Yushi Zhu, assistant professor in Urban Studies and Public Policy

SFU professor receives fellowship to study pressing urban policy issues

April 07, 2020

Vancouver’s housing issues—such as gentrification and displacement—can be found in many cities around the globe. SFU professor Yushu Zhu wants to garner new insights about these common problems and then help public policy makers find better answers for addressing these issues.

Zhu has just received a Lincoln Institute China Program International Fellowship to examine how China’s state-led urban development has affected gentrification and displacement. 

The fellowship is awarded annually to a small number of international researchers to fund research into pressing land and fiscal issues related to urbanization in China. 

At SFU, Zhu holds a joint position with both the Urban Studies Program and the School of Public Policy. We sat down with her to ask about her research, the impact she hopes to make, and the significance of the fellowship.

What is your research focus and how might it make a difference?

My research focuses on housing and community issues against the backdrop of urbanization and globalization. I am particularly interested in structural forces, such as institutions and markets that shape housing and community outcomes, in addition to life experiences, and in particular, place attachment and community engagement. I am interested in the experiences of marginalized groups and how contemporary forces of globalization and urbanization impact their life opportunities. I hope my research will contribute to a better understanding of the roots and causes of social inequality and inform public policy to build a more just city.

You were recently awarded a Lincoln Institute China Program International Fellowship. Tell us about this fellowship and its importance.

The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy is a long-established nonprofit foundation that seeks to inform public policy decision-makers worldwide about creative approaches for using land to resolve economic, social and environmental challenges. 

What do you plan to accomplish with this fellowship?

I have two main research questions. What are the social and spatial outcomes of China’s state-led urban redevelopment over the past 20 years. And, can neighbourhood renovations be achieved without gentrification and displacement? These two questions are relevant to other global cities experiencing urban gentrification and displacement.

During the course of 2020-2021, I will investigate the impact of China’s state-led urban redevelopment on local communities’ social capital and sense of place, and also examine the relationship between gentrification and displacement. I will use historical census data to study the temporal changes in the housing and demographic compositions of urban neighborhoods. I will then survey and conduct ethnographic research in seven redeveloped/renovated neighborhoods to further explore how the neighborhood’s socio-spatial restructuring may affect local residents’ place attachment and how residents respond to these changes.

What are some of the biggest research challenges you face?

While my research focuses on both Canada and China, the biggest challenge for me is to translate housing and community-related phenomena across socio-cultural contexts. The outcomes of housing and community, and the meanings attached to the living space, is highly conditioned by culture and institutional settings. Not only does this require that the researcher have the cultural competencies to understand both contexts, but that I also have a strong commitment to establishing an international research network and collaborations. However, I also see this as the biggest strength of my academic research—translating the knowledge of both contexts and sharing that knowledge.  

What does this fellowship mean to you?

I see this as a recognition of my research’s relevance and significance for public policy and urban theories. The funding supports me in initiating important research for addressing pressing policy issues, and for translating my scholarly work into policy influence. This fellowship also helps me to establish a broader research agenda for my future endeavors in the important domains of urban housing, communities and local politics.