Learning Lab: MIT CREATE


create@mit.edu | create.mit.edu

CREATE exists as a learning laboratory for students, practitioners, and communities to work together on planning, real estate and design efforts related to the informal economy. Informal enterprises[2] have a vast impact on global and local economies and communities. They link informal and formal supply chains and are key to the exchange of value, goods, and services, operating at a variety of scales. The complexity and nature of the informal economy means it is often invisible or unregarded by city governments. Though there have been numerous examples of successful, inclusive policies[3], as governments, informal workers and their allies, seek a more inclusive urban future, it is clear that there is room to shape the processes, definitions, and spaces that promote a hybrid city that integrates both formal and informal economies.[4]

CREATE seeks to contribute to the theory and practice that shapes a hybrid city. It facilitates the collection and analysis of relevant data on informal economies through a participatory design and research approach. Through these collaborations, CREATE aspires to contribute relevant data to support an informed and inclusive decision-making process to shape policies, infrastructure, and programming that strengthen local economies and the related physical spaces.


We aspire to be a key contributor to the study of and practice related to informal or self-employed entrepreneurship. In the MIT School of Architecture and Planning, we interrogate entrepreneurship’s influence on a place and the influence of place on entrepreneurship. For CREATE, this means exploring the concept of value as applied to productive public spaces, the method for valuing, designing and investing in appropriate infrastructure in informal marketplaces, and the links between a single place and a larger entrepreneurial ecosystem and value chain.

Over the next three years, our aim is to:

Develop a community of students, faculty, practitioners, and entrepreneurs committed to the development and application of shared knowledge in real estate, architecture, design, and planning as it relates to informal enterprises.

Collaborate on two to three projects with students, practitioners, and communities to deliver on shared, meaningful outcomes that contribute to more vibrant, equitable and inclusive marketplaces.

Facilitate an annual class in collaboration with experts at MIT where students can expand their understanding of informality, self-employment, and equity as it relates to their current and future work.

Host and recognize one to two “Fellows of Practice” at MIT to encourage awareness of leadership and to create dialogue and generate shared knowledge between practitioners and the MIT community.

Collaborate with other departments and centers around MIT to develop new cross-discipline approaches to our work. For instance, working with engineers to explore infrastructure designs that are affordable and can withstand heavy use.


 [1] CREATE stands for Contextual Research, Entrepreneurship, and Action Towards Empowered _____. For our current work, we use CREATE: Markets.
[2] In this case, informal enterprises represents organizations and individuals that are not legally protected by labor laws. Among many roles, this includes street vendors, waste pickers, and taxi drivers.
[3] These policies are detailed at length by WIEGO (Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing) and their collaborators.
[4] Chen, Marty.  Inclusive Cities for Informal Workers. World Bank Jobs and Development Blog, 9 Feb 2016.