Luis Bettencourt named inaugural director of Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation

Luis M. Bettencourt
Courtesy of
Santa Fe Institute
Mark Peters
News Director and Social Sciences SpecialistUniversity Communications

Luis M. Bettencourt, a leading researcher in urban science and complex systems, has been appointed the inaugural Pritzker Director of the Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation at the University of Chicago.

Under Bettencourt’s leadership, the Mansueto Institute, which launched last year with the support of a $35 million gift from alumni Joe and Rika Mansueto, will enhance the University’s strengths in urban scholarship and education and accelerate work across campus on the processes that drive and shape cities. It was founded to foster innovative and interdisciplinary scholarship, develop new educational programs, and provide leadership on the local, national and international levels to meet the challenges that cities face.

“The University of Chicago is in an exceptional position to increase understanding and develop effective practices around the most complex questions facing cities,” said President Robert J. Zimmer. “Luis’s intellectual leadership will help build the Mansueto Institute into a hub for the University’s rich array of urban research, education and impact.”

The Mansueto Institute will work closely with urban-focused efforts across campus in the divisions and schools as well as entities such as UChicago Urban Labs, which develops and tests evidence-based urban policy; the Office of Civic Engagement, which collaborates with community partners in Chicago and beyond; and the Global Engagement Office, which works through University centers in China, Europe and India.

“Luis is incredibly curious and can convene people from across the sciences in ways that produce new and innovative understandings of cities and urbanization,” said Kathleen Cagney, professor of sociology and chair of the selection committee. “He thinks carefully about the fundamental principles of urban scholarship and how they can be applied in different contexts, particularly in cities across the globe.”

Bettencourt, whose appointment is effective July 1, 2017, also will be a professor in the Department of Ecology & Evolution and the College. He comes to the University from the Santa Fe Institute, a leading multidisciplinary research and education institute, where he is a professor of complex systems.

In his research, Bettencourt uses the growing availability of data worldwide on topics ranging from transportation to housing to understand cities in quantitative and predictive ways. He is dedicated to creating new urban theory to explain how cities thrive and the challenges they face, based on the integration of ideas from urban disciplines such as geography, economics and sociology with methodologies from the natural and computational sciences. He also focuses on understanding the role of innovation and technological change as a driver of economic growth and human development in cities, across the world and throughout history. One of his most influential research projects has helped explain the systematic association between the size of urban areas and higher rates of economic productivity and innovation, as well as higher costs of living and violent crime.

“The Mansueto Institute provides a truly novel opportunity to bring together researchers from an array of fields to understand not just the fundamentals of cities—in terms of concept and data—but also how such fundamentals can lead to new, innovative solutions to improve the lives and opportunities of their residents,” Bettencourt said. “The University of Chicago’s longstanding dedication to urban scholarship, and the sciences more broadly, provides an unmatched foundation for the institute.”

Bettencourt will lead the Mansueto Institute in supporting innovative urban research projects while providing rigorous training for the next generation of urban scholars and practitioners. His role will include making the institute a destination on campus for students, scholars and policymakers, with data and analytic tools that can be accessed virtually by researchers from around the world.

The Mansueto Institute will play a key role in the University’s comprehensive and integrative efforts to bridge urban scholarship, practice and engagement—an institutional commitment known as UChicago Urban.

Bettencourt holds a doctorate in theoretical physics from Imperial College London and held postdoctoral positions at Los Alamos National Laboratory, the University of Heidelberg and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He served on the 2015 President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology working group on technology and the future of cities, and was a Kavli Fellow for the National Academy of Sciences’ Frontiers in Science Symposium. His work has received extensive coverage in the media, including The New York Times, Scientific American, Wired and New Scientist