Not a Walk in the Park In new study, UCLA Luskin Urban Planning and Social Welfare scholars recommend park planning with consideration for the needs of senior citizens of L.A. County

In new study, UCLA Luskin Urban Planning and Social Welfare scholars recommend park planning with consideration for the needs of senior citizens of L.A. County

Gentrification, Growth or Something in Between? UCLA Urban Planners’ report on the impact of cultural revitalization efforts on L.A.’s Gallery Row and adjacent Skid Row is named ‘Best Paper’ by Town Planning Review

By Stan Paul

In the early 2000s, author and urban theorist Richard Florida popularized the concept of the “creative class,” with its purported ability to revitalize cities. This notion has encouraged culture-based economic growth strategies and approaches — by public officials and private developers alike — in urban centers such as Los Angeles.

Looking back after a decade with an update and republication of his book, The Rise of the Creative Class, Florida re-emphasized his point that creativity requires diversity and that “an openness to all kinds of people … was no private virtue but an economic necessity,” explaining that areas that are “most open-minded gain the deepest economic advantage.”

“Yet, as I write these words, all is far from well: The great promise of the Creative Age is not being met,” Florida said.

Consequently, two camps on the subject have emerged: one believes that cultural revitalization efforts accelerate growth, while the other says that gentrification and displacement are the outcome.

Urban planners at UCLA have taken a closer look at the effects of cultural revitalization by comparing two areas of Los Angeles known as Gallery Row and the adjacent Skid Row. Their report, “Skid Row, Gallery Row and the Space in Between: Cultural Revitalization and its Impacts on Two Los Angeles Neighborhoods,” was recently named “Best Paper” by Town Planning Review, a publication of Liverpool University Press.

“The urban growth and cultural revitalization currently taking place in the historic core of downtown Los Angeles is unprecedented, and yet downtown is also home to Skid Row, one of the largest concentrations of homeless individuals in the U.S.,” said Brady Collins, lead author of the study. Collins, who recently completed his Ph.D. in Urban Planning at UCLA, worked with UCLA Luskin Urban Planning professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris on the report.

The authors describe cultural revitalization strategies as “promoting a neighborhood’s ethnic heritage, establishing a cultural or arts district or developing cultural and community centers or local museums.” Collins and Loukaitou-Sideris said the purpose of these strategies is to attract young urban professionals — the so-called Creative Class — as well as business growth and investment.

Collins said that, after conducting nearly a year of research, “I knew I had found something big, and something I thought was important to share.” The Boston native is currently a resident of Koreatown and has served as a member of the Wilshire Center-Koreatown Neighborhood Council.

In comparing Gallery Row, characterized by the authors as a linear district consisting of new art galleries, bars and restaurants, to the Skid Row area of Los Angeles, Collins and Loukaitou-Sideris said they sought to answer questions such as how various groups — from local residents, advocates and community organizations to public and private developers, as well as investors and local, state and federal government — shape the process of revitalization and whether cultural revitalization actually benefits only “wealthy gentrifiers.”

“Gentrification is not always a zero-sum game where gentrifiers win,” said Collins. “By providing a snapshot of the efforts by individuals working on the ground and behind the scenes in Skid Row to shape the social and physical landscape, we show how marginalized groups can use art and culture as a means for resistance.”

In recognizing this, Collins said that the concept of “the space in between” was constructed as “a fraught space between the haves and have-nots, between revitalization and displacement, where human agency and community organizing can create real power.”

“With housing affordability at a historic low in L.A., gentrification and displacement represent real concerns for a number of neighborhoods,” Loukaitou-Sideris said. “Our study, however, demonstrates that it may be mistaken to perceive even the most disadvantaged neighborhood as a powerless victim lacking agency and determination to prevent displacement.”

Nevertheless, Collins and Loukaitou-Sideris argue that local grassroots efforts cannot go it alone against “their own larger political interests and powerful real estate forces.” To ensure more equitable outcomes, the authors propose that public officials include affordable housing development, housing preservation and local economic development in planning considerations.

