U of M students gain first-hand view of Chinese transportation in study-abroad course

studentsThe Global Transit Innovations (GTI) program coordinated a study-abroad course in spring semester 2017 that included visits to five cities in the Yangtze and Pearl River Delta regions in China. The course—PA 5880: High-Density Urban and Regional Development in China—was offered by the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

Led by GTI director Yingling Fan, U of M coordinators took 16 students to Shanghai, Suzhou, Nanjing, Shenzhen, and Hong Kong for the intensive two-week course in May.

“The course gave students first-hand experiences in two of the most densely populated regions on earth,” Fan says. “These two regions are at the center of Chinese economic development, surpassing other regions in levels of economic growth and productivity.”

Through lectures and site visits, the course explored how Chinese cities are working to satisfy the mobility and accessibility needs of the largest urban population in the world. “We looked at every aspect of urban planning, from affordable housing provisions to parking management,” says Fan, an associate professor in the Humphrey School.

In one course assignment, U of M students were paired with 16 students from Southeast University in Nanjing. Each student group (made up of two American students and two Chinese students) was assigned to a place in the city to explore globalization and rapid urbanization. “They were asked to bring what they saw and what they felt into the classroom using photos and short narratives,” Fan says. “It was a very successful activity to reflect on cross-cultural and cross-country perspectives.”

Other activities included lectures from prominent Chinese transportation and urban planning scholars; visits to universities, transport agencies, and transit facilities; and high-speed rail trips between cities (at 350 kilometers per hour). 

busTrip coordinators included Sherry Gray, director of the Humphrey School’s International Fellows and Scholars Program, and Dawn Spanhake, CTS associate director for development and finance. “The trip was a great opportunity to build relationships with Chinese university faculty and agency staff as we continue to build new partnerships and grow GTI’s global reach,” Spanhake says. 

Fan adds that “the trip invigorated networks at various universities and research institutions involved in ongoing and future transportation research and exchanges with the U of M.” One of the host organizations, the Shenzhen Urban Transportation Planning Center (SUTPC), is sponsoring Fan’s research on travel behavior and emotional well-being (Catalyst will include a story about this research in a future issue). 

GTI is an affiliated program of CTS. Its education component aims to attract bright minds to the transit-planning field and educate practitioners and agency staff. 

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