Our world is rapidly urbanizing, with over half of the global population now living in cities. The pressure of such demographic changes brings about an intense need for housing, and because land on the urban periphery is cheap, building largely occurs there. But this sprawling development places heavy strains on existing infrastructure and city services. A rethink—and refit—of metropolitan regions is sorely needed.
Diane Davis, Charles Dyer Norton Professor of Regional Planning and Urbanism, is working on these issues at a global level, focusing on a place where urban pressures have become most acute: the cities and neighborhoods of Mexico.
As part of a research initiative funded by the Mexican National Worker’s Housing Authority (INFONAVIT), Davis is currently studying how local, state, and national authorities have coordinated—or failed to coordinate—the provision of necessary urban services with new housing developments. She’s also leading a three-year project to examine the role of political leadership in urban transport.
Many of the insights gained from this research come from case studies conducted by GSD students. Davis teaches planning and design studio courses every year in Mexico, giving students a chance to learn about real-world conditions in context. Davis also leads the GSD’s Mexican Cities Initiative, which provides small seed-money grants for students to explore and advance “everyday urbanism” in the metropolis.
In multiple ways, such international studios and research projects help define the link from local community concerns to large-scale, global issues. Davis insists, “The best way for students to become educated about the principal of design and planning challenges of our times is to experience a city’s social and spatial intricacies firsthand. Logistically, this can be difficult for those who are concerned with urban environments outside the United States. But it can be made possible through field-based research and studios.”
The GSD believes this global outlook is vital for addressing critical social problems as a way to help redefine the future of cities around the world.