As “Best Paper” published in the June 2016 volume of Town Planning Review, the report will be free to access for three months at the Liverpool University Press website.

‘Once-in-a-Lifetime Academic Experience’ Luskin Urban Planning expands global reach with new Sciences Po exchange program in Paris

By Stan Paul

UCLA Urban Planning students now have the opportunity to spend an academic quarter studying in the heart of Paris, on the city’s historic Left Bank.

A new exchange program between the Urban School at Sciences Po and the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs’ Department of Urban Planning, will allow three Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) students to study in Paris for a quarter, while three of their continental counterparts will study at Luskin, said Alexis Oberlander, Urban Planning graduate adviser.

The exchange program was initiated by Urban Planning faculty members Michael Storper and Steven Commins, and Luskin Associate Dean Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, in conjunction with faculty at Sciences Po’s Urban School.

Sciences Po is highly regarded internationally in social sciences and has produced nearly all of France’s presidents as well as numerous political and business leaders. It is located not far from the scenic and iconic views of the Seine River running through the middle of the city. But “Paris is more than its beautiful core,” said Storper. “It is also a diverse world city, with populations drawn from every continent. It is as much an urban laboratory as any great city, with all the opportunities, problems and challenges.”

Storper, who also teaches at Sciences Po, said that the Urban School was recently formed to bring together master’s and Ph.D. programs that focus on cities, urban politics and urban policy. He said the program will give students a comparative and international learning experience between Los Angeles and Paris — a “once-in-a-lifetime academic and urban experience.” In addition to studying with students from all over the world and building a new network of friends and colleagues, the quarter abroad will also count toward the Luskin students’ two-year MURP degree.

Participating students can apply for the program during the winter quarter of their first year at Luskin, and if selected, the students would enroll for the fall quarter of their second year at Sciences Po. The Urban School at Sciences Po are offered in English, so there is no language barrier, said Storper.

The exchange program represents “a joining of forces between two elite institutions,” Loukaitou-Sideris said.

“Urban Planning students will have the opportunity to study in one of Europe’s most prestigious universities … in a school with the most advanced curriculum on comparative urban governance in the world,” said Storper. “No other Urban Planning program in the U.S. can offer a similar opportunity to its students.”

Voting in California: Reimagining What’s Possible Panel Discussion Co-Sponsored by UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs Focuses on the Future of Voting in California

 

By Bijan White

The UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and the California Association of Clerks and Elected Officials brought together a group of distinguished figures from the public and private sectors, including California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, on January 14 to discuss the mechanisms and modernization of the voting process.

With the upcoming 2016 elections in sight, the implications of the vote and the voting process have once more come under question. Experts remind us of the near-sacred importance of the vote as an act of citizenship, as well as the logistical enterprise it represents. The voting process demands the highest level of anonymity, which becomes complicated when faced with the massive scale of the ballot registration and counting process.

Prior to the panel, Mark Peterson, chair of the Luskin Department of Public Policy, commented on the necessity of such discussions. “If there is one institution in American politics which demands clarity and transparency, it’s voting,” Peterson said, emphasizing how important this is in California, which represents such a vast voter base. “We’ve seen the consequences of logistical errors in the voting system in 2000. Democrats were voting for Buchanan in Florida because they could not interpret the layout of the ballot sheets.”

The panel began with opening remarks from Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, associate dean of the Luskin School of Public Affairs. While stressing the importance of the vote, Loukaitou-Sideris mourned its dwindling importance in the collective mind of the youth. “Nowadays, teens are more focused on when they can drive than when they can vote,” she said. However, its importance should not be overlooked, she added. “Many of the great issues our society faces are tackled through the process of voting within our democracy.”

Moderator Dave Bryant, political reporter for KCBS2 and KCAL9, broached the subject of the use of technology in the voter process. “We are looking to the future to modernize the voting process,” Bryant said. “In Los Angeles, for example, voter turnout is in the single digits.”

