Meeting with Michael Storper and Tommaso Vitale, architects of the Double master with UCLA
- Michael Storper © UCLA / Tommaso Vitale © Sciences Po
The Urban School of Sciences Po and the Urban Planning Department at the UCLA Luskin School - two of the most highly rated programs in urbanism, policies, utilities, governance and urban planning in the world - are launching a new dual master’s degree in Global and Comparative Urban Planning and Governance, to begin September 2021.
This new dual degree reinforces an already strong partnership between Sciences Po and the UC system, adding to our pioneering dual Bachelor’s degree with UC Berkeley. Before this program, exchanges between the UCLA Luskin School’s Master in Urban and Regional Planning and the Sciences Po Urban School Master Governing the Large Metropolis, were very frequent, and participating students reported excellent feedback on their experience, the skills they acquired, and how important this semester was for their career.
We spoke to Professors Tommaso Vitale (Sciences Po, CEE) and Michael Storper (UCLA), the two architects along with Patrick Le Galès (Dean of the Sciences Po Urban School), behind this new cutting-edge program that builds on the core strengths of both universities.
What was behind the creation of this dual degree between the two universities?
Tommaso Vitale: The origin of all of this lies in research. Or, perhaps research plus intellectual companionship. With UCLA, with whom we have been collaborating for a long time, we have a common way of dealing with problems of planning, governance and steering policies on a deeper level, in terms of sensitivity to what we consider relevant in terms of data, empirics, and general willingness to take into account the complexities of urban planning. That is the underlying foundation of this dream for a transatlantic dual degree in governance and planning: an intellectual conversation on what is at stake today in most of the regions of the world. This led to the creation of a joint program that explores points of comparison and understanding of the whole structure of urbanization, urban theory and real-world political dynamics in cities.
Michael Storper: Since I was going back and forth between UCLA and Sciences Po for many years, I gained a perspective on two intellectual communities and what was going on in each of them. I was close to the colleagues who created the Urban School at Sciences Po, and seeing it develop, it began to dawn on me that there was something to be gained by linking the two programs at Sciences Po’s Urban School and at the UCLA Urban Planning Department. There are different but complementary strong points in the traditions and perspectives in the American way of doing research and teaching urbanism and urban planning, and in the approach that is developed in the Governing the Large Metropolis program at Sciences Po. I began to see a golden opportunity to put the two of them together, and create something that is greater than the sum of its parts.
What are the greatest strengths of this new dual master’s degree?
MS: This program is quite unique in that it gives students the opportunity to live and study in two distinct laboratories: Los Angeles and Paris. To me, these two cities form a combination that is much more stimulating than the typical duos such as Paris and London or Paris and New York. Los Angeles is a developed-world megacity that is an outlier from the others (Tokyo, Paris, London and New York). It is spatially spread out, with a warm dry climate, full of cars, and it is much newer than the others. Though Paris and L.A. have radically different historical and urban or spatial forms, they nonetheless share challenges common to big cities today: gentrification, segregation, racism, inequalities... Students in this program will be able to study and understand how choices that are made in these different settings shape outcomes in different directions. I don’t think there is another diploma in the world with this kind of combination of similarity and difference for students to use as a laboratory for learning. Another element that makes this program unique is that students gain their professional planning accreditation to work in the United States as urban planners through their year of study at UCLA, which is extremely rare to acquire in just one year of studying at a planning school in America.
What does the program consist of?
MS: The program consists of two years of study, the first at UCLA, and the second at Sciences Po. Students follow an intensified program - what they do in one year at each university is close to what students normally do in two. They follow a core program at UCLA with some fundamentals, but also take courses within a concentration: housing, regional development, environmental analysis, design and development, or community development.
TV: In Paris, students study a variety of subjects related to the multilevel and multifaceted problems in relationships of governance between cities and states. In the first semester, they take courses on issues related to the implementation of urban policies, and the challenges posed by sustainability, climate change and the management of environmental resources to the governing of large metropolises. There are also four main concentrations: Utilities and Infrastructure (water, energy, waste management, sewage), Planning (housing, land regulation, mobility infrastructures, stations), Social Issues (related to migration, social and ethnic mixes, anti poverty policies..), and Smart and Digital Cities (new tech, computational models for governance studies, etc.). During the second semester, students take classic urban planning courses on regional history and geography of world metropolises. These courses cover all the regions of the world - South Asia, Southeast Asia, Africa, Mediterraneean, Latin America, and so on - and expose them to the basics of urban social sciences. In the end, students have a truly comparative dual degree.
What are the greatest challenges that students of urban planning and governance will face in their future careers?
MS: I think the first issue is dealing with inequalities. We are at the brink of a period in which cities like Paris and L.A. are at risk of becoming victims of their own success. Superstar cities today concentrate the skilled, high-income, “winner” populations of our world. Objectively, in the last 30 years, they have added amazing new amenities to urban quality of life, from transportation to museums, gorgeous new buildings, and more cultural flourishings. They’ve also become incredibly multicultural. The bad news is that underneath this success are huge risks: if we don’t deal with readjusting these cities to be more inclusive economically and socially, tensions will grow (and they’re already growing). Economic inequality leads to housing inequality and gentrification, and the risk is that resources that we put into cities will not be available to enough of the urban population.
The second issue is climate change. Climate change is an existential threat to our cities. In this dual degree, students will take specialized courses on sustainable urbanization, ecological transition, and adaptation. These topics are also intrinsically integrated into the core of the program. The urgency of this crisis and the need to make cities adapt are something that students will have to deal with right away as young practitioners in the labor market.
What is the role of an urban planner in the 21st century?
TV: The challenge now for students and new planners at the beginning of their careers, as well as for established planners, policymakers, and people in charge of steering infrastructure, is to figure out how to regulate all the forces that are present in the city. It’s an issue of regulation, a major challenge around not just behavioral forces (how people use and interact with cities), but also economic, designing, and political forces. Since all of these play a role, it’s no longer just a matter of interdisciplinarity. It's also about escaping simplistic visions of solutions like mass regulation, more opportunities, and more inclusion. We want to expose students to the art of regulation, the art of understanding how to plan things that need to last and that require money, skills, technique, engineering, and social and political coalitions to support them.
MS: A planner in the 21st century is not someone who pushes a button or pulls a lever, or just “makes decisions”. His or her role is to bring different people, organizations, and processes together to arrive at governance solutions to multifaceted problems. That does not happen with writing a policy; the role of a planner is embedded as an involved actor in this governance process. A good plan needs to be a living agreement, a process that moves in a certain direction.
What career paths can graduates pursue after this program?
TV: A whole range of careers is open to our graduates. Some may go into consulting or project management, or for coordination roles in agencies… Others work in local or territorial authorities as city or regional planners, even in applied research. There is also a very broad palette of work in the field of utilities, real estate development, urban food systems, housing solutions, or regulation programs. More and more frequently, our graduates are recruited by startups or tech companies running smart city initiatives. How come? Because often people coming from tech do not understand the language of cities and their conflicts; they need mediators to bridge communication between digital solutions and local or state authorities. There is a high demand for this new generation of planners in the field of tech, and in all sectors that are challenged by the disruption processes in IT. Solidarity, neo-mutualism and urban health are offering a new vibrant job market for young graduates able to organise collective action and engage across a wide array of actors and resources.
MS: Many of our graduates also work in associations and international organizations - the World Bank or the Interdevelopment Bank, the United Nations, OECD, the EU, etc. There is already a huge diversity of professional pathways that the graduates of our two schools already follow, and this dual degree program will open up even more of these pathways because of the globalized comparative experience they’ll have.
The editorial team of Sciences Po