Beyond Smart Cities

Lead Instructor(s): 

Kent Larson


Jul 10, 2017 - Jul 12, 2017

Course Length: 

3 Days

Course Fee: 





  • Registration opening soon

It is highly recommended that you apply for a course at least 6-8 weeks before the start date to guarantee there will be space available. After that date you may be placed on a waitlist. Courses with low enrollment may be cancelled up to 4 weeks before start date if sufficient enrollments are not met. If you are able to access the online application form, then registration for that particular course is still open.

This course has limited enrollment. Apply early to guarantee your spot.

The world is experiencing a period of extreme urbanization. In China alone, more than 250 million rural inhabitants will move to urban areas over the next 15 years. This will require building new infrastructure to accommodate nearly the equivalent of the current population of the United States in a matter of a few decades. Cities in the 21st century will account for nearly 90% of global population growth, 80% of wealth creation, and 60% of total energy consumption. It is a global imperative to develop systems that improve the livability of cities while dramatically reducing resource consumption. This course will focus on understanding the complexities of cities through the use of Big Data Urban Analytics and the design of New Urban Systems for high-density cities such as systems for mobility, energy, food, and living/working. The design of these systems must be resilient, scalable, and reconfigurable.

Today, academic research and industrial applications in the area of Smart Cities seek to optimize existing city infrastructure, networks, and urban behavior through the deployment and utilization of digital networks. Cities that employ optimization techniques have reported improvements in energy efficiency, water use, public safety, road congestion, and many other areas. However, optimization has its limits. For instance, the improvement of traffic flow in most cities can approach 10% based on current Smart Cities approaches such as sensing the road network, predicting the demand, and controlling traffic signaling. Research and investments in new urban systems are fundamentally critical because optimization will have little effect for rapidly urbanizing cities such as Bangalore, India, which experience around the clock congestion. This course moves beyond Smart Cities by focusing on disruptive innovations in technology, design, planning, policy, and strategies that can bring dramatic improvements in urban livability and sustainability.

This course aims to develop a holistic model for high-performance urban living based on the concept of Compact Urban Cells – a neighborhood area of approximately one square kilometer in diameter containing most of what citizens need for everyday life within a 20-minute walk. This course will introduce the following key elements for Compact Urban Cells:

  1. Resilient Urban Cells – Compact, walkable neighborhoods where places of living, work, culture, shopping, and play are within short reach and support a rich diversity of interactions and activities
  2. New Mobility Systems – Electric-based and shared alternatives to the private fossil-fueled automobile are more convenient, affordable, pleasurable, and can essentially eliminate traffic congestion
  3. Resilient Energy Systems – Microgrids and locally-produced renewables create agile, adaptable, efficient energy networks
  4. Living Space on Demand – Hyper-efficient and transformable micro-apartments that are affordable, fun, and productive for young professionals in the creative heart of the city
  5. Shared Co-Working Facilities – Co-working facilities, cafés, "fab labs" (fabrication laboratories), and other shared facilities support innovation and entrepreneurship
  6. Urban Food Production – Advanced urban agriculture systems integrated onto rooftops and façades of buildings efficiently deliver high-quality produce and help solve food security problems
  7. Responsive Technologies – Innovative systems enable powerful new applications that improve the life of each resident in areas of health, energy conservation, mobility, and communications
  8. Trust Networks – Privacy is assured for otherwise invasive systems that make use of highly personal data such as mobility patterns and resource consumption (food, water, energy, and individual health profiles)

The course will be divided into three learning methods 1) lectures by course faculty and guests from academia and industry, 2) participatory group design work in “charrette” sessions (a type of brainstorming), and 3) critique by faculty and invited experts. Using the MIT campus and the Kendall Square area as a potential site for deployment, course participants will work on a series of short in-class assignments that focus on solving practical urban problems. The goal of the workshop is for participants to engage in critical thinking about the technological, social, cultural, and economic challenges for achieving smart sustainable cities in order to return to their community, corporation, or institution to implement positive change.

