“The urban planning discipline, from its birth, involves pragmatic actions to bring about community improvements and changes in status quo. It is not a discipline in which scholars create knowledge in well-controlled lab environments but one in which knowledge is created in ever-changing urban systems formed by people, places and activities.”
Yingling Fan is Associate Professor of Urban and Regional Planning and the Director of the Global Transit Innovations program at the University of Minnesota. Her research focuses on developing novel land use and transportation solutions to improve human health and social equity. Her interdisciplinary work has appeared in many leading academic journal across multiple fields. These journals include Transportation Research Part A, Part C & Part F and Transportation in the field of transportation; Environment and Planning A & B, Journal of Planning Literature, Journal of Planning Education and Research, and Urban Studies in the field of urban planning; and Social Science & Medicine and American Journal of Preventive Medicine in the field of public health.
Fan is an internationally recognized expert on transit corridor planning and her ongoing book project examines the truth and future of transit revival in the U.S. Fan is Co-Principal Investigator of a $12 million dollar award from the U.S. National Science Foundation that examines urban infrastructure solutions for environment sustainability and human health. With the award, Fan is pioneering a new smartphone app to measure emotional well-being and happiness of people in-the-moment as they experience the city. The smartphone app, named Daynamica, has been patented and was initially sponsored by the Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office at the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Fan has strong commitment in community-engaged scholarship—applying scholarly expertise to facilitate community improvements. She serves as an advisor for several community organizations in Minnesota, including the Bike Walk Twin Cities, the Transit for Livable Communities, the NorthPoint Health and Wellness Center, the Metropolitan Council, the Twin Cities Greenways, and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. Fan’s community engagement work has been recognized by the 2014 President's Community-Engaged Scholar Finalist Award from the University of Minnesota, the 2016 Honorary Member Award from the Women’s Transportation Seminar Minnesota Chapter, and the 2011 Collaborator of the Year Award from the Hennepin County, MN.
Fan’s work has also been recognized by academic awards. Fan held the title McKnight Land-Grant Professor (2012-2014)—a special award that honors the University of Minnesota’s most promising faculty. She received the 2008 Pedestrian Committee Best Paper Award and the 2008 international Patricia F. Waller Award from the Transportation Research Board (TRB), Washington, DC. TRB is a division of the National Research Council of the United States.
Fan is an Editor of the SSCI-indexed Journal of Transport and Land Use, an editorial board member of the International Journal of Sustainable Transportation and Transportation Letters, and an elected board member at the World Society for Transport and Land Use Research. Fan has a Ph.D. in City and Regional Planning from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a bachelor’s degree in Transportation Engineering from Southeast University, Nanjing, China.
Q: How long have you been a member of ACSP?
A: More than 10 Years
Q: Have you won any awards?
A: I held the title McKnight Land-Grant Professor (2012-2014)—a special award that honors the University of Minnesota’s most promising faculty. I received multiple awards for recognizing my leadership in transportation research and in community-engaged scholarship. These awards include:
- 2016 Honorary Member Award from the Women's Transportation Seminar Minnesota Chapter
- 2014 Richard P. Braun Distinguished Service Award and the 2014 President's Community-Engaged Scholar Finalist Award from the University of Minnesota
- 2011 Collaborator of the Year Award from the Hennepin County, Minnesota
- 2008 Pedestrian Committee Best Paper Award
- 2009 international Patricia F. Waller Award from the Transportation Research Board, Washington, DC.
Q: What's your favorite project you’ve worked on?
A: My favorite project is my ongoing book project on contemporary transit development in the U.S.
There is momentum for rail and bus rapid transit corridors across U.S. metropolitan regions, but little data on how they succeeded despite long-standing fiscal, political and sociocultural barriers for transit development in the car-centric U.S. The book will tell the story of how those infrastructure projects were built and offer original analyses on the societal impacts of existing and proposed corridors.
To gather information for the book, I’m visiting cities and meeting with transit development leaders throughout the country. I have already visited 17 metropolitan regions and interviewed more than 60 transit planning experts. The field work and expert interviews have been extremely enlightening. I have learned about the large unmet demand for cross-town transit in the San Francisco Bay Area and how transit fragmentation in the region hurts ridership. I have learned about how Dallas pioneered the use of abandoned railways for transit development and urban regeneration. I have also learned how Detroit and New York City initiated transit corridor projects largely on land development promises and without transit agencies playing a primary role—in essence, building “development-oriented transit.” These unique case studies merit national and international attention.
By integrating storytelling with rigorous empirical work, the book is intended to be an interesting read for planning practitioners, policymakers and college students to learn about the challenges and opportunities of transit development in the car-dependent U.S.
Q: What future goals do you have in your field?
A: One of my future goal is to continue my community-based research—i.e., research that responds to community-defined needs and contributes to tangible community improvements. I believe community-based research is essential to advance scholarship in urban planning. The urban planning discipline, from its birth, involves pragmatic actions to bring about community improvements and changes in status quo. It is not a discipline in which scholars create knowledge in well-controlled lab environments but one in which knowledge is created in ever-changing urban systems formed by people, places and activities.
I also plan to expand my transit research by bringing in a cross-country comparative perspective. The rapid urbanization in China has produced enormous challenges and opportunities for public transportation research that addresses social equity and economic prosperity. My previous and ongoing transit research has attracted international attention and support. I have served as Visiting Fellow at the Peking University-Lincoln Institute Center for Urban Development and Land Policy—the premier research and policy center on urban issues in East and Southeast Asia. Invited by the World Bank, I led an effort to compare job accessibility by transit among the urban poor between U.S. and Chinese cities. I am excited about the new possibilities of international collaborative research that are taking shape as I am recognized for my expertise in transit planning to address the mobility needs of the urban poor.
Q: How has planning school changed your daily habits?
A: I received my Ph.D. in urban and regional planning from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH). My Ph.D. training at the UNC-CH and my researcher and educator career at the University of Minnesota have made me especially attuned to the complexities and impacts of planning research, which have changed my thinking habits.
Identifying effective planning strategies requires a real-world setting. We are dealing with an environment that people live in. So, when we create knowledge, it’s important to be sensitive to the settings in which we carry out the study. It’s important to say A led to B, but this is contingent upon C,D, etc.
One cannot import urban planning decisions free of contexts, naked of surroundings. Urban planning scholars are bounded to generate community-relevant knowledge and community-sensitive theories.
Q: What did you want to be when you were growing up?
A: Despite growing up in a rural area in China, I developed early interests in cities and transportation problems. My family’s rural residency status and China’s strict household registration (hukou) system prevented my parents from relocating to and/or finding employment in the city. When I was nine, my parents exhausted almost all of their resources to send me to an urban school for better education. For four years and on each school day, my father had spent on average four hours on daily commutes that include two hours of biking to transport me to and from school and another two hours of biking to get to and from his own workplace. I disliked these long commutes. They diminished our family leisure time. So, my childhood dream was simple: I wanted to create a place where people live in close proximity to their work and kids’ schools. My family experience also taught me that long commutes are not only transportation problems, but also relate to many other societal issues such as unequal access to employment opportunities.
Q: How many different cities have you lived in and which was your favorite?
A: I have lived in many cities and metropolitan region in China and the U.S. My favorite city/region is where I currently live, the Twin Cities (Minneapolis-St. Paul) region in the U.S. I especially like the progressive culture in the Twin Cities. The culture has encouraged and supported academic researchers to participate in policy debates at all levels. As someone who do community-based research, this is a great place to be. The region is also famous for its park and trail systems, as well as its flourishing arts, music, dining and entertainment scenes. Forget your stereotypes, the region has plenty of activity options in all seasons.
Q: If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
A: I have travelled to many cities in the U.S. and abroad, but have never been to cities in Africa. I’d love to travel to Africa and explore opportunities to study transportation and urban planning issues in African cities where urban infrastructure investment has lagged far behind the needs.
Q: What is the title of the last book you read? What did you learn from it?
A: The last book I read was Changing Lanes: Visions and Histories of Urban Freeways by Joseph F.C. DiMento and Cliff Ellis. The book convincingly demonstrated that urban systems are complex and adaptive. Without a strong and well-developed understanding of how cities work, urban professionals and policy makers may make decisions harmful to our economy, the environment, public health and quality of urban life. Using exhaustive historical research and insightful case studies, the authors explained how the perceived advantages of urban freeways as a new form of urban transportation in earlier decades produced an unsustainable American urban landscape with troubling societal impacts.
Q: What’s your favorite color and how would you creatively incorporate it into a planning project?
A: My favorite color is green. Besides research on transit corridors, I am also interested in designing green spaces in urban areas. Given the increasingly diversified urban population, I hope to recognize the diverse recreation needs and create equitable green spaces that serve all urban populations.