Deland Chan

DPhil in Sustainable Urban Development


Understanding Marginalised Communities’ Responses to Sustainable Infrastructure: A Case Study of San Francisco Chinatown (1990-2020)

Research abstract

This thesis aims to understand why responses to post-1990s sustainable urban infrastructure projects in San Francisco’s Chinatown deviate from resistance typically observed in low-income, racially-segregated, and marginalised communities. I examine how pre-existing ideas about Chinatown as a place, the people who work on the projects, and community-based organisations contribute to shaping responses. Using interviews, participant observation, archival materials, and secondary data sources, I identify three variables that mediate responses in Chinatown. Specifically, highly involved individuals leverage place attachment and the belief that Chinatown faces ongoing external threats to create an alternative model of sustainability, which keeps people in place and defends the community. Further, Chinatown’s vision of sustainability is sustained by a labour force, whose identities, family backgrounds, and material experiences compel them to work on these infrastructure projects in the community-based organisations that keep economic and political resources, i.e., community-controlled capital, in Chinatown. Responses in Chinatown complicate notions of sustainability as having contested meanings and manifestations in various empirical contexts. This project offers pathways for future research in communities where the dominant understanding of ‘sustainability’ is limited and provides a more granular perspective.


Dr Nihan Akyelken


Deland is a DPhil student in the Sustainable Urban Development and Clarendon Scholar. Her research explores how urban communities advocate for infrastructure projects that align with their visions for sustaining their community. Her interest in community-based planning emerged from previous practice as an urban planner, where she worked with immigrants, youth, and senior populations who have historically faced barriers to participation in land use planning. Her doctoral project emerged from the realisation that such experiences had not been fully explored in existing research on urban sustainability and environmental justice, which has limited understanding of how marginalised communities define their sustainability pathways. In addition to her doctoral studies, Deland works as Director of Research at the Chinatown Community Development Center, a community development organization and affordable housing developer based in San Francisco, California.


Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles:

Chan, D., Howard, D., Klages, C., Lagadic, M., Papallas, A., Ruiz del Portal, A., Youngs, J. (In press). “Sustainable urban development research in the time of COVID-19: reflections from doctoral researchers.”


Li, N., Chan, D., Mao, Q., Hsu, K., Zhiyong, F. (2018). “Urban sustainability education: Challenges and pedagogical experiments.” Habitat International, 71(1): 70-80.


Book Chapters:

Chan, D., Mancke, C., Noval, T. (2022). Fluid Cities: Interdisciplinary Shared Spaces for Imaginative Thinking and Collaboration. In J. Kruth & S. Rugare (Eds.), Urban Histories in Practice: Morphologies and Memory. Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Chan, D. & Stehlin, J. (2021). Transportation, Infrastructure, and Economy. In Anti-Eviction Mapping Project (Eds.), Counterpoints: A San Francisco Bay Area Atlas of Displacement and Resistance (pp. 231-284). Oakland, CA: PM Press.

Chan, D. (2018). Addressing Air Pollution Impacts on Senior Citizens in Beijing, China: The International Urbanization Seminar. In L. Abendroth & B. Bell (Eds.), Public Interest Design Education Guidebook: Curricula, Strategies, and SEED Academic Case Studies (pp. 147-153). New York, NY: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.


Book Reviews:

Chan, D. (2019). “Urban Design Thinking: A Conceptual Toolkit by Kim Dovey.” Technology|Architecture + Design, 3(1): 119-121.


Conference Proceedings:

Li, N., Chan, D., Hsu, K., Fu, Z., & Mao, Q. (2017). “ICT-Enabled Cross-Cultural Education in Sustainable Urbanization.” American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) International Workshop on Computing in Civil Engineering. Seattle, Washington. 25-27 June 2017.


Reports and Other Publications:

Chan, D. (2018). “Sustainable communities for whom: cultural tactics in the pursuit of ecological sustainability.” Harvard Asian American Policy Review, 28(1), 52-57.

Chan, D. (2018). “What counts as 'real' city planning?" CityLab. Retrieved from

Chan, D. (2016). “Four pillars of sustainability: A field guide to cities.” Stanford Digital Repository. Retrieved from

Papers and lectures

November 11, 2021       “Getting Started with Community-Engaged Research: From Intentions and Values to Research Design.” Haas Center for Public Service “Research as Praxis” Workshop Series, Stanford University

March 19, 2021            “The Impact of Youth Voices in Community Planning.” San Francisco Planning Department General Plan Workshop Series

December 1, 2020         “Co-Producing Knowledge in Environmental Justice Research and Teaching.” Campus Compact National Webinar Series

August 12, 2019           “Teaching Sustainable Cities with the 3 E’s: Experiential, Empathic, and Ethical Approaches.”American Sociological Association Conference, New York City

January 30, 2019           “Adapting to Climate Change: Creating a Resilient City.” SFMOMA San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the San Francisco Public Library

November 23, 2017       “Approaching the Human City: Methods and Frameworks.” Architectural Research Lecture Series, Technical University of Graz, Austria

October 31, 2017          “Urban Sustainability: Case Study of Sustainable Chinatown.” SUST210: Pursuing Sustainability: Managing Complex Social Environmental Systems Seminar, Stanford University

October 23, 2017          “Three Guiding Principles of Smart Cities.” Henan China Province Mayors and Deputy Mayors Visiting Delegation, Stanford University

October 31, 2016          “Fundamentals of Transportation Impacts.”CEE126A: Stanford Sustainable Living Lab, Stanford University

April 22, 2016               “Race + Place: An Exploration of Neighborhoods.” 826 Valencia, San Francisco, California

March 30, 2016            “Smart Cities Leveraging Technology to Enhance Quality of Life & City Operation.” Global Cities in an Era of Change, Stanford University

December 2, 2015         “State of Bay Area Transportation and Trends in Smart Cities.” China Railway Corporation Visiting Delegation, Stanford University

October 5, 2015            “Rethinking Local in Global Context: Experiments and Lessons in Cross-Cultural Collaboration and Participatory Design.” American Planning Association California Conference, Oakland, California

May 26, 2015                “El Camino Bus Rapid Transit: A Case Study in Sustainable Transportation.” Panel Moderator. Students for a Sustainable Stanford, Stanford University

April 22, 2015               “Development of Healthy and Resilient City Principles.” Asia Society and Urban Land Institute, Beijing, China

October 6, 2014            “Republic of New York: Perfect City.” Alliance Française, New York City

June 6, 2013                 “Partnership Models for Democratizing Planning Education.” Planners Network Conference, New York City

April 2012                    “Developing Environmentally Just Designs: Chinatown Broadway Case Study.” American Planning Association National Conference, Los Angeles, California

Research interests

Urban sustainability, environmental justice, community development and engagement, public participation and planning, community-engaged research and pedagogy