Transit Management Analyst, New York City Transit
Year graduated from Carolina Planning: 2016
Specialization at Carolina Planning: Transportation Planning
Allen Lum is a recent Carolina Planning graduate, working as a transit management analyst at New York Transit. Growing up in New York City has made him a fierce supporter of urban living and mass transit. He loves trains and believes in rail transit’s ability to contribute to a city’s sense of place, identity, and its economic well-being.
Why did I pursue a career in city planning?
Growing up in New York, I knew at an early age that the city bestowed many unseen benefits to its denizens. In no other city was I able to take transit wherever I wanted to, thus allowing me to walk wherever I wanted to. Taking transit, walking, and enjoying the visceral sensations a well-planned city could provide gave me the utmost semblance of freedom. When it dawned on me that urban planning was my higher calling, I began to pursue the profession tirelessly.
After graduating from Williams College, I interned at a not-for-profit organization called Project for Public Spaces (PPS), where I learned about more about the work of Jane Jacobs and William Whyte, two urbanists who sparked a national dialogue about the development and value of cities. I became involved with Riders Alliance, a transit advocacy group that not only educated riders about why transit should matter to them, but also, spread awareness about a growing functional malaise within New York City Transit and how the agency was beset by larger political forces of the city and the state. These formative experiences allowed me to arrive at a deeper understanding of how the grassroots approach to urban planning and community outreach efforts lend a more democratic method to the profession. In addition, I recognized how many of the current challenges of the profession are directly linked to past planning practices, most of which revolved around the automobile. Most “livable” urban neighborhoods we think of today were developed before the car became a mass phenomenon; meanwhile, the sprawling neighborhoods built during the era of highway expansion divided and segregated communities, and drastically reduced the social and environmental health of many urban and ex-urban communities. My goals were to expand fixed mass transit to all of the major cities in the U.S., to preserve and cultivate the social ecology of cities, and to enhance the experiences of the growing many who reside in them.
Where am I now?
I am currently employed at the Department of Subways at New York City Transit. My role is to provide cost estimates for support services required for capital construction projects conducted in an active subway environment. I also monitored costs of labor services for active capital projects in and around the system. The role has given me much insight on the nuts-and-bolts of how the agency determine their long-term needs, how capital projects are conceived, and how such projects are financed.
What does the future hold?
I have become active in NYC local politics. I am already involved with organizations dealing with diverse issues that include, among others, transit advocacy, affordable housing, and immigrant rights. I am interested in running for elected office sometime in the future. Having worked closely with political candidates for city council last year, I feel that the political arena would be something I want to become more involved in. Currently, NYC suffers from a mélange of quality-of-life issues that have exacerbated over the past decade, such as an affordable housing crisis to a never-ending transit dysfunction. Therefore, being in elected office would allow me to implement change at the macro level. I hope that I can make sound decisions based on empirical evidence and proven best practices. I want to be able to make an impact on issues of traffic congestion (via congestion pricing), transit expansion, infrastructure finance, affordable housing, tuition-free higher education, and police reform.