Urban Planning lecturer Goetz Wolff spoke to People’s World about Kroger’s decision to close three of its grocery stores in response to the Los Angeles City Council’s vote to require large grocery and drug store chains to offer front-line workers an additional $5 per hour for the next 120 days. “Let’s not forget the history of Ralph’s in our community during the last big labor dispute,” Wolff said. “They were found guilty by the federal government [in 2003] and forced to pay $70 million in restitution for using fake Social Security numbers, illegally hiring strikebreakers and stealing employees’ money.” He added, “We shouldn’t be surprised they’re still acting like bullies in our community.” Kroger, the parent company of Ralph’s and Food 4 Less, made $2.6 billion in profits last year, and this closure will eliminate more than 250 jobs. “They’re trying to intimidate workers and community members again,” he said. “The community should call out this kind of behavior as manipulative and unacceptable.”
Urban Planning lecturer Goetz Wolff joined a panel of activists and scholars to discuss injustice in the food system during a UCLA Semel Healthy Campus Initiative webinar. Black, poor and marginalized communities have been systematically denied access to nutritious foods, contributing to health inequities. Farmer and activist Karen Washington described the food system as “a caste system based on race, color of skin, where one lives and how much money they have” and argued that “it doesn’t need to be fixed, it needs to change.” Chef Roy Choi highlighted the importance of starting a conversation about the established power structure in order to get to the root of the problem. Wolff argued that the condition under which poor communities are left out is the result of conscious policies and that “food desert” is a characterization that asks us to accept it as a natural process. “It’s not a food desert, it’s food apartheid,” he said.
By Mary Braswell
When 105 high school sophomores came together with urban planning students, professors and professionals at the UCLA Luskin School, everyone in the room stood to benefit.
The students came from two Central Los Angeles schools as part of Gear Up 4 LA, a federally funded program to put underserved students on the road to college.
The adults were there to support this mission but also to address the vexing lack of diversity in their field.
Many young people aren’t familiar with urban planning as a major or career path, said Rodrigo Garcia, MURP ’15, a transportation specialist with Alta Planning + Design. As part of the firm’s pro bono work, Garcia collaborates with schools across Los Angeles with the aim of diversifying the field.
“We want to urge these kids to have an impact, to make changes in their community” regardless of which career they choose, Garcia said.
Alta Planning hosted the March 22, 2018, event with the Luskin School’s Planners of Color for Social Equity and Urban Planning Womxn of Color Collective. UCLA Luskin professors Kian Goh, Chris Tilly and Goetz Wolff shared their expertise on the opportunities and challenges that planners face.
Two hours into the program, one student asked a question that many were likely thinking: “What is the exact definition of ‘urban planning’?”
“I get the same question from my mom,” said Mayra Torres, a fourth-year student majoring in sociology and minoring in urban and regional studies.
“If this were a class, I could spend the next 45 minutes having a discussion about this,” Goh said. The best way to think about the mission of urban planners, she said, is to “envision a better city, a better society, and how to get there from here.”
Sixteen-year-old Paola Flores was unfamiliar with the field before the event but left wanting to know more. She was impressed by a workshop led by Alta Planning’s Kevin Johnson, MURP ’17, who asked the students to chew over a planning issue, then create a meme, gif or Instagram story to communicate their ideas — all in an hour’s time.
“It taught me something new,” Paola said. “I didn’t realize how improving public transportation could actually make rent go up.”
Paola attends West Adams Preparatory High in the largely Latino and immigrant community of Pico-Union. Students from Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools in Koreatown were also at the event.
“We want to build a college-going culture in our community,” said David Gantt, the RFK site coordinator for Gear Up, which stands for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs.
Beginning in middle school, Gear Up guides low-income, first-generation and minority students through each step on the path to a higher education, Gantt said. Counselors work one-on-one with each student, and workshops show families how to read high school transcripts, interpret PSAT results and apply for financial aid, among other services. In some cases, the support extends through the freshman year of college.
Gear Up “makes you feel like you’re family, with arms wide open,” Paola said. Earlier this year, counselors detected that her grades were flagging, she said. They called her in, gave her a pep talk and “now I have all As except for one B.”
Gear Up students visit college campuses across Southern California, West Adams site coordinator Danny Tran said, but he believed this was the first group to visit an urban planning program.
“Students who want to build bridges or design roads might think they need an engineering degree, especially with the current emphasis on STEM,” Tran said.
The UCLA Luskin session introduced them to another path.
Greg Maher, a principal at Alta Planning who volunteered at the event, said he hoped the diverse group of students would get hooked on urban planning.
“This field is very white and very male. It drives me crazy,” said Maher, who received a BFA in design and certificate in landscape architecture from UCLA.
“We need to recruit and retain more planners of color,” agreed MURP candidate Raisa Ma, one of several UCLA Luskin Urban Planning students on hand to mentor the high schoolers. They included Marlene Salazar, who moderated a panel that included the three faculty members, undergrad Torres and MURP candidates Jacob Woocher and Jesus Peraza.
“I want you to know you can get an education, you can get a degree and change the world you live in,” Torres told the students.
Tilly noted that, as high school sophomores, “it’s early to decide, ‘Yes, I definitely want to be an urban planner.’ ” But he encouraged all the students to embrace both big ideas and on-the-ground issues in their communities. “That will be great for being an urban planner but also for being a responsible citizen in a society that needs a lot more responsible citizens stepping up.”
By Zev Hurwitz
The late John Friedmann is widely regarded as having pioneered the field of urban planning theory.
“Some call him the ‘Pope of planning’; others call him the ‘Father of Urban Planning,’” said Martin Wachs, distinguished professor emeritus of urban planning, during a memorial for Friedmann on Nov. 2, 2017. “He always chuckled and giggled about those labels, and he really didn’t take them seriously,” Wachs said, pausing and then lowering his voice. “I think, secretly inside, he really did.”
This mix of honorific praise, bittersweet memory and wry humor was commonplace as friends, family, former colleagues and Luskin students — current and past — joined together at the UCLA Faculty Center to remember Friedmann, who passed away in June at the age of 91. In addition to his work in urban planning theory, Friedmann presided over the founding of Urban Planning at UCLA in 1968 and served as its chair four times.
“While this is a memorial to celebrate John, it’s impossible to avoid feeling sad,” current chair of Urban Planning Vinit Mukhija said in his opening remarks.
Mukhija noted that Friedmann had remained close with the Luskin School of Public Affairs even after leaving Los Angeles in the late 1990s when his career and personal life took him to Melbourne, Australia, and then to Vancouver, British Columbia. At the time of his death, the department was hoping to have Friedmann return to Westwood to teach the Planning Theory course in the Ph.D. program, Mukhija told the crowd of more than 50 attendees.
“I think it would have been terrific for our doctoral students to have that, but unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be,” Mukhija said.
Mukhija, Wachs and others spoke of Friedmann’s elite standing in the field of urban planning. Friedmann wrote 18 books and more than 200 book chapters and articles. By themselves, his writings are cited more frequently than the aggregate works of any single planning program in the country, except for the Luskin School’s Department of Urban Planning.
“He was the intellectual force behind what we call ‘planning theory,’” Wachs said, noting that Friedmann also taught at MIT and in countries such as Brazil, Chile and Korea, as well as providing guest lectures at major universities around the world.
Friedmann’s accomplishments were many, but those in attendance also heard about a few of his foibles. Longtime love and wife Leonie Sandercock talked less of Friedmann the educator and more of Friedmann the man: “I feel so lucky to have spent 32 years next to this man, who I adored, and I struggled with and I rolled my eyes at, and I shared my life with. I’m happy that his life touched so many others.”
Sandercock and Friedmann fell in love while corresponding via handwritten letters as pen pals when Friedmann was at UCLA and Sandercock was in her native Australia. A highly accomplished planner herself, Sandercock said Friedmann’s intellectual acumen never waned. “He was still living fully,” Sandercock said of her husband’s final days.
