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.
Urban Planning Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris spoke to WFAA News about the future of Sundance Square in Fort Worth, Texas. Once the heart of entertainment in the city’s downtown, Sundance Square was the site of fine restaurants and retail, but many businesses have recently left, prompting concerns about the future of the district. Many current and former tenants of Sundance Square cited concerns about changes in property management, including the standard of maintenance and upkeep. According to Loukaitou-Sideris, “There needs to be much better collaboration and coordination between the city and the private management.” She added that Sundance’s struggles could impact all of downtown Fort Worth. Loukaitou-Sideris recommended large weekly concerts and restaurant open houses to provide a much-needed spark that Sundance Square is currently lacking. “You really need to think of how to attract people to create this buzz,” she said.
Students affiliated with the UCLA (Un)Common Public Space group hosted more than 100 attendees on Feb. 26 to celebrate Golden Age Park, a pocket park in the Westlake neighborhood of Los Angeles that incorporates ideas championed by Urban Planning Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris. The Saturday afternoon event included food, games and music provided by 45 members of the Heart of Los Angeles’ Intergenerational Orchestra. Five members of a Shakespeare troupe also performed an excerpt from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Gus Wendel MURP ’17, a doctoral student in urban planning at UCLA, said the (Un)Common Public Space group was formed in 2021 as a collective of community members, students, researchers, performers and public space activists with the goal of activating public spaces in different neighborhoods using research, performance and community-based events. Usage of Golden Age Park, which opened in 2019, had been hindered by its relative newness and by the COVID-19 pandemic. A primary purpose of the event was to build local awareness of the park’s presence and to promote its intergenerational appeal. “By creating opportunities for people of all ages to share time, space and experiences, intergenerational public spaces support engagement, learning and understanding across generations,” Wendel said. In addition to students in UCLA Luskin’s urban planning program, organizers and supporters included the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies, UCLA cityLAB, the Heart of Los Angeles (HOLA), the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust (LANLT) and St. Barnabas Senior Services (SBSS). The UCLA Urban Humanities Initiative provided additional support, as did the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation.
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Urban Planning Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris spoke to USA Today about signs of gentrification in Inglewood since the opening of SoFi Stadium, which will host this year’s Super Bowl. Rent and home prices have surged in recent years, and corporate chains are moving in to the primarily Black and Latino city. While some local business owners are cautiously optimistic the changes will be good for the city, some community activists fear that Inglewood’s culture and character are at stake. Loukaitou-Sideris weighed in on the long-term effects of gentrification. “When you start seeing a sociodemographic group slowly disappearing, when you start seeing mom-and-pop stores that you grew up with being replaced by, let’s say, Starbucks, that is another aspect of what is happening,” she said. “People may no longer look like you — there is no longer a traditional Black or Latino neighborhood — but also the goods, the services and the stores may be different.”
Eighteen faculty members affiliated with UCLA Luskin are included in a listing of the top 2% for scholarly citations worldwide in their respective fields as determined by an annual study co-produced by Stanford University researchers. The 2021 report is a publicly available database that identifies more than 100,000 top researchers and includes updates through citation year 2020. The lists and explanations of study methodology can be found on Elsevier BV, and an article about the study was published by PLOS Biology. Separate data sets are available for career-long and single-year impact. The researchers are classified into 22 scientific fields and 176 subfields, with field- and subfield-specific percentiles provided for all researchers who have published at least five papers. The following current and past scholars with a UCLA Luskin connection met the study’s criteria to be included among the most-cited scholars:
Yeheskel Hasenfeld (deceased)
Martin Wachs (deceased)
By Mary Braswell
Los Angeles County is restricting use of the plastic tableware that clogs our landfills and waterways.
The L.A. City Council launched a coordinated effort to deter harassment on the city’s streets and transit systems.
And the LAPD created a new bureau to elevate the community’s voice in places where law enforcement has a rocky history.
Each of these actions, taken with the intention of improving the lives of Angelenos, relied on research produced by the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. And they are just three recent examples that underscore the School’s growing influence as it turns incisive scholarship into real policies aimed at building a more just and equitable world.
