Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies Director Evelyn Blumenberg and Deputy Director Madeline Brozen co-authored an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times about the accessibility of Los Angeles’ COVID-19 testing sites, most of which are drive-through locations. Public health officials have stressed the importance of testing to combat the pandemic’s spread, but the locations of testing sites are inaccessible for many Angelenos who don’t own cars. Many neighborhoods do not have a walk-in location within walking distance, and borrowing a car or taking public transit to a testing location increases risk of exposure. “If you live in a household without a car in Los Angeles County, you are much more likely to be poor, 65 or older, Black, a recent immigrant, living with a disability or uninsured,” they explained. “These same households also face higher risks of contracting COVID-19, so making sure they have access to testing is paramount.”
Urban Planning Professor Evelyn Blumenberg spoke to USA Today about the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on low-income households and workers. While transit ridership has dropped across the country since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, millions of Americans must continue riding public buses and trains to commute to work, go to the grocery store or visit the doctor. Experts say most of the people who have stopped riding public transit are white-collar workers who can work from home and who tend to be white; those who still rely on public transit, possibly putting themselves and those they encounter at risk, include many of the country’s poorest workers. “As always, higher-income households have more choices,” said Blumenberg, director of the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies. “For low-income workers who have to take transit, they’re in a confined place, in close proximity to other people. Their problems are compounded. They have no other option.”
By Lauren Hiller
During a gathering March 5 at its first home on the UCLA campus, the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies commemorated 30 years of scholarship, public advocacy and leadership on campus and in the community.
All five former Lewis Center directors — a who’s who of distinguished scholars — joined the current director, Urban Planning Professor Evelyn Blumenberg, at DeCafe Perloff Hall to discuss the milestones and issues facing the region during each person’s tenure. As each director spoke, it was evident that the center’s longevity is rooted in interdisciplinary scholarship and fostering the next generation of scholars.
In 1989, Ralph and Goldy Lewis donated $5 million to endow a research program at UCLA that studied regional policy issues. The following year, the Lewis Center opened its doors in Perloff Hall, the location of what was then known as the School of Architecture and Urban Planning, with founding director Allen J. Scott, distinguished research professor of geography and public policy. Scott was succeeded by Roger Waldinger, distinguished professor of sociology; followed in chronological order by Paul Ong, research professor at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs; J.R. DeShazo, professor of public policy, urban planning and civil and environmental engineering; and Brian D. Taylor, professor of urban planning and public policy.
“My parents both went to UCLA and they believed in the power of public education and need to support the public system,” said Randall Lewis, whose parents were homebuilders and interested in issues of growth, transportation, housing and air quality. “They felt as they were building houses, building communities, that they didn’t want to create problems. They wanted to find solutions.”
Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, who joined the UCLA community the same year that Lewis Center was established and received one of its first grants, kicked off the event.
“The Lewis Center best exemplifies the role that we’re asking our research centers to play: push research forward, support the educational mission of the school and its students, and serve as a public forum that disseminates important research-based information and data to a larger public,” said Loukaitou-Sideris, professor of urban planning and associate provost for academic planning.
Launched Amid Regional Turmoil
The early 1990s were a tumultuous time in Los Angeles. The aerospace industry, which was a backbone of the region’s economy, was collapsing. The 1994 Northridge earthquake killed 61 people and caused $6.7 million in damage, crippling major infrastructure like freeways. And civil disturbances fueled by racial injustices, police brutality, and poverty and social marginalization rocked the city.
“Los Angeles looked like, from some points of view, a basket case and getting worse,” Scott recalled. “And so we were, at a very early stage, involved in attempting to build responses to these problems and others.”
Scott and the Lewis Center published a series of working papers focusing on new industry (such as electric vehicles) to replace aerospace and an examination of the nature and causes of the crises in South Los Angeles.
By the time Waldinger took over in 1996, the immigrant population in the Los Angeles region had quadrupled within two decades. Yet, research on the impact of immigration on the Los Angeles region lagged behind frequently studied cities like Chicago and New York. The Lewis Center played an integral role in bringing Los Angeles to the forefront of regional studies with efforts such as Waldinger’s book “Ethnic Los Angeles.” Today, it’s hard to imagine a discussion of immigration and foreign-born individuals without considering L.A.
Waldinger said the center’s early research has transformed California policy. Although immigration policy is a federal issue, immigrant policy can be local, he noted, pointing to state measures that have aided California’s immigrant population.
Ong, the center’s third director, continued the multidisciplinary tradition of the Lewis Center and collaborated with scholars in UCLA Luskin Social Welfare and the natural sciences. As director, he published a seminal report on the undercounting of low-income people and communities of color in the 2000 Census.
