Economist Michael Greenstone to Lead Urban Energy and Environment Lab

UChicago News
Photo Credit: 
Francisco Samonte

Urban Labs initiative seeks solutions for world’s urban challenges. $10 million gift from Pritzker Foundation to support search for evidence-based policies. 

The University of Chicago is creating a new network of five Urban Labs to address some of the world’s most daunting urban problems and help realize the promise of cities in an era of global urbanization.

UChicago Urban Labs will design and test the most promising urban policies and programs across five key areas: crime, education, energy and the environment, health, and poverty. The collaborative approach recognizes that many long-term challenges in cities are related, and require unified responses. To make an impact on the broadest scale, Urban Labs will partner with civic leaders and practitioners in Chicago and around the world.

“At a time when the world’s cities are growing more rapidly than ever before, the University has a singular opportunity to support rigorous research that tests policies and programs to improve lives—from the South Side of Chicago to urban centers around the world,” said President Robert J. Zimmer. “This marks an important step in our faculty’s growing commitment to urban scholarship.”

Urban Labs will be launched with $15 million in seed funding, including a $10 million donation from the Pritzker Foundation. Building on the successful examples of the UChicago Crime Lab and Education Lab, this funding will enable the creation of three more related programs—the Health Lab, Energy and Environment Lab, and Poverty Lab. Each will be led by a distinguished UChicago faculty member. The Pritzker gift also will fund pilot projects by community groups, non-profits, or government agencies, to be selected through the Urban Labs Innovation Challenge. These projects will help propel research findings into tangible community improvements.

“The Pritzker Foundation sees philanthropic giving as an opportunity to make a difference in our community and in society. In the case of Urban Labs, we have an opportunity to do both,” said Tom Pritzker, executive chairman of Hyatt Hotels Corp. and chairman and CEO of The Pritzker Organization. “We are eager to support the next generation of policy innovations at the University of Chicago, which has an ideal combination of urban expertise and global reach.”

Combining perspectives across the five labs is crucial to addressing the big challenges that cities face, said Timothy Knowles, chairman of the Urban Education Institute and the John Dewey Clinical Professor in the Committee on Education, who has been appointed Pritzker Director of UChicago Urban Labs.

“A policy to reduce crime rates might also have a very significant impact on improving education, health, jobs, and poverty,” Knowles said. “By doing this work in a unified and collaborative way, we can understand the impact of the policies in real time and implement what we learn in cities around the country and the world.”

Each of the three new Urban Labs will be led by a faculty member who is a world leader in his or her field. Marianne Bertrand, the Chris P. Dialynas Distinguished Service Professor of Economics at the Booth School of Business, has been named director of the Poverty Lab. The Energy and Environment Lab will be led by Michael Greenstone, the Milton Friedman Professor of Economics and the College, and director of the Energy Policy Institute of Chicago (EPIC). David Meltzer, professor in Medicine, chief of Hospital Medicine at the University of Chicago Medicine and director of the Center for Health and the Social Sciences, will be director of the newly created Health Lab. Jens Ludwig, the McCormick Foundation Professor of Social Service Administration, Law, and Public Policy in the School of Social Service Administration and Chicago Harris, will continue as director of the Crime Lab. Knowles and Ludwig will co-direct the Education Lab.


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Learn more about UChicago Urban Labs and hear Michael Greenstone discuss the new Energy and Environment Lab: