With a majority of the world’s population now living in urban areas, nearly all of the problems and possibilities of society and human-nature relations are becoming urban questions. Departmental teaching and research interests cover a wide range of urban themes, from local to transnational, historical to contemporary, empirical to theoretical. In some urban research, the city is understood as the setting in which broad social, cultural, political, and economic processes unfold, mediated and shaped by local context. In other work, analysis focuses on urbanization itself as constitutive of social, political, and environmental transformation. Cities highlighted in recent faculty and graduate student research projects include large and small cities across Canada (Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Richmond, Powell River), Bangkok, Seoul, Sydney, Hong Kong, Kobe, London, Baghdad, Cairo, Johannesburg, Tallinn, Jakarta, Chicago, New Orleans, and New York City.
One stream of urban inquiry highlights the rescaling of cities and urban life, with the simultaneous strengthening of global, transnational ties along side the intensification of fine-grained local variations and influences. Recent projects in this area focus on immigration and the transnationalization of local housing markets in Vancouver and other Canadian cities, the circulation of policy templates and ideologies among urban elites working to strengthen the rights of property owners and investors, the urban origins and consequences of the U.S. credit boom and the subsequent world financial crisis, and the increasingly competitive race to host spectacular hallmark events to consolidate growth-machine positions in the world urban system of tourist flows and media images. A second stream of inquiry explores the city as a distinctive, localized crucible of innovation, diversity, and connection. Current research projects in this area include studies of land use and labor market developments in the new social-digital economy, the role of household adjustment and municipal policy in coping with the shortage of affordable housing in Vancouver, the growth of shadow, temporary-labour agencies in the inner city as an outgrowth of privatisation and reductions in the rights of workers, and the mobilization of community resistance to the inequalities of gentrification and racial discrimination in housing. A third stream of inquiry approaches the city as medium, object, and arena of representation. Projects in this area explore the city as portrayed in contemporary cinema, the urban origins of theories that transformed the history of geographical inquiry during the Cold War, and the visual and cultural representation of cities and urban populations constructed as threats or targets in the ‘war on terror.’
Urban research is marked by methodological pluralism. Methods include extended field case studies, ethnographies, interviews, archival-based legal and policy analysis, and the quantitative and spatial analysis of social survey data. There are also strong interdisciplinary linkages. Faculty and graduate students play key roles in the UBC Urban Studies Program, which maintains ties to the Departments of Sociology; History; Art History, Visual Art, and Theory; and Classical, Near Eastern, and Religious Studies, as well as the Institute of Asian Research, the School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, and the School of Community and Regional Planning.