Yonah is a native of Durham, North Carolina and is currently a doctoral candidate in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He studies how local governments shape planning outcomes in the context of political conflict and multi-level governance systems. He engages this subject from the perspectives of transportation projects, urban design, land-use policy, and affordable housing development in the United States and Europe.
He passed his doctoral comprehensive exams in two fields: City Design and Development, and Politics and Planning of Metropolitan Infrastructure. He is a member of the MIT Urban Mobility Lab and a graduate student affiliate of the Harvard Center for European Studies. He won the national 2019 Emerging Scholar Award selected by the Urban Affairs Association.
Yonah’s dissertation, Mobility Politics: Local Ideologies in the Multi-Jurisdictional Metropolis, considers how the governance of urban areas, replete with overlapping jurisdictions and single-purpose authorities, offers opportunities for municipal-government influence in regional planning by asking how the political ideology of elected officials affects infrastructure design and adjacent spatial development. Through interviews and data analysis related to six case study projects in the U.S. and France, he proposes a new theory of multi-jurisdictional local politics.
He has written or co-written peer-reviewed articles for Urban Affairs Review, Housing Policy Debate, Journal of Urban History, and the Journal of the American Planning Association, as well as book chapters for Public Housing Myths (2015) and Affordable Housing in New York (2015). He spent two years researching community engagement in Paris, where he studied the planning and construction of the Rive Gauche project, which is a model for neighborhood involvement in development decision-making.
He attended Yale University as an undergraduate, receiving a Bachelor of Arts in Architecture, with distinction. He later received masters’ degrees in city planning (MCP) and transportation (MST) from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His city planning thesis focused on the work of New York’s Urban Development Corporation to construct mixed-income housing in the 1970s; his thesis for transportation analyzed transit farecard data to determine journey time impacts of disruption on the London Underground network.
Yonah has written extensively for numerous media outlets. He founded the national blog The Transport Politic, which has received dozens of mentions in the press and awards from Planetizen, and has contributed dozens of articles for media including CNN, The New York Times, Planning, Dissent, CityLab, Next City, Urban Land, and others. He has also been quoted many times in the media.
Previously, Yonah joined Chicago’s Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) as an associate in 2013 and worked as a project manager between 2014 and 2016. He focused on policies to promote equitable transit-oriented development and transportation investment. He co-managed the public engagement programs that MPC undertook in Chicago’s Uptown and Logan Square communities. He led MPC’s research on the Illiana Expressway and the existing conditions of the public transportation network in Northeastern Illinois, in association with the state’s 2013 Transit Task Force. He served on the Transportation Committee of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning.