rainforest with flames in foreground

Amazon Rainforest Nearing a Tipping Point, Researchers Warn

The collapse of the Amazon rainforest’s ecosystem, home to a tenth of Earth’s land species, could collapse much more quickly than earlier estimated, according to an international team of prominent researchers including UCLA’s Susanna Hecht. Their peer-reviewed paper, the first major study to focus on the cumulative effects of a range of variables including temperature, drought, deforestation and legal protections, appeared in the journal Nature and has been covered by news outlets including the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, BBC and the Guardian. A forest-wide collapse is “happening much faster than we thought, and in multiple ways,” the researchers said. The study called on governments to halt carbon emissions and deforestation and restore at least 5% of the rainforest. Hecht, professor at UCLA Luskin Urban Planning and the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, is director of the university’s Center for Brazilian Studies.

bus waiting at curb

Questions of Fairness, Financial Viability of Free Transit Rides

Brian Taylor, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA, spoke to States Newsroom about public transit systems that waived fares to woo back riders after the COVID-19 pandemic. In some locales, officials are debating whether the free rides are financially sustainable. Most cities that have recovered their pre-pandemic ridership have large populations that depend on public transit because they don’t have access to cars, Taylor said. But reduced or free rides make less sense in cities with more affluent commuters, such as San Francisco. “It’s difficult to make an equity case for it,” Taylor said. “There is an excellent argument to be made for free fares in the right situation. But to do it universally would cost enormous amounts of money and actually convey benefits to high-income people who don’t need it.”

large, empty parking lot

‘A Parking Reform Zeitgeist Across America’

Donald Shoup, distinguished research professor of urban planning, spoke to Cleveland Scene about zoning reforms that are easing requirements for parking spaces in new developments near major transit corridors. The changes have pleased builders and city planners but put many residents and business owners on edge in the car-friendly city of Cleveland. “We created a world where you have to have a car, because parking is free in most places you go,” said Shoup. Now, “no one wants to sacrifice their car for the greater good.” Shoup has long argued that the rules requiring a minimum number of parking spots are arbitrary and obsolete. He hailed the overhaul of zoning ordinances in Cleveland and several other cities over the last few years, part of what the story called “a parking reform zeitgeist across America.”

police cars in intersection

Astor on Suicidal Thoughts, Gun Violence

A Houston Chronicle story on a woman who used an assault rifle to open fire at a Texas megachurch cited Ron Avi Astor, professor of social welfare at UCLA Luskin. The woman, who had a history of mental health struggles, was killed in an exchange of fire with security officers. There were no other fatalities. Suicidal thoughts are not uncommon among those who perpetrate mass shootings, Astor said. “These are really suicides, too. These are not just homicides.” In addition, a High School Insider article shared research by Astor that offered an encouraging counterpoint. In California, day-to-day danger on school campuses declined significantly between 2001 and 2019, according to the study published in the World Journal of Pediatrics.

hand picking cannabis flower from glass jar

On L.A.’s Complex Cannabis Landscape

Brad Rowe, researcher and lecturer of drug and criminal justice policy at UCLA Luskin, spoke to LAist’s “Air Talk” about Los Angeles’ complex landscape of cannabis sales. The legalization of marijuana for recreational use in California initially sparked a Green Rush, but licensed operators are finding that the high cost of doing business and lax enforcement against illicit shops make it tough to compete. Now, the unlicensed market is about two to three times the size of licensed sales, according to Rowe, author of  “Cannabis Policy in the Age of Legalization.” He spoke about the public health risks of untested products and public safety concerns surrounding large, unregulated facilities with weapons and large sums of cash on the premises — “not the kind of neighbors that you want.” Rowe called for targeted, equitable, effective enforcement that protects the rights of legal businesses. “No one has an appetite for heavy-handed drug enforcement,” he said. “The key word is fairness.”

