Creating More Inclusive Cities Through Just Urban Design

“Just Urban Design: The Struggle for a Public City,” co-edited by urban planning faculty members Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, Kian Goh and Vinit Mukhija, includes writings by urban planners, sociologists, anthropologists, architects and landscape architects who focus on the role and scope of urban design in creating more just and inclusive cities. Published by MIT Press, the book seeks to strengthen “the potential of cities and city regions to foster inclusive urban public life” by envisioning how to deliver social, spatial and environmental justice in cities. Too often, the opposite is true — the concept of justice rarely appears as an explicit concern in urban design discourse and design practice. “Market-driven urbanism of the last decades has exacerbated injustice through privatization, gentrification, displacement and exclusion,” the editors say. By focusing on justice, urban design scholars and practitioners can reinvigorate their work and help create public cities that are attuned to power dynamics and attentive to the historically vulnerable and disadvantaged.


 

Right to Housing

At a time of mass homelessness, deepening tenant precarity, and the criminalization of poverty, housing justice movements are pushing for a right to housing in California. In this convening, current and former UN Special Rapporteurs on Adequate Housing provide insight and guidance on key elements of such a right, how such a right can be informed by an international human rights framework, and how such a right can become an actionable government obligation. In conversation with prominent housing justice leaders, they will take up questions such as: What does the right to housing mean for those without a right to recognized housing, notably unhoused communities? How can the right to housing address the effects of global financialization on housing markets and housing systems? Is there a vision of social housing that can be a core part of such a right? How might the right to housing remake highly unequal relations of property and land?

Featuring UN Special Rapporteurs on the Right to Adequate Housing:
Leilani Farha, 2014 – 2020
Balakrishnan Rajagopal, 2020 – 2026
Raquel Rolnik, 2008 – 2014

With commentary by:
Gary Blasi, Tenant Power Toolkit
Clarissa Woo Hermosillo, ACLU Southern California
Christina Livingston, ACCE
Pete White, Los Angeles Community Action Network

Chaired by:
Ananya Roy, UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy

Climate Disasters Are Intertwined With Policy, Goh Says

Kian Goh, assistant professor of urban planning, was mentioned in a KCET article about the misleading language surrounding extreme weather events. In recent years, harmful events including heat waves, wildfires and floods have been called “climate disasters,” and many politicians have pointed to them as proof of the dire need for urgent action to address climate change. However, some experts have argued that the focus on climate in the phrase “climate disasters” fails to acknowledge the role of policies that make certain communities more vulnerable to disasters in the first place. Goh explained that many disasters are “completely intertwined” with how cities are planned and governed, down to where neighborhoods were built in the first place. The international “No Natural Disasters” campaign rejects the idea that natural hazards are the sole cause of disasters and seeks to reframe the conversation around social and political factors.


Every Project Impacts Climate, Goh Says

Associate Professor of Urban Planning Kian Goh spoke to Architectural Record about addressing social inequities in the work of climate justice. “Almost anywhere we look, the places architects practice have histories of injustice,” Goh said. “A core part of our practice is to be accountable to the fact that these are not neutral places.” She explained that built-environment professionals need to be more attuned to injustices within their own ranks, as well as to the embodied struggles that have given rise to the climate-justice movement. “So how do we not talk over or otherwise speak for these front-line vulnerable communities?” Goh asked. “And what practices can we embrace that take their claims for justice seriously, at the same time as we need to do big projects fast?” Goh hopes that urban planners will be able to use their expertise to contribute to and advance these movements for climate justice.


In the Fight for Climate Justice, Let the People Lead Front-line communities are mobilized and making gains. It's a matter of survival, says advocate and activist Elizabeth Yeampierre

By Mary Braswell

In the fight for real climate justice, the smartest strategy is also the simplest: Listen to the people on the front lines.

That was the core message of attorney, environmental advocate and community organizer Elizabeth Yeampierre during a May 3 online dialogue with a UCLA audience.

