For 30 Years, Lewis Center Has Responded to L.A. Issues With Ideas All six current and former directors gather to recall the challenges and successes they experienced while leading regional policy research at UCLA

By Lauren Hiller

During a gathering March 5 at its first home on the UCLA campus, the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies commemorated 30 years of scholarship, public advocacy and leadership on campus and in the community.

All five former Lewis Center directors — a who’s who of distinguished scholars — joined the current director, Urban Planning Professor Evelyn Blumenberg, at DeCafe Perloff Hall to discuss the milestones and issues facing the region during each person’s tenure. As each director spoke, it was evident that the center’s longevity is rooted in interdisciplinary scholarship and fostering the next generation of scholars.

In 1989, Ralph and Goldy Lewis donated $5 million to endow a research program at UCLA that studied regional policy issues. The following year, the Lewis Center opened its doors in Perloff Hall, the location of what was then known as the School of Architecture and Urban Planning, with founding director Allen J. Scott, distinguished research professor of geography and public policy. Scott was succeeded by Roger Waldinger, distinguished professor of sociology; followed in chronological order by Paul Ong, research professor at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs; J.R. DeShazo, professor of public policy, urban planning and civil and environmental engineering; and Brian D. Taylor, professor of urban planning and public policy.

“My parents both went to UCLA and they believed in the power of public education and need to support the public system,” said Randall Lewis, whose parents were homebuilders and interested in issues of growth, transportation, housing and air quality. “They felt as they were building houses, building communities, that they didn’t want to create problems. They wanted to find solutions.”

Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, who joined the UCLA community the same year that Lewis Center was established and received one of its first grants, kicked off the event.

“The Lewis Center best exemplifies the role that we’re asking our research centers to play: push research forward, support the educational mission of the school and its students, and serve as a public forum that disseminates important research-based information and data to a larger public,” said Loukaitou-Sideris, professor of urban planning and associate provost for academic planning.

Launched Amid Regional Turmoil
The early 1990s were a tumultuous time in Los Angeles. The aerospace industry, which was a backbone of the region’s economy, was collapsing. The 1994 Northridge earthquake killed 61 people and caused $6.7 million in damage, crippling major infrastructure like freeways. And civil disturbances fueled by racial injustices, police brutality, and poverty and social marginalization rocked the city.

“Los Angeles looked like, from some points of view, a basket case and getting worse,” Scott recalled. “And so we were, at a very early stage, involved in attempting to build responses to these problems and others.”

Scott and the Lewis Center published a series of working papers focusing on new industry (such as electric vehicles) to replace aerospace and an examination of the nature and causes of the crises in South Los Angeles.

By the time Waldinger took over in 1996, the immigrant population in the Los Angeles region had quadrupled within two decades. Yet, research on the impact of immigration on the Los Angeles region lagged behind frequently studied cities like Chicago and New York. The Lewis Center played an integral role in bringing Los Angeles to the forefront of regional studies with efforts such as Waldinger’s book “Ethnic Los Angeles.” Today, it’s hard to imagine a discussion of immigration and foreign-born individuals without considering L.A.

Waldinger said the center’s early research has transformed California policy. Although immigration policy is a federal issue, immigrant policy can be local, he noted, pointing to state measures that have aided California’s immigrant population.

Ong, the center’s third director, continued the multidisciplinary tradition of the Lewis Center and collaborated with scholars in UCLA Luskin Social Welfare and the natural sciences. As director, he published a seminal report on the undercounting of low-income people and communities of color in the 2000 Census.

Ong’s work also highlighted a core strength of the Lewis Center — its focus on addressing social justice issues for marginalized communities. He said the center also partnered with the County of Los Angeles and L.A. Metro to understand the transit needs of underserved communities.

DeShazo oversaw the Lewis Center during a time when its focus turned to environmental issues. In 2006, California passed the Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32), promoting ambitious climate solutions that even some legislators doubted could be achieved.

“Those were the days we didn’t even know where greenhouse gases were coming from,” DeShazo remembered. The first step was to identify sources and then to identify solutions to reduce emissions, including electric vehicles, rooftop solar energy and energy-efficient technology.

“Everything that we have today is what people thought was impossible to accomplish. The groundwork for that was laid in the 2006-2012 period,” DeShazo said.

The Lewis Center has also contributed to environmental justice scholarship, especially the designations of disadvantaged communities as a result of identifying where emissions were coming from and where populations vulnerable to those emissions are living.

Taylor next put the focus on housing affordability and transportation in light of large investments in public transit like Measure R, a sales tax that is expected to raise $40 billion over 30 years.

He said the center’s regional lens has a built-in advantage when it comes to studying housing affordability, transportation and access, which play out across a diverse geography.

Taylor’s tenure also overlapped with his role as chair of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning. It was a position that helped him to advocate for the addition of faculty members and scholars who could tackle these regional priorities.

“Housing affordability was not my area of research,” Taylor said. “All I did was try to support and catalyze the intellectual leaders that are helping shape the important debates on this.”

A Legacy of Leadership
Acting as a consistent bridge to marginalized voices, the Lewis Center’s former directors see scholarship and professional development as their enduring legacy. Many onetime students have gone on to become academic leaders in their own right.

“I’m honored to follow in those footsteps,” said Blumenberg MA UP ’90, Ph.D. ’95. She became director in 2018 and has focused on how Angelenos live, move and work in L.A., with a particular interest in pathways out of poverty. The center recently launched the Randall Lewis Housing Initiative.

Has Los Angeles made progress over the last 30 years?

