Exploring Impact of COVID-19 on Urban Mobility

In her introduction to a new book, Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris writes, “The COVID-19 pandemic brought urban life all over the world to a standstill, it dramatically affected mobility and had ripple effects on the economy, environment and safety of urban areas. But not all residents were affected equally.” Loukaitou-Sideris, distinguished professor of urban planning and interim dean of the Luskin School, served as co-editor of “Pandemic in the Metropolis: Transportation Impacts and Recovery.” Published by Springer Nature, the book is a collection of original research articles by authors from UCLA and other University of California Institute of Transportation Studies programs. It explores various impacts of the pandemic on vulnerable populations, on the transportation industry and on other sections of the economy that rely on transportation. It also looks at the health crisis’ ongoing impacts on alternative forms of work, shopping and travel. Positive changes in urban transport, telecommuting, e-retail, walking and cycling are also explored, and authors discuss whether these altered patterns are likely to persist. The collection is dedicated to the late Martin Wachs, a leading scholar in the field of transportation planning.


 

‘I Love the School’ As interim dean at UCLA Luskin, Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris is giving back to a university that has been ‘extremely good to me’ for 33 years

By Les Dunseith

On Jan. 1, Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris became interim dean of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, filling a role that is expected to continue for at least two-and-a-half years until a permanent dean is named.

Loukaitou-Sideris, a distinguished professor of urban planning, had previously served as associate dean. A widely published scholar who joined the UCLA faculty in 1990, Loukaitou-Sideris helped lead a strategic planning effort to redefine the future of the School in the wake of the naming gift from Meyer and Renee Luskin in 2004. She drew on that experience a decade later to lead a campuswide effort that created a strategic plan for UCLA.

In a Q&A conducted during her second week as interim dean, Loukaitou-Sideris talked about taking on new responsibilities, how she is approaching the challenge and what she sees as the Luskin School’s immediate priorities.

What was your reaction when you found out you would be the interim dean?

Loukaitou-Sideris: Well, it was a mixture of excitement — because I love the School — and a little bit of being overwhelmed. I’ve had a very good life, heading all kinds of research-related activities, as well as being an associate dean for 12 years. This role brings with it a whole new area of work that is much more intensive, but also exciting.

At the same time, I know the School inside and out, and I have served the university in different capacities. I know the deans. I know the vice chancellors. There is an element of familiarity. And I feel that I’m giving something back to a School that has been extremely good to me all these years. 

Have you witnessed a lot of change in your time as a UCLA Luskin professor?

Loukaitou-Sideris: Absolutely. I pre-date the formation of this School in 1994. I was in the Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning, and at the time everybody in that program was very much opposed to moving urban planning to this new entity. In retrospect, we were wrong, as the new school opened up new and exciting opportunities.

The common thread is social justice and a desire to make cities and society better — to improve things. What is unique from the early days is the recognition that by bringing together our individual disciplines and finding common initiatives, we can attract more people who are interested in tackling complex issues and do so in a much more comprehensive way.

The Luskin School added an undergraduate degree program and new academic research centers in recent years. Growth is generally a good thing, but it also can be challenging. What needs to happen next?

Loukaitou-Sideris: We have reached a level of stability now. I anticipate leading new initiatives relating to global public affairs, real estate development and e-governance and the introduction of digital technology tools  — and we have been assured by the provost that such efforts will be supported — but compared to the last few years, growth is going to be more moderate.

What are your top priorities as interim dean?

Loukaitou-Sideris: It is very crucial to reassure people that the School is not only doing well but is going forward.

We’ve faced what I call a “triple whammy.” We had COVID. We had the UC strike. And we had the unexpected resignation of a dean. One of the very first things I’m doing is meeting with people and reassuring them. I have spoken with the Board of Advisors, the department chairs and many individuals, including the Luskins. I plan to meet with our students. I am holding a town hall for faculty and staff.

Both groups at once?

Loukaitou-Sideris: Yes, I insisted on that. I don’t believe in treating the two groups differently. We all work for the good of the School, and we all have a very important role to play. We don’t have first-class and second-class citizens here.

Morale is very important, as you know, in an organization. My door is open, and it will remain open.

Another priority is to tackle the economic realities brought about by the pandemic and the strike settlement agreement, which will increase labor costs, without diminishing pedagogic excellence. It is not the best thing for a new dean, you know, to start during an environment where you have to cut budgets. But I think that people understand.