Friedmann was often reflective, Sandercock said, telling of a recent encounter after a walk through nature, when Friedmann ticked off the “lucky things” that had led him to this point in life. Meeting Sandercock was one, she said with a smile. Being denied tenure at MIT was another — it led him to pursue career-changing research in Chile. And then there was the invitation from then-Dean of Architecture Harvey Perloff to come to UCLA and start the Urban Planning program.
In that instance, many of those in attendance felt like they were actually the lucky ones. Lucy Blackmar, assistant vice provost for undergraduate education initiatives at UCLA, recalled a phone conversation with Friedmann back when UCLA Urban Planning was in its infancy and Friedmann gave her the green light to pursue further education.
“I credit John Friedmann with my intellectual awakening,” Blackmar said. “Really, John was an educator, he was a thought leader, he was a global citizen, a man for all seasons and he had an insatiable intellectual appetite.”
Several other former students shared their memories of Friedmann during the memorial, including Goetz Wolff and Stephen Commins, both of whom later became Luskin urban planning lecturers. UCLA Luskin professors Ananya Roy and Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris also spoke about Friedmann, saying he had provided inspiration to them long before they actually had a chance to meet him in person.
Cellist Anne Suda played throughout a reception that preceded the sharing of memories, an homage to Friedmann’s own appreciation of the instrument.
To honor the legacy of John Friedmann’s contributions to the field of planning we have established the John Friedmann Memorial Fellowship Fund. Recipients of the fellowship at UCLA Luskin will carry Friedmann’s legacy as leaders and change agents in our world today. If you would like to make a gift, please go here.
By Les Dunseith
As the curtain lifts on another academic year at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, second-year Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) students enrolled in one of two group efforts begin to tackle a major planning issue from multiple angles.
Listening, learning, analyzing, synthesizing and debating, the students enrolled in the Community Scholars and Comprehensive Project options will unite by graduation time to produce a shared vision of how best to address a challenge of significant scope and scale.
Exactly how comprehensive are these projects? Here’s the tally from last year:
- 29 Urban Planning students (now alumni)
- 20-plus weeks of class instruction
- 545 total pages (256 pages in one report, 289 in the other)
- 172 charts, tables, illustrations, infographics and complex data maps
- dozens of photographs (including a few shot by a drone camera high overhead)
- hundreds of emails, texts, phone calls and face-to-face sessions
Both of these group efforts are popular among students despite the workload, said Alexis Oberlander, graduate adviser in Urban Planning. In fact, an application and acceptance process is necessary to limit enrollment to a manageable number of about 15 for each.
“Comprehensive projects are more realistic to what it’s like in a professional setting,” Oberlander said of the difference between the group efforts and individual client projects pursued by other MURP students. In the professional world, “You don’t really do anything alone most of the time.”
The group efforts are similar in scope, complexity and instructional approach, but Community Scholars and the Comprehensive Project have key differences.
Community Scholars is a joint initiative of UCLA Luskin and the UCLA Center for Labor Research and Education that has been tackling issues related to jobs, wages and worker rights since 1991. UCLA’s Department of African American Studies was involved in 2016-17 too, joining an effort on behalf of the Los Angeles Black Worker Center to produce a report that reflects broad social concerns: “Black Liberation in Los Angeles: Building Power Through Women’s Wellness, Cooperative Work, and Transit Equity.”
“The idea is that students actually get to take the class with activists from the communities who are trying to accomplish the same things but need the guidance of an academic program,” Oberlander said. “And the students need the guidance of activists. So they learn from each other.”
Conversely, the annual Comprehensive Project is managed solely within Urban Planning. The 2016-17 team prepared a report for the Urban Waters Federal Partnership, which was titled, “Lower LA River Revitalization: An Inclusive Approach to Planning, Implementation, and Community Engagement.”
