Metropolitan Research Initiative

Metropolitan Research Initiative (MRI)

The Metropolitan Research Initiative is an intensive long-term research project conducted by the Columbia Lab for Architectural Broadcasting in support of the production of specific design proposals and policy recommendations for global cities and their concurrent regional infrastructures. By focusing on New York City as the inaugural subject of this ongoing series of studies, C-Lab seeks to leverage its home-field advantage to derive an exportable methodology for the study of metropolitan areas beyond our immediate reach.

Through the use of geospatial analysis, projective mapping, and urban policy research, MRI New York seeks to identify and act upon sites and gaps within existing fields of operation across the five boroughs. In lieu of the top-down funding necessary to implement long-range investments in the fundamentals of the city, the core of our work is aimed at re-editing, or remixing the existing metropolis and seeking low-cost, high-impact means with which to effect change. The inquiry focuses primarily on programming efficiencies, adaptive re-use, and the empowerment of local actors through the collective exchange of information and expertise. Towards these ends, the initiative also explores new forms of public/private partnerships with like-minded research units, cultural institutions, non-profits, and local businesses in the hope of fostering an agile strategic platform from which to both leverage and address the latent opportunities and everyday challenges faced by the city of New York and its inhabitants. Currently, the study is comprised of three parallel strands: aging (65+ populations and elderly-related livability and health policy issues; deteriorating infrastructures, noise pollution), the middle of the road (the middle class and equitable public space), and the knowledge economy (public attitudes and modes of communication exchange).

C-Lab recently completed a popup installation entitled, “New York: Research in Progress,” at the November 9th “Cities” event, sponsored by Studio-X and Lapham’s Quarterly at the 92nd St Y Tribeca (check out Studio-X's photostream for images of the event). The exhibit, which was the first public display of work produced under the initiative, consisted of three animations, each concerning a different aspect of life in New York City.


Questions: When and where do New Yorkers take to the streets? Does a lack of temporary events in certain areas suggest larger socio-economic problems in these communities?

Objective: To identify gaps in the civic and economic life of the city.

Method: Map the concentrations of permanent and temporary areas of public activity over the course of a year.            

Data: Public parks, business improvement districts, NYC plaza program locations, seasonal greenmarkets, temporary greenmarkets, special event street closures (parades, street fairs, festivals, marathon, misc.).


Questions: Can the mayor’s style of governance help to offset the effects of economic and political pressures on the city's inhabitants? How do political attitudes in the city relate to economic factors?

Objective: To evaluate the pressures that shape political attitudes in the city.

Method: Compare large-scale economic indicators and major events with personal economic and political perceptions across the last twenty years.

Data: Mayoral approval rating (Giuliani and Bloomberg), Dow Jones index, consumer confidence index (NYC and the U.S.), median household income (NYC, adjusted for inflation), city protests (quantity and amplitude), strikes, strike threats, significant city events.


Questions: Questions: With the middle class dwindling, should NYC take steps to recognize the particular perils of its mainstream workforce?  What defines the city’s middle class? Income level? Aspirations? Limitations?

Objective: To determine the geographic footprint of the middle class in NYC.

Method: Map the locations of the middle class across a variety of social and economic criteria. Evaluate the divide between income- and aspiration-based definitions of the middle class.

Data: [Economic] – median household income (standard deviation), median household income (by quintile), per capita income, gross rent as a percentage of income; [Social] – percentage of owner-occupied households, percentage of people driving to work, car access, percentage of households with children, percentage of children attending private versus public school, household size.






















Ideas for New York City