Luskin Summit on COVID, Public Transit and Homelessness

In the Luskin Summit session “Transit Impacts: Fewer Riders, More Homelessness,” experts in urban planning and public policy discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the intersection of public transit and homelessness. Brian Taylor, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke about the social service role of public transit and how the pandemic has affected ridership among different groups. Public transit ridership dropped suddenly and dramatically at the beginning of the pandemic but has been increasing slowly since, with returning riders more likely to be low-income and people of color, Taylor said. Conan Cheung, a senior executive at LA Metro, explained that the agency has made frequent service and fare adjustments based on changes in ridership and revenue during the pandemic. In a study of U.S. and Canadian transit systems, Associate Dean and Professor of Urban Planning Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris found that over half of the agencies reported that they see at least 100 individuals who are unhoused per day. Many agencies also noted the lack of clear policies and training on how to respond to and interact with unhoused people, as well as a lack of support from local and state governments in addressing homelessness. Steve Martingano of Denver’s Regional Transportation District shared how his department redirected funds from the police division to hire mental health clinicians, form a homelessness task force and hire a full-time outreach coordinator to address the issue of homelessness in public transit.

L.A.-Paris Connection Offers New Double Master’s Degree for Urban Planners UCLA Luskin's partnership with a top European university will allow graduate students to earn two distinct degrees in two years

By Mary Braswell

A new partnership between UCLA and a top European research university offers urban planning students an opportunity to earn two distinct master’s degrees in two years while studying in the global cities of Los Angeles and Paris.

Beginning in the fall of 2021, the highly regarded urban planning programs at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and France’s Sciences Po will join forces to offer a double master’s focusing on global and comparative planning and governance.

Students accepted into the program will be immersed in two thriving urban laboratories where perspectives on managing cities are quite distinct.

“The approach to urban governance in France and across Europe is very different from the American approach,” said Professor Chris Tilly, chair of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning. “This double master’s is a unique opportunity to learn how things are done in different cultures and to bring that knowledge to a range of global urban environments.”

‘There could not be a better two-city laboratory for learning how to become an urbanist today.’ — Professor Michael Storper

Students will spend the first year in Los Angeles, where UCLA Luskin offers rigorous training in urban planning, development and design with a strong emphasis on social, environmental and racial justice.

Year 2 will be spent at the Paris campus of Sciences Po’s Urban School, which takes a deep comparative and critical approach to public administration and the social transformation of cities. English is the language of instruction at the Urban School, which attracts students from across the globe.

Upon completion of the program, students will receive two degrees: a Master of Urban and Regional Planning from UCLA Luskin and a Master of Governing the Large Metropolis from the Urban School.

“By creating this dual degree, we get the best of both worlds,” said Professor Michael Storper, who holds appointments at both UCLA Luskin and Sciences Po. “Paris and Los Angeles are both world cities, but they couldn’t be more different in lifestyle and layout.

“Paris is historical, dense, public-transit oriented. And yet, the cities share many of the same challenges for planners, such as economic development, infrastructure, gentrification and housing, diversity and segregation, public space and climate change,” said Storper, a French-American citizen and resident of both cities.

The double master’s program is geared toward students seeking to work internationally or to bring a global perspective to urban planning in their home countries. And the opportunity to study abroad and build a network of friends and colleagues from around the world will be particularly welcome after travel restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic are lifted.

What sets this program apart from other international exchange programs is that it grants two degrees in urban planning, accredited in the United States and Europe, in the time normally needed to earn just one.

Across the University of California system, only one other similar international partnership exists: a double executive MBA program offered by the UCLA Anderson School of Management and the National University of Singapore.

The alliance between UCLA Luskin Urban Planning and the Urban School dates back to 2016, with the launch of a quarter-long student exchange program. To build on that relationship, a team from UCLA Luskin, including Storper, Associate Dean Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris and past Urban Planning Chair Vinit Mukhija, advocated for the double master’s program, which required approval from UCLA and the UC Office of the President.

By design, the program will be small and selective. The roughly 15 students accepted into each year’s cohort will complete coursework and internships integrating theory and scholarship with real professional experiences, preparing them for work in the public, private and nonprofit sectors in any region of the world.

Applications to join the program in fall of 2021 are due on January 31. More information is available on the UCLA Luskin website. 

“This program is a natural fit of two great universities and two great cities that are complementary in their differences,” Storper said. “There could not be a better two-city laboratory for learning how to become an urbanist today.”

