100 Open Courses About Urban Studies, Planning, and Life

Whether you plan to shoot for a place on city council or the Peace Corps, learning about urban planning and design is easy and completely free with these open courseware classes. The classes here range from introductory planning and design classes to those with a more specific focus such as transportation, politics, urban ecology, architecture, the environment, social relationships, and technology.

Planning and Design

There are plenty of classes to teach the basics about planning and design, including looks at specific cities, seminars, looks at cities in the past, and classes thinking about the future.

  1. Urban Studies 200: Cities. Take a look at the best and worst of cities, how they evolve, and current questions for urban scholars in this class. [The University of British Columbia]
  2. Urban Studies 400: Seminar in Urban Studies. This course will examine recent efforts made in urban growth, old and new ways of looking at tourism and entertainment as a draw to the city, and specific frameworks of analyzing urban tourism and entertainment, using Vancouver and it’s attempt at being host of the 2010 Olympics as an example. [The University of British Columbia]
  3. Urban Design Skills: Observing, Interpreting, and Representing the City. This class serves as an introduction to methods of “analyzing, evaluating, and recording the urban environment” and as a preparation for Urban Design Studio. [MIT]
  4. Urban Design Studio: Providence. Learn the details of urban design in this hands-on course that will use Providence, Rhode Island as its case study. [MIT]
  5. Springfield Studio. Another opportunity for students to focus on one particular city project, this design studio looks at Springfield, Massachusetts. [MIT]
  6. Introduction to Urban Design and Development. Get the basics about designing for structure and potential changes within urban areas. [MIT]
  7. CityScope: New Orleans. Learn to assess and design strategies to help solve urban planning problems by looking specifically at the city of New Orleans as a case study. [MIT]
  8. Advanced Seminar: Urban Nature and City Design. Student projects are the culmination of this class that looks at the blending of the urban environment and nature. [MIT]
  9. Urban Design Seminar. Physical and social concerns are at the heart of this seminar which has students designing their own cities. [MIT]
  10. Gateway: Planning Action. Examine real-life case studies to explore themes and challenges facing urban planners in this course. [MIT]
  11. Special Studies in Urban Studies and Planning – The Cardiner River Corridor Workshop. Learn about preserving and enhancing existing landscapes during this workshop focusing on the Cardiner River Corridor in Catalunya, Spain. [MIT]
  12. Managing coastal environments. Learn about estuaries by specifically studying the Blackwater estuary and learn how best to manage sustainable development in this type of environment. [The Open University]
  13. Environmental Management Practicum: Brownfield Redevelopment. Participate in an urban renewal project on a former inner-city industrial site being transformed for optimum community usage by considering several aspects including what the residents want. [MIT]
  14. Urban Housing: Paris, London, New York. Look at housing, how it has evolved, and urban implications in these three cities from the 17th century to present day. [MIT]
  15. Site and Urban Systems Planning. Learn how to plan for development and their infrastructures including spatial organization, design of roadways, traffic, and landscaping. [MIT]
  16. The Growth and Spatial Structures of Cities. Examine several dynamics of urban growth and decline in this class. [MIT]
  17. The Once and Future City. Take a look at 20th century American cities and explore how they evolve and where they may be heading. [MIT]
  18. City Visions: Past and Future. This class examines the impact of social science and urban design on the development of the city and exploring ways that cities may continue to grow and their relations to other territories (regional, national, global). [MIT]
  19. Community Growth and Land Use Planning. Learn strategies for land use management and urban growth planning, specifically at the city level. [MIT]


From designing roads to thinking about traffic flow to working with sustainability in mind, these classes will instruct you about transportation and urban planning.

