In an interview with the Chilean publication MasDeco, Urban Planning Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris discussed design strategies necessary to make sidewalks safe for all users. Loukaitou-Sideris explained that, while sidewalks were originally designed with the sole purpose of accommodating foot traffic and separating pedestrians from fast-moving cars, these narrow corridors are now overwhelmed by bikes, scooters and pedestrians, all moving at different speeds within the same space. New laws require bikers in many cities to ride in the street instead of on the sidewalk, but Loukaitou-Sideris stressed the importance of creating a designated bike lane to protect bikers riding alongside cars. In the interview, published in Spanish, Loukaitou-Sideris said design should be informed by the demography of the area in order to create space for everyone, especially older adults and small children. She concluded that urban planning and design can minimize conflict by creating space for all types of sidewalk users.
Urban Planning Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris was featured in a Stanford Social Innovation Review article about the success of a women-only transportation program in Papua New Guinea. In 2017, more than 90 percent of women reported being sexually harassed or robbed of their daily earnings by men on public transportation in the South Pacific nation. “It’s a worldwide epidemic,” said Loukaitou-Sideris, who has conducted research on college students and their sexual harassment experiences in transit environments in 18 global cities. “Physical harassment — groping and touching — happens in crowded settings because men feel more emboldened,” she explained. The women-only bus system started with a free-to-ride service called Meri Seif (“Woman Safe”) and added a pay-to-ride service called M-Buses in 2017. It now serves over 600,000 female riders. “For many women, public transportation is their first #MeToo moment,” Loukaitou-Sideris said. Despite its initial success, the program faces challenges including financial sustainability, social acceptance and hostility from men.
By Mary Braswell
At Los Angeles’ new Golden Age Park, garden beds are raised far above ground so that visitors can tend to flowers and vegetables without stooping down.
Lawns, pathways and exercise areas are laid out on one seamless plane — a stumble-proof surface for those who move about with canes, walkers and wheelchairs.
Once a vacant lot, this tranquil green space was designed with older adults in mind — the culmination of research spearheaded by a team from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.
“It’s a little oasis in the city, less than a third of an acre,” said Urban Planning Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, who launched the study of senior-friendly open spaces that would eventually evolve into a blueprint for Golden Age Park.
Expanding knowledge to bring real change to people’s lives is a core part of UCLA Luskin’s mission. But researchers rarely see their ideas brought to life so vividly, Loukaitou-Sideris’ team agreed.
At Golden Age Park, visitors can stroll along circular walkways, build strength and balance on low-impact exercise machines, practice their gardening skills, or simply rest in areas designed for socializing or solitude. Shade trees, roses and purple sage create a pocket of nature on a street lined with apartment buildings.
The park’s architects relied on a toolkit called “Placemaking for an Aging Population” that was created by Loukaitou-Sideris’ team of urban designers, planners and gerontologists. The guidelines were shaped by case studies from around the world as well as input from older adults just around the corner.
The team reached out to St. Barnabas Senior Center, which serves the largely low-income and minority residents of Los Angeles’ Westlake neighborhood, just west of downtown. In focus groups conducted in Spanish, Korean and English, St. Barnabas regulars said they did not feel comfortable going to nearby MacArthur Park but would welcome a safe and accessible outdoor space geared toward their age group.
Loukaitou-Sideris’ team also partnered with the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust, a nonprofit devoted to increasing access to parks and gardens, particularly in communities of color. The group had been eyeing a lot at 739 S. Coronado St. — just a three-minute walk from St. Barnabas — hoping to convert it into a park.
With support from numerous foundations, government agencies and neighborhood partners, the trust purchased the lot, which had sat vacant for nearly 30 years. And with guidance from Loukaitou-Sideris’ team, Golden Age Park came to life.
“This is a model for how to work with local universities and thought leaders to put research into practice,” said Chandelle Wiebe, director of development and communications for the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust.
Shortly after its November grand opening, Loukaitou-Sideris visited the park with other members of her research team: Lené Levy-Storms, associate professor of social welfare and geriatric medicine; Madeline Brozen MA UP ’11, deputy director of UCLA’s Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies; and Lia Marshall, a doctoral candidate in social welfare.