Ong’s work also highlighted a core strength of the Lewis Center — its focus on addressing social justice issues for marginalized communities. He said the center also partnered with the County of Los Angeles and L.A. Metro to understand the transit needs of underserved communities.
DeShazo oversaw the Lewis Center during a time when its focus turned to environmental issues. In 2006, California passed the Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32), promoting ambitious climate solutions that even some legislators doubted could be achieved.
“Those were the days we didn’t even know where greenhouse gases were coming from,” DeShazo remembered. The first step was to identify sources and then to identify solutions to reduce emissions, including electric vehicles, rooftop solar energy and energy-efficient technology.
“Everything that we have today is what people thought was impossible to accomplish. The groundwork for that was laid in the 2006-2012 period,” DeShazo said.
The Lewis Center has also contributed to environmental justice scholarship, especially the designations of disadvantaged communities as a result of identifying where emissions were coming from and where populations vulnerable to those emissions are living.
Taylor next put the focus on housing affordability and transportation in light of large investments in public transit like Measure R, a sales tax that is expected to raise $40 billion over 30 years.
He said the center’s regional lens has a built-in advantage when it comes to studying housing affordability, transportation and access, which play out across a diverse geography.
Taylor’s tenure also overlapped with his role as chair of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning. It was a position that helped him to advocate for the addition of faculty members and scholars who could tackle these regional priorities.
“Housing affordability was not my area of research,” Taylor said. “All I did was try to support and catalyze the intellectual leaders that are helping shape the important debates on this.”
A Legacy of Leadership
Acting as a consistent bridge to marginalized voices, the Lewis Center’s former directors see scholarship and professional development as their enduring legacy. Many onetime students have gone on to become academic leaders in their own right.
“I’m honored to follow in those footsteps,” said Blumenberg MA UP ’90, Ph.D. ’95. She became director in 2018 and has focused on how Angelenos live, move and work in L.A., with a particular interest in pathways out of poverty. The center recently launched the Randall Lewis Housing Initiative.
Has Los Angeles made progress over the last 30 years?
The answer is mixed, Ong said. A commitment to climate change initiatives and equity are highlights, but income inequality and social justice remain daunting issues.
“I’m proud of the fact that the Lewis Center continues to look at issues of inequality,” Ong said. “We’re dedicated to doing the research to find solutions, but it’s like swimming upstream.”
Still, Ong remains hopeful: “I know enough about [Blumenberg’s] history that there will continue to be a commitment from the Lewis Center to accomplish things that will bend us towards justice.”
By Lena Rogow
Professor Evelyn Blumenberg of Urban Planning and colleagues who include Professor Emeritus Martin Wachs have won the 2019 Pyke Johnson Award from the Transportation Research Board (TRB) for a recent paper about the mobility needs of aging adults, marking the third time someone from UCLA Luskin has won the prize since its inception.
Wachs has been studying transportation and aging for decades and won the same award more than 40 years ago, in 1976.
The award-winning paper, “Physical Accessibility and Employment Among Older Adults in California,” explores the relationship between car ownership, transit accessibility and older adults’ employment status. The paper found that adults age 60 and older are able to stay in the workforce longer when they have access to a car or to public transit — if they live in a dense urban area.
Blumenberg MA UP ’90, Ph.D. ’95 said that she and Wachs decided to collaborate on the winning paper after realizing they had not previously worked together on a research paper.
“This topic seemed to perfectly align our respective areas of research,” said Blumenberg whose work examines the effects of urban structure — the spatial location of residents, employment and services — on economic outcomes of low-income workers.
“I also knew that it was essential for us to shed light on this topic together,” she said. “I think we’ve been able to showcase an important transportation need to serve an aging population. I’m thrilled that TRB shares our opinion about the importance of this work and I’m honored to be included with a long list of former distinguished scholars who have also received this award.”
In addition to Blumenberg and Wachs, the paper’s other authors are Andrew Schouten Ph.D. ’19, who is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies, and Miriam Pinksi, a doctoral student in urban planning.
Pinski said the paper’s focus on low-income adults and their particular access to jobs was notable. Many older adults continue to rely on employment as their main source of income, in part because pensions are becoming rarer in the United States.
“Without transportation, many of these adults would have no way to sustain their lives. I hope our paper has provided more insight into yet another reason why maintaining a functioning transportation infrastructure is critical for many populations,” Pinski said.
“For TRB to recognize our work with this prestigious award is an honor,” Schouten said. “I hope this will bring more attention to important issues that lie at the intersection of transportation, employment and aging.”
ABOUT THE AWARD
TRB established the Pyke Johnson Award in 1971 to give annual recognition to an outstanding paper published in the field of transportation systems planning and administration. It honors the 23rd chairman of the Highway Research Board, who was influential in TRB from its inception.
UCLA has won three times since the first award was given in 1971. Brian Taylor Ph.D. ’92, professor of urban planning and public policy, won in 2000. Wachs is one of three two-time winners and the only person to repeat as winner more than five years apart. The gap in his case was 43 years. In each instance, the research involved faculty and doctoral students.
When Wachs first heard the news, he burst out laughing, recalling how much his life has changed since he first won. His 1976 paper also dealt with mobility and older adults.
“At that time, I was simply writing about the topic from an academic perspective,” Wachs said. “And now my work is coming true in my own personal life.”
“What’s different about this paper is I’m honored to now collaborate with young people,” he said. “This paper benefited from the combination of their sharp methodological skills with my longstanding focus on this topic. It has been an enormous pleasure collaborating with them, and I’m proud to share this honor with them.”
The presentation took place Jan. 13 at TRB’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C.
Evelyn Blumenberg, director of the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies and professor of urban planning, spoke to WalletHub about affordable car insurance in California. Studies have shown that drivers from minority neighborhoods have higher insurance rates than other households, and Blumenberg advised states to regulate insurance companies to minimize such disparities. She also encouraged a transparent system of rate-setting that limits the use of factors not linked to driving safety, such as occupation, education and credit score. Blumenberg also pointed out that many drivers have difficulty understanding the full costs of owning a car, such as out-of-pocket expenses as well as congestion, environmental harms and other social costs. But she noted, “If access to a car increases employment outcomes (as many studies show), then the benefits of having a car must be weighed against the costs.”
Urban Planning Professor Evelyn Blumenberg spoke to the Columbus Dispatch about a proposed ride-share program in Grove City, Ohio. The Central Ohio Transit Authority and Grove City plan to implement a ride-share program to bridge the distance between public transit stops and people’s destinations. The pilot program would be offered in an area with many jobs. Blumenberg, director of the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies at UCLA Luskin, noted that most jobs are not located in the central city. “That, no matter what, is going to pose a challenge for fixed-route public transit,” she said.
By Claudia Bustamante
Los Angeles is populous and diverse, but that distinction also produces inequality. There are disparities in housing costs. Amenities vary across neighborhoods. Many low-income families struggle to make ends meet despite impressive gains in employment.
During an inaugural event focusing on regional growth and equity, the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies convened a group of experts to discuss how to leverage a sweeping, taxpayer-supported $120-billion investment in Los Angeles’ transportation system to address decades-old disparities.
Following the 2016 passage of Measure M, Metro committed $52 billion in sales tax revenue for capital investments throughout the county. The agency is looking to accelerate 28 projects by the time Los Angeles hosts the 2028 Summer Olympics. Senate Bill 1 approved in 2017 designated another $54 billion to fix roads, to relieve congestion, and to improve transit and trade corridors throughout California.
“The question is how can we improve the quality of communities by taking advantage of the ongoing and major regional investments in public transit,” said Evelyn Blumenberg MA UP ’90 Ph.D. ’95, director of the Lewis Center and professor of urban planning, at “InterActions LA: Inspiring Quality Transit Neighborhoods,” held April 18, 2019, at The California Endowment.
“It is precisely in these moments of rapid change when there is a window of opportunity to do something different,” Blumenberg said. “Hopefully, it’s to engage in more equitable outcomes that better connect residents to economic opportunities, that protect and expand affordable housing, and that improve the health and robustness of the L.A. region.”
Paul Ong, UCLA Luskin research professor and director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, has done extensive research on the role of urban structures on the reproduction of inequality. He said this topic is an important one for discussion.
“We, as a society, make neighborhoods,” Ong said, “and neighborhoods make us. The type of neighborhood we live in determines not only today’s quality of life but the trajectory over generations.”
Multiple approaches to improve neighborhoods were discussed. They include progressive housing and land use policies, stationary design, neighborhood amenities and community engagement.
Key among the discussion was the need to focus on people who use transit and their specific needs. For example, women, older adults and people with disabilities make up about 60 percent of Los Angeles’ transit ridership. Those transit users have specific concerns about safety and security while walking to stations, waiting and riding transit, said Madeline Brozen MA UP ’11, deputy director of the Lewis Center.
“If we’re not planning for specific groups in an intentional way, it’s not likely we’re going to see the shifts we want to see from these investments,” Brozen said.
Julia Stein, project director at the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at UCLA Law, said the city’s Transit Oriented Communities program, which provides incentives to developers to build near major transit stops and include affordable housing units, provides an opportunity to address some issues.
Since the program’s inception in 2017, about 2,400 affordable units have been proposed, of which 42 percent are reserved for extremely low-income households.
Attendees also heard about specific efforts being conducted in the city by nonprofit organizations, including improvements along Avenue 26 near Lincoln Heights and Cypress Park spearheaded by LA-Mas. The nonprofit agency engaged with community members to generate design improvements and creative wayfinding on a quarter-mile stretch near the Metro Gold Line station.
The end result was impressive, but Avital Aboody from LA-Mas said the permitting process was complex, expensive and time-consuming.
“We had the expertise and time to navigate this process, but that may not be the case for community members or grassroots organizations that may want to do this in their community,” she said.
Lessons Learned Outside L.A.
Outside California, the Twin Cities region in Minnesota has a reputation for being progressive. But the community deals with stark racial disparities, which date back to decades of systemic racism, like redlining, according to Owen Duckworth, director of organizing and policy at the Alliance, a Minnesota-based coalition of community-based organizations and advocacy groups.
Now that the region is investing in transit infrastructure such as an expansion of a rail line that connects downtown Minneapolis to St. Paul, there is an opportunity for communities to have greater impact.
“Government agencies want to deliver on equity. That’s the buzzword,” Duckworth said. “We can’t have equitable outcomes by continuing inequitable processes in planning.”
Another theme echoed by many panelists is community engagement — making sure residents’ input is not merely tokenized by developers and government organizations.
Community members provide valuable insights as experts in their own neighborhoods.
“Our partners want to be partners to government agencies in community development, but there’s no compensation for these organizations. They mostly volunteer their time,” said Thomas Yee of LA THRIVES.
“Everything from here on out needs to be collaborative. We need to get away from silos. We need to work together,” Yee added.
Blumenberg ended the event by saying it is clear that multiple objectives must be met to ensure quality transit neighborhoods. To name a few, planners must consider housing, traffic, environmental concerns, access to opportunities, safety and security issues around mobility.
The solutions must be equally diverse — tailored to the different neighborhoods and communities throughout the region, she said.
Professor of Urban Planning Evelyn Blumenberg spoke to Wired about how cars are the best way to connect low-income people to jobs. The article noted that the progressive agenda known as the Green New Deal focuses on public transit and clean vehicles but does not account for widespread inequities in mobility. Blumenberg’s work studied the effect cars have on a person’s ability to get and keep a job. The research showed that low-income people with cars were able to move into better neighborhoods, were less exposed to poverty, and were more likely to find and keep a job. She said this is particularly true for women and caregivers. “Trying to balance unpaid responsibilities and unpaid work is just really really hard while ‘trip chaining’ on public transit, or while the kids are on the back of your bike,” Blumenberg said.
Urban Planning Professor Evelyn Blumenberg commented on the decline in ridership on public transportation in a recent Philadelphia Inquirer article. “Even among population groups where transit ridership and transit use has been highest — low-income, immigrants, recent immigrants, in particular — we found a growth in driving,” Blumenberg said, referring to a Southern California study that reflects a nationwide trend. The article focused on the declining usage of public transportation in lower-income neighborhoods in Philadelphia due to the expense of automobiles, the hours lower-income jobs require, the demands of parenthood and concerns about safety. “We’ve created urban environments that privilege the automobile that make it difficult no matter what transit does,” said Blumenberg, who is also director of the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies at UCLA. “If jobs are dispersing and things are spread out in metropolitan areas, transit is going to have an increasingly hard time meeting those travel needs.”
Four UCLA Luskin Urban Planning students were winners at the 2018 Women’s Transportation Seminar, Los Angeles Area Chapter, annual scholarship awards dinner held Nov. 8 in downtown Los Angeles. Two doctoral students, Hannah Rae King and Miriam Pinksi, each won Myra L. Frank Memorial Graduate Scholarships of $10,000 and $7,500, respectively. Urban planning master’s student Cassie Halls is the inaugural winner of the $5,000 Stantec scholarship. Halls was also among award winners – with urban planning master’s student Kidada Malloy – at the American Public Transportation Foundation’s annual conference in Nashville this past October. Joceline Suhaimi, a student in UCLA Luskin’s Urban and Regional Studies undergraduate minor, also received a WTS award. Suhaimi, who is majoring in civil engineering, won the Ava Doner Undergraduate Scholarship. “Transportation is a basic human need, and I want to make it accessible to all people, regardless of age, ability, income and car ownership,” said Suhaimi, who will receive $10,000. “This scholarship will allow me to continue education and pursue my career goals.” Allison Yoh, MA UP ’02 Ph.D. ’08, served as co-emcee for the awards. Yoh is now director of transportation planning for the Port of Long Beach. WTS-LA is a chapter of WTS International founded in 1977. The organization has more than 6,500 members (men and women) with 79 chapters in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. — Stan Paul