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    Preparing to be prepared

    The Kobe earthquake of 1995 devastated one of Japan’s major cities, leaving over 6,000 people dead while destroying or making unusable hundreds of thousands of structures. It toppled elevated freeway segments, wrecked mass transit systems, and damaged the city’s port capacity.

    “It was a shock to a highly engineered, urban city to have undergone that much destruction,” says Miho Mazereeuw, an associate professor at MIT who specializes in disaster resilience.

    Even in a country like Japan, with advanced engineering, and policies in place to update safety codes, natural forces can overwhelm the built environment.

    “There’s nothing that’s ever guaranteed safe,” says Mazereeuw, an associate professor of architecture and urbanism in MIT’s Department of Architecture and director of the Urban Risk Lab. “We [think that] through technology and engineering we can solve things and fight nature. Whereas it’s really that we’re living with nature. We’re part of this natural ecosystem.”

    That’s why Mazereeuw’s work on disaster resilience focuses on plans, people, and policies, well as technology and design to prepare for the future. In the Urban Risk Lab, which Mazereeuw founded, several projects are based on the design of physical objects, spaces, and software platforms, but many others involve community-level efforts, so that local governments have workable procedures in case of emergency.

    “What we can do for ourselves and each other is have plans in place so that if something does happen, the level of chaos and fear can be reduced and we can all be there to help each other through,” Mazereeuw says. When it comes to disaster preparedness, she adds, “Definitely a lot of it is on the built environment side of things, but a lot of it is also social, making sure that in our communities, we know who would need help, and we have those kinds of relationships beforehand.”

    The Kobe earthquake was a highly influential event for Mazereeuw. She has researched the response to it and has a book coming out about natural disasters, policies, and design in Japan. Beyond that, the Kobe event helped reinforce her sense that when it comes to disaster preparedness, progress can be made many ways. For her research, teaching, and innovative work at the Urban Risk Lab, Mazereeuw was granted tenure at MIT last year.

    Two cultures grappling with nature

    Mazereeuw has one Dutch parent and one Japanese parent, and both cultures helped produce her interest in managing natural forces. On her Dutch side, many family friends were involved with local government and water management — practically an existential issue in a country that sits largely below sea level.

    Mazereeuw’s parents, however, were living in Japan in 1995. And while they happened to be away while the Kobe earthquake hit, her Japanese links helped spur her interest in studying the event and its aftermath.

    “I think that was a wake-up call for me, too, about how we need to plan and design cities to reduce the impact of chaos at the time of disasters,” Mazereeuw says.

    Mazereeuw earned her undergraduate degree from Wesleyan University, majoring in earth and environmental sciences and in studio art. After working in an architectural office in Tokyo, she decided to attend graduate school, receiving her dual masters from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, with a thesis about Kobe and disaster readiness. She then worked in architecture offices, including the Office of Metropolitan Architecture in Rotterdam, but returned to academia to work on climate change and disaster resilience.   

    Mazereeuw’s book, “Design Before Disaster,” explores this subject in depth, from urban planning to coastal-safety strategies to community-based design frameworks, and is forthcoming from the University of Virginia Press.

    Since joining the MIT faculty, Mazereeuw has also devoted significant time to the launch and growth of the Urban Risk Lab, an interdisciplinary group working on an array of disaster-preparedness efforts. One such project has seen lab members work with local officials from many places — including Massachusetts, California, Georgia, and Puerto Rico — to add to their own disaster-preparedness planning.

    A plan developed by local officials with community input, Mazereeuw suggests, will likely function better than one produced by, say, consultants from outside a community, as she has seen happen many times: “A report on a dusty shelf isn’t actionable,” she says. “This way it’s a decision-making process by the people involved.”

    In a project based on physical design, the Urban Risk Lab has also been working with the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency on an effort to produce temporary postdisaster housing for the OCONUS region (Alaska, Hawaii, and other U.S. overseas territories). The lab’s design, called SEED (Shelter for Emergency Expansion Design), features a house that is compact enough to be shipped anywhere and unfolds on-site, while being sturdy enough to withstand follow-up events such as hurricanes, and durable enough to be incorporated into longer-term housing designs.

    “We felt it had to be really, really good quality, so it would be a resource, rather than something temporary that disintegrates after five years,” Mazereeuw says. “It’s built to be a small safety shelter but also could be part of a permanent house.”

    A grand challenge, and a plethora of projects

    Mazereeuw is also a co-lead of one of the five multiyear projects selected in 2022 to move forward as part of MIT’s Climate Grand Challenges competition. Along with Kerry Emanuel and Paul O’Gorman, of MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, Mazereeuw will help direct a project advancing climate modeling by quantifying the risk of extreme weather events for specific locations. The idea is to help vulnerable urban centers and other communities prepare for such events.

    The Urban Risk Lab has many other kinds of projects in its portfolio, following Mazereeuw’s own interest in conceptualizing disaster preparedness broadly. In collaboration with officials in Japan, and with support from Google, lab members worked on interactive, real-time flood-mapping software, in which residents can help officials know where local flooding has reached emergency levels. The researchers also created an AI module to prioritize the information.

    “Residents really have the most localized information, which you can’t get from a satellite,” Mazereeuw says. “They’re also the ones who learn about it first, so they have a lot of information that emergency managers can use for their response. The program is really meant to be a conduit between the efforts of emergency managers and residents, so that information flow can go in both directions.”

