Theories of Urban Practice (MA)

  • The 36-credit Master of Arts in Theories of Urban Practice offers an innovative urban research program for students interested in the critical study of design practices in the context of cities, urbanization processes, and urban ecosystems as well as urban planning, policy, and governance. Students in the program come from diverse academic and professional backgrounds and are interested in employing or learning from critical urban practices committed to social, spatial, and environmental justice.

    Parsons is not currently admitting new students to this master’s degree program. Students interested in this graduate field of study should consider the MS Design and Urban Ecologies program, which shares a 12-credit core curriculum with the MA Theories of Urban Practice.

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    Transforming Urban Research

    The MA in Theories of Urban Practice focuses on the production of new knowledge of the urban. Combining urban research, fieldwork, policy, design, and activism, students investigate the evolution of urban practice and the contradictions within the urban field by unearthing root causes, suppressed histories, and emerging theories. This program is for students who wish to pursue careers as researchers, critics, policy advisors, journalists, curators, and leaders of public, nonprofit, and design organizations. Students devise progressive research methodologies and collaborate with communities and agencies at the forefront of urban transformation. Together they explore design as a catalyst for new urban practices and planning approaches that address today’s urban challenges.

    Revealing and Shaping the Urban Practice

    Students in this program become agents of change by designing and engaging in urban investigations that merge traditional fields such as urban studies, urban history, and urban theory through a design and spatial approach. Research projects have addressed diverse topics including social movements, urban governance, nonprofit management, socio-spatial design in the sharing economy, racial and gender injustices, logistics and politics of infrastructure, women-led urban movements and practices, climate change and environmental justice, securitization and militarization of cities, resistance against displacement, and alternative economies. Students combine urban studies with the study of areas such as politics, visual and social art, critical geography, media, security, and the environment.

    Social, Spatial, and Environmental Justice

    The MA in Theories of Urban Practice is housed in an academic environment that fosters innovative thinking and experimentation with the design of cities, services, and ecosystems. Parsons is part of The New School, and the MA program is uniquely representative of the university’s deep commitment to social and environmental justice. The curriculum fosters participatory urban processes, equitable development, feminist urban perspectives, and transdisciplinary collaboration across the university. Guided by faculty mentors, students can personalize their course of study by selecting electives that align with their interests and thesis topic.

    Future Opportunities

    Graduates are trained to work in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors in positions involving a comprehensive and critical understanding of design in relation to urban planning, policy, development, and governance. They are prepared for careers in urban research and analysis; journalism; academia and research institutes; public housing; urban management and consulting; and social, cultural, and environmental think tanks. The program also provides a research foundation that enables students to pursue advanced study at the doctoral level.

  • Student Work

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    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.

    First Year / Fall
    PGUD 5110 Urban Colloquium 1 3
    PGUD 5020 Urban History Lab 3

    In their first year, students choose an elective at Parsons that introduces them to the skills involved in the study and practice of urbanism.

    First Year / Spring
    PGUD 5120 Urban Colloquium 2 3
    PGUD 5005 Urban Theory Lab 3
    Elective—The New School

    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.

    Second Year / Fall
    PGUD 5200 Theories of Urban Practice Thesis Prep 3
    PGUD 5230 Advanced Research in Theories of Urban Practice 3
    Second Year / Spring
    PGUD 5300 Theories of Urban Practice Thesis 6
    Total Credits 36


    SDS Urban Council

    Full-Time Faculty

      See All Program Faculty



      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.

      Who applies to this 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.

      What sets this program apart from other urban planning, urban studies, and urban design programs?

      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 MS Design and Urban Ecologies program and the MA Theories of Urban Practice program share themes and curriculum elements. What are the differences?

      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.

      Will my research be focused in New York City?

      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).

      What kinds of projects will I work on?

      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.

      Are there any travel opportunities available through this program?

      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.

      Will my work be individual or group oriented?

      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.

      What will my final year in the program look like?

