The Metro Lab

IAP Activity/Course 2017

  • January 9th-13th: "Bridging the metro gaps"
  • January 16th-20th: "The construction of a new metropolitan discipline"

105 Massachusetts Ave, Samuel Tak Lee Building 9, room 9-451, Cambridge, MA

MIT Metro Lab Initiative 2017

The MIT Metro Lab Initiative is offering a two-week IAP session, sponsored by the MIT-SUTD Collaboration. The session has two modules, which may be taken together or separately. Each module offers classes in the morning and workshops as well as conferences in the afternoon. In the first module, “Bridging the metro gaps”, metropolitan challenges and their potential solutions will be addressed and developed for different sectors and problems. The second module, “The construction of a new metropolitan discipline” will focus on how different disciplines and their methods can be applied. A pin-up session open to the MIT and Harvard communities will be developed the last day of each course and guest speakers will hold open conferences.

Module one: “Bridging the metro gaps”
Monday, January 9th to Friday, January 13th

Module two: “The construction of a new metropolitan discipline”
Monday, January 16th to Friday, January 20th

9:00 am to 4:30 pm *1 hour lunch break

Instructors & guest speakers:
Gabriel Lanfranchi, MIT Metro Lab | David Gomez-Alvarez, MIT Metro Lab Pedro Ortiz, World Bank | Antonella Contin, Politecnico di Milano | Marco Kamiya, UN Habitat | Robin Rajack, InterAmerican Development Bank | Victor Vergara, World Bank | Francisco Rojas, InterAmerican Development Bank | Diane Davis, Urban Planning, Harvard University | Lawrence Susskind, Urban Studies and Planning MIT | Matts Anderson, international consultant | Patricia McCarthy, World Council on City Data | Michael Cohen, Urban Policy, New School University |

Session topics:
Spatial and territorial frameworks | Economy | Social capital | Governance | Transversal linkages (vary from module one to module two)

This non-credit IAP activity is targeted to students and practitioners focusing on public policy; urban management; planning, urban design and architecture; international development; transportation; housing; land use and urban law; environment and climate change. (MIT Students who participate may seek 3 units of credit as an independent study -- see

To apply, applicants must:

1.      Fulfill the following application form:
2.      Submit their resume (CV) to:

Application deadline is on November, Wednesday 30^th at 11:59pm EST. Results will be announced by December, Monday 5^th.

Further information contact:
Gabriel Lanfranchi, SPURS Fellow 2015 and MIT Metro Lab co-director and

David Gomez-Alvarez, SPURS Fellow 2017 and MIT Metro Lab co-director

Ricardo Martínez Campos, Master's in City Planning Candidate 2017, (for both modules)



Why a Metro Lab?

According to UN projections, the world’s urban population will double in just one generation. By 2050, most global cities will have become large metropolitan areas. This massive growth needs to be addressed in ways that will help us face the largest challenges of these times: resiliency and inequality in developing metro areas. These goals won’t be achieved if cross-sector and cross-jurisdictional collaboration is not enhanced.  We believe that a new discipline that exists between urban planning and regional planning needs to be shaped. To face these challenges, The MIT Metro Lab was created in Spring 2015 with the mission to generate applied knowledge to improve the awareness about these metropolitan issues by bridging the gap between theory and practice.

Who we are

Metro Lab is promoted by a group of fellows from the Special Program for Urban and Regional Studies (SPURS), SPURS alumni as well as graduate students and PhD candidates from the Department of Urban Studies and Planning (DUSP). In our inaugural year, we are 15 people from countries as diverse as Argentina, China, Ethiopia, Israel, Myanmar, Poland, South Korea, Turkey, and the United States. The SPURS program has a potential network of more than 600 alumni spread around 115 countries which can help us build a global network of practitioners to support our efforts.


Metro Lab’s mission is to improve awareness and generate applied knowledge about metropolitan issues to ultimately bridge the gap between theory and practice.



The Metro Lab Kick off event

On February 13, 2015, the Metro Lab hosted a kick-off event to launch a department-wide dialogue about contemporary metropolitan planning. Gabriel Lanfranchi, SPURS fellow and founder of the Metro Lab, moderated the conversation with Assistant Professor Gabriella Carolini, Professor Lawrence Susskind, and Professor Bish Sanyal.  Over the course of the conversation, four (4) key ideas emerged:

1. The Problem of Definition: There is no single definition of “metropolitan.” What is metropolitan depends on for which purpose you ask the question. It might be determined by particular social or political relationships; an infrastructural system; or a natural system, like a watershed. The metropolitan scale is determined by a specific problem. No scale is universally applicable.

2. Coordination & Authority: A central challenge to metropolitan planning is the difficulty of coordination. This means that one key to successful metropolitan planning is making sure the right mix of people are in involved in the process—this mix has to include people with the authority to make decisions.

3. Co-learning vs Solutions: Rather than supplying answers or even structuring processes, metropolitan work might most effectively be about promoting learning. Experimentation is easier at small scales, but the people and groups that engage in small-scale projects may not have the capacity to convert their successes into demonstration and learning at a broader scale.  Thus, "scaling up” might not mean “commercialization,” as it typically has, but it could instead refer to what is possible when others can replicate successful small-scale projects.