    Lab members in the past have also mapped the porosity of the MIT campus, another effort that used firsthand knowledge. Additionally, lab members are currently engaging with a university in Chile to design tsunami response strategies; developing a community mapping toolkit for resilience planning in Thailand and Vietnam; and working with Mass Audubon to design interactive furniture for children to learn about ecology.  

    “Everything is tied together with this interest in raising awareness and engaging people,” Mazereeuw says.

    That also describes Mazereeuw’s attitude about participation in the Urban Risk Lab, a highly cross-disciplinary place with members who have gravitated to it from around MIT.

    “Our lab is extremely interdisciplinary,” Mazereeuw says. “We have students coming in from all over, from different parts of campus. We have computer science and engineering students coming into the lab and staying to get their graduate degrees alongside many architecture and planning students.” The lab also has five full-time researchers — Aditya Barve, Larisa Ovalles, Mayank Ojha, Eakapob Huangthananpan, and Saeko Baird — who lead their own projects and research groups.

    What those lab members have in common is a willingness to think proactively about reducing disaster impacts. Being prepared for those events itself requires preparation.

    Even in the design world, Mazereeuw says, “People are reactive. Because something has happened, that’s when they go in to help. But I think we can have a larger impact by anticipating and designing for these issues beforehand.” More

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    Study: Extreme heat is changing habits of daily life

    Extreme temperatures make people less likely to pursue outdoor activities they would otherwise make part of their daily routine, a new study led by MIT researchers has confirmed.

    The data-rich study, set in China, shows that when hourly temperatures reach 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit), people are 5 percent less likely to go to public parks, and when hourly temperatures hit 35 C (95 F), people are 13 percent less likely to go to those parks.

    “We did observe adaptation,” says Siqi Zheng, an MIT professor and co-author of a new paper detailing the study’s findings. She adds: “Environmental hazards hurt the daily quality of life. Yes, people protect themselves [by limiting activity], but they lose the benefit of going out to enjoy themselves in nature, or meeting friends in parks.”

    The research adds to our knowledge about the effects of a warming climate by quantifying the effects of hot temperatures on the activity of people within a given day — how they shift their activities from hotter to cooler time periods — and not just across longer periods of time.

    “We found that if we take into account this within-day adaptation, extreme temperatures actually have a much larger effect on human activity than the previous daily or monthly estimations [indicate],” says Yichun Fan, an MIT doctoral candidate and another of the paper’s co-authors.

    The paper, “Intraday Adaptation to Extreme Temperatures in Outdoor Activity,” is published this week in Nature Scientific Reports. The authors are Fan, a doctoral student in MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning (DUSP); Jianghao Wang, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences; Nick Obradovich, chief scientist at Project Regeneration; and Zheng, who is the STL Champion Professor of Urban and Real Estate Sustainability at MIT’s Center for Real Estate and DUSP, and faculty director of the MIT Center for Real Estate.

    To conduct the study, the researchers used anonymized data for 900 million cellphone users in China in 2017, studying a total of 60 billion separate cellphone location queries per day available through the technology firm Tencent. With this data, the scholars also examined activity in 10,499 parks across the country, comparing useage totals across a range of conditions. And they obtained temperature data from about 2,000 weather stations in China.

    Ultimately, as the scholars write in the paper, they were able to “document large and significant activity-depressing and activity-delaying effects” on park visits as a result of ultrahot temperatures.

    “People have intraday adaptation patterns that hadn’t been documented in the previous literature,” Fan says. “These have important implications about people’s heat exposure and how future climate change will affect people’s activity and health.”

    As Zheng points out, altered use of public spaces affects daily routines not only in terms of individual activity and exercise, but also in terms of social and community life.

    “Extreme climates will reduce people’s opportunities to socialize in cities, or just watch kids playing basketball or soccer, which is not good,” she says. “We want people to have a wide-ranging urban life. There is a social cost to this adaptation.”

    As the research indicates, people clearly adapt to temperature spikes. The data also show that evening use of parks increases on extremely hot days, but only after conditions have cooled down. While that seems like a beneficial adaptation to very hot weather, the scholars citing existing research suggest people may sleep less as a result of making this kind of change to their daily routines.

    “Adaptation also has its own cost,” Fan says. “People significantly increased their nighttime outdoor activity, which means they delayed their nighttime, which will have a significant health implication, when you consider the potential sleep disruption.”

    All told, the study provides data, and a method, for better characterizing the effects on climate change on human activity in detail.

    “If we have more and more granular data about future climate scenarios, they support better predictions about these scenarios, reflecting people’s dynamic behaviors, and the health implications,” says Fan, whose doctoral research incorporates this work and other related studies on climate and urban activity.

    The researchers also note that the research methods used in this study could be applied to additional future studies of many other aspects of urban life, including street-level retail activities, and other things with implications for economic activity, real estate, and urban planning.

    “This relates to many other issues,” Zheng says.

    Jianghao Wang received funding from the National Key Research and Development Program of China, the National Natural Science Foundation of China, and the Youth Innovation Promotion Association of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. More

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    Machinery of the state

    In Mai Hassan’s studies of Kenya, she documented the emergence of a sprawling administrative network officially billed as encouraging economic development, overseeing the population, and bolstering democracy. But Hassan’s field interviews and archival research revealed a more sinister purpose for the hundreds of administrative and security offices dotting the nation: “They were there to do the presidents’ bidding, which often involved coercing their own countrymen.”

