreover, because of the broad nature of the field, the comprehensive exams will provide students with a significant degree of choice. The exam will include eight questions, from which students must answer three.