  1. Urban Transportation Planning. Students get an introduction to planning and designing transportation systems in metropolitan areas using Boston as a case study. [MIT]
  2. The end of the road?. Study road deterioration and ways to combat this problem by examining road materials, structures, and sustainability in this course. [The University of Nottingham]
  3. Urban Transportation, Land Use, and the Environment. Three in depth studies of cities in South and Central America allow students to explore transportation and environmental issues of urban planning. [MIT]
  4. Comparative Land Use and Transportation Planning. Learn about patterns of growth and how to plan for transportation systems in metropolitan settings in this class. [MIT]
  5. Public Transportation Services and Operations Planning. Looking specifically at buses and rail transportation, this class explores the evolution and role of transportation modes and systems. [MIT]
  6. Introduction to Transportation Systems. Learn the fundamental principles of transportation systems in this multidisciplinary class. [MIT]
  7. Logistical and Transportation Planning Methods. Students will examine spatial and logical implications for planning transportation systems with consideration of both ecological and urban emergency service planning. [MIT]

Urban Politics, Government, Economics and History

These classes offer topics such as science and policy, history of cities, microeconomics city planners, and dispute resolution.

  1. Science, Politics, and Environmental Policy. Study the role of science in environmental policymaking in the US and compare to other political systems’ processes in this class. [MIT]
  2. Urban Design Politics. Political power, resources, and urban design come together in this course to investigate the ways that politics and planning affect each other. [MIT]
  3. American Urban History I. Examine American institutions and institutional change from 1850 to the present in this first of two classes on American urban history. [MIT]
  4. American Urban History II. Learn how the physical environment has developed throughout American history in this course. [MIT]
  5. The Ancient City. Learn about ancient Greek and Roman cities by examining the structures, government, and society. [MIT]
  6. Frameworks of Urban Governance. Look at legal, political, social and economic governance issues that guide urban development. [MIT]
  7. Revitalizing Urban Main Streets. Learn about both the physical and economic aspects of urban renewal in this class. [MIT]
  8. Special Studies in Urban Studies and Planning: Economic Development and Planning Skills. Take a look at economic development issues in consideration of economic development planning by examining a case in Hartford, Vermont. [MIT]
  9. Microeconomics for Planners. Learn microeconomic concepts that are important to consider when participating in urban planning. [MIT]
  10. Planning in Transition Economies for Growth and Equity. The transition to market-oriented economies in some developing countries has brought mixed results. Examine this shift and consider options to encourage positive economic growth. [MIT]
  11. Fundamentals of Public Policy. This introductory class looks at policy-making in terms of both a political and problem-solving process. [MIT]
  12. Law, Social Movements, and Public Policy: Comparative and International Experience. Look at the relationship between courts and grassroots activism as it pertains to trade, environmentalism, and human rights. [MIT]
  13. Workshop on Deliberative Democracy and Dispute Resolution. This workshop features dispute resolution professionals and political theorists in a two-day conference sponsored by Harvard Law School and the Flora and William Hewlett Foundation. [MIT]

Building and Architecture

Learn how to design and build with the needs of an urban environment in mind with these classes that offer looks at specific projects, sustainability, and more.

  1. Urban Design Studio: Providence. Students learn to identify the areas that need change within a city, design, and plan the changes through a class project. [MIT]
  2. Case Studies in City Form. Look at mid 19th and mid 20th century period of expansion in cities and the physical, historical, and social aspects of them. [MIT]
  3. Architectural Design, Level I: Perceptions and Process. Students will learn the basics of getting ideas drawn with this architecture class. [MIT]
  4. Architectural Design, Level II: The Glass House. A follow-up class to Level I, this class focuses on implementing ideas to get designs built. [MIT]
  5. Architectural Design, Level III: A Student Center for MIT. This class offers students an opportunity to conceptualize and design a student center while taking into consideration the human aspect of the needs of the design process. [MIT]
  6. Architecture Studio: Building in Landscapes A. Through drawings and models, learn to build within an existing landscape. [MIT]
  7. Architecture Studio: Building in Landscapes B. This class was offered at the same time as part A and has some overlap, but the projects are different and it is recommended that students study both classes together. [MIT]
  8. Ecuador Workshop. Design, draw, model, and participate in the completion of a children’s community center in Guayaquil, Ecuador. [MIT]
  9. Nature and the Built Environment. Study the history of humanity’s creations, then contemplate the future of design and building. [Notre Dame]
  10. Sustainable Design and Technology Workshop. Design your own solution to creating a sustainable environment in this class. [MIT]
  11. Architectural Design Workshops: Computational Design for Housing. This intensive 9-day project working with students in Japan utilize student-created software to design a small housing project. [MIT]
  12. Building Technology Laboratory. This hands-on lab allows students to work through both models and full-scale projects focusing on various aspects of building design. [MIT]
  13. Digital Mock-up Workshop. Using digital modeling, learn to build large-scale prototypes and digital mock-ups with the assistance of outside designers. [MIT]
  14. Fundamentals of Energy in Buildings. Learn about energy consumption in buildings and learn about designing with an eye on innovation and sustainable building. [MIT]
  15. Introduction to Integrated Design. Students will find out the basics of architecture as it relates to disciplines including history and sustainability. [MIT]
  16. Ecologies of Construction. Examine the resource requirements for current building projects in order to determine the materials and energy involved in new construction. [MIT]
  17. Emergent Materials II. This course focuses on sustainable design by examining responsible building materials in both current and future usage. [MIT]
  18. Contemporary Architecture and Current Debate. Students will learn about architecture after WWII and assess current issues against that period. [MIT]
  19. Sustainable Design and Technology Research Workshop. Explore the issues of sustainability as they relate to architecture in this class where students will propose their own solutions. [MIT]

