MSc. Specialisation: Urban Strategies and Planning (USP)

The Urban Strategies and Planning (USP) specialisation addresses what strategic urban planning means in today’s context of an overwhelming urban world population, rapidly growing cities with informal housing, social deprivation, growing inequalities and economic decline. It provides you with hands-on tools that show you how to do urban planning, but even more, in this specialisation you will reflect on the importance, challenges and implications of urban strategies and planning and the socio-spatial dynamics in and around cities.

The specialisation uses the lens of urban justice to analyse how cities function and how planning can steer the urban development process. It is concerned with the spatial distribution of wealth, services and opportunities; the representations of identities, social positions and practices in space as well as in decision-making in and about the city.

Questions that guide the specialisation are:

  • What is strategic planning and how and why do we do it?
  • In which way and to what extent can planning influence urban justice?
  • How to integrate the spatial, social, environmental and economic dimensions of planning?
  • What are the different interests of urban stakeholders and what are the implications of this diversity on urban justice?
  • How can multi-stakeholder planning processes be managed? How to create synergies and gain consensus, and how to deal with conflicts when they emerge?

We address those questions in action research in the context of a real urban planning case study. You will be familiarized with useful tools, but we do not work with blueprint urban planning approaches: rather than providing answers we encourage the attitude of “reflective practice”.

Urban Strategies and Planning


Quotes from students:

“The course covered a range of different topics and taught different methods for evaluating and reflecting on the issues. I very much enjoyed when we experienced firsthand the difference between theory and practice (for example, theory was placed into practice during a workshop).”

“I enjoyed the variety of methods and assignments. We were given a chance to be creative and work towards the objectives, reflect, and learn from our peers.”

“In my opinion, we learnt a lot in such a short period. The course also, with its structure, represents a very good example of what awaits in the post-IHS world.”

How is the specialization taught?

Schema of strategic planning


The USP Specialization is taught using creative, hands-on techniques. The USP approach links theory and practice by introducing conceptual knowledge and theory about strategic planning, planning and complexity, self-organization, informality, spatial justice, and building trust as well as tools and methods employed in action research, particular planning methods, serious gaming and stakeholder negotiation.

Each year, the specialisation adopts a different thematic focus (e.g., placemaking, social inclusion, food and the city, residential mobility) and takes learning beyond the walls of the classroom and into the neighbourhoods of Rotterdam. The purpose of the case study work is to help students better understand the complexity of urban issues by interacting with local stakeholders to come up with strategies to improve the conditions of an area in the city. Based on their understanding and interactions with stakeholders, participants will develop an urban planning game which will help them better understand the influence that different stakeholders, policies and contextual issues have.

Students engage in a combination of individual work and group work within the specialization. The individual and group work builds on theory and tools that are delivered in interactive lectures in different formats. The teaching methods stimulate students to take charge of their own learning process. Creativity is strongly encouraged in group and individual work and a high degree of flexibility is given to students to express their ideas through speech, graphical visualizations, video, presentations, or other inventive forms of communication.