Lily Song

Lecturer in Urban Planning and Design and Research Associate

Dr. Lily Song is a Lecturer in Urban Planning and Design and Senior Research Associate with the Transforming Urban Transport-Role of Political Leadership (TUT-POL) project at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design (GSD).

Her research focuses on the relations between urban infrastructure and redevelopment initiatives, sociospatial inequality, and race, class, and gender politics in American cities and other postcolonial contexts. It takes what are often depoliticized, technically-formulated infrastructural issues such as urban transport, food markets and distribution systems, and building energy efficiency, and foregrounds social, political, and economic factors that fundamentally shape their planning and governance. Her work seeks to reveal dominant ideologies and logics of infrastructural development, formal and informal structures of decision making, and racialized, classed, and gendered dimensions of provision, access, and contestation. It further explores infrastructure-based mobilizations and experiments that center the experiences and insights of historically marginalized groups as bases for more inclusive and democratic planning, development, and value creation.

As part of the Transforming Urban Transport-Role of Political Leadership research team at the Harvard GSD, Dr. Song has investigated how and why transport investments that are intended to enhance public transit and non-motorized transport may be intensifying inequities of urban mobility and access in many cities. This entails assessing equity trade-offs in distributive and processual terms as well as interrogating the relationship between transport policies and urban redevelopment projects. It also includes exploring how public transit goals might be better integrated with alternative urban land use, housing, and economic development templates. One line of research on gender and mobility further investigates the challenges and opportunities of decarbonizing urban transport from the perspectives of women, girls, and femme-identified people in rapidly urbanizing contexts of Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

From 2013-2015, Lily Song was a Provost Fellow with University College London’s Department of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Public Policy, where her research investigated efforts by local Indonesian governments to engage forms of urban informality in building resilient food distribution systems and decarbonizing urban transport in the wake of the Asian Financial crisis and politico-institutional decentralization. In particular, she closely studied how policies could incorporate the needs, knowledge, and practices of informal vendors and operators with “formal” planning apparatuses to enable more diffuse and responsive diagnostic and troubleshooting capacities at the local and regional scale as well as more democratic claims to urban space.

She holds a PhD (2012) in Urban and Regional Planning from MIT, where her dissertation, entitled “Race and Place: Green Collar Jobs and the Movement for Economic Democracy in Los Angeles and Cleveland,” focused on the analysis of two community-based green economic and workforce development projects aiming to build shared wealth and stabilize poor, inner city neighborhoods in the wake of the subprime mortgage and global financial crisis. Building on the history of racial stratification and environmental injustice at the heart of historic urban formations in each city-region along with then present efforts by city leadership to institutionalize urban sustainability, the research explored how the respective progressive urban coalitions put green-collar jobs, racial inclusion, and economic transformation at the center of their efforts.

Prior to entering the planning field, Lily was a community organizer with the Asian American Drug Abuse Program (AADAP) in South Los Angeles. There she helped mount community mobilizations against environmental injustices (i.e. under-access to green open spaces, recreational resources, and culturally-responsive health services, and overexposure to liquor stores and drug criminalization) through youth leadership development and cross-racial coalition building. She is a proud LA daughter and alumna of California public schools.