And I have to say that people have been so far very responsive and very understanding.

As you know, research is a great love of mine. So yet another priority is that I want to see the School continue to increase our grants and ensure that tighter budgets do not reduce opportunities for research. I will be working closely with the research centers on that.

Creating More Inclusive Cities Through Just Urban Design

“Just Urban Design: The Struggle for a Public City,” co-edited by urban planning faculty members Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, Kian Goh and Vinit Mukhija, includes writings by urban planners, sociologists, anthropologists, architects and landscape architects who focus on the role and scope of urban design in creating more just and inclusive cities. Published by MIT Press, the book seeks to strengthen “the potential of cities and city regions to foster inclusive urban public life” by envisioning how to deliver social, spatial and environmental justice in cities. Too often, the opposite is true — the concept of justice rarely appears as an explicit concern in urban design discourse and design practice. “Market-driven urbanism of the last decades has exacerbated injustice through privatization, gentrification, displacement and exclusion,” the editors say. By focusing on justice, urban design scholars and practitioners can reinvigorate their work and help create public cities that are attuned to power dynamics and attentive to the historically vulnerable and disadvantaged.


 

Loukaitou-Sideris on Inequality in Historic Preservation

Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, distinguished professor of urban planning and interim dean of the Luskin School of Public Affairs, was interviewed on the podcast Then & Now about historic preservation. While the National Historic Preservation Act has worked to safeguard the heritage of communities, Loukaitou-Sideris and urban planning doctoral student Hao Ding discussed how dominant groups often tend to be the ones whose communities are preserved. As a result, they said, cultural imperialism can take root at the heart of historic preservation. “Architecture is not a monolithic thing, but it does need to represent the value of the people who live in the cities,” Loukaitou-Sideris said. Historic preservation often benefits white communities, she said. In the Los Angeles suburb San Gabriel, for example, Spanish influence plays a heavy role in the fabric of the community while the diverse populations who created the community are disregarded. “We are not anti-preservation,” she said. “We are anti-exclusionary preservation.”


 

Professor Loukaitou-Sideris to Serve as Interim Dean of UCLA Luskin The urban planning scholar has been the associate dean of UCLA Luskin since 2010 and has held a number of leadership positions at UCLA.

After seeking advice and recommendations from faculty, staff and supporters of the Luskin School, UCLA Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Darnell Hunt has announced the selection of Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris as the interim dean to succeed Gary Segura when he steps down on Dec. 31. Here is the text of the announcement:

Dear Colleagues:

Following the recent announcement of Gary Segura’s decision to step down as dean of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, I write to share the news that Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris — UCLA Luskin’s associate dean of academic affairs, a distinguished professor of urban planning and a core faculty member of the UCLA Urban Humanities Initiative — has agreed to serve as interim dean of the school. She will begin this appointment on January 1, 2023, and serve for up to two and a half years. We will conduct a national search for a new permanent dean during the 2024-25 academic year.

Professor Loukaitou-Sideris joined the faculty of the department of urban planning in 1989 and has served as the associate dean of UCLA Luskin since 2010. Beyond her long record of service in the dean’s office, she has held a number of other leadership positions at UCLA, including associate provost for academic planning from 2016 to 2019 and chair of the department of urban planning from 2002 to 2008. The author or editor of 13 books, she is a preeminent scholar known for her research integrating social and physical issues in urban planning and architecture, emphasizing the need to understand the perspectives of those who live and work in a community when designing its built environment.

Professor Loukaitou-Sideris brings a wealth of relevant experience to her new position at the helm of UCLA Luskin. But beyond institutional knowledge, she also has the right temperament for the role: Colleagues across the school consider her to be a thoughtful, fair, transparent, hard-working and dedicated public servant. She will provide continuity and help advance key initiatives at the school during this period of transition.

I hope you will join me in thanking outgoing Dean Segura for his leadership and ongoing service as a faculty member, and in expressing gratitude to Professor Loukaitou-Sideris for taking on her new role.

Sincerely,

Darnell Hunt

Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost

 

 

Kal Penn on Working for Change in Hollywood and Politics The actor, author, public servant and UCLA alumnus shares his multilayered life story with a Luskin Lecture audience

By Mary Braswell

To understand the folly of viewing people through a one-dimensional lens, just look at Kal Penn’s resume.

