Information technologies can help planners improve the efficiency of metropolitan governments and markets, explore the nature of spatial interactions, and understand the composition and workings of communities. IT itself also serves as a significant stimulus for change, since it can affect the spatial relationships that shape our urban fabric. This raises a complex and interesting set of issues:
- Will dense urban centers still be needed, as IT and telecommunications make time/place separation a less serious problem than in the past?
- Can-and should-technology be used to manage the proliferation of urban sprawl?
- Will technology facilitate further polarization of society and heighten the redlining of the poor and other minorities?
- Is it possible to translate improved understanding of environmental impacts (such as air, water, and land pollution) into useful land use management and control structures?
- Can technology help fill the gap between elegant but quickly outdated comprehensive master plans on the one hand, and site-by-site reviews on the other, which are forced to use unclear or constantly changing yardsticks for pacing growth, protecting environmental resources, and mitigating the marginal impacts of development?
To address these questions, the Planning Support Systems group has focused on three primary lines of inquiry to date.
- First is the development of appropriate information infrastructures for handling digital spatial data. These infrastructures, in combination with networks and the World Wide Web, provide planners with easy, structured access to vast stores of online information, along with the tools for analysis and visualization that are needed to aggregate, manipulate, and recombine this information appropriately.
- The second focus is on understanding urban spatial structure and modeling urban futures. This work involves using information technology to shed light on the relationships among land use, transportation, jobs accessibility, and community development.
- The third area of study examines how IT and the Web can be used together to improve citizen access to planning-related debate and to better inform constituents about planning issues, through the use of representations aids that help in visualizing and debating urban futures.
As IT evolves and as our understanding of its planning implications improves, PSS research is beginning to shed light on the broader set of issues outlined above. We believe that the pathway toward answering such questions involves a mix of hands-on experience and informed reflection that draws upon the best of what MIT has to offer.
MIT@Lawrence  is a university-community partnership that connects faculty, students and staff at MIT with community-based organizations and civic leaders in the City of Lawrence, Massachusetts. It is a model of scholarly engagement that integrates planning research, education and practice in ways that promote affordable housing development, economic development through asset-building, and youth development. Recent projects include a digital story narrated by victims of predatory lending, produced in collaboration with MIT's Center for Advanced Visual Studies, that has been aired on public access television and YouTube as a form of community outreach and education. The "What's Up" project, done in partnership with the Media Lab, is a telephone-based, neighborhood news system that makes it easier for youth to collect, share, and analyze information about personally meaningful places, people, and opportunities in their neighborhoods.
FutureBoston examines the competitive challenges Boston faces in an increasingly globalized world, and how the city and region can address them. Convened by State Street Corp. and MIT, the project is a multi-year civic dialogue -- online and in person -- aimed at developing recommendations and proposals in three topic areas: Health, Design, and Sustainability. FutureBoston uses collaborative web technologies and advanced mapping to explore these issues in new and revealing ways.
Intelligent Middleware for Understanding Urban Markets
The Intelligent Middleware project prototypes and tests an approach for sharing data within a metropolitan area in a manner that is likely to be more effective, scalable, and sustainable than the traditional 'data center' approach. These tools and methods provide a mechanism for accumulating local knowledge about neighborhood-scale land use, ownership, and market potential and for using that knowledge to re-interpret administrative datasets and develop customized analyses of neighborhood conditions and market potential. THIS URL IS CONFUSING
Simulating Sustainable Futures
Michael Flaxman's GIS modeling workshop has used scenarios to explore different ecological and economic outcomes in Mexico and Spain.