Urban Labs

The world now faces the highest rate of urbanization in its history. By 2050, the urban population is expected to nearly double from approximately 3.4 billion to 6.4 billion. Cities generate jobs and income and present opportunities for productive social mobilization and empowerment: nearly 80 percent of all goods and services worldwide are produced in cities. The fundamental challenge: learning how to exploit the opportunities urbanization offers while addressing the downsides that can accompany it.

The University of Chicago Urban Labs are a set of highly synergistic labs focused on undertaking inquiry and creating impact on five essential dimensions of urban life: education, crime, poverty, health, and energy & environment. Urban Labs will pursue action-oriented scientific inquiry to identify, design, and test the most promising urban policies and programs and catalyze broad-scale adoption of the most effective and cost efficient—in Chicago and elsewhere. The labs’ distinct approach has four key components:

  • Undertake experimental research that directly and visibly improves the human condition. While basic science improves conditions as well, there is often a lag measured in decades. Urban Labs are designed to shape urban policy and practice in the immediate term.
  • Build partnerships with government and not-for-profit agencies to undertake rigorous inquiry that has direct policy relevance, supporting decision makers to act and invest based on the most persuasive empirical evidence.
  • Identify strategies to improve urban life that can be taken to scale. This will include the use of computationally intensive machine learning and data-analytic approaches to identify and monitor the most promising interventions.
  • Disseminate findings broadly to support understanding, adoption, and effective implementation of evidence-based policy and practice.

Urban Labs comprise five integrated, multidisciplinary labs, each led by an economist who is a world leader in his or her field:

  • The Health Lab focuses on improving the quality and efficiency of health care delivery and changing the social determinants of health for disadvantaged urban residents. David Meltzer of the Biological Sciences Division and the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy leads this work.
  • The Energy & Environment Lab seeks to identify and test ways of reducing rates of energy use and environmental damage from a wide range of daily activities in urban centers. The leader of the Energy & Environment Lab is Michael Greenstone, the Milton Friedman Professor in Economics and director of the Energy Policy Institute at Chicago.
  • The Poverty Lab works to improve income and overall quality of life for the most socially and economically vulnerable urban residents, applying ideas from behavioral economics. The Poverty Lab is led by Marianne Bertrand, codirector of Chicago Booth’s Social Enterprise Initiative, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and coeditor of the American Economic Review.
  • The Crime Lab uses insights from basic science to help government agencies and nonprofit organizations develop innovative new approaches to reducing violence, and works with them to test new innovations using randomized trials. Jens Ludwig of Chicago Harris and the School of Social Service Administration heads the Crime Lab.
  • The Education Lab brings together leading education-policy researchers to create more and better evidence about the best ways to improve educational outcomes for children growing up in some of the most distressed urban neighborhoods in America and overseas. Leading the Education Lab are Timothy Knowles of the Urban Education Institute and Jens Ludwig of Chicago Harris and the School of Social Service Administration.

Beginning in Chicago, Urban Labs will launch innovation partnerships with government agencies and nonprofits to identify, test, and scale promising interventions. These innovation partnerships will be designed to

  • directly benefit the most disadvantaged urban residents;
  • generate new knowledge for policy makers to target the most pressing urban problems;
  • create significant visibility for the work of the labs; and
  • maximize chances for scale-up as the labs identify the most effective policies and interventions.

The significance of Urban Labs—with a dedication to the most rigorous experimental methods, unparalleled analytic capacity, exemplary leadership, and an institution organized to propel impact at scale—is difficult to overstate. There is no such institution in the nation, and your investment helps create the potential to significantly improve public policy nationwide and, over time, to improve the human condition worldwide.

Your gift to Urban Labs allows its researchers to

  • undertake action-oriented, experimental research designed to influence urban policy and practice in the immediate term and directly and visibly improve the human condition;
  • build partnerships with leading governmental and not-for-profit agencies to undertake rigorous inquiry that has direct policy relevance, supporting decision-makers to act based on the most persuasive empirical evidence as it emerges;
  • identify strategies to improve urban life that can be taken to scale, including the use of computationally intensive approaches to identify and monitor the most promising interventions; and
  • invest in intensive dissemination to support understanding, adoption, and effective implementation of evidence-based policy and practice.