      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.

      Career Pathways

      Program graduates pursue advanced study, launch their own firms, and work in positions ranging from program managers to strategic communications professionals for public and private organizations including the ones shown below.


      Xavier Williams '14
      Senior Policy Analyst at the Governor's Office of Storm Recovery (New York State)

      Nadia Elokdah '15
      Cultural Plan Coordinator at NYC Department of Cultural Affairs

      Julia Borowicz '15
      Strategic Designer at NYC IDNYC

      Travis Bostick '16
      Project Manager at New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA)

      Samara Lentz '16
      Contract Administrator at New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services

      Anna Nichole Gorman '17
      Director of Operations at NYC Department of Consumer Affairs/Office of Financial Empowerment

      Leonore Snoek '17
      Design Researcher and Service Designer at the Mayor's Office for Economic Opportunity (NYC)


      Alex Roesch '14
      Research Associate at Urban Homesteading Assistance Board (UHAB)

      Joy Alise Davis '14
      Executive Director at the Portland African American Leadership Forum

      Rania Dalloul '15
      Director of Communications and Fundraising at Urban Homesteading Assistance Board (UHAB)

      Larissa Begault '15
      Research Associate at Gehl Institute

      Renae Reynolds '15
      Transportation Planner at NYC Environmental Justice Alliance

      Kevin Clyne '17
      District Planner for Retail Services at Bryant Park Corporation and 34th Street Partnership Business Improvement Districts


      Victoria Petrovsky '14
      Senior Placemaker at Place Partners

      Monica Gaura '16
      Architectural Designer at Robert A.M. Architects

      Joshua McWhirter '17
      Publishing Editor at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM)

      Fernando Canteli de Castro '17
      Design Architect and Urbanist at PAU/Practice for Architecture and Urbanism

      Francisco Miranda '17
      Account Executive at Great Ink Communications

      Ruchika Lodha '17
      Assistant Manager and Urban Designer at Kalpataru Limited

      Sinead Petrasek '16
      Community Engagement Coordinator at Lura Consulting


      Nora Elmarzouky, Rania Dalloul, Nadia Elokdah, Sarah Minard, Julia Browicz, and Larissa Begault '15
      Co-founders of in.sitecollaborative

      Jasmine Vasandani '16
      Founder of and Consultant at Jasmine Vasandani


      Maryam Khabazi '14
      PhD Candidate in Geography at University of North Carolina at Charlotte

      Dimitra Kourrisova '16
      PhD Candidate at the University of Manchester

      Fadi Shayya '16
      PhD Candidate at the University of Manchester

      Sascia Bailer '17
      PhD Candidate in Curating in Practice at Zurich University of the Arts and University of Reading

      Admission Requirements

      Applicant Profile

      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.

      Application and Financial Aid Deadlines

      Application Deadline

      The application deadline is January 2. To be most competitive for admission and merit scholarship consideration, please apply before the deadline. We will continue to review applications submitted after the 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

      Merit Scholarships:
      All admitted students are considered for merit scholarship awards determined by the strength of their applications. Scholarship awards are included in applicants’ admission decision letters. International students are eligible only for merit scholarships.

      Federal Student Aid:
      If you are a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen, we encourage you to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which can be found at The FAFSA is available each year on October 1. The New School’s federal school code is 002780. You do not need to wait for an admission decision to apply for federal aid. Submit your FAFSA by our February 1 FAFSA Priority Deadline.

      Application Instructions

      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.

      Some of your required application materials will be submitted through SlideRoom:

      1. Finalize your portfolio at the time you submit your application. This will help prevent any delays in reviewing your application as we need all required materials to be received before we can place your application under review.
      2. Once you have submitted the required SlideRoom materials, a confirmation number will be emailed to you. Save this for your records and enter it on the online application when requested.