This calling is not new. The work done by UCLA Luskin’s public policy, social welfare and urban planning programs and more than a dozen affiliated centers and institutes has long been a source of data-driven guidance for decision-makers in the public and private sectors. The School’s impact has been felt across the region, nation and world.
“We must always ask ourselves, ‘What’s the benefit of this work?’’’ said Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, the School’s associate dean of academic affairs. “Our research is meant to be applied, not just read by other academics, or what, really, is the use?”
CHALLENGING THE THROWAWAY CULTURE
L.A. County had identified a problem. In search of solutions, it looked to the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation.
The problem was the harmful environmental impact of disposable forks, knives, spoons and other plasticware, used once then tossed in the trash by 10 million county residents.
The county had pledged to phase out these single-use plastics, and needed a strong base of knowledge to craft an effective ordinance. The Center for Innovation was contracted to study what the products are made of, how they impact the environment and economy, why they cannot be easily recycled, what alternatives are available, and more.
Momentum grew in January 2020, when the Center for Innovation delivered a high-profile report identifying prime targets for policy action. Then, COVID-19 struck.
“The county had decided that it really wanted to take firm action,” said Daniel Coffee MPP ’20, a Center for Innovation project manager who has worked on each phase of the plastics study.
“But the pandemic created a really significant resource crunch for the county, as it did for many municipal governments, and understandably they prioritized public health and services.”
In 2021, the legislative effort to curb plastic waste got back on track. The L.A. County Board of Supervisors voted to eliminate single-use plastics in county-run facilities, though it stopped short of broadening the new rules to restaurants still affected by the pandemic. Other local governments also stepped up, including the L.A. City Council, which unanimously voted to make disposable foodware at restaurants available only if requested by customers.
“Only upon request” rules are relatively simple to implement, Coffee said. “Those sorts of policies don’t require the business to retool work areas or install new equipment or secure new types of products. They can take effect almost immediately.”
Crafting longer-term strategies is more complex. One significant reason is that alternatives to plastic — paper, bamboo and bioplastic, for example — have hidden carbon footprints of their own.
“Replacing a plastic item with a non-plastic version that is still disposable and single-use is not always the better move,” Coffee said, saying the real game-changer comes “the moment you stop throwing something away right after you’re done with it.”
“That’s why we can so confidently say that reusable products are the way to go, wherever possible, in any context. It’s really important to get this right.”
Coffee’s research into the most effective ways to tackle plastic waste began during an internship with the L.A. County Chief Sustainability Office. He later joined the Center for Innovation staff, which recently produced an addendum to the county report. This time, the focus was on the impacts of the COVID-19 era on the plastic waste stream.
“Long story short, it’s not good. You have a massive, massive uptick in medical waste,” including packaging for sterile products as well as disposable masks that degrade into harmful microplastics, he said. Consumer behavior has also shifted during the pandemic, with more goods, groceries and take-out food encased in plastic.
“It just adds to the need for prompt action. And it underscores the importance for institutions like the Luskin Center to have these strong relationships with both municipal and state-level government institutions,” Coffee said. “They know they can reach out to us to stay apprised of things that are dynamically changing.”
SAFEGUARDING L.A.’S PUBLIC SPACES
When members of the L.A. City Council decided it was time to deal head-on with an increase in harassment on the streets of Los Angeles, they knew where to turn.
Loukaitou-Sideris, a distinguished professor of urban planning as well as the Luskin School’s associate dean, had shared her extensive research into harassing behavior many times, in high-level government and academic settings and through a book published
She had also lived it.
As a young university student in Athens, Greece, Loukaitou-Sideris chose to walk half an hour to attend class rather than risk being groped on the bus — an experience familiar to women around the world and across generations.
“It is, sadly, a global phenomenon,” she said. “And I am sorry to say, it is very prominent in Los Angeles.”
Loukaitou-Sideris’ statement is backed up by numbers, collected through an extensive survey of transit riders from local campuses. The survey asked 400 students from UCLA, 650 from Cal State Los Angeles and 250 from Cal State Northridge whether they had experienced any of 16 types of harassment in the previous three years in a public transit environment. Of the women who responded, more than 80% said yes.
“These are very, very high numbers,” said Loukaitou-Sideris, whose research was published by the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies at UCLA.
