Yuan Lai

Assistant Professor/Special Research Fellow




Urban Science, Urban Informatics, Urban Design, Smart Cities, Urban Health



Ph.D., Civil Engineering in Urban Systems and Informatics, New York University, 2019

M.S., Applied Urban Science and Informatics, New York University, 2016

M.S., Urban Planning, University at Buffalo, State University of New York, 2011

B.S., Landscape Architecture, Beijing Forestry University, 2009



Assistant Professor, School of Architecture, Tsinghua University (2021-present)

Lecturer of Urban Science and Planning, Department of Urban Studies and Planning, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (2019-2021)

Doctoral Research Assistant, New York University Marron Institute of Urban Management (2018-2019)

Graduate Research Assistant, New York University Center for Urban Science and Progress (2016-2018)

Urban Designer, Moshe Safdie and Associates, Boston (2011-2015)



Urban informatics I: Applied Urban Analytics

Urban Informatics II: Introduction to Smart Cities

Urban Design

Urban Planning Foundation (8)



2022-present, Vice Executive Secretary and Research Lead, Technology Innovation Center for Smart Human Settlements and Spatial Planning Governance, China Ministry of Natural Resources, China

2022-present, Member, Academic Committee for Planning and implementation, China Association of City Planning

2022-present, Member, China Society of Territorial Economists, China

2019-2020, Member, The New York Academy of Medicine, The United States

2018-2019, Forefront Fellow, Urban Design Forum, The United States

2017-2019, Member, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)

2016-2019, Member, American Society of Civil Engineers, The United States



1.     2023-2026, Principal Investigator, Measure and Evaluation of Urban Space Flexibility based on Human Activities, National Science Foundation China.

2.     2022-2025, Sub-project Lead Investigator, Key Technologies and Equipment for Sustainable Development of Cities and Towns, National Key Research and Development Program, China.

3.     2022-2023, Sub-project Lead Investigator, Action Plan of Implementation and Evaluation of Integrated Demonstration of Interdisciplinary Research on Future Cities. Tsinghua-Toyota Joint Research Program, China.

4.     2021-2022, Project Lead Investigator, Research on Theory, Planning Method and Technical System of Urban and Rural Land Use Optimization in Beijing, China.


5.     2017-2020, Urban Informatics for Smart, Sustainable Cities: Toward a Data-Driven Understanding of Metropolitan Energy Dynamics, National Science Foundation, The United States.

6.     2017-2017, Data Immersion Fellow, Bloomberg Data for Good Exchange, Bloomberg, The United States.

7.     2017-2017, AR Technology in Indoor Space, NYC Media Lab & Bloomberg Technology, The United States.


2019Google AI Impact Challenge winning team (NYU Marron Institute Civic Analytics)  
Best Visualization Award, United Nations Data for Climate Action Challenge

2017Data for Good Exchange Data Science Immersion Fellow, Bloomberg
Forefront Fellow, Urban Design Forum
Augmented Reality Prototyping Fellow, NYC Media Lab + Bloomberg
HackNYU Winning Team Lead 
Academic Scholarship, New York University Center for Urban Science and Progress
2nd Place, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Critical Datathon
Best Urban Planning Master Thesis Award, University at Buffalo, SUNY
Outstanding Student Project Award, American Planning Association WNY Chapter



Peer-reviewed Journal Articles


1.     Liu, Y., & Lai, Y.* (2024). Analyzing jogging activity patterns and adaptation to public health regulation. Environment and Planning B: Urban Analytics and City Science, 51(3): 670-688.


2.     Chuang pk & Lai, Y.* (2024). Aging-friendly Smart Community Development in China and Data-driven Insights in Beijing. Journal of Chinese Architecture and Urbanism. (Accepted) 


3.     Ssebyala, S. N., Kintu, T. M., Muganzi, D. J., Dresser, C., Demetres, M. R., Lai, Y., ... & Ghosh, A. K. (2024). Use of machine learning tools to predict health risks from climate-sensitive extreme weather events: A scoping review. PLOS Climate, 3(1), e0000338. 


4.     Lai, Y.,* Xia, JY & Zheng XJ (2023). Smart Human Settlement Theory and Technical Planning Principles from the Perspective of Urban System. Urban Planning, 2023(47):12. (in Chinese) 


5.     Lai, Y.*, & Lavi, R. (2023). Remote Teaching for Collaboration and Creative Problem-Solving Skills in Undergraduate Urban Science: A Case Study. Journal of Education Studies, 51(4), EDUCU5104001-18. 


6.     Lai, Y. & Anni H. (2023) Urban analytics based on human actiVity data: Practical experience of New York City and insights in urban ergonomics. World Architecture, 7(397), 10-16. (in Chinese) 


7.     Lai, Y.* , Tang, Y., An J. et al. (2023). Regeneration paths based on endogenous development for old residential neighborhood adjacent to urban shopping district: A design proposal in Xinjiekou, Nanjing. Urban Design, 3: 88-97. (in Chinese) 


8.     Watson, H., Gallifant, J., Lai, Y., Radunsky, A. P., Villanueva, C., Martinez, N., ... & Celi, L. A. (2023). Delivering on NIH data sharing requirements: avoiding Open Data in Appearance Only. BMJ Health & Care Informatics, 30(1), e100771. 