The need for reform within the voting process to boost voter turnout is rising, but many of the panelists urged caution. “While striving for improvement, the risk of taking one wrong step is great,” said Jeffrey Lewis, chair of the Department of Political Science at UCLA. “We should not be so harsh to judge slow progress.”

Data analyst expert Christopher Hetch stressed the logistical nightmare the voting process represents. “Relying on paper for communication is antiquated,” Hecht said. “We can create new ways to educate people, reach voters and increase turnout.” Reaching voters, providing and making the information needed for the voting process accessible, and providing convenient methods of casting ballots are all factors surrounding voter engagement, he said.

The concept of civic engagement was discussed by Conan Nolan, political reporter for KNBC-TV and host of NBC4’s News Conference, who criticized the lack of civic education in newer generations. “We have lost a sense of training citizens in public education.” Nolan said. “Most voters come from families who voted — they learned the importance of this process.”

Engaging the next generation of citizens, according to Nolan, is a responsibility that the state should embrace because “citizenship is learned.” However, Padilla noted the diverse demographics of the nation. “We can’t assume all families can teach their children about the importance of civic engagement,” Padilla said.

The concept of online voting was discussed and proved to be controversial. “Online voting is not something we are ready for because of security and privacy issues,” Padilla said. The ballot must have the highest degree of anonymity, he added. “The internet provides data, not secrecy.”

But, Hetch countered that “we need to build the trust needed for people to feel comfortable voting online,” arguing that there are currently ways to ensure the security needed for online voting. Others, such as Nolan, rejected the concept based on principle. “The spirit of our most sacred right is manifested in going to the voting center with your fellow citizens.” The concept of online voting degrades that ideal, Nolan said.

Despite the obstacles and disagreements presented by the panelists, many palpable solutions were presented, some of which are already underway. Padilla noted the establishment of Senate Bill 450, which will allow California counties to implement a new elections model that includes mailing every voter a ballot, expanding early voting and enabling voters to cast a ballot at any vote center within their county.

In conclusion, Lewis captured the essence of the debate: “We should strive to make it so that no one who desires to vote ends up unable to do so.”

In Memoriam: Jacqueline Leavitt (1939 – 2015), Professor Emerita of Urban Planning

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UCLA Urban Planning scholar, committed teacher and mentor, and community activist dedicated to social justice passes away following distinguished career.

By Stan Paul

The UCLA Urban Planning Department mourns the loss of Professor Emerita of Urban Planning Jacqueline “Jackie” Leavitt who passed away November 27 at her home in Los Angeles. She was 76.

Professor Leavitt’s research during her decades-long career focused on housing and community development policy, public housing, and the multiple meanings of home, among many other urban and social issues. As a founder of the American Planning Association (APA) Planning and Women Division she is considered a pioneer in research on gender and community development. Additionally, her work brought to light the ways in which low-resourced populations managed to live, work, and survive in cities and regions across the globe.

“I entered urban planning believing in its ability to support social movements through both rigorous research and ethical practice,” she said in a 2008 interview by Progressive Planning Magazine. “In a country where rights are being usurped, and where the government has an ability to demolish public housing…, I still hold to beliefs for social and economic justice, and have tried to develop ways to bring those themes into my classrooms, not as an afterthought but an integral and basic goal.”

“Jackie loved her students, cared for her friends, had passion for her work and community activism. She was as comfortable inspiring her students to change the world, or talking at international gatherings for the rights of the poor, as she was holding the hand of public housing tenants and bringing holiday gifts to their children. We will miss her greatly,” said UCLA Luskin Associate Dean Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris.

An award winning scholar, Professor Leavitt was the recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship to study the privatization of rental housing in New Zealand and Los Angeles, and won first place in the “New American House” competition earlier in her career. She studied the impact of privatization on tenants living in public housing and led projects that helped community organizations reverse disinvestment in underprivileged urban areas. Most recently, she worked with UCLA Emeritus Law Professor Gary Blasi to study the working conditions of taxi drivers in Los Angeles, expanding this research to include women taxi drivers in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and New York City.