Loukaitou-Sideris recalled the inspiration for the study. “It all started in Taiwan,” where years earlier she had visited a park crowded with older adults enjoying the benefits of outdoor recreation. In the United States, by contrast, many parks are constructed with children in mind, and the over-65 population often feels unwelcome.
“I had been doing this work on parks,” she said. “But I am not a gerontologist.”
“And I had never built a park,” said Levy-Storms, whose research in gerontology focuses on intergenerational communication.
The two created the team that applied for a grant, conducted interviews, studied park accessibility in other cultures and eventually produced the toolkit for senior-friendly open spaces, which has been honored by the American Planning Association.
“This park is so reflective of our research because it brings together urban design, planning and gerontology,” Brozen said as she and her colleagues admired the age-appropriate features of Golden Age Park:
- Pathways form a loop lined with distinctive landmarks to guide those who sometimes lose their way.
- A sloped ramp, elliptical trainer and tai chi wheel offer opportunities for a low-impact workout.
- High fences and a clear sight line to the street provide a sense of security.
- Seating areas made of temperature-sensitive materials include benches with arms for those who need to steady themselves as they sit or stand.
- A children’s play area welcomes park-goers who would like to bring younger relatives along.
- The raised gardens invite visitors to plant and prune without having to bend.
Some of the St. Barnabas seniors said they hope the park becomes a community treasure, a place where all generations can come together to make friends, learn other languages and share the vegetables grown in the garden.
And the park is welcomed by its neighbors. At the grand opening, “a woman from the apartment complex next door was very vocal about loving this park,” said Marshall, who also lives in the neighborhood. “She said she was going to be looking out for it.”
View more photos of Golden Age Park on Flickr.
Urban Planning Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris spoke to the BBC about the growing trend of parks designed for older adults. Inspired by Chinese parks with machines for gentle stretching and strength training, governments around the world have started building playgrounds to improve health among older populations. Loukaitou-Sideris stressed the importance of accessible design. “Often older adults feel not welcome in parks that are primarily designed for younger populations,” she said. “In other words, parks are not psychologically accessible to them.” After studying park use among older adults across different countries, Loukaitou-Sideris found that “park location, design and amenities most influence use among senior citizens.” Senior playgrounds encourage exercise, social connection and time spent in nature, improving health and effectively reducing the cost of public healthcare. Golden Age Park, the first park designed for seniors in Los Angeles, was created using guidelines set forth in Loukaitou-Sideris’ research and will open Saturday, Nov. 2.
Urban Planning Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris spoke to the Washington Post about the rancorous fight over sidewalk space in the age of electric scooters. Citing “Sidewalks: Conflict and Negotiation Over Public Space,” co-authored by Loukaitou-Sideris, the article noted that turf wars between “sidewalk-grabbers” have evolved since 2000 B.C. until the “scooter hell” of today. “But is it a hell made by scooters, or just made apparent by them?” the article’s author asks. “I see this conflict more as an outcome of bad decisions and bad design,” Loukaitou-Sideris said. “Cities kept widening the streets and narrowing the sidewalks, and downgrading activities to accommodate only walking. … I don’t mean to say sometimes scooter drivers are not obnoxious. But I’d say it’s a less obnoxious use than cars.”
“The New Companion to Urban Design,” the sequel to an authoritative anthology on urban form and design co-edited by UCLA Luskin Urban Planning Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, has just been published. The new book reflects current thinking across several disciplines, including urban studies, design, planning and geography, and widens its scope to include perspectives from the Global South. Migration, rapid urbanization, climate change and the explosive growth of digital technology are among the many trends changing the landscape of cities. Essays in the latest volume explore the new economic order fueling these trends, the search for solutions to the conflicts they create, and the role of urban design in bringing about justice, sustainability and other aspirational goals. Loukaitou-Sideris and co-editor Tridib Banerjee, chair of urban and regional planning at USC, assembled contributors from diverse backgrounds to offer original perspectives on the contemporary urban experience. The “New Companion” is a sequel to 2011’s “Companion to Urban Design,” a sourcebook for students, scholars and practitioners. “Urban design scholarship is interested not only with aesthetic issues but also with the social, political, cultural and economic forces that affect the built environment and its residents, as well as the human and environmental consequences of design interventions,” the editors wrote. Loukaitou-Sideris’ research focuses on the public environment of the city, its physical representation, aesthetics, social meaning and impact on the urban resident. The urban planning professor also serves as associate dean of academic affairs at UCLA Luskin and associate provost for academic planning for UCLA.