    This research served as a catalyst for Hassan, who joined MIT as an associate professor of political science in July, to investigate what she calls the “politicized management of bureaucracy and the state.” She set out to “understand the motivations, capacities, and roles of people administering state programs and social functions,” she says. “I realized the state is not a faceless being, but instead comprised of bureaucrats carrying out functions on behalf of the state and the regime that runs it.”

    Today, Hassan’s portfolio encompasses not just the bureaucratic state but democratization efforts in Kenya and elsewhere in the East Africa region, including her native Sudan. Her research highlights the difficulties of democratization. “I’m finding that the conditions under which people come together for overthrowing an autocratic regime really matter, because those conditions may actually impede a nation from achieving democracy,” she says.

    A coordinated bureaucracy

    Hassan’s academic engagement with the state’s administrative machinery began during graduate school at Harvard University, where she earned her master’s and doctorate in government. While working with a community trash and sanitation program in some Kenyan Maasai communities, Hassan recalls “shepherding myself from office to office, meeting different bureaucrats to obtain the same approvals but for different jurisdictions.” The Kenyan state had recently set up hundreds of new local administrative units, motivated by what it claimed was the need for greater efficiency. But to Hassan’s eyes, “the administrative network was not well organized, seemed costly to maintain, and seemed to hinder — not bolster — development,” she says. What then, she wondered, was “the political logic behind such state restructuring?”

    Hassan began researching this bureaucratic transformation of Kenya, speaking with administrators in communities large and small who were charged with handling the business of the state. These studies yielded a wealth of findings for her dissertation, and for multiple journals.

    But upon finishing this tranche of research, Hassan realized that it was insufficient simply to study the structure of the state. “Understanding the role of new administrative structures for politics, development, and governance fundamentally requires that we understand who the government has put in charge of them,” she says. Among her insights:

    “The president’s office knows a lot of these administrators, and thinks about their strengths, limitations, and fit within a community,” says Hassan. Some administrators served the purposes of the central government by setting up water irrigation projects or building a new school. But in other villages, the state chose administrators who could act “much more coercively, ignoring development needs, throwing youth who supported the opposition into jail, and spending resources exclusively on policing.”

    Hassan’s work showed that in communities characterized by strong political opposition, “the local administration was always more coercive, regardless of an elected or autocratic president,” she says. Notably, the tenures of such officials proved shorter than those of their peers. “Once administrators get to know a community — going to church and the market with residents — it’s hard to coerce them,” explains Hassan.

    These short tenures come with costs, she notes: “Spending significant time in a station is useful for development, because you know exactly whom to hire if you want to build a school or get something done efficiently.” Politicizing these assignments undermines efforts at delivery of services and, more broadly, economic improvement nationwide. “Regimes that are more invested in retaining power must devote resources to establishing and maintaining control, resources that could otherwise be used for development and the welfare of citizens,” she says.

    Hassan wove together her research covering three presidents over a 50-year period, in the book, “Regime Threats and State Solutions: Bureaucratic Loyalty and Embeddedness in Kenya” (2020, Cambridge University Press), named a Foreign Affairs Best Book of 2020.

    Sudanese roots

    The role of the state in fulfilling the needs of its citizens has long fascinated Hassan. Her grandfather, who had served as Sudan’s ambassador to the USSR, talked to her about the advantages of a centralized government “that allocated resources to reduce inequality,” she says.

    Politics often dominated the conversation in gatherings of Hassan’s family and friends. Her parents immigrated to northern Virginia when she was very young, and many relatives joined them, part of a steady flow of Sudanese fleeing political turmoil and oppression.

    “A lot of people had expected more from the Sudanese state after independence and didn’t get it,” she says. “People had hopes for what the government could and should do.”

    Hassan’s Sudanese roots and ongoing connection to the Sudanese community have shaped her academic interests and goals. At the University of Virginia, she gravitated toward history and economics classes. But it was her time at the Ralph Bunche Summer institute that perhaps proved most pivotal in her journey. This five-week intensive program is offered by the American Political Science Association to introduce underrepresented undergraduate students to doctoral studies. “It was really compelling in this program to think rigorously about all the political ideas I’d heard as I was growing up, and find ways to challenge some assertions empirically,” she says.

    Regime change and civil society

    At Harvard, Hassan first set out to focus on Sudan for her doctoral program. “There wasn’t much scholarship on the country, and what there was lacked rigor,” she says. “That was something that needed to change.” But she decided to postpone this goal after realizing that she might be vulnerable as a student conducting field research there. She landed instead in Kenya, where she honed her interviewing and data collection skills.

    Today, empowered by her prior work, she has returned to Sudan. “I felt that the popular uprising in Sudan and ousting of the Islamist regime in 2019 should be documented and analyzed,” she says. “It was incredible that hundreds of thousands, if not millions, acted collectively to uproot a dictator, in the face of brutal violence from the state.”But “democracy is still uncertain there,” says Hassan. The broad coalition behind regime change “doesn’t know how to govern because different people and different sectors of society have different ideas about what democratic Sudan should look like,” she says. “Overthrowing an autocratic regime and having civil society come together to figure out what’s going to replace it require different things, and it’s unclear if a movement that accomplishes the first is well-suited to do the second.”

