Sanglim Yoo’s research involves assessment and quantification of the interactions between the human social systems and the environment, especially in urban areas

More simply put, Dr. Yoo strives to make cities better for the environment and more enjoyable for their residents.

As an assistant professor of urban planning in the R. Wayne Estopinal College of Architecture and Planning, Yoo has studied urban heat islands (UHIs). These are areas where temperatures are higher than in the surrounding countryside—the result of asphalt, concrete, and other materials absorbing sunlight instead of reflecting it.

The phenomenon can make city residents especially vulnerable to heat-related health problems.

Heat islands have long been seen as major urban environmental problem but have only recently gained attention in the field of urban planning, said Yoo. For her published study, she focused on Indianapolis, which is among the U.S. cities where UHIs have grown in large numbers in recent years. For her analysis, Yoo applied a machine-learning approach, using complex imaging data to identify important variables in the formation of UHIs.

“If you have open spaces such as parks and water bodies near your home, it tends to be cooler,” Yoo said of her findings. “If we can quantify how much these open spaces add to the economy in terms of heat mitigation, it could help persuade our decision-makers and builders to take a more comprehensive approach.”

Receiving her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Seoul National University, Yoo then earned her doctorate at State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

At Ball State, Yoo has taught several undergraduate immersive learning courses that focus on urban planning issues. In one, students researched the potential to develop abandoned industrial sites in the area into large solar farms. Just by itself, the former Borg-Warner factory site in Muncie could generate enough electricity to support 7,000 typical Indiana homes, she said.

What I enjoy most is seeing students growing. At first, they may come with no idea what urban planning really means. By the end of the course, I want them to have cutting-edge, computer-based, planning decision-supporting skills.

This academic year, Yoo launched an immersive learning course, Sustainable Muncie Project. In their search for ways to improve sustainability efforts in economically vulnerable areas in Muncie, students use urban planning strategies and tools such as socioeconomic and demographic data, the geographic information system (GIS) mapping tool, and other design software.

Analysis of the data should identify the most vulnerable areas of Muncie where immediate attention is required from the elected officials and residents. This information will be shared with Sustainable Muncie Project’s community partner, a Muncie Action Plan Task Force 2 that connects expertise and resources from Ball State with neighborhood development efforts.

“I hope my students walk away from Ball State eager to serve their communities and with a dedication to making them more sustainable.”

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