The UCLA alumnus has played stoners, doctors and Santa Claus on the big and small screens. As part of the Obama White House, he mobilized voters, helped shape policy and advocated for the arts. Now, he’s added a new entry to his list of achievements: bestselling author.

Penn published his darkly funny memoir “You Can’t Be Serious” in 2021, and he returned to campus on Nov. 3 to share tales from his circuitous life journey as part of the UCLA Meyer and Renee Luskin Lecture Series.

Penn, a familiar face to viewers of “House,” “Designated Survivor” and the “Harold & Kumar” stoner movie franchise, was moved to write the book during the COVID-19 pandemic, when many people were re-examining their career choices and life priorities.

“Maybe I do have a story to tell,” he realized. “Maybe now is the time to share how you can have the blessing and privilege of working in two totally different careers.”

His story begins in New Jersey, where he grew up as the child of Indian immigrants — two scientists who fretted about their son’s desire to make a living as an actor. His career arc started on a middle school stage, when Penn brought down the house as the Tin Man in “The Wiz,” even breaking through to boys who had bullied the drama kids.

“I just thought, wow, what an incredible experience, that something as simple as a school play and a joke that was improvised made somebody change their minds,” he remembered.

“There’s a magic to this in terms of having a captive audience and being able to introduce them to characters and perceptions that are different from theirs. And that really motivated me to want to be an actor.”

After graduating from UCLA in 2000 with degrees in sociology and theater, film and television, Penn tried to make his way in an entertainment industry that, despite its broad reputation as a bastion of liberal values, clung to all forms of racism.

In some roles that he auditioned for, a brown face and Indian accent were the top criteria, not the talent, humor and heart needed to develop a believable character.

Penn recalled his attempts to persuade a sitcom director that the character he was playing would be much funnier if he didn’t descend into South Asian stereotypes — and that it would mean a lot to his young cousins, fans of the show.

“‘This is not a conversation we’re having,’” Penn said he was told. “‘Your little cousins should feel lucky that you’re allowed to be on TV to begin with. And so should you.’”

Despite such tales of entrenched bigotry, Penn assured the UCLA audience that change, though slow, can definitely be measured. Sometimes it’s for business reasons, he said, citing the diversity of programming in the era of streaming platforms, which are funded through subscriptions rather than ad revenues that have a chilling effect on risk-taking.

Penn jumped from Hollywood to national politics during the Obama administration, when he served as White House liaison to young Americans, Asian Americans and the arts community and worked on policy matters including health care, immigration and LGBTQ rights. He was a national co-chair for the Obama/Biden reelection campaign in 2012 and served on the President’s Committee for the Arts and Humanities.

With that insider perspective on politics and governance, Penn weighed in on the current state of civil discourse in America. Speaking days before the contentious midterm elections, he acknowledged, “It is a dark time.”

One member of the audience, a student pursuing a master of public policy, sought Penn’s advice to young people called to public service but experiencing frustration and fear that they won’t be able to make a difference.

Don’t lose sight of important gains that have already been made, Penn counseled.

“When I do university lectures, a lot of times the tone of certain questions is like, ‘I can’t believe you worked for a moderate like Barack Obama.’ To me, what a great benchmark of progress, because at the time he was a progressive president.”

The notion that a generation of Americans now takes for granted the passage of the Affordable Care Act, repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and protections extended to DACA students is a sure sign of progress, Penn said. Just this year, a landmark climate bill passed “because so many young people were pushing the White House to do something.”

During the on-stage conversation moderated by Jim Newton, editor of UCLA’s policy-oriented magazine Blueprint, more nuances of Penn’s humanness came through. Many of his loved ones are private by nature, so not until his memoir was published did some readers learn that Penn is gay and engaged to his partner, Josh. His proudest accomplishment is earning a graduate certificate in international security from Stanford University, and he aspires to one day serve his country as a U.S. ambassador. And in answer to a question from the audience, Penn revealed that his favorite soup is matzo ball.

Penn’s appearance was part of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs’ signature Luskin Lecture Series, aimed at igniting dialogue on the most pressing policy challenges of our time.

