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‘The Virtual City Is Joining the Real One at the Forefront’

‘The Virtual City Is Joining the Real One at the Forefront’

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HSE University has launched enrolment in a new online Master’s programme in Digital Urban Analytics. In this interview, the programme’s Academic Supervisor Ekaterina Zarudnaya and its Scientific Supervisor Kirill Puzanov speak about the processes and tasks generated by the online city, the demand for urban analysts, and the specifics of studying in the programme.

Ekaterina Zarudnaya

What is the current state of urbanism in Russia? 

Ekaterina Zarudnaya: The current development stage of Russian and world urbanism is interesting because we are witnessing a rapid increase in the complexity of almost all urban processes. The level of digitalisation has increased greatly. City management digitalisation, big data, and digital technologies becoming part of residents’ daily lives—all these things are developing and require new approaches to planning and design.

That said, digitalisation does not simplify processes—it makes them more complex. The virtual city is joining the real one at the forefront, and it has rules of its own. 

The only obvious thing at this stage is that an online city cannot be perceived as a copy of a physical one. It does not duplicate its processes, but rather changes them and generates new ones

This is incredibly interesting, as new knowledge areas are opening up before us. Complexity leads to an increase in diversity, which is a key urban resource. Design solutions in urban development require data integration, understanding the capabilities of analytical tools, and task-setting skills.

— How was the programme’s educational content formed and what is it based on?

Kirill Puzanov: The city and its residents leave lots of digital traces every day, and certain economic activities have moved online. Modern specialists should be a bit like digital trackers: they should be able to read these signs and use their knowledge of digital resources to justify urban development decisions.

But the traditional tasks of working with the city still remain. Modern specialists have to understand the economic and social context, the legal landscape, geographical patterns, etc. Our programme is based on the experience of the Graduate School of Urbanism at the Faculty of Urban and Regional Development. We already have a number of programmes within the field of urban development in our portfolio, and our teachers are urban development theorists and practicians with experience of implementing project, consulting and scientific work. 

Kirill Puzanov

— Are urbanists in demand in the labour market? What professional tasks do they face?

EZ: The urban project market is developing rapidly. Employers need professionals who are able, on the one hand, to conduct basic analysis of the processes taking place in the city using appropriate tools and, on the other hand, to work as project managers and leaders of interdisciplinary teams.

— What qualities are you looking for in applicants?

EZ: The programme is designed primarily for early-career professionals with work experience seeking to obtain a broad and practice-oriented master’s education for career development. At the same time, we welcome not only those whose occupation is related to urban projects, but also professionals with a data analytics background who want to evolve in the field of urban analytics in all its diversity. The pool of elective disciplines includes the study of advanced work methods—from digital anthropology to machine learning. Such tools ensure that graduates of the programme are unique professionals with fundamentally new skills in substantiating design decisions and creating area development scenarios.

— What tracks and disciplines does the programme offer? 

KP: There are four elements at the core of the programme: theoretical and instrumental bases, a management unit, and project work. Theory is indispensable for providing a comprehensive assessment of the quality of a project and its value to the development of the city in a global context. This includes urban regulation and area planning, economics, and sociology. Analytical tools comprise various methods of analysing city data: spatial, sociological, economic data, and more. Project management covers building a team, management, mechanisms of funding and project implementation, and the preparation of project and internal technical specifications. Project work involves preparing students to solve real analytical support tasks within a project. In terms of skills, we focus not only on hard skills, but also on soft ones: presentations, storytelling, teamwork, and communication with customers. The final stage of the programme involves defending a graduation project relevant to a specific urbanised area.

— How are studies organised? 

EZ: The curriculum facilitates the widespread use of asynchronous and synchronous study modes. Some course lectures will be held online asynchronously, which allows the students to study theoretical materials at any time without being confined to a specific geographical location. Other classes involve forms of interaction that are as close to full-time studying as possible. 

Special attention is paid to interactive work between students, teachers and experts in the form of regular webinars, discussions of team projects between students, and advisory support from teaching assistants. The programme includes workshops, field studies, debates, and presentations.

The online format allows specialists working in provincial regions to significantly improve their skills without leaving their city or pausing their work on current projects. The classes will take place mainly on weekday evenings and on Saturdays, which allows students to effectively combine work and studies. Recorded classes will be available to the students for the entire period of study.

More information on the online master’s programmes offered at HSE University is available in the course catalogue.

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