The development of simulation models and other tools that can predict the impact of proposed interventions will be a key driver of the future of urban planning, according to Larson. “And to build those tools you need to begin with a fine-grained analysis of data,” he said.

An “anti-disciplinary” approach to city planning

Larson knows that data alone isn’t enough, however. He puts today’s perspectives to city planning into three buckets: policy-driven, technology-driven, and design-driven. Policy-focused planners believe that people respond best to incentives and the levers available to government, while technocrats believe that every issue can be solved through superior engineering. The design-oriented crowd thinks that behavior can be influenced through changes to the environment.

All three outlooks have valid perspectives on how cities should properly function, but they also each have their blind spots. Larson sees courses such as Beyond Smart Cities as merging these different perspectives so that they accentuate and build on each other. This “anti-disciplinary” approach, as he calls it, will be the future of smarter, more effective city planning. “Multidisciplinary involves getting people in different disciplines to work together,” he said. “We need to actually break the barriers between disciplines, because that’s where the magic happens.”

Bringing those concentrations together will create cities that aren’t just smart, but also more equal, accessible, and efficient. Urban planners that can fuse the spirit of Jacobs’s ideal with cutting-edge toolkits will be able to create more resilient communities with the ability to respond dynamically to rapidly changing social, technological, and economic challenges we will face in the future.

Courses like Beyond Smart Cities will be key to helping people explore the new ideas and perspectives that will shape how people live in the future. “Urban planners are now using obsolete tools that were developed in the middle of the last Century”, said Larson. “Cities are the future. Developing a new model for creating cities that makes use of emerging technology is a societal imperative, necessary to address the great challenges of our era, from equity to climate change.”

Request information to learn more about MIT’s Beyond Smart Cities course.

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