Chicago mayor Emanuel talks sustainability at MIT

Former chief of staff calls for cities to ‘tip the scales’ of intellectual and cultural energy

Rahm Emanuel, 45th mayor of Chicago and former White House chief of staff, held an open discussion last Friday in Wong Auditorium. The moderated conversation concluded the mayor’s stay in Cambridge, which included talks with students and faculty about sustainability and entrepreneurship.

A chance encounter in an elevator spurred the mayor’s visit, according to MIT President L. Rafael Reif, who introduced the mayor to the audience.

“When I saw him [Emanuel] in that New York elevator, he told me that he and his team were imagining the city of the future, considering how changes in transportation will affect urban planning, the environment, and architecture, and the role computer science might play in that evolution,” Reif said.

“We agreed we would try to find time in his busy schedule for him to come to campus to speak to the MIT community.”

Professor John Deutsch moderated the conversation, choosing questions from a curated list of questions submitted by students. Deutsch and Emanuel had worked together previously on the Clinton administration, as director of central intelligence and senior advisor, respectively.

“We live in a universe, and we have important ideas,” said Deutsch about the MIT community. “We have a big responsibility to implement those ideas in a way that impacts the entire world, not just those immediately surrounding us.”

The mayor spoke about a wide range of topics, elaborating on his faith, his views on immigration, and his thoughts on the importance of cities in the current political climate.

“A hundred cities around the world — and you live in one of them — drive the economic, intellectual, and cultural energy of the world,” said Emanuel. “The only people that can still put their thumb on the scale and tip the scale from a public sector area is the city.”

The 400 available seats for the public conversation were determined by lottery open to the MIT community. About 1000 people entered the lottery, Gayle Gallagher, director of Institute Events and Protocol, said. 70 percent of the seats were reserved for MIT students, she said.

Amy Shim is a member of the class of 2020.