      Required Application Materials

      1. Application Form: Complete the online application. All applicants are required to apply online.
      2. Application Fee: The application fee is $50. The fee is paid through the online application and is non-refundable. There is also a $10 SlideRoom fee.
      3. Transcripts:
        Unofficial Transcripts: Applicants must upload an unofficial transcript, mark sheet, or academic record for each institution (even if you didn’t receive a degree) in the Educational Background section of the online application.
        • All transcript uploads must be accompanied by a key, a legend, or the back copy of the transcript.
        • Non-English transcripts must be accompanied by an English translation. Records from non-U.S. institutions must have grades or marks and contain a copy of diploma if the degree has been conferred.
        • Make sure your name appears on the transcript/record. Scans must be clear and legible.
        • If you experience trouble uploading your transcript, email and give a detailed description of the issue and attach the document in question.
        The New School reserves the right to require official transcripts at any time during the admission process. Any fraudulent activity or discrepancies found between uploaded and official transcripts will result in the immediate revocation of admission and/or dismissal from The New School. Transcripts uploaded with the online application are considered unofficial.

        Official Transcripts: Applicants offered admission will be required to submit official transcripts with proof of their degree conferral prior to enrollment. Admitted applicants must submit all official transcripts pertaining to their entire academic career. Transcripts uploaded with the online application do not satisfy this requirement.

        Submitting Transcripts By Mail: Applicants should make arrangements to have their college/university send transcripts directly to The New School at the mailing address for Supplemental Materials. All transcripts must be received in a sealed envelope with the institutional seal and signature of the registrar. All documents not written in English must be accompanied by a certified English translation.

        Submitting Electronic Transcripts (U.S./Domestic Institutions Only): The New School accepts electronic transcripts only from our approved vendors:
        • National Student Clearinghouse
        • Parchment Exchange
        • SCRIP-SAFE International
        We do not accept electronic transcripts sent directly by a student or school offices. All international academic credentials must be submitted as indicated in the International Academic Credentials sections below.

        International Academic Credentials: All transcripts not written in English must be accompanied by a certified English translation.

        International Academic Credentials with Transfer Credits: Applicants who attended postsecondary institutions outside of the United States are required to have their transcript(s) evaluated by World Education Services (WES), Education Credential Evaluators (ECE), or by another member of the National Association of Credit Evaluation Services (NACES). A course-by-course evaluation must be prepared for each transcript.

        Follow all document requirements as outlined on the evaluation service providers’ websites. Evaluations completed by WES or ECE will be sent directly to us electronically by the vendor.

        All other NACES provider evaluation should be mailed directly by the vendor to the address for Supplemental Materials. A copy of the transcript which was evaluated should accompany the evaluation in the same sealed envelope or the official transcript should be sent directly to The New School by the issuing college/university.
      4. Résumé: Submit a brief résumé/curriculum vitae summarizing your academic qualifications, relevant work experience, volunteer/community work, travel, exhibitions, public speaking, or any other relevant experiences as they may relate to your field of study, including dates and positions held. Please also note any special language or computer skills that you have.
      5. Statement of Purpose: Please submit a two-part essay in a single Word document. Your submission should not exceed five pages total.

        Part 1: Autobiographical Statement (250–500-word limit). In a short autobiographical statement, tell us about yourself. You can write about your education, your family, your talents and passions, particular intellectual influences, people you have met, work you’ve done that has shaped the person you have become, or about significant places or events in your life, especially as they relate to your field of study. In addition, use this portion of the essay to explain any strengths or weaknesses you may have (examples: low GPA, lack of experience, significant interruption in work or studies, unique skills and achievements as they relate to the program, or any other information you want to share). Your writing should be informative and reflect your own voice.