From concept to completion, a typical Comprehensive Project can stretch over a year or more. Oberlander pointed out that students entering the Luskin School in the fall will decide just six months later whether to register for the next Comprehensive Project, which won’t wrap up until more than a year later.
Thus, now is the time for potential client partners to step forward. “You can come to Luskin and you can get really great research for a third of the cost to hire somebody,” she noted.
The end of an academic year is often a hectic time for Comprehensive Project students. For example, the final presentation to the Community Economics, Health, and Equity Committee of the Lower LA River Working Group was on June 8, 2017. A final (more comprehensive) on-campus presentation took place June 13, 2017, just two days before Commencement.
Public presentations are also typical of Community Scholars. On June 17, 2017, the students gathered at Holman United Methodist Church in South Los Angeles for a rousing public review and reflection on what they had accomplished together.
“It is phenomenal to have the privilege to spend 20 weeks in a room with other organizers and thought leaders who are every day experimenting and making change on the front lines for black workers and black working class families,” said the UCLA Labor Center’s Lola Smallwood Cuevas, the 2016-17 project director.
“We didn’t solve the black jobs crisis in this 20 weeks,” she continued. “But what we did do was create the opportunity for us to get closer, to build the relationships, to build an analysis that will help us shape and continue to hone those definitions and our work together moving forward.”
Their report, which like other student research from UCLA Luskin Urban Planning students can be viewed online, focused on three aspects directly related to African American workers in Los Angeles:
- a curriculum on trauma-informed self-care for women served by the Black Workers Center;
- a feasibility study for a cooperatively owned jobs services center;
- a mobility study of the Slauson Corridor that paid particular attention to the intersection of Slauson and Western avenues, which a collision analysis found to be among L.A.’s most dangerous traffic locations.
Marque Vestal, a PhD student in history who served as a teaching assistant for Community Scholars, noted that the effort was about more than simply doing great research. While studying under Smallwood Cuevas, UCLA Luskin’s Gilda Haas and Gaye Theresa Johnson of UCLA African American Studies, the students examined issues of race, equality and empowerment through the black radical tradition.
“We suspected that something special would be crafted in that room because every week the laughter amid the planning got louder,” Vestal recalled during the presentation. “So we are here today to share that harvest of laughter and planning.”
“And there’s always the people who rise to the top with any group project who end up being the leaders,” Oberlander said. “They are usually the ones who are still working till August after they have graduated, making sure the client has exactly what they need.”
The instructor of the L.A. River project was Diana Varat JD/MA UP ’08, a planner and attorney who was part of the Luskin School’s adjunct faculty for the year. A rotating instructor approach is used for Community Scholars too. In 2015-16, UCLA Luskin’s Goetz Wolff led an analysis of the distribution of goods in Southern California that went on to win a national applied research award.
For the L.A. River project, students looked at gentrification, access and community impacts as part of their detailed analysis of the potential pitfalls of redeveloping the Lower Los Angeles River that runs through 14 cities from Vernon to Long Beach.
“As the potential of the Lower L.A. River becomes more clear, communities along the river are at a critical juncture,” said Alex Linz MURP ’17 during concluding remarks. “By committing to sustained community engagement and empowerment, river-adjacent cities have an excellent opportunity to showcase the Lower L.A. River both as a local and regional reflection of community pride.”
For 2017-18, the Comprehensive Project team will work with Distinguished Professor Emeritus Martin Wachs on the issue of transit-oriented development. Community Scholars will tackle homelessness and housing.
By Stan Paul
Each year since 1991, scholars and students from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs have worked together with community stakeholders to focus on timely and important Los Angeles regional issues and publish their findings and recommendations.
For their 2015-16 study of the distribution of goods in Southern California, the Community Scholars, a joint initiative of the Luskin School’s Department of Urban Planning and the UCLA Center for Labor Research and Education, has received national recognition in the applied research category from the American Planning Association’s (APA) professional institute, the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP).
Chosen from a competitive nationwide field of candidates, the project, “Delivering the Good: Strategic Interventions Toward a Just & Sustainable Logistics System in Southern California,” is one of just two projects receiving the AICP award for applied research. UCLA shares the award with the University of Virginia.
“The enthusiasm of the students not only resulted in this excellent final report, but just recently they became involved in contributing to comments on the Clean Air Action Plan,” said Goetz Wolff, an urban planning faculty adviser for the project who has been a part of the program since its founding. Community Scholars also was recently recognized for its 25 years of commitment and service to the community with UCLA’s 2016 Community Program of the Year honor, the Landmark Award.
To ensure the needed breadth of knowledge that the topic of sustainable goods movement required, Wolff said, students — all candidates for the Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) degree in 2016 — were selected from several of the Urban Planning areas of concentration: economic development, transportation and environmental planning. The winning project was focused on the movement and distribution of goods through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and its disproportional negative impact on local communities, labor and the environment.
“The combination of perspectives and skills resulted in a powerful mix with our community scholars,” Wolff said. The program expanded its knowledge base by bringing aboard Linda Delp, who heads UCLA’s Labor and Occupational Safety and Health program, as a co-instructor.
As part of their research, the students went on several field trips, including a bus tour of the Alameda Corridor, a boat tour of the Port of Los Angeles and a tour of the massive Costco distribution center in the Inland Empire, Wolff said. Teo Wickland, a Ph.D. student in urban planning at Luskin, and Katy McNamara, a doctoral candidate in environmental health sciences at UCLA, served as teaching assistants for the course, which also serves as the capstone project for Luskin MURP students.
In addition, at the Community Scholars weekly meetings held at the UCLA Downtown Labor Center, the group heard from experts, organizations and activists concerned about the impact and future of goods movement in the region. “The participants from community organizations also brought their values and environmental, community, labor union and institutional experiences so that we had shared learning and research,” Wolff said.
Student team members who participated in the project were Adriana Quiquivix, Ariana Vito, Diana Benitez, Dylan Sittig, Edber Macedo, Evan Moorman, Gabriel Gutierrez, Kate Bridges, Lindsey Jagoe, Meghmik Babakhanian, Michael Barrita-Diaz, Saly Heng, Sam Appel and Stephanie Tsai.
Bio information on 2016 Community Scholars team may be found in the full report.
The winners of the 2017 awards will be recognized May 9 at the APA/AICP Annual Meeting and Leadership Honors event held in conjunction with the 2017 National Planning Conference in New York, N.Y.
A full list of winners is available here.
By Les Dunseith
Working together from a restored 1920s office building in the heart of a city they are helping to revitalize, three graduates of the UCLA Luskin Urban Planning program are fulfilling a shared vision of diversity and innovation.
Their goal? Change the world.
“UCLA, when we went there — and I think it is still the case today — is really about integration,” says Jennifer LeSar MA UP ’92, one of the founding partners of Estolano LeSar Perez Advisors. “You are not just a transportation planner or an affordable housing person or an environmental planner. You understand the integration of it all.”
The company, which provides strategic counsel to public agencies, foundations, business associations and civic organizations, reflects the partners’ deep respect for each other, a bond that first formed about three decades ago for LeSar and her close friend and company co-founder Cecilia V. Estolano MA UP ’91. Through professional interactions, they later met their third business partner, Katherine Perez-Estolano MA UP ’97, and her values were closely aligned.
“We knew that there were diverse people of color who were anxious to make a difference,” says Perez-Estolano.
ELP Advisors and its sister firm, San Diego-based LeSar Development Consultants, makes a point of recruiting smart, talented people who reflect the gender, cultural and ethnic diversity of Southern California.
“Every time I would go and meet with other people who had their own companies, their top folks were all white men,” Perez-Estolano remembers. “And I thought this is not the world that we are planning for.”
