"The MISTI grants are perfect for us, because they are designed to enable international collaboration. Our local partners have key local knowledge, they are able to collect crucial data, and they have access to country-specific resources."
Edgar Blanco – Research Director at the MIT Center for Transportation & Logistics (CTL), and Executive Director of the MIT SCALE Network in Latin America – has a vision. And a first step toward the realization of this vision was an MIT-Brazil seed fund grant from MISTI.
“My objective is modest, in a way,” Blanco says. “I want cities all over the world to make urban freight logistics a standard element of their long-term planning process. It’s not what most city planners think of first, but the megacities research we are doing has shown that we need to make supply chain logistics a priority.”
Why focus on megacities? Because more and more of them are emerging, and they present a compelling new set of supply chain problems. “Megacities grow so rapidly,” says Blanco, “that they are disorganized and dense – often 10 or 20 times more dense than a city in the U.S. Their density makes them very congested, yet their economically-challenged populations often need to visit stores on a daily basis. The patterns of consumption are entirely different. Based on the nature of how people buy products in a megacity, the city’s stores need to resupply much more frequently. But how do we get the trucks through without causing even more congestion?”
An initial seed grant for the Megacities Logistics Lab project helped Blanco team up with international collaborators to get the project started. “To understand how last mile delivery is handled in each megacity, I needed highly motivated partners on the ground,” explains Blanco, who has been awarded four separate seed grants to undertake project in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Santiago and Mexico City. “The MISTI grants are perfect for us, because they are designed to enable international collaboration. Our local partners have key local knowledge, they are able to collect crucial data, and they have access to country-specific resources. I’ve been able to take my students to those locations, and our partners have brought their students and visited us to build a common platform. Now that the groundwork is in place, we are also helping them obtain local funding to move their projects forward.”
In a big-picture sense, the Megacity Logistics Lab projects actually represent a multi-city, multi-country collaboration. Blanco is building a network of locally-based laboratories which consolidate their research on an international level in order to create effective urban freight policy recommendations.
In the meantime, he is co-editing a book that compiles case studies based on Blanco’s last mile work in the various cities. Several papers are also in the works, and Blanco has been asked by two banks – both of which provide countries with urban development funds – to draft policy papers for them.
“We are the only ones looking at urban freight this way,” Blanco says. “The policy papers will go straight to a country’s Ministry of Transportation, straight to anyone who wants funding from the banks, and this is probably the most influential thing we can do. We are also engaged on a six-month pilot program in a Mexico City neighborhood, where we are implementing new freight and logistics policies to see how well they will work. Once this succeeds in one city, other cities will be convinced that they should prioritize logistics issues in urban development. I hope we can impact existing megacities, but I’m aiming at the megacities of the future!”