GSD introduces the Future of the American City with support from Miami’s Knight Foundation

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 today announced $1 million in support to the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. 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.

“Miami is at the leading-edge of the most vexing challenges that will face major cities around the world in the decades to come. We’re excited to welcome a world-class group of problem solvers to Miami to partner with leaders and innovators who are already working on these important issues,” said Sam Gill, Knight Foundation vice president for communities and impact.

Part of its Future of the American effort, which aims to help cities tackle sustainability and resiliency challenges, the Harvard Graduate School of Design study will span the next three years, beginning this spring. Building on the school’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.

“The Harvard Graduate School of Design is eager to partner with Miami and Miami Beach and to bring the school’s design expertise to bear on a set of complex issues affecting nearly everyone living in those communities on a daily basis,” said Mohsen Mostafavi, dean and the Alexander and Victoria Wiley professor of design at Harvard Graduate School of Design. “In employing the model of the School’s design studios, our goal is to work across multiple fields of knowledge and research and develop a set of actionable, design-based recommendations to share with city and community leaders.”

The Harvard Graduate School of Design is consistently ranked as one of the leading design schools in the world. It has led projects to strengthen and revitalize cities around the globe. These include helping cities implement transportation policies; adapt to sea level rise and develop more resilient models of growth; and design urban environments that support the health and well-being of residents. Its alumni include Philip Johnson, I. M. Pei, and Paul Rudolph.

The school’s researchers have been actively connected with the City of Miami and City of Miami Beach for several years. Since 2012, the school has conducted six courses focused on Miami and conducted 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.

“This effort will bring a new community of problem-solvers to Miami, while calling on Miami leaders and innovators to creatively engage around some of our most pressing challenges. At the same time, lessons learned through the experience, can be shared with cities across the nation facing similar challenges,” said Sam Gill, Knight Foundation vice president for community and impact.

The research will be led by Mostafavi as well as Harvard Graduate School of Design professors Charles Waldheim, John E. Irving Professor of Landscape Architecture, and Jesse M. Keenan, Lecturer in Architecture. The study will include a three-part series of courses being led at the school. This fall, a course will focus on mobility and transit in Miami, particularly Brickell, with a site visit in October 2018. A second course in Fall 2019 will examine the roles of higher education and medical institutions in Miami’s economy, and a third in Fall 2020 will focus on the roles of Miami’s various ethnic neighborhoods in shaping the city’s cultural identity.

Each Harvard Graduate School of Design course will involve 12 graduate-level Harvard students and a professor working in a “design studio,” which involves conducting independent research, then discussing plans with fellow researchers to modify and strengthen their proposals. Each team of students will spend at least one week in Miami to speak with local stakeholders, civic organizations, and political and administrative leaders. Representatives from Miami’s civic and political organizations will provide feedback throughout the study.

Harvard Graduate School of Design’s upcoming Miami research is the first phase of its Future of the American  project, a broader urban-study 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.

Knight Foundation supports informed and engaged communities by identifying and working with partners to help our cities attract and nurture talent, promote economic opportunity and foster civic engagement. This effort will advance Knight Foundation’s work in Miami focused on building the city’s innovation ecosystem, while fueling entrepreneurship and new ideas. It will also help drive a national conversation about how communities can be more engaged in designing their cities to face the challenges of the future.

For more information, please visit the Future of the American City website.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy. For more, visit

About the Harvard University Graduate School of Design

The Harvard University Graduate School of Design is dedicated to the education and development of design professionals in architecture, landscape architecture, urban planning, and urban design. With a commitment to design excellence that demands the skillful manipulation of form and technology and draws inspiration from a broad range of social, environmental, and cultural issues, the Harvard Graduate School of Design provides leadership for shaping the built environment of the 21st century.