About Urban Studies

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The School of Urban Studies engages students, faculty, and community to advance critical thinking, social justice, and applied research through the transformative power of higher education.

Urban Studies Fact Sheet



A premier Urban Studies school within a leading urban-serving university


Teach to engage; research to advance knowledge; act to promote social justice and equitable development


Founded in 2001, the School of Urban Studies at the University of Washington Tacoma currently offers undergraduate BA degrees in Urban Studies and Sustainable Urban Development; a BS in Urban Design, graduate degrees in Community Planning (MA) and Geospatial Technologies (MS), a Certificate in Geographic Information Systems (GIS), and a minor in Urban Studies.

2001 - Established first undergraduate - BA in Urban Studies - and admits first class of URB majors
2004  - First graduating class of URB majors.  Established Certificate in GIS
2011 - Established BA Sustainable Urban Development program; admits first class of SUD majors
2013 - First graduating class of SUD majors
2014 - Established MS in Geospatial Technogies; hired founding MS faculty; admitted first class of MS students
2015 - First class of MS students graduated; Re-designed URB and SUD undergraduate curriculum; established URB Formal Options in Global Urbanism and Community Development & Planning
2016 - Established MA in Community Planning; will admit first class of MA students for Autumn 2016
2017 - Received approval to launch BS in Urban Design, starting Autumn 2018.  Established a new Formal Option in GIS & Spatial Planning under the BA in Urban Studies major.
2018 - First class of MA in Community Planning students graduated. Admits first class of BS in Urban Design majors
2019 - Establish the School of Urban Studies

Physically located in the Pinkerton Building, at the UW Tacoma campus, the School of Urban Studies calls home to the oldest building in the entire UW campus system.

History of the Pinkerton Building

The Pinkerton is the oldest building on any UW campus. In 1883 the Northern Pacific Railroad built a temporary wooden depot at 17th Street and Pacific Avenue. Hotels quickly sprouted up nearby to serve passengers arriving in Tacoma. Across the street from the station was the Massasoit Hotel, a wooden structure built in 1887 by pioneer adventurer and investor Colonel John Pinkerton. Two years later he commissioned the prominent local architectural firm of Dennis and Proctor (who also designed the Pierce County Courthouse and University of Puget Sound) to plan a three-story brick addition to the Massasoit Hotel, which boasted it was "the best family hotel in town."

A fine example of railroad hotels of the era, the Italianate-style Pinkerton addition was built of brick and ornamented with cast-iron detailing in the facade. An elegant, two-story lobby and grand staircase greeted the visitors, who could stay in one of the 40 "electrified" rooms for 50 cents a night. The bottom floor with a separate entrance on Broadway, housed several businesses catering to the needs of passengers, including tobacco shops, a barber shop and a bath.

Two years after the Pinkerton was constructed, however, the railroad moved the depot two blocks further south on Pacific Avenue, causing a change in clientele. Long-term residents replaced travelling guests, and wholesale businesses occupied the first floor. In the 1920's the companies housed in the Pinkerton sold heating and refrigerator supplies, cash registers and office supplies.

The old wooden Massasoit Hotel was totally destroyed by fire in 1934, leaving the Pinkerton, which gradually fell into disuse. The hotel was boarded up and badly deteriorated when a fire gutted the interior and collapsed the rear wall in 1981. A year later, the accounting firm Moss Adams bought the Pinkerton for office space and restored it. The university acquired the building in 2001 and completed further renovations, including rewiring for modern technology. Architect Jim Merritt of Tacoma designed the final renovations.