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Methods and driving principles of the Master in Urbanism

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Fully integrated within Sciences Po, the Master in Urbanism is different from many other Masters degrees of other universities, and also from those which deal with the City in Sciences Po itself.

The professional spirit : a multidisciplinary approach
Urbanism is multidisciplinary and action-oriented. The Cycle reconstitutes within the group of students a milieu as close as possible to a professional environment. 40-50% of the students are recruited amongst people who already hold a degree in architecture, landscape design, engineering, or environmental techniques. The others have a background in a wide range of the social sciences. All the French candidates already have achieved an M1 level - the first year of a Masters degree course - elsewhere. International applicants must have at least a B.A.

Intensive study in small groups
Groups are deliberately limited to forty. Students are looking for an intensive course and work actively to prepare their careers. Thus, the three semesters of teaching have been condensed into two, from September to June. Teaching methods are different from the traditional classroom teacher/student face-to-face teaching, since urbanism is a collective enterprise. Students are involved in team-work and benefit from high-level advice and support, as well as systematic assessment and evaluation throughout the programme.
The Cycle has opted for a programme of intensive study. Only two short specialisation courses are available. Everyone is trained essentially in the same way, according to a model well-known by employers.

Urbanism and planning are considered as two complementary phases : study and action.
Urbanism studies concentrate on developing an understanding of urban areas and of those zones which will possibly become urbanised in the future. They draw constantly on different disciplines, and involve reflection on various space and time scales. A great variety of theoretical and methodological approaches are employed, and are often the subject of debate, since urbanism can not be dissociated from an affirmation of values. A great number of professionals (planners, architects, engineers, legal professionals etc.) contribute to defining and developing a project in the form of maps, programmes, technical documents etc.
The purpose of planning is to develop urban areas of different sizes over periods which can be quite long. Grounded in the real world, the work of the planner involves using and implementing urban research, taking into account the major topographical, economic and legal constraints. It is a special form of management, in which the public sector, which has the authority to make the initial decision, has become more permeable to private sector methods.

Space and the urban project
On account of its particular conception of urbanism as a spatial framework, the urban project becomes familiar to all the students, including, or even especially those coming from the social sciences and who have never worked on drawing. The Cycle does not pretend to transform them into architect-urbanists, but by halfway through the course, they are all able to understand a drawing of a project, to discuss the various options and to develop an argument by combining spatial, economic, political and social analyses. Everyone must complete a "mini-urban assignment" in a limited time, and defend their project before a jury of professionals. Students also follow a core course simultaneously, which enables them to develop keen analytical thinking skills.

A space between university and the professional environment

Ninety percent of the courses are taught by professionals, who have the freedom to develop their own analyses and who strive to provide the highest quality teaching possible. Furthermore, if most Masters in Urbanism offer small workshops in which students become familiar with an issue, for more than 30 years, the Cycle has implemented a more demanding method, the working group (50% of the students’ time). Students work in groups of six or seven, under the direction of a professional, according to a contractual agreement, and are thus placed in an almost professional situation, while maintaining their academic freedom. They learn by doing. Finally, when in the following September they do their internships or enter regular employment, they are required to produce a professional paper, which may be published. It is in this permanent tension between professional experience and academic reflection that characterises the cycle.

Field trips
Urbanism and operational land management are inconceivable without experience of the city, nor without debating with those who design and shape it. Study trips and field trips are organised throughout the year, with debriefing sessions and summary documents. Such trips are designed, in the same way as the rest of the course, to encourage students to develop their critical thinking and to give them the taste for urban development, whatever the approach may be.

Social sciences and the urbanism project
If a certain vision of urbanism opposes that of engineering, architecture and other more theoretical disciplines, the Cycle is proud both of being part of Sciences Po, with its high-quality teaching in the social sciences and of its position as one of the schools engaged in teaching technical expertise at different levels. Students are introduced to new fields of knowledge in electives, so as to understand their position as citizen and decision-maker. They are constantly encouraged to develop the quality of their argumentation, and to demonstrate and support their ideas by means of cartographic and graphic expression.

     
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