Professor Leavitt held both master’s and Ph.D. degrees in Urban Planning from Columbia University, where she is recognized as one of the school’s outstanding practitioners and a central figure in the feminist movement within Urban Planning.

She came to UCLA in 1983 as a visiting lecturer after teaching posts in prestigious planning programs at Columbia University, New York University (NYU), Cornell and City University of New York, and taught continuously in the UCLA Urban Planning Department for the last 32 years. Throughout her career, Professor Leavitt was a committed teacher and mentor, serving as faculty director of the Urban Planning Department’s undergraduate Urban and Regional Studies minor and teaching undergraduate courses in Urban Planning and UCLA’s Undergraduate Honors Collegium. Since 1999, she served as the director of the UCLA Urban Planning Department’s Community Scholars Program, a joint program with the UCLA Labor Center (a unit of the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, IRLE), bringing labor and community leaders together with urban planning graduate students to conduct applied research projects. Professor Leavitt’s work “embodied her deep commitment to participatory planning, and both brought the university into the community and brought the community into the university,” said Chris Tilly, IRLE Director and Professor of Urban Planning.

The impact of her research and practice was far reaching. She served as a consultant to nonprofit resident groups, the Swedish Council for Building Research, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the New York City Housing Preservation and Development Agency. She also served on the Nickerson Gardens Community Development Corporation, which was formed to assist one of the largest public housing projects in Los Angeles.

“Jackie Leavitt was a fierce and stalwart critic of the systems and forces that marginalized so many. She was strong willed and articulate, and creative and innovative. That combination of fierceness and creativity is how I will remember her. She was one in a million,” said Luskin Interim Dean Lois Takahashi.

“Jackie was a long time Urban Planning colleague whose passionate commitment to social justice touched every aspect of her research and teaching on housing, gender, labor, and community development. She will be greatly missed by many of us,” said Evelyn Blumenberg, Professor and Chair of the UCLA Department of Urban Planning.

Professor Leavitt is survived by her brother Howard Leavitt and his family. A celebration of her life will be held in Los Angeles and New York (locations to be determined), where her ashes will be distributed. The UCLA Department of Urban Planning will hold a gathering in celebration of her life on Sunday, March 6 at UCLA.

In Memoriam: Edward Soja (1940-2015), Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Urban Planning Edward Soja, UCLA scholar and Urban Planning faculty member, passed away

By Stan Paul

Edward Soja, longtime UCLA scholar and Urban Planning faculty member, passed away Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015 in Los Angeles at the age of 75.

Dr. Soja was born in New York in 1940. He earned his Ph.D. in Geography from Syracuse University and began his career as a specialist on Africa at Northwestern University. After being recruited to UCLA in 1972, he began focusing his research on urban restructuring in Los Angeles, as well as the critical study of cities and regions. His interests were wide-ranging, including questions of regional development, planning and governance, and the spatiality of social life.

“Ed was a towering figure in the fields of urban planning and the social sciences and a strong force in the Department of Urban Planning for almost 40 years,” said Evelyn Blumenberg, Professor and Chair of Urban Planning. “His insight, wit and leadership will be greatly missed.”

His numerous publications, as writer, editor and collaborator — with fellow UCLA Urban Planning faculty, scholars from across the United States and around the world — include, Thirdspace: Journeys to Los Angeles and Other Real-and-Imagined Places (1996), The City: Los Angeles and Urban Theory at the End of the Twentieth Century (1996, co-edited with Allen J. Scott), Postmetropolis: Critical Studies of Cities and Regions (2000), and Seeking Spatial Justice (2010).

His most recent book, My Los Angeles: From Urban Restructuring to Regional Urbanization (2014), covered more than four decades of urban development in Los Angeles as well as other urban regions. In his introduction, Soja wrote of Los Angeles:

“Its iconic imagery provokes exaggeration, fomenting emotionally excessive repulsion as well as unbridled attraction….Further complicating any understanding of the actual place, Los Angeles for the past century has been a fountainhead of imaginative fantasy, emitting a mesmerizing force that obscures reality by eroding the difference between the real and the imagined, fact and fiction.”

