MIT launches new research center on advanced urbanism

A great deal of effort is being put into research that could lead to new urbanists – of interest here is the emphasis on the role of projects rather than utopian design ideals and a seeming leaning towards Transdisciplinarity – this involves greater level of involvement with end users – rather than purely Interdisciplinary and multi disciplinary approaches that are the typical state of academia and praxis present:

From Archinect

Interdisciplinary teams will focus on the planning, design, construction and retrofitting of urban environments for the 21st century. —

Already, the world is becoming predominantly urban. However, the dominant form of urban living will be very similar to our older suburban regions in the U.S. This places substantial pressure on American suburban models, the dominant model of urban development copied worldwide, to set a better example of sustainability. This is even more critical as economic development grows robust middle classes in developing countries who expect more from their living environments.

To address the urgent need for better models of urban growth, the MIT School of Architecture + Planning is launching a major new research center focused on the planning, design, construction and retrofitting of urban environments for the 21st century.

Under the leadership of center director Alexander D’Hooghe and research director Alan Berger – professors of architecture and of urban design and landscape architecture, respectively – the Center for Advanced Urbanism will coordinate collaborations among existing efforts in the School and with other MIT groups, as well as undertaking new projects at the Institute and with sponsors in practice.

For the first two years, the center’s research program will focus on the particular challenges of infrastructure. Traditionally, infrastructure design has been based on a single function – a bridge for auto use, for instance, a lake and dam for electricity, a coastal barrier for storm surge protection.  But two new trends will soon alter that model – the increasing intensity of development in our suburban regions, putting capacity pressures on existing infrastructures; and the need for a broader systemic view of infrastructure’s multiple roles.

“We need to continue studying and modeling new scenarios for suburban forms and infrastructures, with special attention to the design performance and programmatic adaptability,” says Berger.

Fundamental to the center’s approach is the notion that research will be most effective when it is focused on specific projects as elements of the larger system, with a constant eye toward how that project can provide extra services beyond its primary function. By limiting intervention to individual projects, rather than trying to rewire entire regional systems all at once, infrastructure investment should, over several growth cycles, result in a reconfigured and durable new urban order.

As part of its commitment to building a new collaborative approach to the challenges of urbanization, CAU will offer subjects to general student populations in all the School’s degree programs and will contribute to a new, one-year integrated studio experience in which students will work on a complex urban problem from the combined perspectives of architecture, ecology, energy, housing, landscape, policy, real estate and technology.

With its distinguished history in urbanism, reaching all the way back to the work of pioneering urbanist Kevin Lynch, the MIT School of Architecture + Planning is well positioned to lead this effort, drawing faculty from both the department of architecture and of urban studies and planning.

The School’s participating labs include City Science, the Civic Data Design Lab, the Housing and Community Lab, Locus-Lab, the Mobility Systems Lab, the New Century Cities Lab, the P-REX Lab, the Platform for Permanent Modernity, the Resilient Cities Housing Initiative, the Sustainable Design Lab and the Urban Risk Lab.

Using Critical Cartography as a Tool for Urban Intervention/ MIT Urban Studies and Planning (Feature)

Featured in!  A new research project led by Annette Kim, Ford International Career Development Professor of Urban Studies and Planning at MIT,  is setting out to celebrate and legitimize the sidewalk life of Ho Chi Minh City by mapping what it does and what it contributes to the life of the city. The effort bridges urban design and social science research while also aiming to make a practical intervention in the city’s landscape.

In Celebration of Sidewalk Life

Using Critical Cartography as a Tool for Urban Intervention

A new research project led by Annette Kim, Ford International Career Development Professor of Urban Studies and Planning, is setting out to celebrate and legitimize the sidewalk life of Ho Chi Minh City by mapping what it does and what it contributes to the life of the city. The effort bridges urban design and social science research while also aiming to make a practical intervention in the city’s landscape.

