UCLA Luskin Faculty Win Public Impact Research Awards The Office of Research & Creative Activities honors scholars for work that connects the campus to local and global communities

By Manon Snyder

Laura Abrams, chair of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare, was among six professors to receive the inaugural Public Impact Research Awards from the UCLA Office of Research & Creative Activities.

Established in collaboration with the UCLA Centennial Celebration but put on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the awards recognize work that has clear and immediate benefits to local and international communities.

Honorees with a UCLA Luskin connection included Abrams; Dana Cuff, professor of architecture, urban design and urban planning; and Kelly Lytle Hernández, professor of history, African American studies and urban planning. Public Impact Research Award recipients receive $10,000 prizes.

During an award ceremony on June 1, Abrams recounted the story of how she and her co-author Elizabeth Barnert of the Geffen School of Medicine came to do the research that led to the award.

“We heard a story of a 5-year old child who was prosecuted for a curfew violation, and we set our sights on preventing this from happening again,” Abrams told an audience that included UCLA Luskin benefactor Renee Luskin. “As a social worker and a pediatrician, we were shocked to note that in California, like nearly half of all U.S. states, the law did not shield young children from being brought into the justice system.”

They were told that it would be difficult to change a law that had been on the books since the early days of the child welfare codes. Other researchers dismissed the topic as not particularly important.

“Yet we persisted,” Abrams said.

They conducted a mixed-methods study that showed setting a minimum age at which a child can be prosecuted in the juvenile justice system is not only better for children, but also politically viable. Their research also showed that, starting at younger ages, racial inequities were already problematic, particularly for Black children.

Their once “impossible policy goal” became a reality when then-Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB 439 into law in 2018, ensuring that no child under age 12 in the state of California can be legally prosecuted, even in the juvenile justice system, except in very rare circumstances.

View photos from the event:

UCLA Research Impact Awards

Abrams is a professor of social welfare at UCLA Luskin, and Barnert is an associate professor of pediatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

“I consider this project and the social policy impact to be the most important achievement in my career,” Abrams said. “I hope to inspire future scholars to conduct research that they are passionate about and that makes a difference.”

Advocates have since partnered with Abrams and Barnert to lead other states to pass or consider similar legislation. Thanks to their research, professional groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, now endorse a minimum age of 12 for juvenile court jurisdiction; their research was also used to draft a congressional bill that would set the minimum age for prosecuting youth in the federal criminal legal system at 12.

“I believe in a healthy and just society where all children have the support they need to thrive,” Barnert said.

OTHER AWARDEES CONNECTED TO UCLA LUSKIN

Cuff, based at the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture, is founding director of cityLAB, an award-winning research center that studies how urbanism and architecture can contribute to a more just built environment. Based on cityLAB studies, Cuff and her team created the BIHOME — a full-scale demonstration of a compact dwelling unit designed to be located in backyards to meet rising housing demands — and BruinHub, a “home away from home” at the John Wooden Center for commuter and housing-insecure students. Cuff co-authored a 2016 bill to advance the implementation of backyard homes in suburbs, and is working on design and legislation for affordable housing to be co-located with public schools.

“At one of the finest public universities in the world, cityLAB-UCLA and our students at architecture and urban design have the privileged platform to demonstrate how to build a socially just, sustainable future,” Cuff said. “I am committed to design research that brings those new possibilities to the public.”

Lytle Hernández is the Thomas E. Lifka Endowed Chair in History and faculty director of Million Dollar Hoods, a big-data initiative that uses police and jail records to examine incarceration disparities in Los Angeles neighborhoods. Launched in 2016, the initiative’s research is being used for advocacy and legislative change, such as a report on the Los Angeles School Police Department that helped stop the arrest of children ages 14 and under in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Another report was critical for the passage of California legislation that ended money bail for nonviolent felonies and misdemeanors. Beyond using data to support new policies, Million Dollar Hoods uncovers and preserves stories from Los Angeles residents who have dealt with the policing system.

OTHER UCLA HONOREES

Two UCLA faculty members without a UCLA Luskin association were also honored with Public Impact Research Awards:

  • Alex Hall is a professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences at the UCLA College, whose research is focused on producing high-resolution projections for climate modeling, particularly in California. Hall extends his expertise beyond campus, working with Los Angeles water management agencies to help ensure the sustainability of water resources for the region. Hall is also working to understand the future of wildfires in the state. He co-founded the Climate and Wildfire Institute to champion collaboration between scientists, stakeholders and policymakers in the use of quantitative data on wildfires to shape management efforts in the western United States.

“We are in the midst of a sustainability crisis, and everyone must do their part to address it,” Hall said. “Nothing makes me happier than marshaling scientific resources to address some of the deepest sustainability challenges in California.”

