Future of the American City Initiative

“The future of the American city is very much linked to questions of urban development and urbanization across the globe. Therefore, I think there’s something very exciting to really think about the future of the American city in the context of this worldliness.” – Mohsen Mostafavi, 2019

The Future of the American City project is an urban study initiative aimed at helping cities tackle urgent challenges. Building on the Harvard Graduate School of Design’s unique, multi-disciplinary model, the effort will use architecture, landscape architecture, and urban planning and design to come up with actionable, efficient solutions that take into account community needs.

Research on Miami will form the first phase of the project, a broader initiative intending to also examine the cities of Los Angeles, Detroit, and Boston. The school plans to host a summit to convene experts from each city to create a national discourse on the future of cities and urban life in America.

To engage Miami residents in creating new approaches to address pressing urban issues—including affordable housing, transportation and sea level rise—the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation is providing $1 million in support to the Harvard GSD. With the funding, the school will embed urban researchers in Miami and Miami Beach to better understand the cities’ opportunities and challenges, and launch a multi-year study toward building solutions shaped by residents.

Researchers at the GSD have been actively connected with the City of Miami and the City of Miami Beach for several years. Since 2012, the school has conducted six courses focused on Miami and held several major events in the city. Expanding on this work, the school will convene a range of experts, policy-makers, and members of the public to contribute to this new effort.

In its research, the school will focus on urban mobility, affordability, and climate change, themes that emerged from a series of previous discussions among its researchers and members of the Miami and Miami Beach communities. Following their analysis, students and faculty will offer toolkits, white papers, and other materials for review and use by city managers, mayors, and other civic leaders, many of whom will be directly involved throughout the study.

Project Team: Mohsen Mostafavi (PI), Charles Waldheim (co-PI), Jesse Keenan (co-PI), Chris Reed, Sean Canty, Lily Song, Aziz Barbar, Charlie Gaillard, Mercedes Peralta, Jeffrey S. Nesbit, Jessy Yang, Tam Banh, Theodore Kofman, and Jonah Susskind.

Partners: Michael Rock / 2 × 4.

Evergrande Times New City

“Agriculture is being increasingly submitted to the market economy and now this is the new state, a more digitalised landscape.” – Rem Koolhaas, 2014


Evergrande Times New City introduces new techniques by integrating advanced technologies with agricultural modernization for new town planning in the Chinese countryside. As a series of principles, standards, and applicable techniques, 50 Unique New Towns focuses on scenario programming, collaborations between town and agricultural production, and increasing the diversity of density and distribution. Covering an area of 10km2 and accommodating a range of 50,000 to 250,000 people, 10% of the urbanized area incorporates the surrounding agricultural land and includes new economic industries such as tourism, healthcare, education, and eco-production.

50 Unique New Towns’ primary themes—lifestyle, health, agriculture, energy, and culture—support an increase in agricultural modernization while simultaneously improving living conditions in the Chinese countryside by utilizing innovative technologies. With the great migration leading to demographic shifts, from the retired and aging population to agricultural workers and early nesters, the distance between agricultural land and dense urban cities has increased. However, Evergrande Times New City intentionally anticipates a return to the countryside, with people attracted by healthy living and promoting agricultural heritage.

China’s agricultural heritage is not only a vital component of conservation of cultural heritage, but also becomes the identity for distribution of Evergrande Times New City. Set within the central area of planning, the local heritage crop defines ecological cycles and cultural identity supported through agricultural tourism, leisure, and social programming. With an emphasis on integrating industry, service, and agriculture, the new towns benefit from living in harmony with nature and allowing for a diversity of density and walkability, and promote new forms of countryside accessibility.

50 Unique New Towns comprises 50 world-leading technologies and techniques based on five technical themes: Smart City [Data + Technology], Green City [Energy + Urban Form], Sponge City [Hydrology + Agriculture], Health City [Public Health + Lifestyle], and Culture City [Conservation + Culture]. These technical aspects provide applicable strategies for new town planning implemented into scenario planning and distributed across diverse regions in China. In relation to agricultural production and social activity, climate, geology, and solar irradiation models propose specific orientations and distributions through key innovative steps for scenario planning of future agriculture-based Chinese new towns.

Project Team: Mohsen Mostafavi (PI), Charles Waldheim (PI), Boya Zhang, Aziz Barbar, Mingyu Kim, Xun Liu, Jeffrey S. Nesbit, Mercedes Peralta, Seok Min Yeo, Pamela Cabrera, Kenney Carmody, Anna Kaertner, Steven Kosovac, Bonnie-Kate Walker, Zishen Wen, and Weijia Wu.

Faculty Partners: Scott Cohen, Ann Forsyth, Teresa Gali Izard, Holly Samuelson, Andres Sevtsuk, and Bing Wang.