Following the conversation, audience members snaked around the Centennial Ballroom at UCLA’s Luskin Conference Center, waiting to speak with Penn as he signed copies of his autobiography, complimentary to those who had registered to attend. They included students from the worlds of theater, film, global studies and public affairs, and Penn had a universal charge for each of them:

“Complacency is the greatest danger. … Just because things have progressed doesn’t mean they’re not going to slide back in any way, both in terms of diversity and career but also in terms of democracy.

“When you’re complacent, the other side will absolutely win.”

View photos from the lecture on Flickr.

Kal Penn Luskin Lecture

Loukaitou-Sideris on Benefits, Consequences of New Rail Line

Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, professor of urban planning at UCLA Luskin, was cited in a Los Angeles Times article about how the construction of rail lines in South L.A. will serve as both a curse and a blessing to locals. While the railway system will benefit communities by de-isolating South L.A. from the rest of the city, it poses economic challenges as current residents find that increasing rent prices are driving them out of the well-established communities many grew up in. In her past studies, Loukaitou-Sideris found that census tracts closest to stations had the highest likelihood of gentrification. However, she is not opposed to the construction of the railway line. “It is not that we should not have transit stations. It is that we really need strategies for people to avoid displacement,” she said.


 

(Almost) Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Our Research Centers An introduction to the stories in this edition

Our goal was to create a definitive roundup of UCLA Luskin research centers. Over several months, more than two dozen professors, staff, students and alumni were interviewed, producing 160 pages of transcripts totaling 69,774 words. Did we capture every connection, permutation or interaction? No way. For one, we simply ran out of space. What follows are excerpts from the interviews. Also note that our research centers web page now has a mention of every — we think — research entity with a UCLA Luskin connection. Here are a few facts and notes about the project:

  • Funds that flow into the Luskin School are increasingly tied to a research center, and those numbers have risen as the School has grown in recent years. Research centers received 80% of all contract and grant funding at UCLA Luskin in the last fiscal year, totaling $18.5 million. With four months of 2021-22 to go, the research center tally stood at 82.9% of all awards and $17.9 million.
  • Most full-time faculty, and many part-timers, are associated with at least one research center. The financial benefit is a factor, but interviewees mostly spoke about collaboration and impact.
  • Research units play an integral role in advancing UCLA Luskin’s mission, particularly its community service goals. (Some of the many research-oriented advocacy success stories are told in this edition.)
  • There are a lot of them. In 2009, the Luskin Center for Innovation became the fourth research center at UCLA Luskin. Today, we show 12 research centers on the homepage and list more than a dozen more on the web page mentioned earlier. A couple of non-Luskin-School-based examples are in this issue, but faculty also hold leadership positions or fill scholarly roles in many other research centers housed within another UCLA school, hosted by an off-campus partner or existing as part of a national research consortium or an ad hoc project involving scholars from other universities.
  • Some research centers are — potential funder alert — still in the startup phase; others are firmly established but ready to grow. And two research centers have been bastions of the UCLA Luskin educational experience for decades. These highly respected and influential centers are profiled in chapter 1. 
  • The word center is often used in this project as an umbrella term even though individual entities are actually an institute, initiative, hub or lab. No disrespect is intended. Is there any official difference? We asked UCLA’s vice chancellor for research, Roger Wakamoto: “We do not discriminate a center from an institute or any other term. The names are
    used interchangeably.”
  • The main story in this issue unfolds in oral history form. Some minor rephrasing was needed for clarity’s sake, and trims were made. But the people associated with UCLA Luskin research centers tell their stories primarily in their own words

L.A. Metro’s Struggle with Homelessness Is ‘Big Dilemma,’ Loukaitou-Sideris Says

Urban Planning Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris was featured in a Los Angeles Times article about Metro’s attempts to grapple with homelessness. Unhoused residents have long found shelter in the transit agency’s stations, trains and buses, but their numbers have grown as the L.A. homelessness crisis has deepened. Metro counted 5,700 homeless riders on its system last August. A study by the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies found an increase in the number of homeless people on the Metro during the pandemic as shelters closed and commuters stayed home. “It’s a big dilemma,” explained Loukaitou-Sideris, lead author of the study. As Metro aims to revive transit ridership, many commuters are concerned about the issues of homelessness and rising crime. “The agencies to a certain extent, and rightly so, feel that they are in a transportation business, and they have to deal with a challenge that is not of their own making,” Loukaitou-Sideris said.