  • Thomas Smith is a distinguished professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and founder of the UCLA Congo Basin Institute. As UCLA’s first foreign affiliate branch, the Congo Basin Institute works with organizations and the local government and communities to find solutions to environmental and developmental problems facing Central Africa. Continuing his commitment to conservation efforts in Africa, Smith is the founding president of the Conservation Action Research Network, which has provided more than $500,000 in grants to young African scholars. Smith is also the founding director of UCLA’s Center for Tropical Research, which has conducted research in 45 countries to understand biodiversity in the tropics. He also co-founded the Bird Genoscape Project, which uses genomics to map declining bird populations’ migration patterns and how they can inform where to prioritize conservation efforts.

“With accelerating climate change and loss of biodiversity we are rapidly approaching tipping points for many of the world’s ecosystems,” Smith said. “Our team is making a difference by focusing on science-based solutions to mitigate threats to help save the planet.

Cuff Comments on Miracle Mile Makeover

Dana Cuff, professor of architecture, urban design and urban planning, commented in a Los Angeles Times story on a number of new and updated cultural venues — including museums and a Metro Purple Line station — set to open in the early 2020s in the western portion of L.A.’s Miracle Mile. In anticipation of new development along Wilshire Boulevard’s Museum Row, the article questions whether adequate planning has gone into the public space surrounding the new projects. “We have this museum district, but the stuff that holds everything together is the part we call the city, and that is the part that Los Angeles has never gotten right,” Cuff said. The founding director of cityLAB at UCLA added, “There is no there there. … There is no urban design that has been created for this chunk of Wilshire that will be one of the most pedestrian and populated parts of the city.”


 

Cuff Highlights Disney Hall’s Contribution to Local Identity

Dana Cuff, professor of architecture, urban design and urban planning, was featured in an article explaining the effect the Walt Disney Concert Hall has had in redefining the identity of downtown Los Angeles. Before the hall’s construction, downtown L.A. was notoriously lifeless and empty, the article said. “Anyone living downtown seemed like refugees from real cities elsewhere,” Cuff commented. Increased funding of public art has helped revitalize the downtown area. Cuff explained, “Getting people out of their private spaces and bringing them into collective everyday life, that’s what a city is.” Disney Hall, designed by architect Frank Gehry, changed the Los Angeles skyline when it opened in 2003. The building was praised as an architectural triumph and a cultural landmark with its asymmetrical walls of shiny stainless steel. “When a city can claim its local identity, which I think that area around Grand Avenue is starting to do, that’s an amazing achievement,” Cuff said.


Summer Institute to Explore L.A. Through Technology, Social Justice

How are cars, film and the Internet contributing to social, economic and cultural issues in Los Angeles?

An innovative UCLA summer program called LA Tech City Summer Institute: Urban Innovation and Design explores the impact these technologies have on urban life in Los Angeles. Developed by UCLA’s Urban Humanities Initiative (UHI), this new institute brings forth theories, methods and design perspective for tomorrow’s generation of urban thinkers, dwellers and practitioners.

This four-week intensive officially starts July 3 and features a new UCLA course titled, “Digital Humanities 30: Los Angeles Tech City: Digital Technologies & Spatial Justice.” The course, taught jointly by UCLA Professors Dr. Todd Presner and Dr. Dana Cuff, offers 5 quarter units of UCLA credit, as well as GE and Diversity credit for UCLA students.

This institute was designed for undergraduate students interested in pursuing careers in creative tech, architecture and urban design, data analysis, public service, as well as a wide range of graduate programs. Through the innovative combination of UCLA course work and professional development activities, students will uncover how innovative spatial technologies enable engagement with issues of spatial justice in Los Angeles through research and design projects.

By the end of this intensive four-week institute, students will have designed a web-based portfolio and be able to work with image-editing software such as Photoshop and Illustrator. Using this set of conceptual and technical tools, students will learn to present the field-based projects developed in LA Tech City in convincing ways, while constructing their own digital portfolio.

This institute carries 5 quarter units of UC credit and GE credit (Foundations of Society and Culture – Social Analysis). Grades earned will be recorded on an official University of California transcript.

Registration is currently open at summer.ucla.edu/latechcity

Sustainable Cities Conference to Include UCLA Luskin Experts UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs among co-sponsors of May 16 conference focusing on transforming urban centers into sustainability leaders

Leading academics and experts from across the country and the globe will gather at UCLA on May 19, 2016, to discuss one of the most pressing challenges of the 21st century: achieving sustainability. Expert panels at the Smart and Sustainable Cities Conference will focus on critical areas for transforming the world’s urban centers into sustainability leaders: transportation, water, energy, the built environment, and the digital city and sharing economy.

A closing panel will take an integrated approach to defining what makes a “sustainable city,” discuss the context necessary for innovative technologies and policies to take hold, and consider the broad social and economic issues involved.

UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs is among the co-sponsors of the conference. Three Luskin faculty members and one Luskin Scholar — all with extensive experience in urban sustainability — will participate in the conference. They will weigh in on the cutting-edge policies, designs and technologies that are helping cities use limited resources as efficiently and intelligently as possible.

J.R. DeShazo is the director of the Luskin Center for Innovation, vice chair of the Department of Public Policy at Luskin and a professor of Public Policy and Urban Planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. His latest research highlights the importance of innovation in the quest for urban sustainability. In March, DeShazo and a team of interdisciplinary researchers at UCLA unveiled a method for turning concrete, an essential building block of cities, into an essential building block of a sustainable future.

While essential to the modern world, the ubiquitous material is one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. About 5 percent of global emissions can be linked to concrete.

DeShazo and his team worked on a process that captures carbon from power plant smokestacks and turns it into an alternative to concrete — called CO2NCRETE. The closed-loop method for producing the material is highly efficient and environmentally friendly. It both limits carbon emissions and produces a fundamental building material for the modern world.

DeShazo’s current research also focuses on making Los Angeles County water self-sufficient. The project aims to create a feasible local water market for trading and selling county water resources, with input from stakeholders.

Dana Cuff is a professor of Architecture/Urban Design and Urban Planning and the founder and current director of UCLA’s cityLAB. Established in 2006, the research center explores the challenges facing the 21st century metropolis through design and research. Cuff’s work focuses on urban design, affordable housing, modernism, urban sensing technologies and the politics of place.

One of Cuff’s project at cityLAB included concept development and executive production of the BI(h)OME, which was completed last June. The ultra-modern lightweight accessory dwelling unit has the potential to address current housing shortages in an affordable way.

The structure also addresses urban sustainability challenges. The environmental impact of the structure over its entire life cycle is between 10 and 100 times less than a similar conventional structure and the BI(h)OME also can function as a biome, providing a home for multiple species. The structure also can supply water to surrounding vegetation using its grey water drainage system.

In August, Cuff received the Community Contribution Award from the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects for her dynamic design contributions to Los Angeles.

Martin Wachs is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus in Urban Planning at the Luskin School of Public Affairs. Wachs was a professor of civil and environmental engineering and professor of city and regional planning at the University of California, Berkeley, where he also served as director of the Institute of Transportation Studies.

Prior to his work in Berkeley, he spent 25 years at UCLA, where he served for 11 years as chair of the Department of Urban Planning. Wachs was also director of the Transportation, Space and Technology Program at the Rand Corp. in Santa Monica.

Wachs is the author of more than 180 articles on planning and transportation and he also wrote or edited five books on transportation finance and economics, planning and policy.

He is the recipient of a UCLA Alumni Association Distinguished Teaching Award and the Carey Award for service to the Transportation Research Board.

Luskin Scholar Yoram Cohen of the Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Sciences has dedicated much of his work to water issues. In 2014, Cohen, the director of the Water Technology Research Center at UCLA, unveiled his portable, self-operating Smart Integrated Membrane System. SIMS makes undrinkable, brackish water usable.

Cohen has taken his system from the university campus into the field and it is currently being put to the test in the San Joaquin Valley, where it has successfully treated 25,000 gallons of contaminated water a day for almost two years. The potential of the system is vast thanks to its cost effectiveness and scalability.

Cohen is also the driving force behind the conference. One of the forum’s themes will be Israeli leadership in urban sustainability. Six of the 22 panelists are from Israel, which faces many of the same sustainability challenges as California.

Cohen also has deep ties to Israel. The Luskin Scholar and director of UCLA’s Y&S Nazarian Center for Israel Studies was born in Israel and maintains professional connections to his country of birth as a member of the International Advisory Committee to the Stephen and Nancy Grand Water Research Institute at Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and as an adjunct professor at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

The conference, at DeNeve Commons on the UCLA campus, is open to the public.

Dana Cuff

Dana Cuff is a professor, author, and scholar in architecture and urbanism at the University of California, Los Angeles where she is also the founding director of cityLAB, a think tank that explores design innovations in the emerging metropolis (www.cityLAB.aud.ucla.edu).

Since receiving her Ph.D. in Architecture from UC Berkeley, Cuff has published and lectured widely about postwar Los Angeles, modern American urbanism, the architectural profession, affordable housing, and spatially embedded computing. Two books have been particularly important: Architecture: the Story of Practice which remains an influential text about the culture of the design profession, and The Provisional City, a study of residential architecture’s role in transforming Los Angeles over the past century.

Her urban and architectural research now span across continents to Sweden, China, Japan, and Mexico. In 2013 and 2016, Cuff received major, multi-year awards from the Mellon Foundation for the Urban Humanities Initiative, bringing design and the humanities together at UCLA.

Link to Professor Cuff’s Citylab website:  http://www.citylab.aud.ucla.edu/cuff.html