“Ed Soja was respected globally for his innovation in conceptualizing ‘the urban’ and his teaching and mentoring of scholars,” said Lois Takahashi, Interim Dean of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. “But I will remember him most for his enthusiastic greetings, his incisive humor and his inspiring curiosity. I will miss him terribly.”

During his long and distinguished career as a scholar at UCLA, Dr. Soja also devoted himself to teaching both graduate and undergraduate students and serving as doctoral academic advisor to numerous Ph.D. candidates from the Department of Urban Planning. In addition to courses on regional and international development, he also taught courses in urban political economy and planning theory. He was also a visiting professor at the London School of Economics, in The Cities Program, an international center for architects, engineers, city planners, social scientists, community groups, public servants and leaders in the private sector.

Most recently, Dr. Soja received the Vautrin-Lud International Prize for Geography for 2015. This award, often known as the ‘Nobel Prize of Geography’, was announced during the 26th International Festival of Geography. This prize honors the career of a distinguished geographer whose work has been very influential within and beyond the discipline. Unfortunately, Dr. Soja was unable to be present at the event in Saint-Dié, France and could not deliver the customary plenary lecture. Instead, his work was explored in an effective round table discussion between many of his international peers.

“Ed Soja’s passing is a great loss to the Urban Planning department,” said Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, Professor of Urban Planning and Associate Dean of the School of Public Affairs. “He was a giant in the field of social sciences, someone whose work has inspired and will continue to inspire us for generations. His recent award of the Vautrin Lud Prize or ‘Geography’s Nobel Prize’ underlined the enormity of his contributions to our field.”

As his friend and former UCLA graduate student, Costis Hadjimichalis, recently said, “Edward Soja has now gone to his own personal ‘Third Space.’”

A gathering in celebration of his life will be held Monday, January 25 from 4:00PM-6:00PM at the UCLA Faculty Center, Sequoia Room.

The UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs will establish the Edward Soja Memorial Fellowship in his memory.

Study: New P.E. Curriculum Triples Performance on Test Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris led a study that found positive results for the UCLA Health "Sound Body Sound Mind" physical education curriculum

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By Amy Albin
UCLA Health

A physical education program that brings commercial-grade fitness equipment to under-resourced schools, along with a curriculum based on boosting confidence and making participation more enjoyable, dramatically increases students’ performance on California’s standardized physical fitness test, a UCLA study has found.

Publishing in the July issue of the Journal of Education and Training Studies, Urban Planning professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris reported that the UCLA Health Sound Body Sound Mind curriculum tripled the percentage of students who passed the state Fitnessgram test in schools where it was implemented — from an average passage rate of 20 percent prior to the curriculum’s initiation to an average passage rate of 60 percent after its completion. The study also found that students’ confidence levels, enjoyment of physical activity and knowledge about fitness increased following the program.

“I was not expecting that in such a short time one could see such a big difference in the kids’ fitness performance,” said Loukaitou-Sideris. “A curriculum such as this could go a long way toward motivating children to be more active and fighting obesity, particularly in low-income communities where such efforts are most needed.”

Loukaitou-Sideris, along with a team of UCLA graduate students, followed 640 students attending five inner-city Los Angeles schools during the academic year 2012-2013. The students, who ranged from seventh to 10th grade, spent eight weeks taking physical education classes that followed the Sound Body Sound Mind curriculum. Students, parents and physical education teachers were asked to respond to questionnaires before and after the students completed the curriculum. The researchers also interviewed teachers and analyzed students’ Fitnessgram scores.

“Further research is needed to evaluate the impact of the SBSM curriculum on students in more schools, and especially to look at the impact on students of various ages, ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds, as well the long-term impact of the program,” added Loukaitou-Sideris.

Sound Body Sound Mind has been implemented in nearly 100 middle and high schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the vast majority of them in low-income communities. More than 400 educators have been trained on the curriculum. The Sound Body Sound Mind Foundation was created by philanthropists Cindy and Bill Simon in 1999, and became part of UCLA Health earlier this year.

