The idea for the MICD, explains Tom Wright, came from Joe Riley (then-mayor of Charleston, SC) and Jaqueline Robertson (then-Dean of the University of Virginia School of Architecture). Their hope was to create a "forum to educate mayors about architecture, design, and planning" at a time (the mid-1980's) when anti-urbanism was at its peak, writes Tom Wright.
From the article by Wright at Citiwire:
"The Institutes follow a common agenda. Instead of asking public officials to show off their successes, the mayors ... bring a problem. They present a case study to a team of planners, urban designers, landscape architects, preservationists and fellow mayors about something they are struggling with back home ... Around a large table, the mayors and resource team members discuss the projects and how they would approach them. While the mayors get excellent advice on their specific case studies from the resource team, the real goal of the Institute has always been to educate the mayors, to make them better consumers and stronger advocates for their communities."