“The path to climate justice is local,” said Yeampierre, executive director of the New York nonprofit UPROSE and co-chair of the national Climate Justice Alliance. “We don’t need people to helicopter in and determine what’s in our best interest. We know. And we’re really sophisticated at getting this done.”

Communities around the country that stand to bear the brunt of climate change are forging vast coalitions and getting results, she said.

“We’re organizing, base-building, getting policy implemented and putting down infrastructure. …  Big stuff that people think is not even possible is happening,” she said.

Yeampierre spoke about the trajectory of UPROSE, which came together in 1966 as a grassroots effort led by the Puerto Rican community of Brooklyn’s industrial Sunset Park. Now, she says, the nonprofit mobilizes residents of all races and every generation who are working to secure their own futures by restoring balance to the planet.

“It means returning the sacred to the mother,” she said, describing a distinctly spiritual and matriarchal dimension of climate adaptation. “Land, air, water, animals, plants, ideas and ways of doing things and living are purposefully returned to their original purpose.”

The movement is powered by young people of color motivated not by a “woke moment,” she said, but because “it was a matter of survival for them to organize.

“Climate change is like nothing we’ve ever experienced. We need to approach this with deep humility, and hold on to each other, share information and build from the bottom up.”

That has not been the approach of government officials, corporations and even the Big Green environmental organizations that use a top-down approach to drive the climate agenda, Yeampierre said.

“It’s easy for people to put a green patina on something … to satisfy their liberal guilt,” she said. “But you don’t get to speak for our communities. How dare you? …

“When you compromise justice, you’re literally compromising our lives. You’re basically saying how many of us can live, how many of us can get sick, and how many of us will die. And I don’t think that the privileged have a right to do that.”

Yeampierre’s UCLA talk was part of the University of California Regents’ Lecturer program and the Harvey S. Perloff Environmental Thinkers Series. The lecture was part of a weekslong commemoration of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning’s 50th anniversary, including appearances by several thought leaders on sustainability. Upcoming speakers include Robert Bullard of Texas Southern University, often described as the father of environmental justice, and Dolores Hayden of Yale University, a scholar of the American urban landscape.

Urban Planning faculty member Kian Goh, who researches social movements and climate change in cities around the world, moderated the conversation with Yeampierre. Goh is associate faculty director of the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, which co-sponsored Yeampierre’s lecture.

During the talk, Yeampierre stressed that the United States is at a crossroads as civil rights enshrined for half a century are under attack.

“Whether it’s our voting rights, our reproductive rights, or even our ability to save ourselves from the impact of extreme weather events … we’re here this evening because we know we’re in a moment of deep reckoning, and that the lives of our people are at stake.”

Watch the lecture on Vimeo.

Goh on Decolonization of Public Parks

Assistant Professor of Urban Planning Kian Goh was featured in a New Yorker article about the legacy of landscape architect Frederick Olmsted and the future of public parks in the United States. Olmsted, who was born 200 years ago, is regarded as the father of landscape architecture but has also been criticized for his work that displaced Black and Native communities. Goh explained that she uses Olmsted as an example of the lineage of urban parks — but one for which students swiftly see the limits. “Green space has a history of exclusion, even though the original ideals might have been different,” she said, adding that her students “don’t think that the ideas of folks like Olmsted stand the test of racial and social-justice critique now.” Moving forward, her teaching is guided by the question: “How do we decolonize ideas for public parks?”