9.     Lai Y.* & Li J. T. (2023) Integrated multi-scale urban health data analytics based on residents’ activities. Journal of Human Settlements in West China, 38(2): 8-16. (in Chinese) 


10.  Lai Y.* & Pokai, Z. (2023) Value proposition of smart city planning under the concept of people's city. Beijing Planning Review, 02:20-24. (in Chinese) 


11.  Lai, Y.*, Li, J., Zhang, J., Yan, L., & Liu, Y. (2022). Do vibrant places promote active living? Analyzing local vibrancy, running activity, and real estate prices in Beijing. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 19(24), 16382. 


12.  Lai, Y. (2022). Urban intelligence for carbon neutral cities: Creating synergy among data, analytics, and climate actions. Sustainability, 14(12), 7286. 


13.  Lai, Y., Papadopoulos, S., Fuerst, F., Pivo, G., Sagi, J., & Kontokosta, C. E. (2022). Building retrofit hurdle rates and risk aversion in energy efficiency investments. Applied Energy, 306, 118048. 


14.  Lai, Y. (2021). Urban intelligence for planetary health. Earth, 2(4), 972-979. 


15.  Kontokosta, C. E., Freeman, L., & Lai, Y. (2021). Up-and-coming or down-and-out? Social media popularity as an indicator of neighborhood change. Journal of Planning Education and Research, 0739456X21998445. 


16.  Lai, Y. (2021). Urban informatics for green infrastructure: An integrated approach for street trees data collection, analytics, and citizen science in New York City. Landscape Architecture, 28(1), 17-30. 


17.  Lai, Y., Charpignon, M. L., Ebner, D. K., & Celi, L. A. (2020). Unsupervised learning for county-level typological classification for COVID-19 research. Intelligence-based medicine, 1, 100002. 


18.  Luo, E. M., Newman, S., Amat, M., Charpignon, M. L., Duralde, E. R., Jain, S., ... & Celi, L. A. (2021). MIT COVID-19 Datathon: data without boundaries.BMJ innovations. 7(1):1–4. 


19.  Lai, Y., Yeung, W., & Celi, L. A. (2020). Urban intelligence for pandemic response. JMIR public health and surveillance, 6(2), e18873. 


20.  Lai, Y., & Kontokosta, C. E. (2019). Topic modeling to discover the thematic structure and spatial-temporal patterns of building renovation and adaptive reuse in cities. Computers, Environment and Urban Systems, 78, 101383. 


21.  Lai, Y., & Kontokosta, C. E. (2019). The impact of urban street tree species on air quality and respiratory illness: A spatial analysis of large-scale, high-resolution urban data. Health & place, 56, 80-87. 


22.  Lai, Y., & Kontokosta, C. E. (2018). Quantifying place: Analyzing the drivers of pedestrian activity in dense urban environments. Landscape and Urban Planning, 180, 166-178. 


23.  Celi, L. A., Marshall, J. D., Lai, Y., & Stone, D. J. (2015). Disrupting electronic health records systems: the next generation. JMIR medical informatics, 3(4), e4192.


24.  Yin, L., Raja, S., Li, X., Lai, Y., Epstein, L., & Roemmich, J. (2013). Neighbourhood for playing: using GPS, GIS and accelerometry to delineate areas within which youth are physically active. Urban studies, 50(14), 2922-2939. 



Books and Book Chapters


1.     Lai, Y. 2022. Introduction to Urban Informatics and Data Science: System Construction and Application of Smart Cities. Beijing: China Architecture and Building Press.


2.     Lai, Y. and Stone, D.J., 2020. Data Integration for Urban Health. In Leveraging Data Science for Global Health (pp. 351-363). Springer, Cham.


3.     Lai, Y., Moseley, E., Salgueiro, F. and Stone, D. J., 2016. Integrating non-clinical data with EHRs, in: Secondary Analysis of Electronic Health Records. MIT Critical Data Group, ed. Springer International Publishing AG.


4.     Stone, D. J., Rousseau, J. and Lai, Y., 2016. Pulling it all together: Envisioning a data-driven, ideal care system, in: Secondary Analysis of Electronic Health Records, MIT Critical Data Group, ed. Springer International Publishing AG.


Selected Peer-reviewed Conference Proceedings

1.     Lavi, R., Cong, C., Lai, Y., Lavallee, J. A., Long, G. L., & Melenbrink, N. (2023, June). The evolution of an interdisciplinary case-based learning first-year course. In 2023 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition. 


2.     Lai, Y., & Liu, Y. (2022, March). Computing places and human activity in data-absent informal urban settlements. In 2022 IEEE International Conference on Pervasive Computing and Communications Workshops and other Affiliated Events (PerCom Workshops) (pp. 478-483). IEEE. 


