About the School of Urban Planning

Where formal planning education began in Canada ... 

McGill University was the first post-secondary institution in Canada to offer a full-time program in Urban Planning, with the creation of an interdisciplinary program in 1947 through which students combined a master's degree in their original field with Urban Planning. An autonomous program was established in 1972; this soon led to the establishment of the School of Urban Planning as an independent teaching unit, now housed within the Faculty of Engineering along with the Peter Guo-hua Fu School of Architecture, with which we have long-standing affiliations.


Aims and objectives of the School

The objective of the School is to produce qualified professional urban planners for the public and the private sectors and to equip them with the necessary intellectual and practical skills in this respect. Training is provided at the graduate (second-cycle) level, leading to the degree of Master of Urban Planning (M.U.P.). Upon completion of the two-year program of studies, graduates are expected to have acquired basic planning skills, a broad understanding of urban issues, and specialised knowledge in a field of their own choice. We also offer formal specialisations in Transportation Planning and in Urban Development and Urban Design, details of which are provided on the Programs page.

The program of study offered by the School is fully recognised by the Ordre des urbanistes du Québec (OUQ) and the Canadian Institute of Planners (CIP). Graduates of the program can become full members of these professional organisations once having met their respective internship requirements. The School is also a member of the U.S.-based Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning (ACSP); its students can become Student Members of the American Planning Association (APA).


Teaching philosophy

Building on tradition and responding to current concerns, the School approaches urban planning first and foremost as an effort to guide the physical development of human settlements. An emphasis on the built environment enables students to understand the concrete meaning and impact of the cultural, economic, and political processes that shape contemporary society. Thus studio work and individual projects deal with (sub)urban issues--including social disparity, technological change, globalisation, and ethnocultural diversity--through the actual experiences of territorially-based communities of practice. This focus on 'real-world' situations helps students prepare themselves technically for their work as urban designers, infrastructure planners, community organisers, policy analysts, private-sector consultants, and public officials.

The School fosters the integration of theory and practice. Courses present practical questions within critical theoretical frameworks that inform goal-setting, analysis, and the crafting of policies, plans, and strategies. While the curriculum emphasises professional development, it also enables students to pursue theoretical and historical lines of inquiry. The critical synthesis of theory and practice is the goal of studio work and of individual research projects.


The School's academic and urban context

Montréal offers a rich environment for studying planning, both generally and in academic terms. At McGill, the School is an active collaborator with the Centre for Interdiscplinary Research on Montréal, the Trottier Institute for Sustainability in Engineering and Design, the Institute for Health and Social Policy, and the McGill Sustainability Systems Initiative. Faculty are currently engaged in major Canada-wide and international projects on affordable housing, transit-oriented development, infrastructure planning, capacity-building, and the economic geography of work. The School has long been involved with the Montreal Interuniversity Group on Urbanisation and Development, a consortium which is devoted to the study of urban problems and the formulation of policies in developing regions and which is recognised by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) as a Centre of Excellence. Faculty and students collaborate actively with members of other McGill departments, notably Architecture, Geography, Civil Engineering, and Law, and with colleagues at other institutions in Québec, across Canada, and abroad. Students are encouraged to make the most of their education and their research activities within this excellent context.

Students benefit greatly from the School's location in the Québec metropolis, both in their studies and in their personal lives. Montreal is at once similar to many large North American cities, with its central business district of corporate skyscrapers and its suburbs of single-family homes, and different than most as it offers a livable and sage environment and a low cost of living. The School is housed in the Macdonald-Harrington Building, built in the 1890s and located at the centre of the McGill University's downtown campus. The campus itself is located in central Montreal, adjacent to the region's business, shopping, and cultural centre and at the foot of Mount Royal, the city's celebrated natural landmark. Housing is available nearby, in the 'McGill ghetto' just east of the University, or in a variety of well-serviced neighbourhoods within easy reach by public transport, on foot, or by bicyle. The city offers a vibrant cultural scene, both French and English, and the region is also known for its sports and recreation--including great skiing in winter!


Our student body

Students in the M.U.P. and Ph.D. programmes number about 60 in total at any given time, hailing from diverse educational backgrounds, from conventional professions such as architecture and engineering as well as from the physical and social sciences. They have varied personal backgrounds as well, some coming from Québec, some from other Canadian provinces, and yet others from the United States, Europe, the Middle East, Asia, the Carribean, Latin America and Africa. The language of instruction is English, but French is the second official language of McGill University and the common language in Montréal. Academic papers and examinations may be written in either English or French. 


What careers do graduates pursue?

Alumni/ae of the School work as planners and designers at various levels of government, in non-profit organisations, and with private consulting firms. Their expertise ranges from historic conservation to transportation planning, from real-estate development to citizen engagement. Making use of geographic information systems and other forms of digital media as well as ethnographic methods and strategic advocacy, our graduates also devote their efforts in increasing numbers to environmental planning, affordable housing and social equity, resilience studies, and the development of strong counter-institutions to complement the market and the state.


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