    Hassan believes that in order to create lasting democratization, “you need the hard work of building organizations, developing ways in which members learn to compromise among themselves, and make decisions and rules for how to move forward.”

    Hassan is enjoying the fall semester and teaching courses on autocracy and authoritarian regimes. She is excited as well about developing her work on African efforts at democratic mobilization in a political science department she describes as “policy-forward.”

    Over time, she hopes to connect with Institute scholars in the hard sciences to think about other challenges these nations are facing, such as climate change. “It’s really hot in Sudan, and it may be one of the first countries to become completely uninhabitable,” she says. “I’d like to explore strategies for growing crops differently or managing the exceedingly scarce resource of water, and figure out what kind of political discussions will be necessary to implement any changes. It is really critical to think about these problems in an interdisciplinary way.” More

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    Power, laws, and planning

    Think about almost any locale where people live: Why does it have its current built form? Why do people reside where they do? No doubt there are quirks of geography or history involved. But places are also shaped by money, politics, and the law — in short, by power.

    Studying those issues is the work of Justin Steil, an associate professor in MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning. Steil’s research largely focuses on cities, drawing out the ways that politics and the law sustain social divisions on the ground.

    Or, as Steil says, “The biggest theme that runs through my work is: How is power exercised through control of space, and access to particular places? What are the spatial and social and legal processes of inclusion and exclusion that generate or can address inequality, generally?”

    Those mechanisms can be found all around. Wealthy suburbs with large minimum lot sizes restrict growth and access to high-ranking school districts; gated communities take that process of separation even more literally; and many U.S. metro areas have island-like jurisdictions that have seceded from larger surrounding cities. City residential geography often displays the legacies of redlining (discrimination laws) and even century-old mob violence incidents used to curb integration.

    “I really like to try to get down to pinpoint what are the precise laws, ordinances, and policies, and specific social processes, which continue to generate inequality,” says Steil. “And ask: How can we change that to generate greater access to resources and opportunities?”

    While investigating questions that range widely across the theme of power and space, Steil has published many research articles and book chapters while helping edit volumes on the subject. For his research and teaching, Steil was awarded tenure at MIT earlier this year.

    Combining law and urban planning

    Steil grew up in New York City, where his surroundings helped him realize how much urban policy and laws matters. He attended Harvard University as an undergraduate, majored in African American Studies, and spent a summer as a student in South Africa in 1998, just as the country was launching its new democracy.

    “That had a big impact,” Steil says. “Both seeing the power of grassroots organizing and social movements, to overthrow this white supremacist government, but also to understand how the apartheid system had worked, the role of law and of space — how the landscape and built environment had been consciously designed to keep people separate and unequal.”

    Between graduating from college and finishing his PhD, Steil embarked on an odyssey of jobs in the nonprofit sector and graduate work on multiple academic disciplines, touching on pressing social topics. Steil worked at the City School in Boston, a youth leadership program; the Food Project, a Massachusetts agricultural program; two nonprofits in Juarez, Mexico, focused on preventing domestic violence and on environmental justice; and the New Economy Project in New York, studying predatory lending. In the midst of this, Steil took time to earn a master’s in city design and social science from the London School of Economics.

    “I learned so much from studying city design, and really enjoyed it,” Steil says of that program. “But I also realized that my personal strengths are not in design. … I was more interested and more capable in the social science realm.”

    With that in mind, Steil was accepted into a joint PhD and JD program at Columbia University, combining a law degree with doctoral studies in urban planning.

    “So much of urban planning is determined by law, by property law and constitutional law,” Steil says. “I felt that if I wanted to research and teach these things, I needed to understand the law.”

    After finishing his law school and doctoral courses, Steil’s dissertation, written under the guidance of the late Peter Marcuse, examined the policy responses of two sets of paired towns — two in Nebraska, two in Pennsylvania — to immigration. In each of the states, one town was far more receptive to immigrants than the other. Steil concluded that the immigration-receptive towns had more local organizations and civic connections that reached across economic classes; instead of being more atomized, they were more cohesive socially, and willing to create more economic opportunities for those willing to work for them.

    Without such ties, Steil notes, people can end up “seeing things as a zero-sum game, instead of seeing the possibilities for new residents to enliven and enrich and contribute to a community.”

    By contrast, he adds, “sustained collaboration across what people might have seen as differences toward a shared goal created opportunities for a dialogue about immigration, its challenges and benefits, to imagine a future that could include these new neighbors. There was an emphasis in some of those towns on being communities where people were proud of working hard, and respected other people who did that.”

    From PhD to EMT

    Steil joined the MIT faculty after completing his PhD in 2015, and has continued to produce work on an array of issues about policy, law, and inclusion. Some of that work bears directly on contemporary housing policy. With Nicholas Kelly PhD ’21, Lawrence Vale, the Ford Professor of Urban Design and Planning at MIT, and Maia Woluchem MCP ’19, he co-edited the volume “Furthering Fair Housing” (Temple University Press, 2021), which analyzes recent political clashes over federal fair-housing policy.

    Some of Steil’s other work is more historically oriented. He has published multiple papers on race and housing in the early 20th century, when both violence against Blacks and race-based laws kept many cities segregated. As Steil notes, U.S. laws have been rewritten so as to be no longer explicitly race-based. However, he notes, “That legacy, entrenched into the built environment, is very durable.”