apartments under construction

Prospects for Progress on Affordable Housing Solutions

UCLA Luskin’s Michael Lens spoke to the podcast Health Affairs This Week about the roots of zoning policies that have kept neighborhoods segregated by race and income, and the prospects for progress in addressing the nation’s affordable housing crisis. Efforts to change zoning laws to accommodate more housing units have historically been met with strong resistance, but Lens said the conversation has shifted just in the last decade. Now, there is widespread acknowledgment that “we need to do something somewhere” to provide residents with safe and affordable shelter. “The problem is that we have let this go on for so long, this lack of housing production and increased housing costs for people from the poor to middle class,” he said. But Lens pointed to states and cities that are upending zoning restrictions that have long kept a lid on housing development, and concluded, “This is a really good time for hope.”

Students walking beneath tree lined path

Heated Debate as Cal State Union Votes on a New Deal

Urban Planning Professor Chris Tilly spoke to LAist about a tentative deal to settle a strike by California State University faculty. The union representing 29,000 coaches, counselors, lecturers, librarians and professors will vote on the agreement this week, and many are torn over whether they should support the deal or hold out for better terms. “Heated debate among membership is a good thing. Democratic unions with engaged memberships are healthier for it,” said Tilly, an expert on labor markets who also spoke with student media about the strike. Tilly noted that the agreement includes additional raises for the union’s lowest-paid members. “That’s something that unions don’t always attend to but is really important,” he said. “We have growing inequality. And in any workplace, the people at the bottom are the people that are struggling the most, and the fact that the union put a priority on that and won that is really a very positive thing.”

Cars moving along a freeway

I-15 Expansion Highlights Tension Between Commerce, Climate Goals

Michael Manville, chair of Urban Planning at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the approval of a freeway-widening project on Interstate 15. Truck movement along the I-15 is a major driver of the region’s economy, and the project highlights the friction between efforts to expand infrastructure to accommodate commerce and the state’s ambitious climate goals. Now, federal officials are looking into allegations that state and local officials mischaracterized the potential harm the project could cause communities that breathe in some of the nation’s worst air. Proponents of the I-15 expansion had argued that new lanes would speed up commutes, but critics said the opposite was true, that making more space for vehicles would draw even more drivers, increasing congestion and pollution. Traffic modeling studies can be used to say what you want them to say, Manville said. “From the moment we first started using these models many decades ago, they have aspects of being a black box.”

drawing of housing units with "Leasing" sign

Debate Over the Best Path to Affordable Housing

A CityWatch article about the competing academic and economic theories at play in California’s affordable housing debate put a spotlight on comments made by UCLA Luskin’s Michael Storper during a meeting with the California Alliance of Local Electeds. Housing costs reflect a mix of economic, market and cultural factors, so a complex suite of policies is needed to address interpersonal inequality in our cities, says Storper, a distinguished professor of urban planning. He takes issue with the notion that simply constructing more units will lead to lasting solutions to California’s affordable housing crisis. “I think this is one of the toughest challenges we’re facing,” he said. “In big, prosperous metropolitan areas, what would it take to build housing for the big middle or lower end of the income distribution, quality housing that people want to live in?”

Picket line with man in red vest with megaphone in front

On the CSU Picket Line, Anger Over Pay Gap

An LAist article on a strike by California State University faculty called on Urban Planning Professor Chris Tilly for insights on equitable pay. The strike by the union representing 29,000 coaches, counselors, lecturers, librarians and professors led to a tentative agreement after one day. However, many of the union members remain indignant over the salaries awarded to top executives — including the CSU chancellor’s compensation package, which is worth nearly $1 million and includes a $96,000 annual housing allowance. The stark pay gap between workers and executives is an issue across many labor sectors, Tilly said. “I think it’s a disgrace that the gap is that big. But I would not put that just on the CSU,” he said. “CEO pay is completely out of control. I think that it sort of spilled over to higher education, with the private higher education institutions in the lead.”