By Mary Braswell
A deep exploration of social justice as a guiding principle behind urban design will evolve into a book conceived by the UCLA Luskin faculty.
Over spring quarter, Urban Planning brought 10 prominent scholars to campus to shed light on public space in all its complexity. They spoke about the market forces, political calculations, environmental concerns and lifestyle trends that are transforming cities in Southern California and around the world, pushing some citizens to the fringe. And they offered frameworks for putting inclusion back at the center of urban design.
The speakers’ insights will become chapters in a book that shares the same name as the lecture series: “Just Urban Design: The Struggle for a Public City.”
“Cities are very much theaters of inequality, an inequality that has been increasing in the last decade,” said Urban Planning Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, who organized the project with Chair Vinit Mukhija and Assistant Professor Kian Goh.
“The larger question that motivates this series is whether there is anything we can do through physical planning and urban design to create more just cities.”
The speakers who came to UCLA as part of the Harvey S. Perloff Lecture Series and Meyer and Renee Luskin Lecture Series brought decades of experience both in scholarly settings and on the front lines of urban upheaval.
They included Setha Low, described by Loukaitou-Sideris as “one of the most prominent anthropologists and ethnographers of our time.” A professor at City University of New York’s Graduate Center, Low has worked with U.N. Habitat and other institutions to develop global social justice indicators for urban design.
“This is a really important moment in time,” Low said during her April 23 visit to UCLA. “There is a push to create a society, at a moment of great divisiveness, that is much more open and accessible and let’s say free. We need places to come together.”
She said one of her greatest challenges is communicating these ideals to the general public.
“We need to really explain how public space creates flourishing societies,” she said. “We need to really reach outside of ourselves and reach a much broader public so that they understand why it matters.”
The April 25 lecture by Harvard Professor Diane E. Davis was moderated by Goh, who noted, “The things that I learned from her, mostly to do with politics and scale, really informed the work that I do now.”
Davis, who earned her Ph.D. in sociology at UCLA and now serves as the chair of urban planning and design at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, raised foundational questions such as “What makes a city public?” and “What gives a city a robust democratic public sphere?”
“I’m really interested in the politics of how people and states interact or don’t interact with each other,” she said. “I think that is a really important framing for thinking about the best urban design.”
The notion that public space transcends national boundaries guided a May 1 talk by Teddy Cruz and Fonna Forman, professors at UC San Diego and partners in a studio specializing in urbanism, architecture and political science.
“We believe that the convergence of geopolitical borders, climate justice and poverty is ultimately the challenge of our time,” said Cruz, explaining a project the two had created for the U.S. Pavilion at this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale. Called “MEXUS: A Geography of Interdependence,” the presentation cast the border region as a shared space interwoven with environmental, economic and cultural connections.
Forman sounded an alarm about the “nativist mentality” that is moving into the mainstream, “legitimizing open racism that we haven’t seen since the middle of the 20th Century.”
“We see the San Diego-Tijuana border region as a microcosm of all of the injustices that neoliberal globalization has inflicted on the world’s most vulnerable people: poverty, climate change, accelerated migration, gender violence, human trafficking, slow suburbanization, privatization and so on,” she said.
Forman said that she and Cruz want to tell a very different story about life on the border.
“Our work reimagines the U.S.-Mexico border as a tissue of social and spatial ecologies, an amazing laboratory for political, urban and architectural creativity. For us, conflict is a creative tool.”