    There are also significant effects stemming from the local, property-tax-based system of funding education in the U.S., another policy approach that effectively leaves many Americans living in very different realms of metro areas.

    “By fragmenting [funding] at the local level and then having resources redistributed within these small jurisdictions, it creates powerful incentives for wealthy households and individuals to use land-use law and other law to exclude people,” Steil says. “That’s partly why we have this tremendous crisis of housing affordability today, as well as deep inequalities in educational opportunities.”

    Since arriving at MIT, Steil has also taught on these topics extensively. The undergraduate classes he teaches include an introduction to housing and community development, a course on land use and civil rights law, another course on land use and environmental law, and one on environmental justice.

    “What an amazing privilege it is to be here at MIT, and learn every day, from our students, our undergraduate and graduate students, and from my colleagues,” Steil says. “It makes it fun to be here.”

    As if Steil didn’t have enough on his plate, he takes part in still another MIT-based activity: For the last few years, he has worked as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) for MIT’s volunteer corps, having received his training from MIT’s EMT students since arriving on campus.

    As Steil describes it, his volunteer work has been a process of “starting out at the bottom of the totem pole as a beginning EMT and being trained by other students and progressing with my classmates.”

    It is “amazing,” he adds, to work with students and see “their dedication to this service and to MIT and to Cambridge and Boston, how hard they work and how capable they are, and what a strong community gets formed through that.” More

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    Passion projects prepare to launch

    At the start of the sixth annual MITdesignX “Pitch Day,” Svafa Grönfeldt, the program’s faculty director, made a point of noting that many of the teams about to showcase their ventures had changed direction multiple times on their projects.

    “Some of you have pivoted more times than we can count,” Grönfeldt said in her welcoming address. “This makes for a fantastic idea because you have the courage to actually question if your ideas are the right ones. In the true spirit of human-centered design, you actually try to understand the problem before you solve it!”

    MITdesignX, a venture accelerator based in the School of Architecture and Planning, is an interdisciplinary academic program operating at the intersection of design, business, and technology. The launching pad for startups focuses on applying design to engage complex problems and discovering high-impact solutions to address critical challenges facing the future of design, cities, and the global environment. The program reflects a new approach to entrepreneurship education, drawing on business theory, design thinking, and entrepreneurial practices.

    At this year’s event, 11 teams pitched their ideas before a panel of three judges, an on-site audience, and several hundred viewers watching the livestream event.

    “These teams have been working hard on solutions,” Gilad Rosenzweig, executive director of MITdesignX, told the audience. “They’re not designing solutions for people. They’re designing solutions with people.”

    Solving urgent problems

    Some of the issues addressed by the teams were lack of adequate housing, endangered food supplies, toxic pollution, and threats to democracy. Many of the students were inspired to create their venture because of problems they encountered in their careers or concerns impacting their home countries. The 25 team members in this year’s cohort represent work on five continents.

    “We’re very proud of our international representation because we want our impact to be felt outside of Cambridge,” said Rosenzweig. “We want to make an impact around the country and around the world.”

    John Devine, a JD/Masters in City Planning (MCP) candidate in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, created a new software platform, “Civic Atlas.” In his pitch, he explained that having worked in city planning in Texas for a decade before coming to MIT, he saw how difficult it was for communities to wade through and comprehend the dense, technical language in city council agendas. Zoning cases, bond projects, and transportation investments are just some of the significant projects that affect a community, and Devine saw many instances where decisions were being made without community awareness as a result of inadequate communication.

    “When communities don’t have access to clear, accessible information, we have poor outcomes,” Devine told the audience. “I realized the solution to this is to make accessible and inclusive digital experiences that really facilitate communication between planners, developers, and members of the community.”

    Seizing the opportunity, Devine taught himself how to code and built a fully automated web tool for the Dallas City Planning Commission. The tool checks the city’s website daily and translates documents into interactive maps, allowing residents to view plans in their community. Devine is starting in Dallas, but says that there are more than 800 cities across the United States with a population greater than 50,000 that present an excellent target market for this product.

    “I think cities have a ton to gain from working with us, including building trust and communication with constituents — something that’s vital for city halls to function,” says Devine.

    Next steps for the cohort

    The judges for this year’s event — Yscaira Jimenez, founder of LaborX; Magnus Ingi Oskarsson of Eyrir Venture Management in Reykjavik, Iceland; and Frank Pawlitschek, director, HPI School of Entrepreneurship in Potsdam, Germany — deliberated to identify the best teams based on three criteria: most innovative, greatest impact, and best presentation. The competition was so strong that the judges decided to award two honorable mentions. This year’s awardees are:

    Atacama, a company that is developing biomaterials to replace plastics, received the “Most Innovative” award and $5,000. The company accelerates the adoption of renewable and sustainable materials through machine learning and robotics, ensuring performance, cost-effectiveness, and environmental impact. Its founders are Paloma Gonzalez-Rojas PhD ’21, Jose Tomas Dominguez, and Jose Antonio Gonzalez.
    Grain Box, a startup focusing on optimizing the post-harvest supply chain for smallholder farmers in rural India, was awarded “Greatest Impact” and a $5,000 award. Its founders are Mona Vijaykumar SMArchS ’22 and T.R. (Radha) Radhakrishnan.
    Lamarr.AI, which offers an autonomous solution for rapid building envelope diagnostics using AI and cloud computing, was recognized for “Best Presentation” and awarded $2,500. Its founders are Norhan Bayomi PhD ’22, Tarek Rakha, PhD ’15, and John E. Fernandez ’85, professor and director of the MIT Environmental Solutions Initiative.
    Honorable Mention: “News Detective,” a platform combining moderated, professional fact-checking and AI to fight misinformation on social media, created by rising senior Ilana Strauss.
    Honorable Mention: “La Firme,” which digitizes architectural services to reach families who self-build their homes in Latin America, created by Mora Orensanz MCP ’21, Fiorella Belli Ferro MCP ’21, and rising senior Raul Briceno Brignole.
    Following the award ceremony, Rosenzweig told the students that the process was not yet over because MITdesignX faculty and staff would always be available to continue guiding and supporting their journeys as they launch and grow their ventures.

    “You’re going to become alumni of MITdesignX,” he said. “You’re going to be joining over 50 teams that are working around the world, making an impact. They’re being recognized as leaders in innovation. They’re being recognized by investors who are helping them make an impact. This is your next step.” More

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    Q&A: Randolph Kirchain on how cool pavements can mitigate climate change

    As cities search for climate change solutions, many have turned to one burgeoning technology: cool pavements. By reflecting a greater proportion of solar radiation, cool pavements can offer an array of climate change mitigation benefits, from direct radiative forcing to reduced building energy demand.

    Yet, scientists from the MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub (CSHub) have found that cool pavements are not just a summertime solution. Here, Randolph Kirchain, a principal research scientist at CSHub, discusses how implementing cool pavements can offer myriad greenhouse gas reductions in cities — some of which occur even in the winter.

    Q: What exactly are cool pavements? 

    A: There are two ways to make a cool pavement: changing the pavement formulation to make the pavement porous like a sponge (a so-called “pervious pavement”), or paving with reflective materials. The latter method has been applied extensively because it can be easily adopted on the current road network with different traffic volumes while sustaining — and sometimes improving — the road longevity. To the average observer, surface reflectivity usually corresponds to the color of a pavement — the lighter, the more reflective. 

    We can quantify this surface reflectivity through a measurement called albedo, which refers to the percentage of light a surface reflects. Typically, a reflective pavement has an albedo of 0.3 or higher, meaning that it reflects 30 percent of the light it receives.

    To attain this reflectivity, there are a number of techniques at our disposal. The most common approach is to simply paint a brighter coating atop existing pavements. But it’s also possible to pave with materials that possess naturally greater reflectivity, such as concrete or lighter-colored binders and aggregates.

    Q: How can cool pavements mitigate climate change?

    A: Cool pavements generate several, often unexpected, effects. The most widely known is a reduction in surface and local air temperatures. This occurs because cool pavements absorb less radiation and, consequently, emit less of that radiation as heat. In the summer, this means they can lower urban air temperatures by several degrees Fahrenheit.

    By changing air temperatures or reflecting light into adjacent structures, cool pavements can also alter the need for heating and cooling in those structures, which can change their energy demand and, therefore, mitigate the climate change impacts associated with building energy demand.

    However, depending on how dense the neighborhood is built, a proportion of the radiation cool pavements reflect doesn’t strike buildings; instead, it travels back into the atmosphere and out into space. This process, called a radiative forcing, shifts the Earth’s energy balance and effectively offsets some of the radiation trapped by greenhouse gases (GHGs).

    Perhaps the least-known impact of cool pavements is on vehicle fuel consumption. Certain cool pavements, namely concrete, possess a combination of structural properties and longevity that can minimize the excess fuel consumption of vehicles caused by road quality. Over the lifetime of a pavement, these fuel savings can add up — often offsetting the higher initial footprint of paving with more durable materials.

    Q: With these impacts in mind, how do the effects of cool pavements vary seasonally and by location?

    A: Many view cool pavements as a solution to summer heat. But research has shown that they can offer climate change benefits throughout the year.

    In high-volume traffic roads, the most prominent climate change benefit of cool pavements is not their reflectivity but their impact on vehicle fuel consumption. As such, cool pavement alternatives that minimize fuel consumption can continue to cut GHG emissions in winter, assuming traffic is constant.

    Even in winter, pavement reflectivity still contributes greatly to the climate change mitigation benefits of cool pavements. We found that roughly a third of the annual CO2-equivalent emissions reductions from the radiative forcing effects of cool pavements occurred in the fall and winter.

    It’s important to note, too, that the direction — not just the magnitude — of cool pavement impacts also vary seasonally. The most prominent seasonal variation is the changes to building energy demand. As they lower air temperatures, cool pavements can lessen the demand for cooling in buildings in the summer, while, conversely, they can cause buildings to consume more energy and generate more emissions due to heating in the winter.

    Interestingly, the radiation reflected by cool pavements can also strike adjacent buildings, heating them up. In the summer, this can increase building energy demand significantly, yet in the winter it can also warm structures and reduce their need for heating. In that sense, cool pavements can warm — as well as cool — their surroundings, depending on the building insolation [solar exposure] systems and neighborhood density.

    Q: How can cities manage these many impacts?