Approximately 23 percent of children and young people under the age of 18 in Los Angeles County are obese, and another 19 percent are overweight, as measured by body mass index. Low-income communities tend to offer limited access to free and safe spaces for physical activity outside of school, making it more difficult for children from those communities to get regular exercise.

Sound Body Sound Mind addresses this problem with state-of-the-art fitness programs and a unique curriculum that includes 30 lesson plans focused on mastering basic physical tasks. All of the activities are designed for small spaces, so they don’t require gyms or large multipurpose rooms, which many inner-city schools lack.

“At the core of the teaching strategy is creating a welcoming environment, removing intimidation and demonstrating to students that they can improve their fitness by focusing on their own achievement rather than comparing themselves to others,” said Nathan Nambiar, executive director of the Sound Body Sound Mind Foundation and community engagement manager at UCLA Health. Nambiar says that students are never asked to perform in front of others and, since everyone is moving at once, they don’t worry that others are watching.

At Alliance Alice M. Baxter College-Ready High School, a public charter school in San Pedro, the initiation of the Sound Body Sound Mind program last fall resulted in a dramatic increase in the percentage of students passing the FITNESSGRAM test — from 37 percent to 82 percent.

“It’s changed the entire outlook our students have on fitness,” said Brooklin Brumund, athletic director at the school, which was not part of the study. “A lot of these kids come from families where exercise and healthy lifestyles are not promoted. Many have never been involved in recreational sports. At the beginning some of them complained about hating anything physically strenuous, and now they are running miles, passing the physical fitness test, and showing confidence that they’ve never had before. It’s been an amazing transformation.”

The study was funded by a donation from the UCLA Dream Fund.

Study: New P.E. Curriculum Triples Performance on Test Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris led a study that found positive results for the UCLA Health "Sound Body Sound Mind" physical education curriculum

feat_peals

By Amy Albin
UCLA Health

A physical education program that brings commercial-grade fitness equipment to under-resourced schools, along with a curriculum based on boosting confidence and making participation more enjoyable, dramatically increases students’ performance on California’s standardized physical fitness test, a UCLA study has found.

Publishing in the July issue of the Journal of Education and Training Studies, Urban Planning professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris reported that the UCLA Health Sound Body Sound Mind curriculum tripled the percentage of students who passed the state Fitnessgram test in schools where it was implemented — from an average passage rate of 20 percent prior to the curriculum’s initiation to an average passage rate of 60 percent after its completion. The study also found that students’ confidence levels, enjoyment of physical activity and knowledge about fitness increased following the program.

“I was not expecting that in such a short time one could see such a big difference in the kids’ fitness performance,” said Loukaitou-Sideris. “A curriculum such as this could go a long way toward motivating children to be more active and fighting obesity, particularly in low-income communities where such efforts are most needed.”

Loukaitou-Sideris, along with a team of UCLA graduate students, followed 640 students attending five inner-city Los Angeles schools during the academic year 2012-2013. The students, who ranged from seventh to 10th grade, spent eight weeks taking physical education classes that followed the Sound Body Sound Mind curriculum. Students, parents and physical education teachers were asked to respond to questionnaires before and after the students completed the curriculum. The researchers also interviewed teachers and analyzed students’ Fitnessgram scores.

“Further research is needed to evaluate the impact of the SBSM curriculum on students in more schools, and especially to look at the impact on students of various ages, ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds, as well the long-term impact of the program,” added Loukaitou-Sideris.

Sound Body Sound Mind has been implemented in nearly 100 middle and high schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the vast majority of them in low-income communities. More than 400 educators have been trained on the curriculum. The Sound Body Sound Mind Foundation was created by philanthropists Cindy and Bill Simon in 1999, and became part of UCLA Health earlier this year.

Approximately 23 percent of children and young people under the age of 18 in Los Angeles County are obese, and another 19 percent are overweight, as measured by body mass index. Low-income communities tend to offer limited access to free and safe spaces for physical activity outside of school, making it more difficult for children from those communities to get regular exercise.