Urban Ecology and the Environment

While cities aren’t typically thought of as a part of nature, they certainly are and require an approach that takes the natural environment into account. These classes help teach planners how to do just that.

  1. Introduction to Environmental Policy and Planning. Environmental planning techniques and strategies are the focus of this class that sets the foundation for further investigation into environmental policy and planning. [MIT]
  2. Environmental Justice. Explore the issues surrounding environmental justice and the affects of these issues on environmental policy and planning. [MIT]
  3. Foshan China Workshop. This course examines the issues of creating a sustainable environment along the downtown riverfront area of Foshan in order to improve the quality of life there. [MIT]
  4. Gaoming Studio – China. Students will plan and design options for this waterfront district with an eye to watershed and ecosystem protection as well as other urban considerations. [MIT]
  5. Sustainable Economic Development. Study environmental and economic development planning, policy, and management for urban communities in this class. [MIT]
  6. Planning for Sustainable Development. Looking at the US and Europe for examples, this class examines ways to incorporate sustainable development in urban planning. [MIT]
  7. Environment and Sustainable Development. Examine the ways that policies have impacted economic development in this class. [United Nations University]
  8. Regional Energy – Environmental Economic Modeling. Students will look at “regional energy-environmental modeling” within context of such topics as supply and demand, energy forecasts, and environmental implications. [MIT]
  9. Reforming Natural Resources Governance: Failings of Scientific Rationalism and Alternatives for Building Common Ground. Examine the results of scientific management in recent natural resource cases and explore alternative methods for decision-making processes. [MIT]

Urban Environmental Health

Public health in an urban environment is the focus on these classes that include topics such as water and sanitation, air pollution, and environmental toxicology.

  1. Social and Behavioral Foundations of Primary Health Care. Learn basic primary health care premises and understand their role in developing countries as well as discover ways to plan and implement this care within an ecological model of health behavior. [Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health]
  2. Health and environment. Learn about the impacts of changes in the environment on health by studying the environmental legacy, pollution, population growth, and ecology. [The Open University]
  3. Environmental Health. Students will examine health issues, causes, and potential approaches to manage environmental health issues in both developing and industrialized areas. [Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health]
  4. Water and Sanitation Needs in Complex Humanitarian Emergencies. Learn about the history of water and sanitation on public health and explore ways to assess and quantify water and sanitation needs during extreme emergencies. [Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health]
  5. Food Production, Public Health, and the Environment. Take a look at case studies in order to learn about public health and food production as it pertains to issues such as economics, population, and equity. [Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health]
  6. Public Health Toxicology. Learn the basic concepts of environmental toxicology as well as methods of preventing public health issues. [Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health]
  7. How Risky is Breathing? Statistical Methods in Air Pollution Risk Estimation. Students examine the health effects of air pollution through the statistical analysis of national-level research done by the instructor of this course. [Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health]
  8. BSE and vCJD: their biology and management. This course examines mad cow disease, the link between similar diseases that affects humans, and the management of these diseases. [The Open University]

Urban Social Relations

From the consumer culture to race and gender issues to human rights, these courses take a look at the ways society and urban living impact each other.