    A: As you can imagine, such different and often competing impacts can complicate the implementation of cool pavements. In some contexts, for instance, a cool pavement might even generate more emissions over its life than a conventional pavement — despite lowering air temperatures.

    To ensure that the lowest-emitting pavement is selected, then, cities should use a life-cycle perspective that considers all potential impacts. When they do, research has shown that they can reap sizeable benefits. The city of Phoenix, for instance, could see its projected emissions fall by as much as 6 percent, while Boston would experience a reduction of up to 3 percent.

    These benefits don’t just demonstrate the potential of cool pavements: they also reflect the outsized impact of pavements on our built environment and, moreover, our climate. As cities move to fight climate change, they should know that one of their most extensive assets also presents an opportunity for greater sustainability.

    The MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub is a team of researchers from several departments across MIT working on concrete and infrastructure science, engineering, and economics. Its research is supported by the Portland Cement Association and the Ready Mixed Concrete Research and Education Foundation. More

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    MIT Center for Real Estate launches the Asia Real Estate Initiative

    To appreciate the explosive urbanization taking place in Asia, consider this analogy: Every 40 days, a city the equivalent size of Boston is built in Asia. Of the $24.7 trillion real estate investment opportunities predicted by 2030 in emerging cities, $17.8 trillion (72 percent) will be in Asia. While this growth is exciting to the real estate industry, it brings with it the attendant social and environmental issues.

    To promote a sustainable and innovative approach to this growth, leadership at the MIT Center for Real Estate (MIT CRE) recently established the Asia Real Estate Initiative (AREI), which aims to become a platform for industry leaders, entrepreneurs, and the academic community to find solutions to the practical concerns of real estate development across these countries.

    “Behind the creation of this initiative is the understanding that Asia is a living lab for the study of future global urban development,” says Hashim Sarkis, dean of the MIT School of Architecture and Planning.

    An investment in cities of the future

    One of the areas in AREI’s scope of focus is connecting sustainability and technology in real estate.

    “We believe the real estate sector should work cooperatively with the energy, science, and technology sectors to solve the climate challenges,” says Richard Lester, the Institute’s associate provost for international activities. “AREI will engage academics and industry leaders, nongovernment organizations, and civic leaders globally and in Asia, to advance sharing knowledge and research.”

    In its effort to understand how trends and new technologies will impact the future of real estate, AREI has received initial support from a prominent alumnus of MIT CRE who wishes to remain anonymous. The gift will support a cohort of researchers working on innovative technologies applicable to advancing real estate sustainability goals, with a special focus on the global and Asia markets. The call for applications is already under way, with AREI seeking to collaborate with scholars who have backgrounds in economics, finance, urban planning, technology, engineering, and other disciplines.

    “The research on real estate sustainability and technology could transform this industry and help invent global real estate of the future,” says Professor Siqi Zheng, faculty director of MIT CRE and AREI faculty chair. “The pairing of real estate and technology often leads to innovative and differential real estate development strategies such as buildings that are green, smart, and healthy.”

    The initiative arrives at a key time to make a significant impact and cement a leadership role in real estate development across Asia. MIT CRE is positioned to help the industry increase its efficiency and social responsibility, with nearly 40 years of pioneering research in the field. Zheng, an established scholar with expertise on urban growth in fast-urbanizing regions, is the former president of the Asia Real Estate Society and sits on the Board of American Real Estate and Urban Economics Association. Her research has been supported by international institutions including the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.

    “The researchers in AREI are now working on three interrelated themes: the future of real estate and live-work-play dynamics; connecting sustainability and technology in real estate; and innovations in real estate finance and business,” says Zheng.

    The first theme has already yielded a book — “Toward Urban Economic Vibrancy: Patterns and Practices in Asia’s New Cities” — recently published by SA+P Press.

    Engaging thought leaders and global stakeholders

    AREI also plans to collaborate with counterparts in Asia to contribute to research, education, and industry dialogue to meet the challenges of sustainable city-making across the continent and identify areas for innovation. Traditionally, real estate has been a very local business with a lengthy value chain, according to Zhengzhen Tan, director of AREI. Most developers focused their career on one particular product type in one particular regional market. AREI is working to change that dynamic.

    “We want to create a cross-border dialogue within Asia and among Asia, North America, and European leaders to exchange knowledge and practices,” says Tan. “The real estate industry’s learning costs are very high compared to other sectors. Collective learning will reduce the cost of failure and have a significant impact on these global issues.”

    The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow shed additional light on environmental commitments being made by governments in Asia. With real estate representing 40 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, the Asian real estate market is undergoing an urgent transformation to deliver on this commitment.

    “One of the most pressing calls is to get to net-zero emissions for real estate development and operation,” says Tan. “Real estate investors and developers are making short- and long-term choices that are locking in environmental footprints for the ‘decisive decade.’ We hope to inspire developers and investors to think differently and get out of their comfort zone.” More

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    Advancing public understanding of sea-level rise

    Museum exhibits can be a unique way to communicate science concepts and information. Recently, MIT faculty have served as sounding boards for curators at the Museum of Science, Boston, a close neighbor of the MIT campus.

    In January, Professor Emerita Paola Malanotte-Rizzoli and Cecil and Ida Green Professor Raffaele Ferrari of the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Science (EAPS) visited the museum to view the newly opened pilot exhibit, “Resilient Venice: Adapting to Climate Change.”

    When Malanotte-Rizzoli was asked to contribute her expertise on the efforts in Venice, Italy, to mitigate flood damage, she was more than willing to offer her knowledge. “I love Venice. It is fun to tell people all of the challenges which you see the lagoon has … how much must be done to preserve, not only the city, but the environment, the islands and buildings,” she says.

    The installation is the second Museum of Science exhibit to be developed in recent years in consultation with EAPS scientists. In December 2020, “Arctic Adventure: Exploring with Technology” opened with the help of Cecil and Ida Green Career Development Professor Brent Minchew, who lent his expertise in geophysics and glaciology to the project. But for Malanotte-Rizzoli, the new exhibit hits a little closer to home.

    “My house is there,” Malanotte-Rizzoli excitedly pointed out on the exhibit’s aerial view of Venice, which includes a view above St. Mark’s Square and some of the surrounding city.

    “Resilient Venice” focuses on Malanotte-Rizzoli’s hometown, a city known for flooding. Built on a group of islands in the Venetian Lagoon, Venice has always experienced flooding, but climate change has brought unprecedented tide levels, causing billions of dollars in damages and even causing two deaths in the flood of 2019.

    The dark exhibit hall is lined with immersive images created by Iconem, a startup whose mission is digital preservation of endangered World Heritage Sites. The firm took detailed 3D scans and images of Venice to put together the displays and video.

    The video on which Malanotte-Rizzoli pointed to her home shows the potential sea level rise by 2100 if action isn’t taken. It shows the entrance to St. Mark’s Basilica completely submerged in water; she compares it to the disaster movie “The Day After Tomorrow.”

    The MOSE system

    Between critiques of the choice of music (“that’s not very Venice-inspired,” joked Ferrari, who is also Italian) and bits of conversation exchanged in Italian, the two scientists do what scientists do: discuss technicalities.

    Ferrari pointed to a model of a gate system and asked Malanotte-Rizzoli if the hydraulic jump seen in the model is present in the MOSE system; she confirmed it is not.

    This is the part of the exhibit that Malanotte-Rizzoli was consulted on. One of the plans Venice has implemented to address the flooding is the MOSE system — short for Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico, or the Experimental Electromechanical Module. The MOSE is a system of flood barriers designed to protect the city from extremely high tides. Construction began in 2003, and its first successful operation happened on Oct. 3, 2020, when it prevented a tide 53 inches above normal from flooding the city.

    The barriers are made of a series of gates, each 66-98 feet in length and 66 feet wide, which sit in chambers built into the sea floor when not in use to allow boats and wildlife to travel between the ocean and lagoon. The gates are filled with water to keep them submerged; when activated, air is pumped into them, pushing out the water and allowing them to rise. The entire process takes 30 minutes to complete, and half that time to return to the sea floor.

    The top of the gates in the MOSE come out of the water completely and are individually controlled so that sections can remain open to allow ships to pass through. In the model, the gate remains partially submerged, and as the high-velocity water passes over it into an area of low velocity, it creates a small rise of water before it falls over the edge of the barrier, creating a hydraulic jump.

    But Malanotte-Rizzoli joked that only scientists will care about that; otherwise, the model does a good job demonstrating how the MOSE gates rise and fall.

    The MOSE system is only one of many plans taken to mitigate the rising water levels in Venice and to protect the lagoon and the surrounding area, and this is an important point for Malanotte-Rizzoli, who worked on the project from 1995 to 2013.

    “It is not the MOSE or,” she emphasized. “It is the MOSE and.” Other complementary plans have been implemented to reduce harm to both economic sectors, such as shipping and tourism, as well as the wildlife that live in the lagoons.

    Beyond barriers

    There’s more to protecting Venice than navigating flooded streets — it’s not just “putting on rainboots,” as Malanotte-Rizzoli put it.

    “It’s destroying the walls,” she said, pointing out the corrosive effects of water on a model building, which emphasizes the damage to architecture caused by the unusually high flood levels. “People don’t think about this.” The exhibit also emphasizes the economic costs of businesses lost by having visitors take down and rebuild a flood barrier for a gelato shop with the rising and falling water levels.

    Malanotte-Rizzoli gave the exhibit her seal of approval, but the Venice section is only a small portion of what the finished exhibit will look like. The current plan involves expanding it to include a few other World Heritage Sites.

    “How do we make people care about a site that they haven’t been to?” asked Julia Tate, the project manager of touring exhibits and exhibit production at the museum. She said that it’s easy to start with a city like Venice, since it’s a popular tourist destination. But it becomes trickier to get people to care about a site that they maybe haven’t been to, such as the Easter Islands, that are just as much at risk. The plan is to incorporate a few more sites before turning it into a traveling exhibit that will end by asking visitors to think about climate change in their own towns.

    “We want them to think about solutions and how to do better,” said Tate. Hope is the alternative message: It’s not too late to act.

    Malanotte-Rizzoli thinks it’s important for Bostonians to see their own city in Venice, as Boston is also at risk from sea level rise. The history of Boston reminds Malanotte-Rizzoli about her hometown and is one of the reasons why she was willing to emigrate. The history encompassed in Boston makes the need for preservation even more important.

    “Those things that cannot be replaced, they must be respected in the process of preservation,” she said. “Modern things and engineering can be done even in a city which is so fragile, so delicate.” More