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Cities WITH(in): a virtual summit focused on hyper-local solutions for global problems

by: Maggie Church and Aurora Lin

Gif from the Main Stage presentation — Art Direction by Gabriela Bila, Ink Painting by Lin Fanwei

The 2021 City Science Summit was the network’s 5th annual event, bringing together leaders in the fields of urban science, computer science, policy, decision making, and social sciences. The summit theme, Cities WITH(in), challenged the eight City Science Network labs to seek opportunities for their research to impact local solutions to global challenges. The event was a collaboration between the City Science Lab at Taipei Tech and MIT City Science and it allowed for a creative exchange of ideas with participants from around the globe, discussing sustainable urban development, new mobility modes, zero-carbon cities, data-empowerment and collaborative decision making.

The summit theme was echoed in the Main Stage presentations where each network director presented their latest research. Months before the summit, Kent Larson created a City Science framework for the Sustainable Development Goals, offering more detailed and actionable descriptions to the relevant SDGs which can be implemented throughout the network. In their presentations, the network directors each remarked on which SDGs they felt their lab and their research tackled best.

“We will never successfully address climate change without rapidly deploying a new model for cities.” -Kent Larson

City Science framework for the SDGs — credit: Kent Larson

In addition to Kent Larson of MIT City Science, the Main Stage also featured Mayra Gamboa of the City Science Lab at the University of Guadalajara, Yongqi Lou of the City Science Lab at Tongji University in Shanghai, Marc Pons of the City Science lab at Andorra Research + Innovation, Gesa Ziemer of the City Science Lab at HafenCity University in Hamburg, C Kien Vu at the City Science Lab at the Architecture Research Center in Vietnam, Hossein Rahnama of the City Science Lab at Ryerson University in Toronto and Leehter Yao of the City Science Lab at Taipei Tech. Topics ranged from: ‘Inclusion WITH(in) Innovation’ to ‘Transformation WITH(in) Urbanization’, from ‘Trust WITH(in) Communities’ to ‘Collaboration WITH(in) Cities’, from ‘Community Building WITH(in) Neighborhoods’ to ‘hyper-LOCAL solutions to GLOBAL problems’. In addition, Dava Newman, the new director of the MIT Media Lab, spoke at the event via a conversation with Kent Larson. Dava further expressed her interest in multi stakeholder collaboration and her passion to tackle the most challenging global problems to offer solutions and create impact.

Students at Taipei Tech gather in person for the last workshop and the closing ceremony, both hybrid events. credit: Taipei Tech

The event also consisted of eight workshops each hosted by the eight network labs. It started with a workshop from the CSL@Hamburg titled From Participation to Co-Creation Multi-stakeholder collaboration as a research area which posed the following prompt: ‘What if new technologies enabled a completely different kind of collaboration in the design of urban spaces?’ The team went on to outline three projects including the VR and AR (PaKOMM), the building of Digital Twins for a city (CUT) and the modular webkit for social infrastructure (COSI).

On the next day the CSL@Shanghai and MIT City Science hosted workshops on zero-carbon cities. CSL@Shanghai presented Sustainable Cities WITH Decentralization where they aimed to create a decentralized urban system to empower citizens in decision making processes. This was explored in the context of China, which aims to achieve peak emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2060. In the next workshop, the MIT team presented a tool to measure carbon emissions focused on the Kendall Square neighborhood of Cambridge. Participants worked with researchers from MIT to toggle metrics to measure the impacts of different interventions including the percentage of electric vehicles, live/work symmetry, lightweight mobility use, availability of walkable amenities, availability of compact housing and accessible local resources on future carbon emissions.