  1. Urban Sociology in Theory and Practice. This graduate class takes a fundamental look at several aspects of urban sociology. [MIT]
  2. The Social Construction of Technology in Development. Take a look at the possibility that technology develops as a response to social factors and examines issues surrounding this development in this course. [United Nations University]
  3. Consumer Culture. Examine what it means to be a part of a consumer culture and explore the ramifications of such a lifestyle in this class. [MIT]
  4. Environment and Society. Students will take a look at the environmental and social impacts of industry, examine personal responsibilities and roles in these problems, and explore solutions. [MIT]
  5. Writing on Contemporary Issues: Imagining the Future. Explore your vision of the future through studying the literature of others who have imagined and warned about the future as well as personal writings. [MIT]
  6. Civil Society and the Environment. This class takes a close look at NGOs and their relationships to environmental policy and planning. [MIT]
  7. Citizen Participation, Community Development, and Urban Governance in the Developing World. Students will examine the types of citizen participation impacting urban development and how to best embrace this participation for optimal results. [MIT]
  8. Downtown Management Organizations. Learn about how DMOs originated, their purpose, and implications for cities. [MIT]
  9. Race, Immigration, and Planning. Examine the unique needs of immigration communities as well as commonalities and how planning communities should take these issues into account. [MIT]
  10. Research Design for Policy Analysis and Planning. Explore various methods of gathering information to help analyze and plan urban development. [MIT]
  11. Resolving Public Disputes. By looking at case studies, students will examine public disputes and discuss how and if they were resolved in topics such as smoking, hazardous waste, abortion, and gun control. [MIT]
  12. Poverty, Public Policy and Controversy. Examine poverty, programs that work to eliminate it, and the various forces that work to reinforce poverty. [MIT]
  13. Gender and Race, Work, and Public Policy. Examine the roles of gender, race, and class in the work environment and think about policies that can effectively address needs in these areas. [MIT]
  14. Human Rights in Theory and Practice. Students learn the “foundation, structure and operation of the international human rights movement” in this course that touches on such topics as religion and state, national security, and terrorism. [MIT]
  15. Law and Society. This class looks at law as a social institution and a feature of popular culture in this class. [MIT]

Urban Planning and Technology

Technology is an integral part of urban planning, and these classes will help teach you how to use GIS software, learn to use a variety of digital media, think about technology in developing countries, and more.

  1. Media Technology and City Design and Development. Explore ways to use digital tools for urban design by focusing on one particular neighborhood. This session looks at Camfield Estates in Lower Roxbury, MA. [MIT]
  2. New Century Cities: Real Estate, Digital Technology, and Design. Learn about innovative approaches to real estate development, urban design, and digital technology in this class. [MIT]
  3. Planning, Communications, and Digital Media. Students will not only examine planning and cultural considerations, but will also become familiar with a wide variety of digital media that are instrumental in urban planning. [MIT]
  4. Introduction to Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for Urban and Environmental Analysis. Students will learn how to complete a mapping/analysis project using GIS skills. [Tufts University]
  5. A Workshop on Geographic Information Systems. Expand your skills learned in the introductory class from Tufts using GIS software in this course. [MIT]
  6. Spatial Database Management and Advanced Geographic Information Systems. Learn to use spatial database management techniques in practical applications in this intensive class. [MIT]
  7. Introduction to Computers in Public Management II. Looking specifically at computer use for planning and public management, this course examines “spatial analysis using geographic information systems and database query tools.” [MIT]
  8. A Workshop on Geographic Information Systems. Acquire technical skills in using GIS software, learn methods of data gathering, analyzing information, and presenting results in this class. [MIT]
  9. Economic Development & Technical Capabilities. By examining two different categories of developing countries, students will look at the technical capabilities that must be learned to assist in economic development. [MIT]
  10. Information Technology and the Labor Market. Learn how information technology is shaping the labor market in this class that explores topics such as labor productivity and distribution and wages. [MIT]