Sustainable Urbanization Lab (SUL)

The goal of the Sustainable Urbanization Lab (SUL) is to establish behavioral foundations for urban and environmental planning and policies aimed at sustainable urbanization in the most rapidly urbanizing regions of the world.

The increasing trend of urbanization across the global population has fundamental ramifications for our economy, society and the environment. By 2025 cities will generate 88% of global gross domestic product (GDP). Cities also produce more than 70 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and use 80 percent of the world’s energy. Promoting sustainable urbanization is critical to achieving a global development agenda. Reflecting the need to examine sustainable development at a global scale, Zheng introduced three new projects extending the CFC’s analytical framework beyond China to incorporate a global analysis of sustainable urbanization.

The SUL will be defined by three ‘blocks’: two of which are inter-related research themes: Environmental Sustainability and Place-based Policies and Self-Sustaining Urban Growth; the third block, an educational program the China Future City Program, will continue to serve as the teaching and research center of China’s urbanization on MIT campus.

Asia’s New Cities, SUL’s first project, examines the emergence of “new planned cities” – such as industrial parks, high tech zones, and new smart cities –across Asian countries in the context of national and city leaders explicitly conceptualizing these new cities as a key engine for local economic growth and urban vibrancy. This work will build on comparative studies on the new cities in China, India, Malaysia and South Korea, which will appear in a forthcoming, edited book, Towards Urban Economic Vibrancy: Patterns and Practices of Asia’s New Cities (MIT SA+P Press, 2020). In the second project, Zheng’s team is developing a comparative research approach for studying subway networks and urban vibrancy, and then expand Zheng’s China subway research approach to other cities in the world: Sao Paulo (Brazil), Santiago (Chile), Madrid (Spain), NYC (the US) and Singapore. In their third new initiative, climate change and global sentiment, SUL is constructing a daily city sentiment metric by applying a machine-trained language algorithm (for dozens of popular languages) on the content of billions of geotagged tweets (1.5 billion per year) on Twitter all over the world, to study its dynamics relative to climate change induced extreme weather conditions and disasters, as well as local pollution.

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