The Future of the American City

Images from the 2016 landscape architecture studio <em>Miami Rise and Sink: Design for Urban Adaptation</em>, led by Rosetta Elkin.

Images from the 2016 landscape architecture studio Miami Rise and Sink: Design for Urban Adaptation, led by Rosetta Elkin.

The Future of the American City project is an urban study initiative aimed at helping cities tackle urgent challenges. Building on the Harvard Graduate School of Design's unique, multi-disciplinary model, the effort will use architecture, landscape architecture, and urban planning and design to come up with actionable, efficient solutions that take into account community needs.

Research on Miami will form the first phase of the project, a broader initiative intending to also examine the cities of Los Angeles, Detroit, and Boston. The school plans to host a summit to convene experts from each city to create a national discourse on the future of cities and urban life in America.

To engage Miami residents in creating new approaches to address pressing urban issues—including affordable housing, transportation and sea level rise—the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation is providing $1 million in support to the Harvard GSD. With the funding, the school will embed urban researchers in Miami and Miami Beach to better understand the cities’ opportunities and challenges, and launch a multi-year study toward building solutions shaped by residents. Read the full press release.

Researchers at the GSD have been actively connected with the City of Miami and the City of Miami Beach for several years. Since 2012, the school has conducted six courses focused on Miami and held several major events in the city. Expanding on this work, the school will convene a range of experts, policy-makers, and members of the public to contribute to this new effort.

In its research, the school will focus on urban mobility, affordability, and climate change, themes that emerged from a series of previous discussions among its researchers and members of the Miami and Miami Beach communities. Following their analysis, students and faculty will offer toolkits, white papers, and other materials for review and use by city managers, mayors, and other civic leaders, many of whom will be directly involved throughout the study.

The research will be led by Mohsen Mostafavi, Dean and Alexander and Victoria Wiley Professor of Design, as well as Harvard GSD professors Charles Waldheim, John E. Irving Professor of Landscape Architecture, and Jesse M. Keenan, Lecturer in Architecture. The study will include a three-part series of courses being led at the school. This fall, a course will focus on mobility and transit in Miami, particularly Brickell, with a site visit in October 2018. A second course in Fall 2019 will examine the roles of higher education and medical institutions in Miami’s economy, and a third in Fall 2020 will focus on the roles of Miami’s various ethnic neighborhoods in shaping the city’s cultural identity.

Each GSD course will involve 12 graduate-level Harvard students and a professor working in a “design studio,” which involves conducting independent research, then discussing plans with fellow researchers to modify and strengthen their proposals. Each team of students will spend at least one week in Miami to speak with local stakeholders, civic organizations, and political and administrative leaders. Representatives from Miami’s civic and political organizations will provide feedback throughout the study.

Harvard Graduate School of Design’s upcoming Miami research is the first phase of its Future of the American City project, a broader urban-study initiative intending to also examine the cities of Los Angeles, Detroit, and Boston. The school plans to host a summit to convene experts from each city to create a national discourse on the future of cities and urban life in America.

Knight Foundation supports informed and engaged communities by identifying and working with partners to help our cities attract and nurture talent, promote economic opportunity and foster civic engagement. This effort will advance Knight Foundation’s work in Miami focused on building the city’s innovation ecosystem, while fueling entrepreneurship and new ideas. It will also help drive a national conversation about how communities can be more engaged in designing their cities to face the challenges of the future.