Batra was one of 200 applicants for the program’s first year in 2015, and one of 30 accepted. She moved to Hyderabad for three weeks, and became a proud member of its first graduating class.“The Urban Action School was attractive for a mid-level professional like me who engages in the urban development milieu at an everyday level,” says Batra, 34, an architect and urban designer by training. Her academic preparation, she says, gave her a “niche technical education.” But what she has met on the ground in projects linked to participatory planning and citizen engagement, especially in low-income settlements, has been much more layered.
“While working in the development sector at all ends — those of the service provider, aid agency and civil society — one realizes that urban development is too often seen in silos,” Batra says. “The UAS caught my attention as a course linked to policy and the fact that it was multi-disciplinary. It is also probably one of the few courses that is offered in the country for working professionals.”
The Urban Action School is just one of the India-based professional development opportunities popping up for urbanists of all stripes. With global momentum building around the goal of developing more livable cities, new courses such as the one in Hyderabad are catering to a growing need for interdisciplinary training.
Last month, the Bangalore-based Indian Institute for Human Settlements launched an online course focusing on sustainable cities — a concept linked to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals meant to guide global development over the next 15 years.
Like the Urban Action School, the 11-week online course, run by IIHS and the SDG Academy, covers a cross-section of thematic areas, from urban politics, planning and governance to urban theory, history and understanding urban systems. The course boasts weekly lectures by all-stars on the global urban circuit, such as Columbia University’s Jeffrey Sachs, the University of Cape Town’s Susan Parnell and the University of Pennsylvania’s Eugenie Birch, providing rare opportunities for practitioners from any part of the globe to engage with these experts.
The program started in November and runs through the end of February. It’s free, and as a “massive open online course” is open to anyone in the world who wants to take it. Students engage with instructors and each other through discussion forums and webinars on material presented through lecture videos and reading assignments. Participants are also expected to take weekly quizzes and a final exam, which will earn them a certificate of completion at the end of the course.