In the fall of 2020, her work came to the attention of a legislative deputy in the office of Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino. The aide had personally witnessed street harassment and reached out to Loukaitou-Sideris for help in crafting a motion urging city leaders to act.
“I was more than happy to be approached by Councilman Buscaino’s office, and I was even more thrilled that this motion first passed the committee unanimously and then the City Council,” she said.
The motion, adopted in March 2021, mobilized several city departments to work together to respond to street harassment, which disproportionately affects not just women but people of color, people with disabilities, those in the LGBTQ community, older adults and adolescents.
“As the second most populous city in the nation,” the motion stated, “the City of Los Angeles has a responsibility to protect its most vulnerable residents from harassment in public spaces.”
In addition to measuring the scope of the problem, Loukaitou-Sideris’ study recommended strategies for increasing safety in public spaces. Smart urban design, such as providing adequate lighting, is critical. New technologies can provide real-time arrival information at transit stops, as well as apps and hotlines that make it easier to report harassment. Educational campaigns can embolden bystanders to intervene to protect one another.
Loukaitou-Sideris stressed that restoring confidence in the safety of public spaces is likely to encourage the use of transit — key to the sustainability goals of many urban centers.
VISION FOR COMMUNITY-ENGAGED POLICING
Researchers do acknowledge one frustrating reality: Compelling evidence does not always lead to decisive action.
“Oftentimes, research is exploited as a way to avoid doing something,” said Jorja Leap, adjunct professor of social welfare and an expert on criminal justice and community empowerment.
“To be blunt, that is what happens with a lot of research and evaluation. It’s carefully designed, it’s rigorously carried out, everybody says, ‘Thank you very much,’ and it goes onto a shelf, usually with several other reports.”
So Leap was stunned and heartened when the Los Angeles Police Department created a new bureau for community-engaged policing, led by a person of color who reports directly to the police chief — recommendations her team had put forward in a report commissioned by outside interests.
Leap and her colleagues spent more than a year studying the effectiveness of the LAPD’s Community Safety Partnership (CSP), a strategy instituted years earlier to build trust between police and residents of the city’s most troubled public housing developments.
Civil rights attorney Connie Rice was the driving force behind the evaluation. For decades, Rice had sparred with the LAPD before deciding to join forces with the department to work for change.
It was she who steered the vision for community policing, and who brought in Leap to guide the way with authentic academic research. The UCLA team was given a budget, access to CSP sites, and assurances of independence from both Rice and the LAPD.
“We were the rigorous scientific vessel for the thoughts and feelings and beliefs and experiences of the residents,” Leap said.
Working with Social Welfare Professor Todd Franke and a team of field researchers and analysts from across UCLA, Leap launched a study that involved 425 hours of observation, 110 interviews, 28 focus groups, and nearly 800 surveys to capture the views of police officers and residents in Watts and Boyle Heights.
“It is not a lovely report,” Leap said. “Many of the residents had a horrendous history with police.”
Distrust of police rightfully persists, but most survey respondents reported feeling decidedly safer under the CSP program, which assigned specially trained officers to work side-by-side with residents to understand the community’s assets as well as its dangers.
The final report endorsed the Community Safety Partnership as a model to be integrated throughout the city, offering 45 recommendations to make it work, including the establishment of a full-scale LAPD bureau.
“I was shocked by the response on the part of the LAPD. We made some major, major recommendations, and some of the most difficult have been or are in the process of being carried out,” Leap said.
In this case, the grave events of 2020 may have served as an accelerator instead of a brake. The CSP report was unveiled in March of that year. Two months later, the killing of George Floyd sparked a worldwide uprising against police brutality. And in July 2020, the LAPD unveiled its new Community Safety Partnership Bureau, led by Emada Tingirides, the department’s second Black female deputy chief.
Leap’s work with the program continues. With the input of community residents, she is designing new tools to ensure that CSP officers are fully trained, that residents continue to have a seat at the table and that the dozens of recommendations her team put forward are heeded.
