Innovative Programs and A Smart Government

By Yiran Gao

“It is not a government’s obligation to provide services, but to see that they are provided.”

—former New York Governor Mario Cuomo

Different strategies of how private sectors can invest in sustainable cities under various situations have been laid out in Professor Macomber’s framework. In this framework, government appears as an “entity making direct investment”. However, is this the best role that government should play in the framework of creating sustainable cities? If not, how should a smart government behave to best facilitate creating sustainable cities? Continue reading


Boston Update: Trendy Architect Proposes “Carless” Housing

By Matt Bornstein

Architect Sebastian Mariscal has made local headlines recently with a proposed apartment complex in Allston.

At first glance, nothing about the project seems out of the ordinary.  The building would occupy a lot about 1.5 miles from HBS (at 37 N. Beacon St) currently filled by a used car dealership and a private home.  Key features would include modern design bizarrely out of keeping with the neighborhood (see image below), “green” construction techniques, and mixed residential / retail space.


Pictured: Mariscal’s conceptual rendering of proposed 37 North Beacon St project.  Not pictured: nearby anchor tenants KFC, Commercial Cleaning Service (a janitorial service), and New England Rubbish Removal.

What makes this project unique, however, is the parking plan.  Architect Mariscal wants to build exactly zero new parking spaces for residents of the building.  By forgoing parking, he says, he can create a number of “green-friendly” spaces, including a publicly-accessible walkway on the ground floor, private gardens for every unit, and dedicated bike lockers.

Interesting idea – except that it’s currently illegal.  Continue reading

Sustainable Paths to Economic Prosperity – Charter Cities

By John Clayton

The Phu My Hung class seemed to present several disheartening takeaways. Of the last several cases we’ve examined, Phu My Hung was objectively considered to be the most “successful” master-planned development. And yet, our conversation highlighted many issues that confronted this successful development: the long time horizon for invested capital and foregone returns from alternate investments, the unique (and likely non-replicable) circumstances involving land acquisition and government support, and the disproportionate level of demand catered towards expats with 10x per capita income levels – i.e. the wealthy. If this development could only work under this limited set of circumstances, with evident tradeoffs, and only for the wealthy, then how can we possibly expect to reasonably accommodate an urbanizing wave of 3 billion mostly poor people in the coming decades?

Enter the charter city – a city that’s designed, developed, managed and handled by a business or external entity. Continue reading

Community Financing to Solve the Landlord/Tenant Agency Problem

By Sachin Desai

In the discussion around the Rockville case, we determined that a key barrier to implementing energy efficiency projects is the landlord/tenant agency problem.  Namely, the landlord pays for the project, but the tenants, who pay for the electricity, get all the benefit.  Tenants don’t treat electricity costs the same as rent.  Ironically, to pay for the improvements the landlord would have to raise rent, scaring away tenants.  About 100M Americans live in rentals[1], and the global movement to cities will only generate more rentals.  We can’t afford to ignore renter-occupied spaces from the energy efficiency/clean energy movement. Continue reading

The Importance of Zoning in Sustainable City Development

By Sachin Desai

Who remembers Sim City?  Most of my lessons about city development started there.  What were the first few things the user did when they started their city ( usually with very limited funds)?  First, build the power plant.  Then, the water lines.  But then….  was it rail?  No.  Was it an airport?  No.  Was it a port?  No.  It was zoning.  Yet in our initial discussion on best practices for sustainable city development, zoning was not put on the board and was generally not discussed (although, as Prof. Macomber mentioned, the board was encrypted).  There are two key reasons proper zoning, and innovative methods of zoning, should be a focus point for new sustainable cities. Continue reading

The Next Generation of Cities

By Regan Turner

In studying brand new cities such as King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) and Masdar, we saw examples of ambitious sovereign governments taking on bold development projects that encapsulated their vision for how their country’s population would live, work, and play in the future. In undertaking these projects, however, these governments also assume enormous financial and social risk that the cities may never reach their potential. In the future, therefore, I would argue that master-planned growth should happen in locations where people already choose to live, rather than in places that are sparsely inhabited, or not inhabited at all.

Across the globe, populations are urbanizing and densifying. For the first time in the world’s history, more people now live in urban centers than in rural locations, and as Figure 1 shows, that gap is growing.

Figure 1: Urban and Rural Population of the World (Source: United Nations,

Continue reading

Slum lords as entrepreneurs

By Alice Heathcote

Annawadi sits beside the road to the Mumbai airport, on “a stretch where new India and old India collided and made new India late”

Behind the Beautiful Forevers, Katherine Boo

After much insistence my mother, I recently started reading ‘Behind the Beautiful Forevers’,a non-fiction work from Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Katherine Boo. The book follows the lives of the inhabitants of Annawadi, a slum settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport. The main character, Abdul Hussain, is a Muslim teenager who turns an increasingly success profit through reselling the recyclable garbage that richer people throw away. He begins to dream of a life outside of Annawadi, and even a wife who ‘does not care that he smells’. His success catches up to him however, when his next-door neighbor attempts suicide and he is falsely accused of her murder.

At this point, the true tragedy begins to unfold. In the legal vacuum of Annawadi, the Indian police are anything but a force for good. Despite the fact there are hundreds of residents to prove his innocence, Abdul is charged. The police know his family has money stored away and they have an angle now for getting a slice. Police officers arrest the accused and demand bribes; when Abdul’s mother refuses to pay most bribes, family members are imprisoned and beaten. The story gives us an inside view of the Indian criminal justice system, in which success will attract resentment, unwanted attention from authorities and a higher price tag to buy yourself out of jail. Continue reading