Initiative on Cities

urban research and experiential learning institute at Boston University

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Initiative on Cities
FoundersThomas Menino, Graham Wilson
Headquarters75 Bay State Road, Boston, MA, 02215
FieldsUrban Studies
Public Policy
Loretta Lees
Katharine Lusk
AffiliationsBoston University

The Initiative on Cities (IOC) is an interdisciplinary center at Boston University. It serves as a hub for urban research and experiential learning, and engages with urban leaders, policymakers, academics, communities, and students from around the world to work toward sustainable, just, and inclusive urban transformation.[1]

The Initiative is located at 75 Bay State Road in a historic brownstone on the Charles River Campus of Boston University.


The Initiative was founded in 2014 by Boston’s longest-serving Mayor, Thomas Menino, who stepped down after twenty years in office, and Boston University Professor and Chair of Political Science Graham Wilson.[2] Katharine Lusk joined as Executive Director from the Menino Administration, where she had led efforts to make Boston “the premier city for working women” and created the Boston Women’s Workforce Council.[3][4] Lusk was named Co-Director in 2019.[5]

In 2022, Loretta Lees joined as the new Director, and Professor of Sociology, following Professor Wilson’s retirement. A British urban geographer, Lees previously worked at the University of Leicester and King’s College London.[6] From 2020 to 2022, Lees served as Chair of the London Housing Panel, a partnership between the Mayor of London and Trust for London that engages the community and voluntary sectors as advisors on housing policy.[7]


The Initiative on Cities leads and catalyzes major urban research efforts at Boston University. It is a member of the Global Urban Network, a university-based collective of urban institutes from across five continents.[8]

Menino Survey of Mayors

The annual Menino Survey of Mayors, named in honor of the late IOC Co-Founder and Boston Mayor Tom Menino, was created by the Initiative on Cities in 2014.[9] It is the only systematic, nationally representative survey of U.S. mayoral priorities and concerns.[10] The Menino Survey covers timely issues affecting cities, including housing affordability,[11][12] poverty,[13] the racial wealth gap,[14] public health,[15] infrastructure,[16] policing,[17] parks and public space,[18] homelessness,[19] and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.[20] Survey collaborators and funders have included Citi, The Rockefeller Foundation, the National League of Cities (NLC), Trust for Public Land, and Community Solutions.[21] In addition to elevating mayoral priorities via widespread media coverage, the research team has deepened the body of academic literature pertaining to U.S. mayoral leadership and decision making.[22]

The Menino Survey team includes Boston University Associate Professors of Political Science, Katherine Levine Einstein, David Glick and Maxwell Palmer, IOC staff Stacy Fox and Katharine Lusk, and others. The project has inspired multiple international survey efforts, with the support of the Boston University team, including the “Urban Voices: UK City Leaders Survey” led by Centre for Cities and Arup,[23] the “Canadian Municipal Barometer”,[24] and the Global Survey of City Leaders led by Cornell University.[25]

Federally Funded Research and Programs

The Initiative on Cities has supported federally funded research programs led by faculty across multiple academic departments.


The Initiative was part of the CO2 Urban Synthesis and Analysis Network (CO2 USA[26]), a multi-year project funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration which brought together scientific researchers and local stakeholders to standardize greenhouse gas emissions measures (CO2 and CH4) at spatial and temporal scales that would have utility for cities. It also helps to convene workshops and conferences funded by the National Science Foundation, including Sustainable Urban Systems[27] and the Street of the Future.[28]

Civic Technology

The Initiative convened a series of workshops on effective practices in city/university/industry “smart cities” collaboration, with support from the National Science Foundation.[29] It has also led research on the field of public interest technology, with support from the Public Interest Technology University Network, of which Boston University is a member.[30]

Boston Research

As a major urban university with a longstanding commitment to its home city, research in, on and with the City of Boston and Bostonians is a key priority. The Initiative has supported and led research on a wide variety of issues that concern Boston residents, including the region’s high housing costs, racial inequality, the changing climate, and youth engagement practices.[31]


Experiential Learning

The Initiative runs place-based experiential learning programs for hundreds of Boston University undergraduate and graduate students, via its MetroBridge program and summer internships. MetroBridge, which launched in 2018, sources projects from cities for students to undertake as class projects across a wide variety of academic departments.[32] By 2022, MetroBridge had served more than 1,000 students at Boston University.

