The MIT Senseable City Laboratory is a digital laboratory within MIT's City Design and Development group,[1] within the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, which works in collaboration with the MIT Media Lab. The lab aims to investigate and anticipate how digital technologies are changing the way people live and their implications at the urban scale.

History and description

Director Carlo Ratti founded the Senseable City Lab in 2004.[citation needed]

Its mission statement says that it seeks to creatively intervene and investigate the interface between people, technologies and the city. The Lab's work draws on diverse fields such as urban planning, architecture, design, engineering, computer science, natural science and economics to capture the multi-disciplinary nature of urban problems and deliver research and applications that empower citizens to make choices to make a better liveable urban experience. Among the Lab's partners are a group of corporations, including AT&T, General Electric, Audi, ENEL, SNCF as well as cities such as Copenhagen, London, Singapore, Seattle, and Florence.[citation needed]

Projects have included "The Copenhagen Wheel",[2] which debuted at the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference, "Trash_Track"[3] shown at the Architectural League of New York and the Seattle Public Library, "New York Talk Exchange"[4] featured in the MoMA The Museum of Modern Art, and Real Time Rome, included in the 2006 Venice Biennale of Architecture.

In 2010 the lab opened a new research center in Singapore as part of a $35 million MIT-led initiative on the Future of Urban Mobility.[5]


The Senseable City Lab begins its project and research work with a vision for an urban future, or "urban demo". This vision is tailored to a particular city's needs and can be motivated by the challenges a place may be confronting, or by opportunities for providing new experiences or services due to advances in digital technologies. Urban demos are designed to be showcased at large public events and exhibitions to stimulate debate between citizens, public administrators, and industry. Following an urban demo, the Lab typically engages in more traditional academic research - analyzing the data that has been collected and producing research papers.


Underworlds sewage sampling and monitoring technology, ca. 2017

Since 2004, the Senseable City Lab has grown rapidly reaching 35 completed projects by 2009 with a turnover of 63 researchers from all over the world. Lab researchers have produced 166 scientific publications in high-impact academic journals such as "Eigenplaces: analysing cities using the space-time structure of the mobile phone network".[6] The Lab's design work has been exhibited in some of the world's leading venues including the Venice Biennale, MoMA The Museum of Modern Art, the 2008 Zaragoza World Expo, the Architectural League of New York, Design Museum Barcelona, the Canadian Centre for Architecture and the MIT Museum. The Lab's work have been recognized in TIME Magazine's Best Invention of the Year 2007,[7] Esquire Magazine's Best and Brightest 2008,[8] Blueprint Magazine's List of 25 Who Will Change the World of Design in 2010,[9] and Thames and Hudson's 2009 List of Innovators Shaping Our Creative Future. In January 2009, Director Carlo Ratti represented the Lab as a delegate to the World Economic Forum in Davos. In 2011, he presented at TED in Longbeach.[citation needed]


Treepedia is a Senseable City Lab project whose goal is to raise awareness of urban forests. It uses digital vision techniques based on Google Street View images. Its focus is on street trees rather than those in parks. The open-source library, stored on GitHub, includes all the Python programming code to allow anyone to use it to calculate tree cover (measured as Green View Index, or GVI) for their own city or region.[10][11]


  1. ^ City Design and Development
  2. ^ For Bicyclists Needing a Boost, This Wheel May Help, NYT, December 14, 2009 [1]
  3. ^ Following Trash and Recyclables on Their Journey, NYT, September 16, 2009 [2]
  4. ^ New York and the Vanguard of Digital Design, NYT City Room blog, February 22, 2008 [3]
  5. ^ MIT News Office, January 5, 2010
  6. ^ Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design 36(5)
  7. ^ Best Inventions of 2007, TIME
  8. ^ Four Innovative Mapmakers Reinventing the Very Idea of Maps, Esquire, December 9, 2008 [4]
  9. ^ Change in 2010, Blueprint, December 17, 2009 Archived March 16, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ "Treepedia :: MIT Senseable City Lab". Treepedia :: MIT Senseable City Lab. Retrieved March 1, 2021.
  11. ^ "Treepedia study confirms Sacramento as City of Trees". Sactown Magazine. January 25, 2017. Retrieved March 1, 2021.