3.     Lai, Y. (2020, March). Hyper-local urban contextual awareness through open data integration. In 2020 IEEE International Conference on Pervasive Computing and Communications Workshops (PerCom Workshops) (pp. 1-6). IEEE. 


4.     Khmaissia, F., Haghighi, P. S., Jayaprakash, A., Wu, Z., Papadopoulos, S., Lai, Y., & Nguyen, F. T. (2020). An unsupervised machine learning approach to assess the zip code level impact of covid-19 in nyc. Proceedings of the 2020 International Conference on Machine Learning. 


5.     Kontokosta, C., Lai, Y., Bonzak, B., Papadopoulos, S., Hong, B., Johnson, N., & Malik, A. (2018). A dynamic spatial-temporal model of urban carbon emissions for data-driven climate action by cities. Bloomberg Data for Good Exchange 2018, New York, NY. 


6.     Lai, Y., & Kontokosta, C. (2017, October). Analyzing the drivers of pedestrian activity at high spatial resolution. In 2017 International Conference on Sustainable Infrastructure: Methodology, ICSI 2017 (pp. 303-314). American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). New York, NY.


7.     Lai, Y., & Kontokosta, C. E. (2017). Measuring the impact of urban street trees on air quality and respiratory illness. arXiv preprint arXiv:1710.11046. Proceedings of the Bloomberg Data for Good Exchange 2017, New York, NY. 



Technical Report, and Working Paper


1.  Avasarala, S., Chen, S., Counts, S., Fink, J., Fulton, B., Gordon, E., Harlow, J., Hodgson, P., Lai, Y., Merida, W., O’Brien, D. and Shelton, K., 2020. How cities can become more flexible in the wake of COVID-19: Housing case study. Microsoft Research.


2.  Kontokosta, C., Lai, Y., Papadopoulos, S., Sagi, J.,  Fuerst, F. and Pivo, G., 2019. Estimating office and multifamily building energy retrofit hurdle rates and risk arbitrage in energy efficiency investments. Working paper for Real Estate Research Institute & Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Research Grant.


3.  Lai, Y., Glinow, A.V. and Banerjea, S., 2018. Arrival House: How can we redesign and rethink housing to better integrate the arrival of immigrants to their new city? Design research report for Urban Design Forum Design for Arrival Program.


4.  Kontokosta, C., Lai, Y., Bonczak, B., Papadopoulos, S., Hong, B., Malik, A. and Johnson, N., 2017. Urban physiology: A dynamic spatial-temporal model of urban carbon emissions to drive climate action by cities. Technical report for the United Nations Data for Climate Action Challenge.


5.  NYC Department of City Planning and NYU CUSP. 2016. Neighborhood profiles: Planning and visualizing for strategic growth. Technical report for urban science and informatics capstone project.



Invited Talks and Media Coverage


1.     Lai, Y. and Levi, R. Perspectives from New Engineering Education Transformation on Curriculum Transformation. MIT J-WEL Higher Education Workshop, Cambridge, 2020.


2.     Media coverage, What is the Covid-19 data tsunami telling policymakers? A global team of researchers searches for insights during a weeklong virtual “datathon.”  MIT News, 2020.


3.     Lai, Y. Integrating urban open data for public good. Open Data Science Conference, Boston, 2020.


4.     Lai, Y.  Using big data and social media to understand neighborhood conditions. Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management (APPAM) Annual Research Conference, Denver, 2019.


5.     Media coverage: Exploring urban science. MIT News, 2019.


6.     Lai, Y., Glinow, A.V. and Banerjea, S. Arrival house: An integrated co-living model for new arrivals to NYC”, National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) Annual Conference, New York, 2019.


7.     Lai, Y., Glinow, A.V. and Banerjea, S. Community-based co-living in NYC. New York Build Expo, New York, 2019.


8.     Lai, Y. Invited roundtable discussion with American Express, 13th Annual Machine Learning Symposium, The New York Academy of Sciences, New York, 2019.


9.     Media coverage: New York City’s pollen scape, and what it says about air quality & environmental justice. Marron Institute of Urban Management, 2019.


10.  Lai, Y., Glinow, A.V. and Banerjea, S. Arrival house: An integrated co-living model for new arrivals to NYC. American Planning Association New York Metro Annual Conference, New York, 2018.


11.  Lai, Y. Big data for local climate change. MetroLab Network Summit, Newark, 2018.


12.  Lai, Y., Glinow, A.V. and Banerjea, S. Design for arrival: A co-live scenario for newly arrived immigrants to New York City. Urban Design Forum, New York, 2018.


13.  Media coverage: “Data for good: Bloomberg supports data scientists work with nonprofits and municipalities to solve real-world problems”. NYC Media Lab, 2017.


14.  Lai, Y. Analyzing the drivers of pedestrian activity at high spatial resolution. American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) International Conference on Sustainable Infrastructure, New York, 2017.

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