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Urban Lab: Middle East


The Urban Lab: Middle East at Rice University is an interdisciplinary program that combines coursework on comparative urban and regional politics and policy with field research, allowing students to apply classroom theory to real-life dynamics on the ground. The program represents a partnership between the Baker Institute Center for the Middle East and the Department of Political Science at Rice University.

The program includes parent courses that offer a broad overview of urban or regional politics and policies. These courses examine how national, regional, and local forces shape the processes and outcomes of governance within and across cities, metropolitan areas or regions, paying particular attention to critical problems and policies that affect urban centers: growth, immigration, class conflict, gender issues, public order, service management, human rights, education, housing, transportation, environmental protection, sustainability, land-use planning and spatial competition.

Current parent courses include:

POLI 362: Comparative Urban Politics and Policy
POLI 355: Government and Politics of the Middle East


In addition to taking one of the parent courses, students simultaneously enroll in a one-credit lab course. In the lab, students focus on a specific city and engage in an in-depth study of not only the history, culture and political economy of the city and country, but also identify a specific research project related to a contemporary problem facing the city or nation.

During spring break, students travel with their lab instructors to their city for an intensive field-research trip that includes visits to think tanks, municipal governments, government ministries, community centers, housing projects, local schools and cultural sites. Students may also attend lectures at local universities, such as Boğaziçi and Koç Universities in Istanbul.

Lab offerings for Spring 2016 include:

POLI/ASIA 349: Urban Lab Istanbul
POLI/ASIA 345: Urban Lab Dubai

Participation in the Urban Lab program is open to students of all years and majors. There are no prerequisites. However, participation is by application only. Applications will be accepted beginning in September 2015 and decisions will be made by late November.

Deadline for 2016 Lab applications has been extended through November 15, 2015.

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact Melissa Marschall, professor of political science, at or 713.348.2694.

Click here to apply


Watch the video below to learn more about Urban Lab: Middle East:



As in many other countries, rapid urbanization transformed Turkey in the 20th century. Today, roughly 70 percent of Turkey’s 73 million inhabitants live in cities, with the greatest populations concentrated in the western Marmara, Aegean and Mediterranean regions. Straddling Europe and Asia, Istanbul bridges East and West, putting it at a critical crossroads for commerce, trade and cultural exchange for centuries. The significance of its geographic location cannot over-emphasized. Spreading seemingly uncontrollably along both sides of the Bosphorus Straits, Istanbul boasts a population of 12.8 million, making it the largest city in Turkey and fifth largest city proper in the world. Istanbul is where East truly does meet West. It has been the center of several empires and is the site of global historical, cultural and religious importance. It is also a cosmopolitan city, with glittering, high-end shopping malls, luxury hotels, and high-rise condos springing up everywhere. This dynamic city is undergoing a substantial transformation that is creating new winners and losers — and a host of complex problems for its inhabitants and its man-made environment. For more information see


In the 1950s, Dubai's few thousand inhabitants scraped out a living in a waterless desert by picking dates, diving for pearls and sailing wooden dhows to smuggle goods into India. Today Dubai is the world's most cosmopolitan and globalized city, and one of the fastest growing conurbations on Earth. It is a place of unrivaled contrasts: shimmering skyscrapers — including one that reaches nearly a kilometer into the sky — and grinding poverty institutionalized by modern-day robber baron capitalism. It has become a city where state spending — and indebtedness — sets the tone for the pursuit of conspicuous consumption on a personal level. It is at once the first successful post-oil economy in the Middle East, a marketplace where whimsical or daring ideas can be parlayed into cash, and a global symbol of the environmental dangers of overreliance on fossil fuels. In short, Dubai is an alluring and confounding place that makes for fascinating study.