4.  The Role of Universities: There is a potentially vital role for universities in new processes of metropolitan planning: the University doesn’t bring answers to stakeholders, but rather helps to facilitate joint inquiry. This departs from traditional modes of universities as expert consultants. The University is a partner with a community or a group of communities, and both entities are equally able to share ideas, ask questions, and jointly come to a conclusion.

The Metropolitan Conversations

A 3-part series featuring invited global urban planning practitioners, the Metropolitan Conversations was intended to facilitate a closer setting for the DUSP and MIT community to bridge with real-world practice in metropolitan planning. Guests were invited to answer the questions: What is the definition of “metropolitan”? What are the most pressing issues for metropolitan areas? How does the management of metropolitan regions differ between the developed world and the developing world? What makes a metropolitan program successful? and what can Metro Lab do as a group of researchers, fellows, students, and faculty to participate and help in the improvement of metropolitan governance?

  • Eduardo Rojas, Consultant to World Bank, OECD (February 25, 2015)
  • Pedro Ortiz, Former Director Generale for Regional Planning of Madrid Region (March 13, 2015)
  • Gabriele Pasqui, Director of the Department of Architecture and Urban Studies, Politecnico di Milano and Antonella Contin, Assistant Professor in the School of Architecture and Society at the Politecnico di Milano (April 1, 2015)


First Annual Conference: Understanding the Metro Gap

On Saturday April 11, 2015, the Metro Lab hosted its first annual conference entitled "Understanding the Metro Gap".

Opening Remarks by Prof. Bish Sanyal

The idea of the Metropolis is not new, and considerations of the “metropolitan scale” have been a part of the planning discussion for a while. However, what makes the issue so pressing and important today is the scale – the fact that so many world cities are now metropolitan in nature – and the attention that cities are attracting from the public, private, and academic sector. The demand from municipalities to work with institutions like MIT is at an all time high, but MIT needs to know how to respond and contribute well and in order to do that it will be important to start establishing new curricula and considering the programming and hiring that is required to pursue an agenda of metropolitan studies.

By 2050, 3.5B more people will living in cities. So the urban growth that the world has experienced over 5000 years will now need to occur in a generation. The world is becoming increasingly urban and also metropolitan. Once a city becomes metropolitan new types of challenges arise. Metropolitan areas are newer than the constitutions of many of their countries, so they are politically unrecognized and when new forms of government at the metropolitan scale are proposed, there is significant resistance, which hurts metropolitan areas from a legitimacy standpoint.

Many organizations have started discussing Metropolitan areas in the last few years, from the World Bank to the Lincoln Institute, to the OCED. This has Metropolitan cities become more productive as they grow, but administration fragmentation often offsets this positive impact. What we aim to do is create a space for dialogue between people shaping metropolitan areas so there can be a conversation at the metropolitan scale which has to date proven very challenging due to the rapid growth and entrenched fragmentation.


Conference Session 1: Metro at MIT  

Saturday 4/11/2015

  • “Factors Affecting Metropolitan Housing Markets” by Prof. Albert Saiz, MIT Center for Real Estate
  • “Urban Metabolism and Resource Modeling” by Prof. John E. Fernandez, Urban Metabolism and City Typologies; MIT Urban Metabolism Group
  • "Delicacy in Bold Ambitions: High Speed Rail and Non-local Vehicles in China" by Prof. Jinhua Zhao, MIT Transit Lab
  • "JPAL and the Urban Services Initiative" by Dr. Thomas Chupein, MIT Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab


Conference Session 2: Metro: A View from the Field

Saturday 4/11/2015

  • "Managing the Metropolis" by Arch. Eduardo Rojas, University of Pennsylvania
  • "Madrid Metropolitan Matrix and Beyond" by Arch. Pedro Ortiz, Senior IGO's consultant (EU, IDB, ADB, WB, UNCRD, CAF)
  • "Towards Metropolitan Architecture" by Prof. Antonella Contin, Politecnico di Milano, Measure and Scale Lab


Conference Session 3: Metro: An Institutional Perspective

Saturday 4/11/2015

  • "Rethinking Housing in Mexico at a Large Scale" by Lic. Sebastian Fernandez, Director, Infonavit, Mexico
  • "Building Metropolitan Governance in Argentina" by Dr. Francisca Rojas, The Inter-American Development Bank
  • "Metropolitan Strategic Planning: An Invitation for Collaboration" by Victor Vergara, The World Bank


Featured project: Metro Lab-MISTI in Buenos Aires

During Summer 2015, Metro Lab is teaming up with MISTI for a project in Buenos Aires. Metro Lab members Margo Dawes and Maria Roldan are working with Gabriel Lanfranchi to develop and test a methodology for understanding metropolitan growth in the housing sector. The methodology involves mapping formal and informal processes for obtaining housing, and interviewing key institutional actors in the public and private sectors to uncover the bottlenecks that inhibit resilient and inclusive growth. The Metro Lab can then apply this methodology to growth analyses in other metropolitan areas globally.

Concurrently, Margo and Maria are also assisting the Corporación Antiguo Puerto Madero with the Autopista Ribereña project, a cut-and-cover tunnel proposal through the dense urban center that takes some inspiration from Boston’s Big Dig.

Follow Metro Lab's work in Buenos Aires!