Portland-State-University 2022-2023 Bulletin

Urban Studies Ph.D.

Dynamic metropolitan regions are increasingly seen as central to economic, social, and political development throughout the world. Composed of one or more central cities, suburbs, and adjacent agricultural and natural areas, they are the essential building blocks of the global economy and the sources of social and political innovation. Understanding metropolitan regions and their problems and analyzing policies to shape their evolution are major concerns of the Urban Studies doctoral program. The program explores these issues from multi-disciplinary and interdisciplinary points of view. Through participation in classes and seminars and supervised research and teaching activities, Ph.D. students prepare for careers in institutions of higher education and in research organizations.

Core requirements

Entering students in the Ph.D. in urban studies take the following common courses:


USP 613Urban Economic and Spatial Structure


USP 614History and Theory of Urban Studies


USP 617The Sociology and Politics of Urban Life


USP 630Research Design


USP 634Data Analysis I


USP 683Qualitative Analysis


USP 697Research Design 2


The first six are normally taken in the first year, with USP 697 taken at the beginning of the second year. Students in USP 697 produce a fully developed research paper as a requirement for continuation in the program.

Field area requirements

Doctoral specializations are available in the following areas of advanced interdisciplinary study: planning, community development, policy analysis, gerontology, social demography, economic development, environment and transportation.


focuses on the development and implementation of mechanisms for organizing social, economic, political, and environmental change at the local, state, and regional levels. The field includes study of the relationships and interactions among public and private institutions, organizations, citizens, and landscapes; the design of processes for facilitating dialogue among public actors; and the tools for planning analysis and evaluation. As a pioneer in state land use law and a place in which planning discourse is highly visible, Oregon provides a rare vantage point for the study of planning history, planning processes and strategies, and professional practice.


focuses on urban socio-ecological conditions and interactions in areas such as natural resource management, environmental protection and quality, ecosystem services, food systems, and energy and climate.  This includes a foundation in theory and methods that enable:  examination of the roles of institutions (both government and non-government), groups and individuals, law and regulation, ethics and values, the market (or lack of a market); the handling of usable knowledge and scientific uncertainty; and the analysis of change in complex socio-technical-biophysical systems.

Community development

deals with the dynamics of neighborhood and community formation and change and with public policies that address the needs of groups and places within contemporary society. The rich civic culture of Portland and the Pacific Northwest and the region’s connections to the Pacific Rim provide numerous examples for study and analysis. Within the broad field of community development, students can address such topics as ethnic and neighborhood history, housing and economic development, the roles of public and nonprofit institutions in community building, mediation and conflict resolution, changing patterns and systems of communication, and the changing meanings of place.

Social demography

provides training in the tools of demographic analysis, with particular attention to the methods of data collection, techniques of demographic analysis, and the interpretation of research findings. Social demography involves the use of the principles and methods of demography in decision-making and planning problems in both public and private settings. Graduates in the field of social demography use demographic data to identify and analyze important population trends and their consequences for work in government agencies, research organizations, and corporations. Faculty in the area of social demography have training in demography, sociology, geography, and statistics. Faculty research includes population distribution and migration, international migration, fertility and family planning, marriage and divorce, public policy uses of demographic data and estimates, and demographic methods.


addresses the social issues, problems, policies, and programs that affect the quality of life for our rapidly aging population. Students have the opportunity to work directly with faculty on publicly- and privately-funded research at the College’s highly regarded Institute on Aging. Adult development and aging is approached from a multidisciplinary and collaborative perspective. Faculty research interests include: family caregiving and work-family balance, social networks and widowhood, diversity in aging, long-term care policy and programs, housing environments, development and evaluation of training for health professionals, and planning for the aging of the baby-boom generation and beyond. As a state with a national reputation as a leader in the development of community-based, long-term care, Oregon provides a unique environment for the study of aging processes, policies, and services.

Economic development

is concerned with the factors that lead to differential rates of economic development at various spatial scales: within and between nations, states, regions, cities, and neighborhoods. In analyzing these differences, issues such as the meaning of economic development, who gains and who loses from various changes, as well as analysis of policies to promote economic development, are addressed. The Center for Urban Studies and Institute for Portland Metropolitan Studies offer research opportunities in this field.


includes planning, policy, forecasting, measurement, and evaluation of multimodal transportation infrastructure and systems. The multidisciplinary field covers all modes of passenger and freight transport and includes the holistic study of relationships and interactions of the transportation systems with land use, the region, the economy, the environment, institutions, the community, and people. Students can address topics such as impacts of transportation on land use and land values, the relationships between urban form and travel behavior, the costs and benefits of transport facilities, the operation of transportation facilities, equity impacts of transport and the effects of transportation plans and policies. There are opportunities to work on research through the Center for Urban Studies and the Center for Transportation Studies.

Each student pursues two fields of specialization, at least one of which should be chosen from among those listed above. A student-nominated field, developed in conjunction with School faculty, may be offered as a second specialization. Faculty groups specify field-specific course requirements, including methodology courses and courses essential to a multidisciplinary approach. These groups work closely with students to develop coherent specializations that prepare each individual to do doctoral-level research in that field.