MIT Uses LEGO Models to Get People Excited About Urban Planning

MIT Media Lab
MIT Media Lab / MIT Media Lab

Urban planning may not be the most exciting conversation topic, but it has a huge impact on many people's daily lives. In an attempt to make this subject more accessible to the public, MIT is using LEGO models to demonstrate how different bus transit options would affect the residents of Boston.

The MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning, the Changing Places group at the MIT Media Lab, and the Barr Foundation have collaborated to create an interactive LEGO replica of Boston’s Dudley Square. An overhead projection fills the model with details like green spaces, sidewalks, and moving traffic. On one side of the replica is a second LEGO creation depicting a Boston street, and on the other side is a touchscreen that shows how different plans would affect certain areas. 

From October 7-14, the public was invited to visit the exhibit at the Roxbury Innovation Center in Dudley Square and play with the virtual city. Using the touchscreen, visitors could tap a specific area to learn how many jobs could be reached from the selected point via a proposed public transit plan. They could also tinker with factors like routes and frequency of transportation modes, then watch how this affected their commute on the model. 

Both public citizens and local policymakers were invited to experiment with the playful urban planning tools. Not only did the technology display the different levels of convenience that came with each change, it also illustrated how much each measure would cost. Chris Zegras, the project leader and a professor of transportation and urban planning at MIT, told City Lab that their “ultimate objective is this idea of co-creation. Having producers and consumers work intimately together in the production of a good creates a better good.” It may be hard to get people to agree about public policy, but an afternoon spent playing with LEGOs is something everyone can get on board with. 

[h/t: City Lab]