“As researchers,” she said, “we’ve got to hold public agencies and institutions accountable and say, ‘Don’t pass the buck.’ ”
Wednesday, Jan. 19
12:30 – 2 p.m. PST
Parks provide opportunities for people to be physically active, spend time in nature, and connect socially with others. Yet over half of Los Angeles County’s population lives in neighborhoods without access to parks and open space with the majority of high-need areas being concentrated in low-income communities of color.
LA County has an opportunity to address these decades-long issues through increased resources provided by the passage of Measure A. But money alone is not enough to address inequity. This event will delve into the importance of partnership models to advance park equity in the LA region, including examining the recently opened Golden Age Park.
Madeline Brozen, Lewis Center
Louie Leiva, cityLAB UCLA
Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs
Miguel Velasquez, Saint Barnabas Senior Services
The prize will allow UCLA researchers to begin a one-year pilot program that they hope will help establish the plan as a lasting part of the Los Angeles commuting landscape.
The Civic Bicycle Commuting team, or CiBiC, was one of 17 groups chosen to receive awards of up to $1 million in the NSF’s Civic Innovation Challenge — and one of just six in the competition’s mobility track, which invited plans to improve urban transit while considering disparities between housing affordability and jobs.
Distinguished Professor of Urban Planning Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris is one of three co-leaders of the UCLA project, which will take aim at the daily commute in Los Angeles by creating bicycle “flows” that produce real-time digital art exhibitions throughout the city. The planners are creating a smartphone app that would not only organize riders into groups, but also would encourage inexperienced cyclists to participate by suggesting routes that are optimized for enjoyability and safety over efficiency or speed, and would enable all participants to share their experiences.
“Our team is honored by this investment on our interdisciplinary, community-driven, art-based solution to the challenges of commuting in Los Angeles, making our city more sustainable and a better place to live,” 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. “We look forward to collaborating with our community partners and taking this from concept to reality.”
In addition to Loukaitou-Sideris and Wagmister, CiBiC is co-led by Jeff Burke, co-director of REMAP and a UCLA professor in-residence of theater. Their mission was to create a ready-to-implement project that would address local sustainability challenges while minding inequality gaps. The project also is aligned with the goals of the UCLA Sustainable LA Grand Challenge, a campuswide initiative to help transform Los Angeles into the world’s most sustainable megacity by 2050.
During CiBiC’s pilot phase, it will focus on working with communities in Northeast Downtown Los Angeles that are most in need of better bicycling transportation options, including Chinatown, Solano Canyon, Lincoln Heights, Cypress Park and the William Mead Homes. The project leaders intend to gather input from community members as they finalize plans for the pilot phase.
CiBiC’s community partners include Los Angeles Metro, the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition and Los Angeles River State Park Partners; the team also is working with industry partners RideAmigos, Sorkhabi and SudoMagic, and Duke University’s Center for Advanced Hindsight.
Urban Planning Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris was featured in a Greater Greater Washington article about a proposal to temporarily ban people from public transit in Washington, D.C., if they are charged with sex or weapons offenses on the transit system. The Washington Metro’s safety board gave preliminary approval to the policy as a response to a significant increase in the number of reported sex offenses during the pandemic. In her research on harassment on transit, Loukaitou-Sideris has found that sexual harassment rates change based on environmental conditions. “Crimes like groping tend to happen in overcrowded buses or rail cars, while those committing indecent exposure tend to be emboldened when few people are around,” she explained. In one global survey, Loukaitou-Sideris found that 80% of women reported having been harassed on transit in the last three years. “That harassment, and fear of harassment, has real implications for mobility, particularly for women, LGBTQ folks and people of color,” she said.
A CNN report about incidents of sexual assault and abuse committed by ridehail drivers from Uber and Lyft quoted Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, distinguished professor of urban planning. Lyft has failed to publicly release reports disclosing complaints of sexual violence and now faces several potential lawsuits. Ridehail companies “should be very concerned if people start saying that there’s an increasing number of people that complain about harassment because this whole idea of safe travel through Lyft or Uber falls apart,” said Loukaitou-Sideris, who has conducted extensive research on sexual harassment on public transit. Information around safety incidents can help people make informed decisions about how and when to travel, but transparency also runs the risk of damaging a company’s reputation, she said. Loukaitou-Sideris added that one reason people do not report alleged incidents of sexual violence is that they believe that nothing much will happen as a result.