The answer is mixed, Ong said. A commitment to climate change initiatives and equity are highlights, but income inequality and social justice remain daunting issues.

“I’m proud of the fact that the Lewis Center continues to look at issues of inequality,” Ong said. “We’re dedicated to doing the research to find solutions, but it’s like swimming upstream.”

Still, Ong remains hopeful: “I know enough about [Blumenberg’s] history that there will continue to be a commitment from the Lewis Center to accomplish things that will bend us towards justice.”

graphic of a city skyline

Scott on the Dynamics of Rapid Urbanization

Allen J. Scott, distinguished professor emeritus of public policy and geography, spoke to WalletHub about the dynamics of rapid city growth. “The problem can be characterized as one of mounting externalities and the increasing need for collective management as the city grows beyond its existing social, economic and physical limits,” Scott said. He suggested that local authorities who want to grow their cities focus on knowledge-sharing, innovative services, enhancing inter-firm trust, market intelligence and education. Scott argued that more public housing and housing assistance for the poor would ensure that local residents aren’t priced out of their homes as the population grows. Zoning practices and NIMBY-ism are somewhat responsible for rising housing costs, but Scott argued that above all it is associated with local economic growth leading to population growth.


 

Paper on Nature of Cities Earns Accolades UCLA Luskin scholars Michael Storper and Allen Scott are recognized for their agenda-setting critical assessment of current urban theory

By Stan Paul

The majority of the world’s people live in cities, and numerous theoretical approaches from diverse fields have suggested frameworks for thinking about urbanization and the complexity of the urban form.

Now, two UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs scholars are being recognized for seeking to frame those approaches as a common language, or foundational concept, for the study of urbanization, an effort that has further enlivened and deepened an ongoing debate. It has also sparked a bit of controversy.

Michael Storper of the Department of Urban Planning and his longtime colleague and collaborator Allen J. Scott have been selected by the journal Urban Studies as recipients of the Best Article award for 2016’s “Current Debates in Urban Theory: A Critical Assessment.”

The journal’s website explains that the Urban Studies Best Article designation is awarded by the editors and authors to the most innovative and agenda-setting article published in a given year. Mark Stephens is editor of the international journal, which was established in 1964 and is published by SAGE. The winning article was selected in a process that narrowed a field of 20 initial candidates to five before the final selection was made.

Storper is a distinguished professor of regional and international development at UCLA Luskin, and Scott is a distinguished professor emeritus of public policy and geography. Their article proposed an analytical framework for urban studies while strongly critiquing three existing and influential perspectives: postcolonial urban theory, assemblage theory and planetary urbanism.

Storper, who also holds academic appointments at the Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po) in Paris and the London School of Economics, noted that this was the second paper on this subject in collaboration with Scott. In the earlier paper, the two UCLA professors had argued for a different approach, generating vigorous debate that led proponents of competing theories to offer their own critiques in response.

The newest paper addresses those critiques and offers further explanation by Storper and Scott. In the journal article, they wrote: “We claim that there are fundamental common genetic factors underlying urban patterns, and a robust set of conceptual categories within which urbanisation processes and urban experiences can be analysed, wherever they may occur in the world.”

Storper and Scott considered high levels of diversity and disagreement over the last century, writing “we asked if a coherent, stable theory of the city could be constructed.” Such a theory would need to accomplish all of the following: “account for the genesis of cities in general, capture the essence of cities as concrete social phenomena, and make it possible to shed light on the observable empirical cities over time and space.”

The authors identify and put forth five basic variables, or forces, that shape what they refer to as the “urban land nexus” at different times and places. These include:

  • the overall level and mode of economic development;
  • prevailing resource allocation rules;
  • forms of social stratification;
  • cultural norms and traditions;
  • and relations of political authority and power.

In refuting other theoretical formulations of what defines urban, Storper and Scott further conclude: “Not only does our analysis provide us with the tools for distinguishing between the general and the particular in urban outcomes, but also for separating out that which is distinctively and inherently urban from the rest of social reality.

“We must distinguish between phenomena that occur in cities but are not generated by urbanization processes as such, and phenomena that are legitimately elements of cities in the sense that they play an active role in defining the shape and logic of urban outcomes.”

The full article and lists of other finalists and previous winners are available online, as is a video explanation by Storper.

Allen J. Scott

For the last several years, Professor Scott’s research has been focused on issues of industrialization, urbanization, and regional development. This research has involved extensive theoretical and empirical work. On the theoretical front, Dr. Scott has written numerous pieces on the interrelations between industrial organization, technology, local labor markets, and location, with particular reference to the phenomenon of agglomeration economies. He also has carried out a large number of studies of individual industrial sectors in the United States, Europe and Asia.

Most recently, he has been researching the origins and development of high-technology industry in Southern California, and the policy predicaments thrown into relief by the recent crisis of the region’s aerospace-defense industry in the post-Cold War era. Professor Scott has served as a member of the Los Angeles County Economic Development Commission’s Aerospace Task Force. He also has been engaged in the formulation of a variety of economic development strategies for Southern California, including the setting up of an electric vehicle industry and an advanced ground transportation industry.

A Fellow of the Royal Statistical Society and a Guggenheim and Fulbright Fellow, Dr. Scott has been a visiting scholar at Zhongshan University in the People’s Republic of China, the University of Paris, the University of Hong Kong and the University of Sao Paulo. From 1990 to 1995 he was director of the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies at UCLA. He formerly served as Associate Dean of the School of Public Policy and Social Research.