HBS 1487: Sustainable Cities and Resilient Infrastructure


  • Professor: John Macomber
  • Term: Spring
  • School: Harvard Business School
  • Course ID: 1487

Career Focus

The world faces challenges including rapid urbanization, increasing pressure on the environment and on basic resources, and the growing difficulty governments face in managing the confluence of these trends. This class will appeal to students who would like to explore tools and examples that help investors, entrepreneurs, and policy makers understand and address these issues. Students interested in infrastructure, private equity, real estate, business and environment, and social enterprise also will find the course to be useful.

Educational Objectives

This course looks at pragmatic action in the face of three huge global trends: 1) rapid and massive migration to cities as people seek opportunity (or flee from other problems); 2) current and worsening scarcity of basic resources, for example not enough clean air, clean water, land, food, energy and too much traffic and garbage; and 3) the apparent inability of federal governments to do much about these issues. What role can the private sector play in using the tools of business and finance to help address this set of the world's problems? Where will there be opportunities for investment and entrepreneurship in urban infrastructure?

The course takes a "cities first" approach because a) cities are often the political unit that can act; b) investments in cities can have a cumulative benefit as they add to each other; and c) investors understand city scale projects: for example a toll road, water processing, or set of power transmission lines.

The course also takes a "built environment" approach. This is not the only way to understand cities. But it is useful since it looks at components of cities that can be directly influenced by private capital: the physical structures like roads, transit, water, power, buildings and more that are needed to support other attributes like jobs, schools, housing, and hospitals.

The five modules build skills in these areas, with consideration both of current best practices and of what is coming in the future.

Cases are drawn from both emerging economies and developed economies, and from both new cities and existing cities. Real estate, project finance, infrastructure finance, and the delivery and operation of these elements of cities play prominent roles in each module.

Course Content and Organization

The course develops skills in four modules. Skills build in each module, and the frameworks and points of view are set out to shape a comprehensive ability to engage in investing, policy development, entrepreneurship, and large company leadership in an increasingly urban world.

I. Infrastructure Finance and Public Private Partnerships introduces the basic toolkit of large project finance and infrastructure development, with particular attention to how to engage private actors.

II. Economic Development and New Cities looks at the basics of how design and investment in roads, power, ports and entire metropolitan areas stimulate economic growth.

III. Smart and Resilient Cities introduces and raises awareness of concepts and approaches including district scale power, climate change and sea level rise, autonomous vehicles, waste to energy, ubiquitous sensors, resilience finance, and public private partnerships in housing finance and construction.

IV. Project Delivery brings the toolkit together with illustrations of how these skills are deployed all over the world, including action steps for investors and operators.

Course Administration

Final exam. There are also several smaller assignments and polls. No final paper or final project. Cross-registrants are welcome, with advance permission of the instructor. HBS Finance 1 or HBS Real Property, or equivalent, are required prerequisites for cross registrants.