Urban Studies @ The Magical World of Keele

A couple of months back, one of my favourite professors recommended that I look into Urban Studies at York’s Keele Campus. At the time I kinda scoffed – I was taking a double major program between International Studies and Political Science, not to mention trying to take three languages – but as time went by, the idea grew on me.

One of the things about International Studies that is absolutely crucial to understand is that it operates in a whole other world of theories, concepts, and random creations about our world and what happens there. Sometimes the practical is just thrown out the window and the topics you’re debating are on the words and theories of people who died long ago. That’s not to say these theories aren’t relevant; it’s actually astonishing how many things you start applying them to in your own life once you understand them. It’s just saying that it’s nice to take a breather once in a while to study something more practically grounded in real life.

Cities are living things, and where most human activity happens.

Cities are living things, and where most human activity happens.

With all that in my head and a few personal reasons to explore Keele Campus, I enrolled in my first Urban Studies course this fall – City Lives and City Forms, or SOSC 2710. It’s worth nine credits. That’s right, NINE. I didn’t know such things existed. But within one week of class, I knew that I loved it and wanted to explore the program more – so I added it to my university plan, which now means getting two BAs in five years.

Urban Studies is a lot like International Studies in terms of how interdisciplinary it is, meaning that any issue you’ll look at will probably be touching on at least two approaches – like looking at Toronto’s gay village using gender studies and urban studies. You look at how global trends change the everyday life of someone living in the city, how their identity changes their use of the city, and how government planners and private developers interact to create the space we use around the city. Within a few weeks of starting the degree you start looking critically at the city around you – noticing that Lawrence Station is inaccessible to those with reduced mobility, how people will never stop and talk in the exact middle of Yonge-Dundas Square (and instead gravitate towards edges), or how big office towers design their entrances to encourage movement through the space instead of loitering around it.

Even how our streets are created changes how we act around them.

Even how our streets are created changes how we act around them.

The cool thing about taking both degrees is that a lot of the hot button issues in Urban Studies are the themes I’ve been learning and talking in International Studies. When we’ve talked about globalization and neoliberalism in International Studies, it can be hard to see the actual practices making it happen.

Urban Studies gives globalization and neoliberal practices a space, a real life example for theories and concepts. You can see globalization in the gentrification of the city (where prioritizing markets puts poorer people in the least desirable places of the city), in the competition of cities across the world (where cities are forced to compete for investment capital against competitors on the other side of an ocean), and in the interconnectedness of their markets (where cities have more economic ties and connections to other cities than the rural regions around them).

Most importantly when we're talking about cities, where is the nearest Starbucks?

Most importantly when we’re talking about cities, where is the nearest Starbucks?

Some of the courses I’m taking are focusing directly on Toronto. One will talk about Toronto’s growth and development, another about housing policy in Canada, and yet another about how gender identities change how we see and interpret the city. A lot of these courses actually have you go out into Toronto and study a neighbourhood – something that just can’t be done in International Studies, because the international scale isn’t something you can point to and identify in the physical world. In Urban Studies, all you have to do is find the nearest city to you!

If doing a degree across campus is something that sounds interesting to you, it’s something you have to be prepared for. Because it’s not offered on paper, the onus is on you to plan your courses with enough time to take a shuttle between campuses. Fortunately, you can use all your courses from one degree to fulfill the second one! Most of the time you really only have to fulfil the 42-ish credits of required courses for the second degree, which usually means a fifth year and a few electives devoted to it. Best of all, you can keep your status as a Glendon Student AND get all courses and benefits of Keele.

Not to mention you get all the fun of trying to make a name for your new degree option; personally, I’m labelling mine an Double International Bachelor of Arts in International & Urban Studies. Or a DIBA in IUS. Or something. Either way, after all the paperwork and technicalities work out, the two degrees will make me look like a fantastic candidate for any Graduate School in Canada.

Do events like Nuit Blanche truly give everyone access to the city?

Do events like Nuit Blanche truly give everyone access to the city?

– Nick 🙂

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