        Part 2: Academic Statement of Interests (500–750-word limit). Please describe the academic and intellectual interests, progress, and achievements that have contributed to your decision to apply for graduate study in this field. You should include a thoughtful description of your tentative plan of study or area of inquiry in the field as you now envision it, the kind of research questions you intend to pursue, your professional goals, and an explanation of how this graduate program will help you realize those goals. In addition, include a self-assessment of your work as a scholar, pointing out strengths and weaknesses. If you have not enrolled as a student in the past five years, please address anticipated opportunities and challenges in pursuing the degree, and future career expectations upon completion of the program.
      6. Recommendation Letters: Two letters of recommendation are required. Recommenders may submit recommendations online. Instructions are included in the online application. If preferred, the recommendation forms may be sent by mail in signed, sealed envelopes. To send by mail, download the PDF recommendation form found in the online application, complete the Applicant Information section, and save the form. Forward the saved form to the recommenders to complete the remaining sections and submit. Applicants may also send signed and sealed recommendations to the Office of Admission using an Application Materials Cover Sheet.
      7. Portfolio or Writing Sample: The Theories of Urban Practice program welcomes applications from activists, designers, researchers, professionals, and academics. Applicants are given a choice between submitting a visual portfolio or submitting a writing sample to convey their talents and interests, especially in terms of creativity and/or critical thinking. Applicants can also submit both a portfolio and a writing sample.

        Option A: Portfolio. The portfolio must be completed in SlideRoom only. Submit no more than 20 items that reflect your creativity and strengths. Examples may include pages from sketchbooks, design projects (e.g., architecture, landscape architecture, urban design, city planning, graphic design, or product design), or visual images that reflect hobbies or professional training (e.g., photographs, paintings, sculpture, posters, digital art, film, or models). Be prepared to provide descriptions for each item.

        Option B: Writing Sample. The writing sample can be an academic paper, professional report, blog entry, nonfiction essay, piece of fiction, or combination of writing samples that you feel reflect your strengths as a critical thinker and writer for this program. Please submit as a single document no longer than 30 pages in length. Please note that this must be included with your online application.
      8. Test Scores:
        TOEFL, IELTS, PTE, and DET: All applicants whose first language is not English must submit valid TOEFL, IELTS, PTE, or DET scores. The minimum score required for TOEFL (IB) is 92, for IELTS is 7.0, for PTE is 63, and for DET is 115. Our TOEFL institution code is 2638.

        The New School does not require TOEFL, IELTS, PTE, or DET scores for applicants who have earned a four-year degree from a U.S. college/university or from a university where English is the primary language of instruction (minimum of three years attendance). After reviewing your application, the Office of Admission may require you to submit an English Language Proficiency test score to evaluate your candidacy.

        We accept test scores taken within the past two years. If your scores are older, you must retake the test.

        Applicants also have the option of enrolling in The New School English as a Second Language (ESL) program. Students must pass Level 6 to waive the TOEFL/IELTS/PTE/DET requirement. Visit the ESL website for more information.
      9. Interview: Students may be invited for an interview in person or by phone.

      Additional Information and Instructions

      1. Applying to More Than One Program: In any given term, a student can apply to only one department or program within The New School. Applicants who file more than one application in a given semester will be required to withdraw one of the applications, and application fees will not be refunded.
      2. Application Materials: All materials submitted in association with The New School application become the property of The New School and cannot be returned to you or transmitted to a third party.
      3. Application Status: Applications become complete and ready for review once all required items have been received by the Office of Admission. You can check your application status online at the Admission Hub.

        Allow at least 14 days from the date you submitted your application for items to be matched and shown as received on the Hub. Applicants are responsible for following up with schools and recommenders to confirm that items have been sent.

        The Office of Admission will periodically notify applicants by email if their file is missing any documents and again when their file is complete for review. These notifications are sent to the email address provided in the online application.
      4. Readmission:
        The Application for Readmission should be completed by students who wish to return after an absence of four semesters (fall and spring). If you would like to apply for readmission, review the readmission deadlines and requirements in the Readmission section of our How to Apply information.
      5. Mailing Address for Supplemental Materials:
        Parsons School of Design
        Office of Admission (PS 300)
        79 Fifth Avenue, 5th floor
        New York, NY 10003

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