These other speakers also contributed to the series: Rachel Berney and Jeff Hou of the University of Washington, Alison Hirsch of USC, Kimberley Kinder of the University of Michigan, Matt Miller of the University of Pennsylvania and Michael Rios of UC Davis.
Loukaitou-Sideris, Mukhija and Goh will join the “Just Urban Design” lecturers in contributing chapters to the planned book, which has sparked interest from several publishers.
Collecting the insights of guest speakers in a single book is a model that UCLA Luskin Urban Planning has successfully used before. In 2014, Loukaitou-Sideris and Mukhija invited lecturers to contribute essays examining urban activities such as street vending, garage sales and unpermitted housing to create the book “The Informal American City: Beyond Taco Trucks and Day Labor,” published by MIT Press.
Stan Paul contributed to this article.
An Agence France-Presse story featured comments by Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, professor of urban planning, and Martin Wachs, professor emeritus of urban planning, on the status of California’s high-speed rail project. The original plan to connect Los Angeles and San Francisco was revised by Gov. Gavin Newsom in February to link Merced and Bakersfield instead, a distance only a third of the originally planned route. Construction delays and unexpected budget increases have prompted criticism of the “train to nowhere.” Loukaitou-Sideris weighed in on the curtailed route. “It absolutely does not make sense,” she said. “Any transit project needs big [urban] centers as origins and destinations, and so to have something like that … all but kills the project.” Wachs agreed, arguing that “California should have capitalized on its existing rail network, including that currently dedicated to freight.” The AFP story was picked up by several news outlets, including Yahoo! News and Daily Mail.
Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, professor of urban planning and associate provost for academic planning at UCLA; Silvia R. González, a doctoral student and researcher at the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge; and Karen Chapple of UC Berkeley conducted a study to analyze the relationship between gentrification, traffic safety and transit-oriented development (TOD). The study, “Transit Neighborhoods, Commercial, Gentrification, and Traffic Crashes: Exploring the Linkages in Los Angeles and the Bay Area,” analyzed the number of collisions near rail stations in L.A. County and the San Francisco Bay Area in both gentrified and non-gentrified areas. The authors had hypothesized that residential and/or commercial gentrification leads to more traffic collision due to increased traffic and increased use of two or more modes of transportation, but the study did not find a significant relationship between residential gentrification and traffic safety in Los Angeles County or the Bay Area. It did, however, find that pedestrians and cyclists are at a higher risk of collision around commercially gentrified stations. Loukaitou-Sideris, González and Chapple suggest that policymakers and urban planners pay special attention to commercially gentrified areas. They conclude that “complete street strategies, traffic calming measures, protected bike lanes, controlled intersections, and other traffic safety improvements and regulations can help respond to this threat” of traffic collisions around commercially gentrified TOD stations. The study is part of an ongoing research partnership with the Urban Displacement Project, a research and action initiative at UC Berkeley.
Urban Planning Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris and alumna Carolina Martinez MA UP ’09 were honored for their work advocating for stronger, healthier communities during the American Planning Association’s recent national conference in San Francisco. Martinez, policy director at the Environmental Health Coalition, and the Paradise Creek Planning Partnership were awarded one of the highest honors, the 2019 National Planning Excellence Award in Advancing Diversity & Social Change. Martinez worked with low-income communities of color in National City, California, to create a comprehensive community plan to clean up the toxic environment near their homes and provide affordable housing near transit. The creation of the Paradise Creek apartments demonstrates that community-based planning can bring about environmental justice. As the principal investigator of UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation’s “SMART Parks: A Toolkit,” Loukaitou-Sideris was awarded the National Planning Achievement Award for Best Practice-Silver. The toolkit equips park managers, designers and advocates with a centralized guide to improve parks and shows that that good planning can increase efficiency that benefits the community overall. “I’m delighted by the department’s awards at the 2019 National Planning Conference,” Urban Planning Chair Vinit Mukhija said. “They demonstrate the excellence of our students and faculty members and are a testament of the department’s commitment to the profession.” Mukhija led UCLA Luskin Urban Planning’s delegation at the conference, where nearly 6,500 experts from planning, government, higher education and allied professions shared their knowledge and insights.