Sound Body Sound Mind addresses this problem with state-of-the-art fitness programs and a unique curriculum that includes 30 lesson plans focused on mastering basic physical tasks. All of the activities are designed for small spaces, so they don’t require gyms or large multipurpose rooms, which many inner-city schools lack.

“At the core of the teaching strategy is creating a welcoming environment, removing intimidation and demonstrating to students that they can improve their fitness by focusing on their own achievement rather than comparing themselves to others,” said Nathan Nambiar, executive director of the Sound Body Sound Mind Foundation and community engagement manager at UCLA Health. Nambiar says that students are never asked to perform in front of others and, since everyone is moving at once, they don’t worry that others are watching.

At Alliance Alice M. Baxter College-Ready High School, a public charter school in San Pedro, the initiation of the Sound Body Sound Mind program last fall resulted in a dramatic increase in the percentage of students passing the FITNESSGRAM test — from 37 percent to 82 percent.

“It’s changed the entire outlook our students have on fitness,” said Brooklin Brumund, athletic director at the school, which was not part of the study. “A lot of these kids come from families where exercise and healthy lifestyles are not promoted. Many have never been involved in recreational sports. At the beginning some of them complained about hating anything physically strenuous, and now they are running miles, passing the physical fitness test, and showing confidence that they’ve never had before. It’s been an amazing transformation.”

The study was funded by a donation from the UCLA Dream Fund.

Counterpoint: Alumni Perspective on ‘Informal Cities’ As a planner for Los Angeles County, Jonathan P. Bell MA UP 05 has a different view of "informal" activities like street vending and unpermitted housing.

Jonathan P. Bell

Jonathan P. Bell

By Alejandra Reyes-Velarde
UCLA Luskin Student Writer

Last year, urban planning professors Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris and Vinit Mukhija published their book “The Informal American City,” exploring informal activities such as unpermitted housing and street vending across the country. To the authors, informal activities require understanding and potentially legitimization, to improve living and working conditions for citizens.

But having experienced the effects of informal housing firsthand through his work as a zoning enforcement planner, Jonathan P. Bell MA UP ’05 brings a different perspective to the debate of informal housing.

In his role at the Los Angeles County Department of Regional Planning, Bell says informal housing complaints are common, leading him to investigate activities such as illegal street vending, yard sales and unpermitted home-based businesses, and even conversion of garden sheds into housing. But Bell finds the term “informality” itself to be a problem because he thinks it is a euphemism used by urban planners to mean ‘illegal.’

“The problem with the term ‘informal’ is that it softens reality of what’s actually happening with so called informal housing,” Bell says. “There’s nothing benign about uninspected and poorly built housing that’s frequently the cause of injuries or deaths. That is what’s happening in Los Angeles.”

Though he has worked closely with both Loukaitou-Sideris and Mukhija, as they both served on his capstone project committee while he attended UCLA, Bell has several critiques for the views expressed in their book. Bell says he thinks the depiction of informal housing as tidy, informal garage apartments are deceiving and make it easy to call for legalization of unpermitted dwelling units.

“People are getting hurt or killed in unpermitted housing far too often,” Bell said.“Yet the dangers of unpermitted housing are rarely discussed in the informality literature.”

A common argument for informal housing is that it provides affordable housing in Los Angeles for those who live below the poverty line or in low-income situations. According to Bell, the areas remain a poor housing option because they are unsafe and uninspected, often being priced at near market value.

Bell says he has a ‘boots on the ground’ zoning enforcement perspective, visiting local communities on a daily basis and talking to community members about their concerns and problems.

“Experiencing [informal activities] firsthand, [we] are much better prepared to propose solutions,” Bell says. “This helps us explain the gravity of the problem and the need for property owners to take responsibility to find safe and workable solutions through permitting the unsafe dwelling units.”

Finding a solution to the puzzle of informal housing demands the work of enforcement and urban planners as well as potential changes in policy. Though Bell says he thinks municipal codes and policies should be followed to ensure residents’ safety, he says one option would be to re-examine and change some municipal codes to support the development of safe and affordable housing options.