WebEx Workshop view, Johanna Fleischer and Daniel Schulz present COSI during the CSL@Hamburg workshop

Halfway through the event we welcomed the labs from Ho Chi Minh City and Toronto to present their workshops Transformation With(in)Cities and Designing privacy preserved data hubs to empower collaborative communities, respectively. The Vietnam workshop featured a panel led by Ms. Tu Anh Trinh, a Director at ISCM-UEH and one of the leaders of the CSL@Ho Chi Minh City. Speakers included C Kien Vu, Hai Hoang, Chingyu Yao and Pham Thai Son. The panel discussed the Covid-19 response in Vietnam and Taipei with hopes that new data-enabled solutions may create more resilient communities in the future. The Toronto workshop was led by Hossein Rahnama, a professor at Ryerson University, who welcomed Sheldon Levy to share experiences and insight of the Sidewalk Labs Quayside proposal to revitalize the Toronto waterfront, a project that halted in 2020. Then Hossein presented tools to create data transparency, trust and empowerment for local communities proposing that these tools can enable local economic growth and support current Environmental Social and Governance (ESG) metrics.

Thursday we welcomed the labs from Andorra and Guadalajara for workshops on Biosphere and Living Lab frameworks to develop more resilient communities and Innovation within Informality. In the Andorra workshop, Marc Pons and guests discussed the Biosphere reserve framework, Andorra’s ambition to be the first country existing entirely in a biosphere reserve, and how a communities relationship to nature provides resilience and quality of life. Then the Guadalajara team led participants through a workshop experience that included storytelling, choose your own adventure scenarios, and videos of Guadalajara. The workshop, which was provocative, insightful and even emotional for workshop participants, aimed to create empathy between the workshop participants and the community of Lomas del Centinela, an informal community located in the hills of Guadalajara.

For the final session, the City Science Lab at Taipei Tech led a workshop with two parallel sessions. The first session was led by Professor Yao who introduced two self-driving vehicles, Campus Rover, a self-driving vehicle that provides door to door transportation services, and Charging Rover, a robot that charges electric cars, both developed by National Taipei University of Technology. The second session was led by Professor Chihhong Huang who showed a novel methodology for analyzing the urban heat island effect for tropical regions and new materials for solar radiation absorption and emission. Professor Huang introduced The Urban Science Laboratory (USL) at Taipei University of Science and Technology where researchers aim to add an environmental component to smart city management and provide the basic content of future optimal urban planning and management.

Professor Leehter Yao presented three agents during the CSL@Taipei workshop — credit: Taipei Tech
Students and leadership at Taipei Tech for Cities WITH(in) the 5th annual City Science Summit — credit: Taipei Tech

The event concluded with a Closing Ceremony which began with remarks from the event co-host, Professor Leehter Yao, who expressed his thanks to the City Science Network for their contributions and support. The closing also included remarks from members of the City Science Network, a book announcement from Gesa Ziemer of CSL@Hamburg, a longer interview featuring Kent Larson and Dava Newman, and a highlight video of the research of the eight City Science labs.

In the coming year, network researchers will continue to focus on hyper-LOCAL solutions to GLOBAL problems and will also continue to address the SDGs from the newly posed City Science framework. We look forward to sharing more research with you in the coming year — and we look forward to our next summit in 2022 as an opportunity to continue this important conversation.

The MIT City Science team gathered at the Media Lab to celebrate the conclusion of the summit — credit: Cristina Panzarini

Planning the City Science Summit involves the work of many dedicated team members from the collaborating universities. In addition to the leadership of Kent Larson and Leehter Yao, the summit team also included ChaoChin Su, HoChiaoChuang, Aurora Lin, Freya Xie, Maggie Church, Michael Lin, Luis Alonso, Naroa Coretti Sánchez, Gabriela Bílá, Cristina Panzarini and many others. Thank you to all team members who helped make this event possible.

Maggie Church is the Program Coordinator in the MIT Media Lab’s City Science group where she works closely with the City Science Network on various MIT and Network events.

Aurora Lin is a Project Assistant at the National Taipei University of Technology where she is responsible for international academic collaborations.



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City Science Network

City Science Network


An international community that shares the common goal to enable more livable, equitable, and resilient communities. Started by MIT City Science.