Loukaitou-Sideris on Making Urban Neighborhoods More Livable

Urban Planning Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris was featured on KPPC’s Take Two discussing the lasting impact of racist policies such as redlining in urban neighborhoods. A recent New York Times report found that formerly redlined neighborhoods experience some of the highest temperatures in the summer. Loukaitou-Sideris explained how the now-illegal practice of redlining, which classified some communities as “least desirable for investment,” facilitated segregation as banks refused home loans and insurance to low-income and minority people who lived there. According to Loukaitou-Sideris, “greenery and trees are the best way to protect from the urban heat island effect,” but disinvestment in high-density areas generally means less money to spend on planting, watering and maintenance of trees. “We need to do something to make these neighborhoods more livable,” Loukaitou-Sideris said in the segment beginning at minute 17. She proposed using empty and underutilized lots for green spaces and increasing city funding for tree planting and maintenance.

Loukaitou-Sideris Highlights Societal Value of Parks

Urban Planning Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris spoke to USA Today about how to address inequities in the accessibility of parks and public spaces. Across the United States, the nicest parks tend to be in the wealthiest, whitest neighborhoods. Lack of access to parks means that people living in dense, urban areas have a harder time getting physical exercise and are more likely to have health conditions like diabetes, obesity and heart disease. “These are the neighborhoods that need these open spaces the most, because they do not have private open spaces,” Loukaitou-Sideris said. In dense cities where land costs are high, she recommended creating smaller spaces of greenery distributed through neighborhoods atop parking spaces or between existing structures. “Public space is an important good in a democracy. That’s where, historically, people from different walks of life would come together,” she explained. “You want a society that can give these different amenities to its residents on some level of equality.”

Loukaitou-Sideris on Creating Equitable Public Spaces

Urban Planning Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris spoke with Dr. Wendy Slusser of the Semel Healthy Campus Initiative Center for a LiveWell podcast episode about the cultural determinants of design. “Professionals plan and design with the average user in mind, assuming that we all have the same desires and needs,” Loukaitou-Sideris explained. However, her research on parks and public transportation has shown that people want different things based on age, gender, cultural ethnicity and more. Many public spaces are underused because they do not meet the needs of the community. “It is much easier to use template plans than it is to identify the needs of the community and design something completely new,” she said. Loukaitou-Sideris has worked to create a senior-friendly park in Los Angeles as well as other public spaces that meet diverse cultural needs. She recommends “thinking of the city as a collection of different groups that have different needs and aspirations.”

Loukaitou-Sideris Publishes Book on Transit Crime Around the World

“Transit Crime and Sexual Violence in Cities: International Evidence and Prevention,” a new book co-edited by Urban Planning Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, has just been published. The book presents case studies from 18 cities on six continents to demonstrate the widespread incidence of crime in transit environments, primarily targeting women and young people. “Sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence in public spaces are everyday occurrences for women and girls around the world and a threat to the overall sustainability of the city,” wrote Loukaitou-Sideris and co-editor Vania Ceccato of the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden. Concerns about physical safety aboard public transit systems can deter individuals from fully participating in school, work and public life, they noted. The book identifies urban planning improvements to safeguard passengers and ensure that cities become more accessible and therefore more sustainable. Contributors to the book, published by Routledge, represent several disciplines, including environmental criminology, architecture and design, urban planning, geography, psychology, gender and LGBTQ studies, transportation and law enforcement. In the book’s foreword, Juma Assiago of UN-Habitat’s Safer Cities program wrote that the publication “contributes to our quest for safer, inclusive, resilient, equitable and sustainable cities and human settlements.”

Loukaitou-Sideris on Combating Gentrification With Street Art

Research by Urban Planning Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris was featured in an Age of Awareness article about the use of street art to combat gentrification in Los Angeles. Gentrification has turned areas like Gallery Row into flourishing arts districts with steadily rising rent while nearby areas like Skid Row have slid further into poverty, the article noted. To build a better community in the poor districts of Los Angeles, urban planners recommend increasing arts program funding and research for communities like Skid Row. A 2016 study co-authored by Loukaitou-Sideris found that spontaneous art events in Gallery Row and Skid Row lit up city streets “at a time when most Angelenos still avoided this downtown area because of its reputation for being dangerous and dilapidated.” The article argued that murals brighten concrete structures, create maintenance jobs and bring in tourist revenue. Research also shows that street art may decrease the amount of neighborhood graffiti.

Loukaitou-Sideris Reimagines Public Spaces for Older Adults

Urban Planning Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris co-authored an opinion piece in Next City that recommended ways to better accommodate older adults as cities reopen. Even as stay-at-home orders are being lifted, fear of infection continues to prevent many older people from engaging in simple activities such as walking to a neighborhood park or sitting and reading a book on a public bench. Loukaitou-Sideris and co-author Setha Low, a professor at City University of New York, pointed to grocery stores, many of which have “created special hours for older patrons to shop without the fear of bumping into crowds.” The authors recommended retrofitting parking lots and waiting areas with more seating and shade that would allow older people to wait comfortably in line. “Simple, affordable steps like these will ensure that we are taking into account the lingering fear and isolation that threatens the well-being and health of the most vulnerable citizens — our seniors,” they concluded.

