Arianna Salazar Miranda

Urban Data Science Expert Arianna Salazar-Miranda Joins YSE Faculty

Using computational methods, including causal inference, spatial analysis, sensing, mapping, and related historical work, Salazar-Miranda studies how policies that shape the built environment affect social and environmental outcomes.

Arianna Salazar-Miranda came to the field of sustainable urban planning by way of architecture — and through a respect for the environment that was nurtured by her experiences growing up in Costa Rica.

Salazar-Miranda, who will be joining the Yale School of the Environment faculty in July as assistant professor of urban planning and data science, grew up in San José, the capital of Costa Rica.

“Costa Rica is a place that prioritizes conservation and biodiversity. You are surrounded by people who are committed to protecting water resources, wildlife, clean beaches, and sustainable development. There is a prevailing sense that nature comes first. Nature was something that was very much a part of my day-to-day experience,” Salazar-Miranda said.

After receiving her licentiate degree in architecture from Veritas University in Costa Rica in 2012 and working in housing design, she became interested in sustainable urban and regional development as she witnessed the effects of increasing severe weather events, such as intense heat and flooding, on Costa Rica.

Cities are front and center in tackling environmental issues and the climate crisis. We need to better understand their inner workings, improve their functionality, and plan for their development in a systematic way.”

Arianna Salazar-Miranda Assistant Professor of Urban Planning and Data Science

“There are a lot of climate challenges happening in my hometown and across the globe. It has become clear that our approach to development must address these urgent issues. I found myself wanting to make a difference on a much larger scale. That’s how I shifted from the individual building to embracing the city scale, and that’s when I thought, this is where my heart is,” she recalled.

She enrolled in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and earned a master’s in urban and regional planning in 2016 and earned her PhD in computational urban science and planning in 2023. After graduating from MIT and before starting at YSE, she was a postdoctoral fellow at the Mansueto Institute of Urban Innovation at the University of Chicago. Her research focuses on how emerging technologies can be leveraged to design more sustainable urban environments and the importance of understanding how past and current development paradigms impact cities.

“Cities are front and center in tackling environmental issues and the climate crisis. We need to better understand their inner workings, improve their functionality, and plan for their development in a systematic way,” she said.

Using machine learning, sensing technology, spatial analysis, mapping, and related historical work Salazar-Miranda examines the impact of development paradigms on social and environmental dimensions of urban life, including patterns of sedentarism, social mixing, greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), and exposure to environmental risks.

“YSE will benefit from Dr.  Salazar- Miranda’s expertise and training as an urban planner and data scientist. By combining spatial analysis, computation methods, and sensing techniques, her presence on the faculty will strengthen YSE’s urban specialization, the Yale-wide urban initiative, and the new urban climate leadership certificate program,” said Karen Seto, Frederick C. Hixon Professor of Geography and Urbanization Science, who headed the search committee for the position.

Salazar-Miranda utilizes a combination of technologies to study the built environment and behavior of residents in cities, including lidar, a sensing method that uses pulses of laser light to determine the shape and distance of objects, cell phone data, GPS, and camera-based sensors.

“Technology is revolutionizing the way we can understand cities, how they function and the repercussions of different planning ideas,” she said.

In one study that examined redlining across more than 200 U.S. cities, she and a team of scientists provided evidence that the areas that were assigned a lower-credit grade by the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation in the 1930s have a higher exposure to flood risk and a higher air temperature today compared to similar properties in higher-graded areas. The study established that the long-lasting effects of historical urban planning policies can be linked to present-day unequal exposures to climate risks.

In other research, Salazar-Miranda analyzed suburban development using high-resolution mobility data from GPS and street layouts from OpenStreetMap for the entire U.S. She found that people in neighborhoods that were developed with more winding and disconnected streets are more socially isolated, sedentary, and produce more GHG emissions.

Salazar-Miranda also has conducted ground-breaking work on favelas, which are informal low-income housing settlements in Brazil. Using lidar, she studied Rocinha, one of the largest favelas in Rio de Janeiro, to examine ways the city could improve the quality of life in the settlements.

“Lidar data allowed us to create detailed maps of the types of built environments in the favelas to help improve infrastructure and access in historically marginalized communities,” she said.

She has done extensive research with MIT Senseable City Lab scientists on the “15-Minute-Cities” model of urban planning that features the design of mixed-use neighborhoods with offices, schools, parks, and shops that are within a 15-minute walk or bike ride from everyone’s home. The walkable city cuts down on tailpipe emissions from gas-powered automobiles but a study she co-authored found that majority of Americans have never experienced it. The researchers, who analyzed mobile-phone location data for 40 million Americans, found that while many Northeastern cities in the U.S. are walkable, the median resident in the U.S. makes only 14% of trips for consumptive errands within a 15-minute walking radius and the fastest growing regions of the country have among the lowest levels of 15-minute usage.

“We are used to a world where every errand is an epic road trip, and we hardly notice the high costs we pay in time, gasoline, parking spaces and pollution,” Salazar-Miranda and co-author Carlo Ratti, director of Senseable City Lab, said in an article in Bloomberg.

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Ratti, professor of the practice of urban technologies and planning at MIT, said Salazar-Miranda’s research contributes to the development of on-the-ground planning solutions to combat climate change.

“Arianna is that exceptional academic who masterfully bridges the gap between in-depth scholarly research and its tangible effects on urban environments — especially in enhancing the lives of citizens,” he said.

At YSE, Salazar-Miranda will continue her research into how urban development design affects climate and sustainability and will focus on zoning codes in American cities. Using text analysis methods, she will develop quantitative metrics to evaluate zoning reform efforts and study whether they foster compact, pedestrian-oriented, and mixed-use environments. She also will use the zoning data to explore how zoning regulations contribute to unequal exposure to environmental risks across income groups.

“In a broad sense, I want to deepen our understanding of how urban planning paradigms can lead to more sustainable outcomes,” Salazar-Miranda said. “There are strategic interventions that can really improve the way we design and build our cities.”

Salazar-Miranda, who likes to paint, take hikes with her dog, and try new restaurants, said one of the things she’s most looking forward to is working with an interdisciplinary team and the many centers and programs at YSE and Yale, including Yale’s new Center for Geospatial Solutions, which is co-directed by Seto and Costas Arkolakis, professor of economics in Yale’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

“There’s a lot of momentum at Yale in addressing the problems I am passionate about,” Salazar-Miranda said.

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