Takeaways from this course include:

  • Understanding the current environmental, energy, housing, health, food, and mobility issues facing cities
  • Building a knowledge base of the latest technological innovations, strategies, and policies being developed by industry and academia that are being deployed in cities and understand the benefit and cost tradeoffs for these solutions
  • Developing new concepts and designs by participating in "charrette" sessions that focus on a limited set of core issues connected to real-world implementation
  • Evaluating and critiquing the technological, design, economic, and policy implications from the "charrette" and follow-up discussions
  • Developing a holistic and system-level perspective on smart sustainable cities that takes an integrative approach towards complex problems leveraging Big Data analytics and strategies related to planning, zoning, and public policy

Who should attend:

This program is designed for executives, business unit leaders and managers, financial investors and entrepreneurs, engineers/designers, and urban planners from companies focused on the built environment, personal mobility and transit, energy, IT infrastructure, food, and Smart Cities development.

This program is also designed for government leaders charged with new urban economic development, design of new cities, and urban innovation districts or zones. Participants may include government leaders (e.g. mayors or vice-mayors), ministry and agency leaders, department directors, innovation managers, policymakers, city planners, and civil servants at the city, state, regional, or federal level. This course is open to government leaders in the U.S. and internationally.

Computer Requirements:

Laptops or tablets with PowerPoint, Word, and Excel (or similar programs) are required.

Earn a Professional Certificate in Innovation and Technology

Beyond Smart Cities may be taken individually or as an elective course for the Professional Certificate Program in Innovation and Technology.

Program Outline: 

Day 1

  • Course Introduction and Overview
  • Energy, Environmental, Mobility, Housing, and Food Challenges in Cities
  • City Science (introduction)
  • Big Data and Urban Informatics
  • CityScope (Urban Simulation and Decision Support Systems)
  • Urban Mobility Systems (Electric Vehicles, Shared-Use, Fleet Management)
  • Charrette #1
  • Day 1 overview

Group dinner (after class)

Day 2

  • Resilient Energy Systems (Smart Grids, Vehicle-to-Grid, Microgrids)
  • Urban Housing Systems (Building Energy Efficiency, Transformable Micro-Apartments, Live/Work, Co-working)
  • What’s Happening Now Inside the Automobile Industry*
  • Data Privacy and Trust Networks*
  • Evidence-Based Urban Design
  • Charrette #2
  • Day 2 overview

Day 3

  • Urban Food Production Systems (Hydroponics, Aquaponics, Aeroponics, Vertical Urban Farming)
  • Urban Development Ventures and Entrepreneurship*
  • Autonomous Driving Technologies*
  • Governance, Public Policy, and Incentives
  • Charrette No. 3
  • Final Review and Critique*
  • Course overview and wrap-up

*Invited academic or industry experts

Course Schedule: 

View 2016 course schedule (pdf)

Class runs 8:30 am - 5:00 pm each day.


Participants’ Comments: 

President, Multilog S/A

"It was great in every aspect. The course itself made us see more clearly how urban sites can be improved."

Associate Professor, Wentworth Institute of Technology

"Wonderful and well worth it!"

Associate Professor, Carnegie Mellon University

"Incredible. I've attended a two-day professional education course at Harvard GSD in the past, and this course far exceeded my experience there. MIT is dynamic, interdisciplinary, hands-on and cutting edge in comparison."

Senior Professional, Chamber of Commerce of Bogota, Colombia

"This is the real Smart Cities strategy, that should be spread all over the world. Thank you."



This course takes place on the MIT campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts. We can also offer this course for groups of employees at your location. Please complete the Custom Programs request form for further details.


Fundamentals: Core concepts, understandings, and tools (25%) 25
Latest Developments: Recent advances and future trends (25%) 25
Industry Applications: Linking theory and real-world (25%) 25
Real-World Implementation: Design and decision-making for change (25%) 25

Delivery Methods: 

Lecture: Delivery of material in a lecture format (35%) 35
Discussion or Groupwork: Participatory learning (35%) 35
Labs: Demonstrations, experiments, simulations (30%) 30


Introductory: Appropriate for a general audience (50%) 50
Specialized: Assumes experience in practice area or field (25%) 25
Advanced: In-depth explorations at the graduate level (25%) 25