“For example, removing requirements for on-site covered parking facilities at residences could enable more legal garage conversions…along with the necessary environmental analyses and outreach strategies to explain these changes to weary communities,” he said. “But until then, we have municipal codes in place that are rooted in community health and safety. ”

Bell has written several articles and continues to write about the subject of Informal housing in the online magazine, UrbDeZine, including an interview with a UC Berkeley PhD student and his responses to counter arguments on the matter.

 

Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris

Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris is the Associate Provost for Academic Planning at UCLA and an Urban Planning Professor at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Professor Loukaitou-Sideris’ research focuses on the public environment of the city, its physical representation, aesthetics, social meaning and impact on the urban resident. Her work seeks to integrate social and physical issues in urban planning and architecture. An underlying theme of her work is its “user focus”; that is, she seeks to analyze and understand the built environment from the perspective of those who live and work there. Dr. Loukaitou-Sideris’ research includes documentation and analysis of the social and physical changes that have occurred in the public realm; cultural determinants of design and planning and their implications for public policy; quality-of-life issues for inner city residents; transit security, urban design, land use, and transportation issues.

Recent and ongoing projects, funded in part by the U.S. and California Departments of Transportation, the Haynes Foundation, the Gilbert Foundation, and the Mineta Transportation Institute, include: an examination of the privatization of public open space in major American downtown areas to document the effects of redevelopment on their built form and social context; documentation of varying patterns of use of neighborhood parks among different ethnic groups; proposals for the physical and economic retrofit of blighted inner city commercial corridors, examination of the impacts of new rail transit lines, creation of guidelines for the development of transit station neighborhoods; studies of transit security, and planning for parklets.

She has served as a consultant to the Transportation Research Board, Federal Highway Administration, Southern California Association of Governments, South Bay Cities Council of Government, Los Angeles Neighborhood Initiative, Project for Public Spaces, the Greek Government, and many municipal governments on issues of urban design, open space development, land use and transportation, and she has been commissioned to author research papers by the National Academies and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Dr. Loukaitou-Sideris is the author of numerous articles, the co-author of the books Urban Design Downtown: Poetics and Politics of Form (University of California Press, 1998), Sidewalks: Conflict and Negotiation over Public Space (MIT Press, 2009), and Transit-Oriented Displacement or Community Divided? (MIT Press, 2019); and the co-editor of the books Jobs and Economic Development in Minority Communities (Temple University Press, 2006), Companion to Urban Design (Routledge, 2011), The Informal American City: Beyond Taco Trucks and Day Labor (MIT Press, 2014), and New Companion to Urban Design (Routledge, 2019).

SELECTED BOOKS & PUBLICATIONS

As high-speed rail gains momentum, U.S. can look to Europe’s example
Op-Ed in Los Angeles Times, Feb. 15, 2015

“Impact of High Speed Rail Stations on Local Development—A Delphi Survey”
Loukaitou-Sideris, A., Cuff, D., Higgins, H., and Linovski, O. (2012)
Built Environment, 38(1): 51-70

“Addressing the Challenges of Urban Landscapes: Normative Goals for Urban Design”
Journal of Urban Design 17(4): 461-478. Loukaitou-Sideris, A. (2012)

Companion to Urban Design
Banerjee, T. and Loukaitou-Sideris, A. (Eds.)
New York and London: Routledge (2011).

“The Informal American City: Beyond Taco Trucks and Day Labor”
Edited by Vinit Mukhija and Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris. (MIT Press 2014)
Publication link

Conflict and Negotiation over Public Space
Loukaitou-Sideris, A. and Ehrenfeucht, R., MIT Press (2009).
Publication link

Urban Design Downtown: Poetics and Politics of Form
Loukaitou-Sideris, A. and T. Banerjee, University of California Press (1998)
Publication link

Jobs and Economic Development in Minority Communities
Ong, P. and Loukaitou-Sideris, A. (Eds.) Temple University Press (2006).
Publication link