Street Vendor Interview

In spite of the fact that street vendors provide 30% of the city’s food and account for 30% of its employment, a series of recent decisions by the Vietnamese government is attempting to clear the sidewalks of vendors in a move to modernize the city and appeal to tourists. Based on conventions of traffic engineering that see anything on the sidewalk as an impediment to flow, planners are of the opinion that tourists don’t want these crowded sidewalks. But research shows that the lively sidewalk life of Ho Chi Minh City is a vital part of the city’s appeal and represents an amenity many westerners strive to create at home.

While the Vietnamese are a highly literate people, for instance, they also have an elaborate and colorful language of non-verbal symbols that enlivens the culture of their streets: crumpled paper in a brick means someone nearby can sell you gas for your moped; someone rattling a wooden snake is saying s/he could give you a massage; someone tapping a ceramic bowl with chopsticks is saying s/he can sell you a noodle dish; and a freestanding sculpture of tire wheels means you can get your moped repaired close by. The symbols change from year to year but people are so chatty you can always get the latest interpretation.

Tourism Study

While the city’s indigenous public views sidewalk activity as a longstanding part of their culture and appreciates the low-cost goods and services street vendors provide, so far they seem unsure how to react to the new rules except to find marginal ways to work around them. And because the vendor’s€™ claim to sidewalk space never appears on planner’s€™ maps, it i€™s easy for them to be simply cleared rather than recognized and managed.

Read More

MIT SLAB – sidewalk laboratory – view details and animated maps

Urban Network Analysis: A Toolbox for ArcGIS 10

A potential alternative for Space Syntax analysis of urban form has been released by MIT’s City Form Research Group. This will be of interest to many researchers and urbanists who wish to understand more of the factors that influence various attributes of urban form operation. It is especially useful that it operates within ArcGis and is available free. The following press release from MIT:

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — MIT researchers have created a new Urban Network Analysis (UNA) toolbox that enables urban designers and planners to describe the spatial patterns of cities using mathematical network analysis methods. Such tools can support better informed and more resilient urban design and planning in a context of rapid urbanization. “Network centrality measures are useful predictors for a number of interesting urban phenomena,” explains Andres Sevtsuk, the principal investigator of the City Form Research Group at MIT that produced the toolbox. “They help explain, for instance, on which streets or buildings one is most likely to find local commerce, where foot or vehicular traffic is expected to be highest, and why city land values vary from one location to another.”
Network analysis is widely used in the study of social networks, such as Facebook friends or phonebook connections, but so far fairly little in the spatial analysis of cities. While the study of spatial networks goes back to Euler and his famous puzzle of Königsberg’s seven bridges in the 18th century, there were, until recently, no freely accessible tools available for city planners to calculate computation-intensive spatial centrality measures on dense networks of city streets and buildings. The new toolbox, which is distributed as free and open-source plugin-in for ArcGIS, allows urban designers and planners to compute five types of graph analysis measures on spatial networks: Reach; Gravity; Betweenness; Closeness; and Straightness. “The Reach measure, for instance, can be used to estimate how many destinations of a particular type — buildings, residents, jobs, transit stations etc. — can be reached within a given walking radius from each building along the actual circulation routes in the area”, said Michael Mekonnen, a course six sophomore who worked on the project. “The Betweenness measure, on the other hand, can be used to quantify the number of potential passersby at each building.”The tools incorporate three important features that make network analysis particularly suited for urban street networks. First, they account for geometry and distances in the input networks, distinguishing shorter links from longer links as part of the analysis computations. Second, unlike previous software tools that operate with two network elements (nodes and edges), the UNA tools include a third network element — buildings — which are used as the spatial units of analysis for all measures. Two neighboring buildings on the same street segments can therefore obtain different accessibility results. And third, the UNA tools optionally allow buildings to be weighted according to their particular characteristics — more voluminous, more populated, or otherwise more important buildings can be specified to have a proportionately stronger effect on the analysis outcomes, yielding more accurate and reliable results to any of the specified measures.The toolbox offers a powerful set of analysis options to quantify how centrally each building is positioned in an urban environment and how easily a user can access different amenities from each location. It introduces a novel methodology for tracking the growth and change of cities in the rapidly urbanizing world and offers analytic support for their designers and policymakers.The UNA toolbox can be downloaded from the group’s website.