Man setting up tent in street in front of police officers

A ‘Generation-Altering Moment’ in the Homelessness Crisis

Marques Vestal, assistant professor of urban planning at UCLA Luskin, spoke to Capital B about an upcoming U.S. Supreme Court case that will determine whether people experiencing homelessness can be issued jail time, tickets and fines for sleeping on the streets, even if there are no shelter alternatives available to them. If the court decides to uphold laws that target the unhoused, “it will be a generation-altering moment in urban history where cities are going to be able to enforce constitutional removal and displacement,” said Vestal, whose research includes the underlying causes of Black homelessness in Los Angeles. “We’re supposed to put people from encampments into either temporary or permanent housing. Instead, we’ll lose most of those people,” he said. “This will lead to a new regime of debt, and for Black folks, debt is always some kind of leverage for some other burying harm.”

four aerial views of land from 1965 to 2016 showing demolition of neighborhood

Lingering Impact of the Shelved 710 Freeway Project

Research led by Paul Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin, will help guide a master plan for rebuilding Pasadena neighborhoods razed decades ago to make way for the 710 Freeway extension, a project that has now been abandoned. Pasadena Now covered Ong’s presentation before a city task force considering the future of the undeveloped acreage the size of 40 football fields, once the site of 1,500 homes occupied by mostly low-income and minority residents. Ong’s team will assess the historical impact of freeways on segregation in Pasadena by examining census data, policies and practices over more than seven decades. The 710 Freeway project came “at a juncture in our history that involved struggles around civil rights, around suburbanization of white flight, around post-industrial development and around immigration-driven demographic changes,” Ong told the task force. “Freeway development … occurs within a larger context, a societal transformation.”

rural building at dusk

Modernizing Zoning Laws as Population Expands

Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, spoke to the Post and Courier about land use and zoning ordinances at the center of a dispute over a South Carolina turkey-shoot business. A neighbor’s complaint about the business — which invites customers to shoot at targets, with a turkey awarded to the best marksman —prompted a review of zoning decisions made decades ago. The turkey shoot was found in compliance with the law, which did not require a buffer between the gunfire and other properties and did not regulate hours of operation. But officials were left to ponder how to preserve the county’s character amid a rapidly growing population. The episode casts light on recurring frictions over land use ever since the U.S. began to rapidly suburbanize in the 1940s and 1950s. Governments have grappled with how to modernize zoning regulations to accommodate more development, Lens said. “It just involves a lot of trade-offs.”

heavy traffic under freeway signs

Political Courage Is Key to Curing Traffic Ills, Manville Says

UCLA Luskin Urban Planning chair Michael Manville spoke to the Los Angeles Times about plans to tap into artificial intelligence to find ways to make California’s roads safer and less congested. Caltrans is asking tech companies to pitch generative AI tools that could analyze immense amounts of data quickly, perhaps helping the state’s traffic engineers make decisions on signal timing and lane usage. Manville said that the problem is not a lack of data-backed solutions but rather a lack of political courage to put existing solutions, such as congestion pricing, into play. “If you want to make cities safer for pedestrians, if you want to lower speeds, if you want to deal with congestion in a meaningful way, technology is not going to rescue you from difficult political decisions,” he said.

red and white bus with "Out of Service" sign

Moving Away From Public Transit’s Commuter Focus

Brian Taylor, director of the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies, spoke to the Canadian Press about Ottawa’s transit system, once a model of innovation but now facing low ridership and budget woes. Taylor, a professor of urban planning and public policy at UCLA Luskin, recalled attending a lecture about Ottawa’s transit success when he was a student in the 1980s. “Ottawa and Adelaide, Australia, were sort of the poster children for looking at a more cost-effective way to provide the metro-like service, but with less expensive buses,” he said. For decades, many people worked and studied in a concentrated area in downtown Ottawa, and the buses ferried riders on a transitway set apart from congested roads. Post-pandemic, transit systems would be wise to cater to communities rather than commuters, Taylor said. “The spatial and temporal characteristics of demand for transit are changing. It’s less downtown-centered, and more sort of moving from place to place,” he said.