Prof. David Hsu

Associate Professor of Urban Studies and Planning

Primary DLC

Department of Urban Studies and Planning

MIT Room: 9-434

Areas of Interest and Expertise

Environmental Planning and Management
Infrastructure Systems
Urban Finance
Management, and Urban Economics
Urban Information and Technology
Media and Analytics

Research Summary

Professor Hsu's research and teaching focuses on:
(*) Energy and water infrastructure
(*) Technology adoption and energy regulatory policy
(*) Energy efficiency, demand response, grid stability
(*) Green infrastructure: adoption, barriers, regulatory policy
(*) Smart infrastructure: sensing, control, building-grid integration

The examples of his current and past research projects include, e.g., 
(*) policies and tools for planning green infrastructure; 
(*) smart infrastructure;
(*) deployment of experimental micro-grids in rural India; 
(*) how information affects energy efficiency in commercial buildings; and  
(*) demand response in informal settlements in Brazil

Assistant Professor David Hsu in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning has no hesitation naming what he considers the most significant challenge facing urban planners today. Threats to cities range from sea-level rise to extreme weather events. But for Hsu, the immediate challenge is to address climate change itself by finding ways to make cities and their inhabitants consume resources like energy and water more efficiently.

Tackling particular sectors can affect climate on a global scale. Hsu says, “If you take just U.S. buildings as a single country, it would be the third-biggest carbon emitter on the planet after the rest of the U.S. economy and China.” Accordingly, a number of Hsu’s current projects involve how to make built environments, both urban and rural, more sustainable. He’s collaborating with fellow researchers at MIT and elsewhere on a wide range of projects including smart infrastructure embedded in physical systems, regulatory policies that promote renewables, and deployment of experimental microgrids in India.

One of the most effective ways to cut down on building energy use, though, is to target the behavior of those inhabiting the buildings. In order to understand humans’ energy behavior and how to change it, researchers need data. One of Hsu’s new projects involves integrating programs, policies, and technologies to enable the moni­toring of energy flows between buildings and the grid. This setup would enable greater grid stability — a prospect that Hsu and his fellow researchers hope will attract the attention of today’s utilities. That information would also enable researchers to map out energy distribution and consumption, which in turn would help them understand better how to shape that consumption to minimize carbon emissions and energy use, he says. Sometimes, one of the most direct ways to encourage people to consume less is simply to share such data with them. Once consumers see how they’re using energy, they can make informed decisions about where they could make changes.

Hsu took a self-described “long, tortuous educational path,” one that he laughingly tells students never to replicate. This path led from under­graduate and master’s degrees in physics to a PhD in urban planning and design. His post-graduation jobs ranged from green-building engineering to real estate finance, and eventually brought him to city government. His first job in city planning was in New York City working to rebuild Lower Manhattan after Sept. 11, 2001.

Since then, Hsu has worked in cities from Philadelphia to Seattle to London. This rich, varied experience with city living has led Hsu to his current focus on human interaction with infrastructure, as well as the challenges involved in adapting infrastructure to emerging climate constraints. Last spring he taught a course called Theories of Infrastructure, which compared alternative theories of how people interact with technological systems.

Hsu’s membership on the MIT Energy Initiative’s Energy Education Task Force demonstrates his commitment to training leaders in all aspects of energy. But he especially focuses on preparing the urban planners of tomorrow to grapple with humans’ relationship with energy -- a remarkably varied one, depending on where you live. “In many places, people have never had cheap, safe, and reliable electricity. Providing all three while also encouraging people worldwide to build sustainable ways of life is -- in Hsu’s view -- one of the great challenges facing city planners today.

Recent Work

  • Video


    April 1, 2021Conference Video Duration: 69:40
    Christopher Zegras
    Professor of Mobility and Urban Planning
    Department Head, Department of Urban Studies and Planning
    Janelle Knox-Hayes
    Associate Professor of Economic Geography and Planning
    Head, Environmental Policy and Planning GroupDavid Hsu
    Associate Professor of Urban and Environmental Planning
    Nelson A. Chang
    Chairman, Taiwan Cement Corporation
    Boudewijn Van Lent
    Executive Vice President, Global Head of Specialty Construction Chemicals, GCP Applied Technologies
    Laurent Le Boulc'h
    Deputy Managing Director – Sustainable Smart Infrastructure & Mobility, Colas Group
    Cédric Leroux
    Directeur Technique
    Direction Ingénierie des Infrastructures, Colas