The Initiative’s paid summer internship & fellowship program matches students with roles in local governments to work on issues such as racial equity, housing, sustainability, and innovation. Host cities have included Boston MA, Chelsea MA, Providence RI, Sydney, Australia and Manchester, UK.[33]

The Initiative also runs the year-long National League of Cities (NLC) Menino Fellowship program. It was created by the National League of Cities to honor Menino, who had helped to found the NLC Institute for Youth, Education and Families in 2000,[34] and includes a paid semester-long internship for a Boston University undergraduate student with the NLC in Washington DC.[35]

Urban Studies Minor

The Initiative created Boston University’s Urban Studies minor, which is administered by the Boston University Department of Political Science.[36] The Initiative on Cities awards a student prize each year to a graduating seniors minoring in Urban Studies.[37]

Doctoral Programs

The Initiative supports doctoral students across Boston University leading original research on cities and urban populations by providing research stipends and supporting peer learning opportunities. It also is part of BU URBAN, an interdisciplinary PhD program which prepares students in Biogeoscience, Environmental Health, and Statistics to tackle urban environmental challenges.[38]

Global Engagement

The Initiative on Cities engages with urban academic institutes, think tanks and mayors around the world. In 2017, it partnered with the UK-based Centre for Cities to host the UK-International Metro Mayors Summit, which brought a cohort of US mayors to London for a three day convening with the first directly elected mayors of metropolitan regions in the UK.[39] In 2019, the Initiative worked with a coalition of big city housing commissioners and Enterprise Community Partners to host the Global Innovations in Urban Housing conference.[40] From 2017 to 2020, it ran an executive education program on cities for the global design firm, Arup, with in-depth site work in Boston, Hangzhou, and Singapore.


  1. ^ "Initiative on Cities". Retrieved 2022-12-08.
  2. ^ Ryan, Andrew; Bombardieri, Marcella. "Menino to help start urban institute at BU - The Boston Globe". Retrieved 2022-12-08.
  3. ^ Nanos, Janelle (2013-01-31). "How Menino Plans to Address the Wage Gap". Boston Magazine. Retrieved 2022-12-08.
  4. ^ "Will Boston succeed in closing the gender wage gap?". NBC News. Retrieved 2022-12-08.
  5. ^ "BU's Initiative on Cities Gets New Codirector". Boston University. Retrieved 2022-12-08.
  6. ^ Stanford, Ayjia. "For New Initiative on Cities Leader, Urban Geography Is People". Boston University. Retrieved 2022-12-08.
  7. ^ "London Housing Panel". Trust for London. Retrieved 2022-12-08.
  8. ^ "Global Urban Network Seminar Series 2021". School of Cities. 2021-02-22. Retrieved 2022-12-08.
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  11. ^ Zezima, Katie (January 22, 2018). "New survey of mayors shows most are concerned about lack of affordable housing". The Washington Post.
  12. ^ Fox, Jeremy C. "Annual BU survey of mayors finds affordable housing is top issue - The Boston Globe". Retrieved 2022-12-08.
  13. ^ "Survey: Mayors unified on battling poverty, other key issues". AP NEWS. 2017-01-10. Retrieved 2022-12-08.
  14. ^ "Mayors Face a Reckoning With Racial Wealth Gaps". Governing. 2022-04-05. Retrieved 2022-12-08.
  15. ^ "Just Released: Mayors and the Health of Cities | Initiative on Cities". Retrieved 2022-12-08.
  16. ^ "What Democratic and Republican Mayors Don't Agree About". 2020-01-21. Retrieved 2022-12-08.
  17. ^ Summers, Juana (2021-01-27). "Most U.S. Mayors Do Not Support Reallocating Police Resources, Survey Finds". NPR. Retrieved 2022-12-08.
  18. ^ Lusk, Katharine. "City dwellers gained more access to public spaces during the pandemic. Can they keep it?". Retrieved 2022-12-08.
  19. ^ "The Big Obstacles Mayors Face Addressing America's Homelessness Crisis". Route Fifty. Retrieved 2022-12-08.
  20. ^ "What U.S. Mayors Are Really Worried About". 2021-11-30. Retrieved 2022-12-08.
  21. ^ "Menino Survey of Mayors | Initiative on Cities". Retrieved 2022-12-08.
  22. ^ "Scholarly Impact | Menino Survey of Mayors". Retrieved 2022-12-08.
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  24. ^ "Canadian Municipal Barometer". CMB-BMC. Retrieved 2022-12-08.
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  27. ^ "Urban Climate Initiative". Retrieved 2022-12-08.
  28. ^ "Street of the Future: Workshop 1 | Initiative on Cities". Retrieved 2022-12-08.
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  30. ^ Lusk, Katharine (2022-05-31). "Public Interest Technology University Network: understanding the state of the field". {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
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  32. ^ "MetroBridge | Initiative on Cities". Retrieved 2022-12-08.
  33. ^ "Fellowship Opportunities | Initiative on Cities". Retrieved 2022-12-08.
  34. ^ "After Two Decades, A New Chapter Begins for NLC's Institute for Youth, Education & Families". National League of Cities. 2020-10-01. Retrieved 2022-12-08.
  35. ^ "National League of Cities Menino Fellowship | Initiative on Cities". Retrieved 2022-12-08.
  36. ^ "Urban Studies Minor | Political Science". Retrieved 2022-12-08.
  37. ^ "Initiative on Cities Student Prize | Initiative on Cities". Retrieved 2022-12-08.
  38. ^ "URBAN Program". Retrieved 2022-12-08.
  39. ^ Cities, Centre (2017-12-09). "Five reflections from our international metro mayors' summit". Centre for Cities. Retrieved 2022-12-08.
  40. ^ "Meeting the Housing Challenge". Retrieved 2022-12-08.
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