Asha Weinstein Agrawal
Urban and Regional Planning
What research questions currently preoccupy you?
My research agenda is guided by a commitment to the principles of sustainability and equity: what planning and policy tools can communities adopt to encourage environmentally-friendly travel and improve accessibility for people struggling with poverty or other disadvantages? I have explored this question most deeply through two substantive areas, transportation finance policy and the travel behavior of pedestrians, cyclists, and transit riders.
What personal factors contributed to your study of urban and regional planning?
Two factors. First, as a child and teenager I discovered that I loved wandering around cities on foot. Because I had a chance to do this in many places around the world, I saw how much urban environments vary and realized that many US communities offer a very poor quality walking experience. Thus, I developed an interest in learning how to improve neighborhoods that aren’t pedestrian-friendly.
Second, my father is a theoretical mathematician, and so I’ve never in my life been able to talk to him in any depth about the substance of his research. This experience led me to want a career that anyone would happily talk about with me. Urban planning is perfect! When I tell people that I study transportation planning, they immediately and eagerly start sharing their personal stories about traffic congestion, poor bike infrastructure, the high cost of public transit, their new electric vehicle, or whatever else concerns them about their daily travel.
What has been most challenging in your research?
Finding time! I prioritize my teaching and other service to the university, which leaves relatively little time (or energy) left for research.
How has your position in SJSU contributed to your research?
At SJSU I have the privilege of working with smart, creative, and committed faculty and students.
A hidden (research) talent:
I care passionately about writing in a clear and engaging style. While I may not always achieve those goals, I regularly read books on good writing and put endless time into revising my work so that I can communicate my ideas as effectively as possible.
One book that changed your life (or research) & why:
William Whyte’s book City: Rediscovering the Center. Whyte used brilliantly straightforward research designs to illuminate the ways people actually use public spaces, thus giving us concrete tools to improve those places. Reading this book convinced me that I wanted to study urban planning so that I, too, could help create urban places that make people’s everyday lives better.
A website/journal/newspaper (in your field?) you follow without fail:
I’m interested in so many facets of planning that I read from many sources every day. Some of the sources I follow are Planetizen, Complete Streets News, AASHTO’s Daily Transportation Update, the New York Times, and the New Yorker. (The last is a great source of the occasional planning or transportation cartoon, along with more serious information.)
Advice you’d give to newer faculty or students:
Two suggestions. First, work with as many different people as you can. All of them will teach you unexpected things that enrich your work. (Plus, you might make friends along the way.) Second, make a conscious effort to improve your writing and public speaking skills. The best idea in the world is useless if you can’t communicate it well. Thus, you’ll be more successful in your studies and career if you can express yourself in a clear and compelling style.