Urban Planning Professor Anastasia Loukatiou-Sideris was featured in a Los Angeles Downtown News article about her involvement in Civic Bicycle Commuting (CiBiC), a new initiative promoting the health and environmental benefits of commuting by bike. While Los Angeles has been dominated by automobiles for decades, a group of UCLA scholars has teamed up to create a digital media archive that will map safe routes, promote biking as an alternative to driving and foster community among bike commuters. Loukaitou-Sideris spoke to the Daily Bruin about CiBiC’s focus on reaching vulnerable groups, including women, people without housing and those from ethnic neighborhoods. In the long term, she hopes CiBiC will build a bicycle infrastructure in low-income neighborhoods through employer partnerships to improve the process of commuting. She added that creating a community of bikers will build safety and protection for vulnerable populations through social capital – the ties that hold together a community when individuals interact and help one another.
A Transit California article put a spotlight on research from the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies that showed a noticeable increase in people seeking shelter in public transportation stops, stations and vehicles during the COVID-19 pandemic. A team led by Distinguished Professor of Urban Planning Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris surveyed 115 transit agencies to produce a report investigating the intersections of the pandemic, transit and homelessness. Over half of the agencies said that they see at least 100 unhoused individuals per day on their systems, while 14 agencies reported 500 or more. “Homelessness in transit environments is a major challenge in the U.S. and in Canada, but especially in California,” Loukaitou-Sideris said. She noted, however, that the absence of reliable data makes it difficult to measure the magnitude of the problem. Loukaitou-Sideris’ team will continue its research into policy solutions to help people experiencing homelessness.
For many Los Angeles residents, the daily commute is frustrating. A project by three UCLA faculty members aims to change that — especially for those who ride to work on two wheels — by creating bicycle “flows” that produce real-time digital art exhibitions throughout the city.
One of the project’s goals is to make cycling to work feel as accessible and safe as other modes of travel, so the professors envision groups, or flows, of cyclists that would be organized by a smartphone app. The app would encourage reluctant or inexperienced cyclists to participate by pointing them toward those flows, suggest routes that are optimized for enjoyability and safety over efficiency or speed, and enable participants to share their experiences.
Those experiences, in the form of text, photos, videos and other creative submissions, would feed directly into digital murals throughout Los Angeles. The murals would be located in community spaces and transportation hubs around the city — including, for example, a large interactive display at the Los Angeles State Historic Park, adjacent to Chinatown — elevating biking to work to a collective creative experience.
“We envision the cooperative bike flows as a type of performative media artwork that is shared live with all of Los Angeles in public spaces and on the internet,” said Fabian Wagmister, the project’s principal investigator and the founding director of the UCLA Center for Research in Engineering, Media and Performance, known as UCLA REMAP.
“By inviting communities to think about bicycle riding as a way to express themselves in the urban landscape, we can strengthen commuters’ ownership of the system and offer a deeper level of engagement in the future of the city.”
The project, called Civic Bicycle Commuting, or CiBiC, is co-led by Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, distinguished professor of urban planning at UCLA Luskin, and Jeff Burke, co-director of REMAP and a UCLA professor in-residence of theater.
The project already is gaining some traction: In February, the initiative received $50,000 in funding from the Civic Innovation Challenge, which is funded by the National Science Foundation in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. CiBiC is now in contention for an additional grant of up to $1 million, which the researchers would use to create a prototype of the project.
CiBiC’s art-led approach makes it somewhat of an anomaly among most of the competitors in its category, “communities and mobility.” Most of the other proposals have origins in the STEM fields and social sciences.
To ensure the project incorporates the diverse experiences and needs of Los Angeles commuters, the researchers are soliciting input from Los Angeles neighborhood groups. Loukaitou-Sideris said the team will especially seek participation from low-income residents of Chinatown, Solano Canyon, Dogtown and Lincoln Heights.
“We want to hear from community groups and residents and understand how we can create something that is tailored to their needs,” she said.
The researchers also are collaborating with Eli Akira Kaufman, executive director of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, who said the project could demonstrate how transformative bicycle culture could be in Los Angeles if bicyclists could help create infrastructure that reflected their needs.
“Instead of allowing the built environment to dictate the culture of bicycling in Los Angeles, we need to uplift the culture of bicycling to make sure the built environment is defined by the social infrastructure and the people who use it,” he said.
Aggregated data from the app could also eventually be used to influence Los Angeles’ long-term infrastructure planning.
And Wagmister said the project stands to both reflect and amplify the city’s creative spirit: “We want to create an alternative transportation system in Los Angeles, one that values our collective creative capacity to transform the city for all.”
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. — Zoe Day
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.
“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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
“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.”
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.