Their vision crystalized at UCLA — they cite faculty members such as Martin Wachs, Joan Ling MA UP ’82 and Goetz Wolff as key influencers — and their commitment to the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs remains a vital aspect of their personal and business interactions today. All three are active in alumni activities, and Estolano and Perez-Estalano have both served as Luskin Senior Fellows. They coordinated a visit by a delegation of planners from Panama a few years ago. Their firm also hosted a reception for Professor Ananya Roy when she first came to UCLA in 2015.
And the close association with UCLA has benefited the company as well. Three of ELP Advisors’ six full-time employees are also UCLA Luskin alumni, and the firm has employed a steady stream of interns from the Luskin School since its founding in 2011.
LeSar notes the “amazing talent pool at UCLA.” Estolano says their firms are a direct reflection of the “particular way that UCLA teaches students how to be urban planners. In order to be an activist planner, you have to have strong sense of civic purpose.”
Estolano continues: “The idea of building a company owned by three women with multiple core competencies in Southern California, the most diverse place in the country, based upon the graduate educations and work experience that we have had, and an ability to hire staff out of the institutions from which have come, was our vision then and still is to this day.”
Their many professional accomplishments contributed to the three founders’ decision to join forces at ELP Advisors. But there is a personal side to it, too.
Katherine Perez, a former Deputy to Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard, and Cecilia Estolano, the former chief executive officer of the Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles, married in 2013. LeSar’s spouse is San Diego Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, who served as Assembly Speaker from 2014 until March of this year.
The three also believe that their backgrounds mesh particularly well. “If you look at Katherine’s career, and my career, and Cecilia’s career, we have all worked in different sectors,” says LeSar, who also has an MBA from UCLA and is an expert in community development and real estate finance. Estolano, who is a graduate of UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law, has expertise in sustainable economic development and urban revitalization. Perez-Estolano, who in 2013 was appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown to the board of directors of the California High Speed Rail Authority, brings knowledge of transportation and stakeholder engagement.
They have a professional contact list — “a giant Rolodex” as Perez-Estolano notes it once would have been called — that few companies can match.
It has helped them land clients such as Los Angeles County, the Metropolitan Water District, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Goldhirsh Foundation. The latter is a great example of the firms’ strengths, Estolano says.
The Goldhirsh Foundation “wanted to completely change their approach” to philanthropy and orient it toward making L.A. the best it can be by 2050. The resulting 2050 Report “really put us on the map,” Estolano recalls. “And the folks we hired to do a lot of the analysis, gather the data and design the report, they are just top-flight. And they are still working with us.”
ELP Advisors takes pride in solving solutions that have stumped others. “We are just scrappy,” Estolano says, “and resourceful. We are smart people, and we have broad-ranging interests. So, if a client has a difficult problem and they really can’t figure out how to get at it, sometimes they just give us a call and ask us what we think. And I say, sure, we know how to do that. We can figure it out!”
Success hasn’t always come easily, however. For one, they started ELP Advisors while the Great Recession was still dragging down the economy and hindering new projects. Then, just a few months after ELP Advisors opened for business, Gov. Brown dissolved the state’s redevelopment agency.
“We formed at a time that, in hindsight, was the worst possible,” LeSar recalls.
But they quickly adapted, putting their knowledge to good use to help clients adapt to the new reality they were facing. “So,” Estolano says, “we made lemonade out of lemons! What we thought would be a negative for us ended up creating a base for our company to expand.”
LeSar adds, “We learned some hard lessons, and that’s OK. You know, most small businesses don’t survive. Most women-owned businesses don’t survive. Most businesses of color don’t survive. And I don’t really know any other businesses today that are quite like ours.”
Each partner brings talents that complement the others. They say their success is based on hard work and smart choices. And it’s also based on staying true to their principles: Inclusion. Diversity. Gender equality. Community engagement.
“You live in our city, you live in our neighborhood, and you have a right to participate in these processes,” Perez-Estolano says about the firm’s commitment to getting involved at every level. “We had people who would understand how they could actually change the outcome by getting involved, participating on local city commissions, by running for city councils, by running for county offices or state offices. That was, to me, the pipeline of future leadership.”