Loukaitou-Sideris on Preparing for Long Lines

Urban Planning Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris spoke to the Daily Beast about the long lines expected once lockdown ends and businesses reopen. New limits on the number of people allowed inside an establishment at a time could result in lines that stretch down entire blocks, cutting into curb space and affecting the experience of pedestrians. “In most places, sidewalks have become quite empty,” Loukaitou-Sideris noted. “Unfortunately, that means sidewalks do not have the amenities that are necessary for people to stand in line.” Many urban planners are hoping to make American cities more walkable to allow for continued social distancing post-lockdown. Loukaitou-Sideris said she hopes to see “some kind of retrofitted amenities — movable seating, more shading and protection from the sun” — to accommodate people who must spend more time waiting in lines.

Virtual Conference Shines Light on Women’s Transit Safety Issues New UCLA report on transit safety of college students is released during InterActions LA

By Lauren Hiller

A new UCLA study found that being a woman, identifying as LGBTQI, having a long commute, or waiting in poorly lit areas significantly increased the likelihood of being sexually harassed on public transit.

In the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies report, “Transit Safety Among University Students,” Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning and researchers sought to better understand the characteristics of individuals and circumstances that increased their risk of harassment during their public transit journeys.

Professor Loukaitou-Sideris reported the findings during the Lewis Center’s April 3 InterActions LA conference, which brought together researchers, transit agencies and community activists around the topic of women’s safety in transportation.

The study surveyed 1,284 students from UCLA and the California State University campuses of Los Angeles and Northridge. According to the report, this population was chosen because university students are typically more transit-dependent than the general public, and because their young age may make them more vulnerable to victimization. Los Angeles was one of numerous cities studied as part of a global research project.

Much of the preexisting data on perceived safety and incidents of sexual harassment on transit in Los Angeles did not identify such characteristics as gender, sexuality and race. This study also uniquely delved into when in the course of a transit journey — walking to or from a station, waiting for the bus or train, or on the actual vehicle — sexual harassment occurred.

According to the study, 72% of respondents experienced some form of harassment on a bus, compared to 48% on rail, with women experiencing far more numerous instances than men. However, very few students (10%) reported the experience to either law enforcement or transit agencies. And more than half of women reported changing how they dressed or adjusting their travel patterns, such as riding only during daytime or waiting in well-lit areas.

Because women make up more than half of transit riders in the United States, Loukaitou-Sideris said it’s imperative to prioritize their safety.

“Their safety is an important concern that we need to tackle if we want to have more women riding transit and — for women who are already captive transit riders — riding transit more comfortably and without fear,” she said. “I think everyone deserves that in our transit systems.”

Safe Transit During COVID-19

The challenges that women and vulnerable populations face have only been magnified by the current COVID-19 crisis. Under statewide and local “safer at home” orders, it is frequently low-income women of color who are still traveling to work to provide essential services to the rest of the region, according to the other panelists at the InterActions event, including speakers from Pueblo Planning, Los Angeles Walks and Alliance for Community Transit-Los Angeles (ACT-LA).

“COVID-19 has revealed that our transit system is a lifeline,” said Mariana Huerta Jones, senior coalition and communications manager at ACT-LA, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring equitable access to public transit infrastructure and funds.

During the InterActions presentation, Huerta Jones said public transit is often the only transportation option available to low-income residents working in jobs deemed essential in industries such as grocery stores, hospitals and sanitation.

Ensuring Women’s Safety

Other InterActions speakers like Monique López, founder and social justice planner at Pueblo Planning, spoke about the importance of including the voices of marginalized communities when crafting policy recommendations. And Daisy Villafuerte, advocacy and engagement manager from Los Angeles Walks, discussed grassroots efforts to improve transit experiences.

Presenting the next steps from LA Metro’s recent “Understanding How Women Travel” report, Meghna Khanna, senior director of the Countywide Planning and Development Department, and her team found that safety is still the biggest concern and barrier to riding transit for all women riders. While 60% of women felt safe traveling on Metro during the day, that number decreased to 20% at night.

Khanna and her team at LA Metro found that women frequently mentioned increased police presence as a solution that would help them feel safer on transit; however, not all transit riders agree.

“For many people of our community, more police doesn’t mean more safety. It can actually mean the opposite. It can mean racial profiling, harassment, criminalizing of poor or houseless individuals,” Huerta Jones said.

Solutions beyond policing — such as increased service frequency, improved cleanliness around stations, and the presence of non-police transit ambassadors — are just first steps in ensuring women can use transit without fear.

View a video about transit safety: