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Conference to explore new approaches to urban infrastructure

Keynote Rahm Emanuel to report on Chicago Infrastructure Trust

On April 10-11, the MIT Center for Advanced Urbanism (CAU) will bring together political leaders, infrastructural engineers, design professionals, and academics to explore how to shape sustainable infrastructural futures for cities around the world.

Keynote speaker for the 2014 Scaling Infrastructure Conference will be Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel discussing the Chicago Infrastructure Trust, an innovative way to leverage private investment for transformative infrastructure projects to guide the city's renewal of vital infrastructure projects.

The impetus for the event is the need to rethink how we approach infrastructural investment and at what design scales we apply those investments in the face of current economic, political and environmental challenges.

According to Alan Berger, research director at CAU, “we’ll be discussing the types of infrastructures that governments and top-down funding mechanisms often overlook because they’re not structured to see this way.”

One approach gaining currency, for example, is the idea of scaling infrastructure down in customized ways to ensure systemic failure does not occur when urban areas are struck by unforeseen events.

While monumental infrastructures may protect cities from flooding or catastrophic storms, such vast defense barriers can fail with drastic and calamitous results.

Such single sources of protection also require large amounts of concentrated innovation, funding, and governance to ensure their long-term success — but those forces are sometimes impossible to align.

“Is there an innovative infrastructural response to resilience planning when flood walls, evacuation routes and other hard lines fail?” Berger asks.

Another important concern is the fact that new forms of urbanization in American and international contexts are far different from 20th-century centralization models.

What new scales of infrastructural research and thinking are going to propel urban form in the future? And how close are we to realizing innovations in energy and transportation infrastructure that are flexible, adaptable, and scalable down to individual preferences?

CAU Director Alexander D’Hooghe is particularly interested in the transition from a 19th-century concept of mass transit — basically, rail — to a much more agile, fine-grained, networked and on-demand system. “This may have radical consequences for the design of suburbs,” he says, “including reconfigurations of parking, of roadway sections, and of its primary gathering spaces.”

“We’ll also be considering what type of infrastructure is appropriate,” Berger says, “in remote areas where connecting to a main line of transit, energy, water or logistical supply chain is impossible. And what happens when cities need to decommission or remove infrastructure because of depopulation.”

Conference panels will focus on the idea of recalibrating infrastructure in the context of shrinking cities; new thinking on how risk and disaster can be mitigated through redundancy and new scales of engineering and design; and how smaller infrastructure might change the way we think about cities, urbanization, location choice, landscape resources, and design.

The event is open to the MIT community and the public. For more information and registration:

Press Mentions

Associated Press

Jason Keyser of the Associated Press previews a speech by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, delivered at a forum hosted by MIT's Center for Advanced Urbanism, an interdisciplinary think tank that focuses on big-scale urban design problems.

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