A recent example of this commitment to the community is a project spearheaded by Estolano and Tulsi Patel MURP ’14, a senior associate at ELP Advisors. The L.A. Bioscience Hub and its Biotech Leaders Academy launched in summer 2016 to promote entrepreneurship training for community college students from underrepresented groups. The pilot program, funded by a grant from the Goldhirsh Foundation, introduced 10 students of color (six of them women) to professional opportunities related to a growing biosciences sector in the East Los Angeles area.
It’s another example of the three UCLA graduates’ commitment to open doors for people who might not otherwise get a chance to succeed. It also shows their dedication to the value of education, which underlies everything they do, including their advice to current and future UCLA Luskin students about what it takes to succeed.
“I think the core skills are in writing, research and quantitative analysis,” LeSar says. “And be a creative thinker!”
For Perez-Estolano, being adaptable is important. “The world changes rapidly today,” she says, “and you have to embrace that as a planner.”
Estolano advises today’s students to take full advantage of their educations at UCLA Luskin. “Your classmates are going to be your greatest network,” she says. “Do not turn your back on the school. Your school can be a huge asset for you, and even if you can only do a little bit, always give to this school.”
“It’s about changing the future,” she says. “If you have a commitment to keeping the school strong — to honor its mission — it will continue to graduate people that will change the world.”
By Stan Paul
For more than a quarter-century, a unique UCLA community outreach experiment has brought UCLA Urban Planning students, faculty and community stakeholders together to focus on jobs, wages, workers and many other important Los Angeles issues.
The Community Scholars — a joint initiative of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs’ Department of Urban Planning and the UCLA Center for Labor Research and Education — began with the first evening class in 1991.
“The very first class was a totally an experiment,” said UCLA Urban Planning instructor Gilda Haas. Haas and Urban Planning lecturer Goetz Wolff continue to teach in the program, and both have been a part of Community Scholars from the beginning.
Haas said it began with conversations on rethinking economic development in Los Angeles and “how the university could be more helpful to the community.”
Community Scholars has won the Landmark Award as the 2016 UCLA Community Program of the Year, an award recognizing UCLA programs that have made a significant impact in the communities they serve throughout many years of service.
Keith Parker, assistant vice chancellor of government and community relations, said that Community Scholars was selected because of the “longstanding commitment to economic and environment sustainability and the work of labor, community organizations in greater Los Angeles over 26 years.”
The Community Scholars program serves as part of a capstone project for 15-25 master of urban and regional studies (MURP) students each year. And, while the yearly two-quarter research seminar serves as a graduation requirement for the students, the program also recognizes the role the community plays in shaping development policy in L.A.
Past Community Scholars project topics have included manufacturing, banking, Walmart, home-care workers, immigration, green-collar jobs and the right to health in South Los Angeles. Although looking at industries in L.A., at their core, these topics focus on the human dimension and are “concerned about working people,” Haas said. For example, the project for the first year was Accidental Tourism, and it focused on the hotel and restaurant industry, specifically unions and workers.
The most recent project was dedicated to longtime Urban Planning professor Jacqueline Leavitt, who had served as the director of the Community Scholars program since 1999 until she passed away in November 2015. The most recent report was led by Goetz Wolff, “Delivering the Good: Strategic Interventions Toward a Just & Sustainable Logistics System in Southern California,” and served as the client project for the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy.
“Delivering the Good” focused on the movement and distribution of goods, via the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, and the disproportional negative impact on local communities, labor and the environment.
As for future topics, Wolff said, “They bubble up, issues that arise in the community. They all look at what will it take to improve L.A.”
Haas said that a number of students who have participated in the program have gone on to become research staff for labor unions and community organizations.
“People learn to appreciate, listen to and communicate with others,” Haas said. “This is a good role for a university and students.”
The award was presented Oct. 13 at the annual UCLA in Downtown L.A. reception at Los Angeles City Hall.