New Century Cities
Case Studies - MIT and Environs
Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts,
Size: 154 acre (62 hectare) campus extending along the Charles River Basin, as well as 65 acres (26 hectares) of MIT-owned land in Cambridge. Technology companies in the Kendall Square area add an additional 100 acres (40 hectares).
Dates of Development: 1916 to the present
Vision: To "create an infrastructure of invention that fosters the unfettered cross-fertilization of ideas."1
MIT and the area immediately around it is not a New Century City (NCC) project in the formal sense, as are those in Singapore or Helsinki. This area was not developed with the same coordinated intent as those other projects. Yet what happens within MIT and its environs illustrates many of the human and social capital objectives that motivate formal NCCs. Because MIT operates as a small city, a business, and a university, its experience is not qualitatively different than those of other NCC projects.
MIT and its environs is one of the world's leading R&D centers and a world-class hub for the life sciences, engineering, new media, computer science, and nanotechnology. This current capability builds upon generations of expertise in other areas; capabilities that have been managed with agility by the Institute to evolve with ever changing frontiers of science, technology, and society.
The breadth and depth of human capital within the area is extraordinary. The Institute alone has over 20,000 faculty, staff, and students. Thousands more highly educated people work for the R&D centers and start-up firms that have gravitated to the area in order to take advantage of the human and scientific capital clustered around MIT and other first-rate research universities located nearby (Harvard, Boston University, Tufts). If it were a nation, this small patch of land and buildings in east Cambridge, including MIT-related firms, would rank twenty-fourth in the world in terms of gross domestic product.2 And it continues to produce new scientists, engineers, and businessmen who, in turn, are creating new economic value in the private sector.
Entrepreneurship is the hallmark of MIT. Many of its faculty research entrepreneurship and promote it through their teaching and professional education networks. The Institute likewise practices what it teaches in the way it manages itself, how it links its research to industry, and actively helps its people to commercialize their knowledge and discoveries.
At critical points in the development of the area, MIT matched its intellectual agenda and its real estate investment strategy to help leverage the development of the surrounding area as a base for technology companies. In the early 1960s, MIT embarked on one of Cambridge's first large-scale commercial developments: the Technology Square research and development park. University Park, a mixed-use development centered around biotechnology firms, followed in the late 1990s. It was developed by a private firm on MIT-owned land, originally in partnership with the Institute. More recently, the Kendall Square area, a long-time seedbed for start-up firms located in old industrial facilities, has been transformed by private developers into a landscape of modern buildings housing high-tech and related companies. Half-way between University Park and Kendall Square, the four corners of Main and Vassar Streets are one of the world's pinnacles of successful R&D. These corners host the MIT Brain and Cognitive Sciences Center, the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory housed in the Stata Center, the Whitehead Institute (a joint endeavor by MIT and a private institute), and the Broad Institute, a partnership among MIT, Harvard and its affiliated hospitals, and the Institute for Biomedical Research to create genometric medicine. The latter building is a private development, leased to MIT under a long-term arrangement.
While development in the area around the campus has often been opportunistic, it has been anticipated and facilitated. Campus properties have followed a more purposeful agenda. From the initial design of the campus at the turn of the nineteenth century to the completion of its newest building, the Stata Center, MIT's facilities are designed to encourage cross-disciplinary connections. Different departments are located next to each other to encourage the cross-pollination of ideas. Facilities serve multiple uses for the same reason. For example, a laboratory may be next to a classroom and an administrative office may be nestled among lecture halls and laboratories.
Information technology further links people and places within MIT. Thanks to the OpenCourseWare Program, MIT's entire curriculum and teaching materials are being made available over the Web to anyone with Internet access. Its researchers work with global partners though ITC networks, distance learning programs are carried by Internet 2, and the campus now provides almost complete wireless coverage.
Ironically, although the work of MIT is underpinned by very sophisticated ITC and new media technologies, analog information is what is most visible throughout the campus and its environs. The fruits of the Institute's laboratories have not yet found their way into the public spaces of the Institute or the streets in the area. A number of proposals aim to change this. The MIT Wireless Museum Project, for one, would allow visitors to download information to their cell phones or PDAs as they explore the campus. New visions for MIT's main hallway, the so-called Infinite Corridor, would be equipped with RFID-enabled displays personalized to one's preferences. Another plan aims to revitalize the area's streetscapes with high amenity areas and new media displays.
In summary, MIT and its environs constitute part of what every New Century City aspires to be: a highly productive clustering of leading-edge academic and commercial enterprises connected with each other and with the world.
- The Evolving MIT Campus. http://web.mit.edu/evolving/
- BankBoston. (March 1997). MIT: The Impact of Innovation. http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/founders/Founders2.pdf (pdf)