NYC–>Shanghai, 21 days (3 weeks!!): I Think I’m Turning Chinese, Take 2!

August 20th, 2013. 21 days.

Halfway into the mini-blog series. Three weeks from departure.

It’s time to answer the question: “what the heck I’m doing in China?!” (as one Iowan put it!)

photo This was the scene outside my Chinese class today – well, after I had eaten dinner at my favorite NYC Chinese restaurant (Spicy Village aka Hunan Flavor – a must try BTW). And earlier today, I made a second visit to the Chinese consulate (more successful than my last!). Today was a very China-centric day. But only by NYC standards. In three short weeks, this scene will be be the norm – sans the US flag and the the NYC Parks logo (can you spot them)? So I thought it was about time I explain what I’ll be focusing on in China as a Fulbright scholar – and why I was compelled to go on this journey…

First, know that I’ve now been working on the topics of urbanization, development, walkability and the triple bottom line in China for over two years (check out an overview of our pub here!). My colleagues and I created a “built environment audit tool” (like a checklist of urban design features that could impact people’s behavior) for use in China (adapted from the IMI, which has been used widely in the US) and have used it to collect data on almost 300 blocks within three Shanghai neighborhoods. We also conducted surveys of residents to understand how they traveled to school, work, errands, etc., how often they were physically active, what their height and weight was, and other relevant behavioral and demographic factors. The Fulbright is meant to supplement this information with more “qualitative” knowledge – or basically help me tell the story behind the numerical data…more on that in a second…

But why China?
Besides being personally intrigued and fascinated by China, Chinese culture, and their seemingly insatiable “consumption” of change, here are some infographics I created that might relay the sense of urgency I felt as an urban design and behavior researcher to apply the methodologies I’d learned here in the US to explore and understand China(click here for the full PPT):


While the first three slides paint a dire picture, the fourth gives us hope. There’s still time to make a difference. But the time is now. One might say I had no choice but to go to China – or at least that’s how I felt.

What are my goals and how will I accomplish them?:

  1. Categorize the types of development patterns that currently exist and/or are proliferating in China (e.g., hutongs – or older, traditional neighborhoods; danwei – like work-force housing; gated communities; ghost towns, eco-districts, etc.). This basically means I’ll be traveling to tier 1, 2, and 3 cities throughout China to figure out what’s been built and how much of it, when, by whom, how, and why…
  2. Understand pedestrian behaviors and norms in China and examine Chinese people’s use of public spaces. aka: Conduct “advanced people watching” and immerse myself fully into pedestrian life in China
  3. Identify policy and practice factors that facilitate and hinder walkable, sustainable development in China. aka: Interview as many developers, planners, investors as possible to figure out how development actually gets done, identify a couple of places that “got it right,” and uncover the reasons for their success

What are my desired outcomes?

  1. Compile an approachable best practices guide for successful walkable, sustainable development that influences planning, development, and investment policies and practices in China.
  2.  Partner with key stakeholders on the ground that would help not only disseminate this guide but also integrate it into formal development guidelines in China.
  3. Understand China’s State of Place!!

Tall order, I know – but it is Fulbright after all!

Writing this today, it’s all starting to become a little less surreal. I cannot wait to tackle what is surely going to be one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of my life!

I welcome you all to PLEASE comment – whether it be personal advice or sentiments or professional feedback or suggestions! I want to hear from you regarding this blog in particular!!


Learn more about this blog series!

<<Read yesterday’s mini blog

Read the next mini blog>>



  1. Belinda Large says:

    In awe of you. I’m really looking forward to your blog series. Thank you so much for sharing your experience with all of us.

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