Skip to main content

School of Architecture + Planning

Urban Innovation Certificate

New Mexico and the American Southwest offer a unique variety of settlement and district types for study, including Native American pueblos; strip mall development; Spanish Colonial settlements; streetcar suburbs; gated residential developments; downtown revitalization districts; acequia villages; railroad, company, courthouse square, military and Mormon towns; second home sprawl; ghost mining towns; Interstate commercial clusters, colonias; and communes. Ruins of ancient Native cities, myths of lost cities, and a rich literature of place provide further opportunities for research and design. Interactions between the natural and built environment are particularly vivid and strong in the New Mexico’s desert and alpine ecosystems, as well as other parts of the Southwest. Examples of both extractive settlements and centuries-old renewable resource based settlements are clearly represented in the State and region.

How can we create vibrant cities, towns and regions - places that are sustainable, convivial, and even poetic?

Cities and towns are among humanity's largest and most complex achievements. The buildings, public works, plazas and parks of even a small community embody substantial amounts of capital, energy, natural resources, history and aspirations. Cities are among our greatest creations, yet typically no single individual creates them.

The Urban Innovation Certificate examines settlements from village to megalopolis and from street to planet-wide patterns to provide a foundation for students to engage one of humanity’s greatest needs and challenges - how to create sustainable and vibrant 21st century cities.

The program aims to give students the foundations to explore critical questions about, study examples of, and propose approaches to designing the emergence of streets, neighborhoods, districts, towns, and cities.

  • What are the goals, aspirations, and tools of design when there are multiple independent designers?
  • What aspects of physical design support the creation of vital public squares, plazas and other civic spaces?
  • How does the form of a city’s or town’s infrastructure work to configure and condition the architecture and character of the place?
  • How does the relationship between design professionals and other key stakeholders (e.g., owners, citizens) shape, constrain and inform design?
  • If cities emerge from design and dialog and political action over time, how should this influence the role of the policy maker, designer or planner?

The certification has three possible tracks for completion. They include:

  • Urban Design:  intended for students currently enrolled in a design program, or with a previous design degree, or substantial design experience demonstrated in a portfolio and an interest in urban and/or biophilic design
  • Urban Policy:  intended for a variety of students that want to explore the creation and analysis of policies related to the built and natural environment, such as planning and zoning guidelines; economics,  infrastructure development policies, real estate development policies; political structures that impact the built and natural environment; etc.
  • Urban Ecologies:  for students that want to explore the complex relationship between the built and natural environment, with a particular focus on climate change, water resources, biophilic settlement patterns, etc.

Students in the Urban Innovation Graduate Certificate Program should develop:

  • Knowledge of the theory, history and praxis of urban design with particular emphasis on sustainability and policy.
  • Ability in analysis and prediction of urban design outcomes.
  • Ability in multi-player design, development and regulation methods.
  • Knowledge of concepts of urban ecology.


Admission Requirements 


Students must either:

  • Be currently enrolled in one of the graduate programs in the University of New Mexico with a minimum GPA of 3.0.
  • Already possess a undergraduate or graduate degree from any university.

Application submission requirements for students wanting to pursue the Urban Design track, the Urban Policy track or the Urban Ecologies track:

  • Resume.
  • Statement of intent outlining your goals in pursuing the Certificate, proposed track / program of study, and schedule for completion.
  • Samples of original written work. Include no more than five 8.5x11” pages. This work should demonstrate your ability to write cogently.
  • Current academic transcript.
  • Names and contact information for two people who can speak to your qualifications for the certificate program.

Additional submission requirement for students wanting to pursue the Urban Design track:

  • For students who wish to pursue the Urban Design track, submit a PDF file that includes a brief graphic portfolio of design and planning work. Include no more than six to eight 8.5x11” horizontal pages.  

The certificate director and the certificate curriculum committee may waive or substitute other coursework for any of the above requirements if the application as a whole demonstrates that the student has the skills, background, and ability to successfully complete the Certificate.

Students who have strong applications but whose skills in a particular area need development may be asked in the admission letter to add another course to their studies depending on their previous background.

The admissions process is rolling.  Applicants can apply at any time.  Submit your application to the program, housed in the School of Architecture and Planning.
The Urban Innovation Certificate Director is John Quale, and the SA+P Graduate Advisor is Miquela Ortiz Upston,


The certificate requires the completion of eighteen credit hours in one of the three tracks:  Urban Design, Urban Policy or Urban Ecologies. 

The introductory core course, ARCH 662 Urban Innovation, is three credit hours. The course is cross listed with various departments.  This team-taught interdisciplinary course addresses the core concepts in all three tracks.  The course focuses on theories and methods of policy, ecology and design in urban environments. The course emphasizes leadership in all of these realms, and will require case studies on relevant topics.  

(Although it is ideal to complete the Urban Innovation course at the beginning of the certificate, it is a prerequisite before the last six credits of the individual track is completed.)

In addition to the Introduction to Urban Innovation course, students pursue the following number of credit hours in courses from the approved lists for the tracks in Urban Design, Urban Policy and Urban Ecologies, as selected by the Urban Innovation Curriculum Committee.

Required Coursework by track:

Urban Design:

1)    ARCH 662 Urban Innovation, three credit hours (we can cross list to any department with approval of that department’s chair)
2)    Urban Design coursework, nine credit hours (not design studios)*
3)    Urban Innovation Research Studio, six credit hours

18 credits total


Urban Policy:

1)    ARCH 662 Urban Innovation, three credit hours
2)    Urban Policy coursework, nine credit hours*
3)    Urban Innovation Research Studio, six credit hours

18 credits total


Urban Ecologies:

1)    ARCH 662 Urban Innovation, three credit hours
2)    Urban Ecologies coursework, nine credit hours*
3)    Urban Innovation Research Studio, six credit hours

18 credits total

 * The nine credit hours can be proposed by the student or found on the list of acceptable courses.  Note that the courses must address the development of knowledge or skills related to understanding complex urban challenges.  It is understand that many courses exist at UNM of this type, and the approved list will grow over time.

Note:  The final course, the Urban Innovation Research Studio, brings together the entire group of seminar and studio students will work collaboratively on a complex challenge in a particular urban environment. 

The location and topic of the Research Studio will likely change from year to year.

A total of 9 credit hours may count towards both the certificate and a master’s degree within the School of Architecture and Planning.  Shared credits in other degree programs will be determined by those departments. 
Non-certificate students are allowed to take courses in the curriculum.
Urban Innovation Graduate Certificate Director: John Quale,