Luskin Summit Takes On Global Climate Justice

Assistant Professor of Urban Planning Kian Goh led a dialogue about equity, grassroots activism and climate change in the Mar. 2 Luskin Summit webinar “Cities and Global Climate Justice.” Goh, who serves as associate faculty director of the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, started the conversation by discussing community-based activism in Jakarta, Indonesia. Eric Chu of UC Davis spoke about competing visions of the urban built environment and the power of activist groups to reimagine what their communities will look like through a lens of justice and equity. Hugo Sarmiento of Columbia University noted that, in Colombia, the main drivers of risk are social, economic, political and oftentimes racial exclusion from the housing market. “Residents have already been displaced by war and conflict, and now they are being displaced by the city,” he explained. Idowu “Jola” Ajibade of Portland State University said issues such as environmental degradation, homelessness, joblessness, and lack of access to sanitation and health care affect the way that climate change is perceived in the Global South, where many communities are already marginalized. “The ways in which people are challenging the system also helps us think about how we might transform the urban society more equitably,” Ajibade said. Kasia Paprocki of the London School of Economics and Political Science discussed how the transition from a rural to urban economy is seen as a necessary and even positive development, which dismisses the experiences of many of the individuals being displaced. Michael Fleming of the UCLA Luskin Board of Advisors was on hand to welcome the panelists.


Goh on Eco-Friendly Ambitions for Indonesia’s New Capital

Assistant Professor of Urban Planning Kian Goh was mentioned in a Science article about the anticipated environmental burden of Nusantara, the planned new capital of Indonesia. Nusantara will replace the overcrowded and increasingly flood-prone Jakarta, and planners are envisioning an environmental utopia, including green recreational spaces, eco-friendly construction and energy efficiency. “The big question, of course, is how and if they’ll achieve these ambitions,” Goh said. “Planning scholars are by and large skeptical of plans for smart or sustainable cities ‘from scratch.’” The construction of Nusantara could also have a significant impact on the ecology of Borneo, and the residents of the old capital Jakarta will continue to suffer from rising sea levels and flooding due to climate change. “Jakarta will still be the economic center of Indonesia … and still have to take on its social issues and environmental issues,” Goh said.


Global Mini-Summit: Cities and Global Climate Justice

LUSKIN SUMMIT 2022: Research in Action

This is the second of three sessions being organized by Global Public Affairs at UCLA Luskin as a Global Mini-Summit in cooperation with the UCLA International Institute to focus on policy issues from an international perspective.

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 2

Cities and Global Climate Justice

As climate change becomes increasingly urgent, cities around the world are making ambitious plans to mitigate its causes and adapt to its impacts. Too often these plans are unjust. Plans meant to adapt to climate change impacts or protect the city might do so only in unequal ways, or threaten to displace marginalized residents in vulnerable places. This online session led by author and professor Kian Goh of the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy explores how grassroots climate justice activists in cities around the world fight back against unjust plans, build power among their constituents, and propose alternatives for a climate-just future.

February-April: Additional online webinars on various topics, many with a global perspective.

End of April: Presentation by Zev Yaroslavsky of the Luskin School about the results of the seventh annual Quality of Life Index.

Notes:

  • Details about participants in the various panel discussions are being released as sessions draw near and will also be posted on the Summit registration page.
  • All events will allow for remote access. Any in-person presentations that occur will be planned in full accordance with the latest UCLA and Los Angeles County COVID-19 health and safety protocols.
  • Visit the LUSKIN SUMMIT LANDING PAGE for more information on future Summit sessions.

Goh Rethinks Emergency Preparedness

In an interview with Curbed, Assistant Professor of Urban Planning Kian Goh offered her input on developing climate adaptation plans to address increasingly frequent flooding in New York City. Nine years ago, Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc in the city, killing 44 people, destroying 70,000 homes and causing $19 billion in damage. New York City has had three major cloudburst-flooding events over the past two months, reigniting conversations about how to best prepare for inevitable future storms and flooding events. “It’s not a matter of resources, it’s a matter of planning,” Goh said. She highlighted the need to identify and address infrastructural inadequacies and rethink emergency preparedness. For example, the Dutch city Rotterdam has built “water squares” that serve as recreational spaces between buildings but can also be a place for stormwater during flooding events. “It’s about convincing engineers and maintenance crews and city budget officials that there’s a different way to do things,” Goh said.