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.


 

Mukhija on Bringing Un-Permitted Housing Out of the Shadows

A Los Angeles Times editorial calling on city leaders to make it easier to legalize backyard homes cited research by urban planning professor Vinit Mukhija, an authority on the informal economy of un-permitted housing units. Accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, are a relatively easy way for Los Angeles to add more housing at a lower cost. L.A. had at least 50,000 un-permitted secondary units on single-family lots in 2014, according to research by Mukhija, author of “Remaking the American Dream,” a new book on the transformation of an urban landscape once dominated by single-family homes. While recent state laws have eased the process of legalizing ADUs that were built without a permit, regulations in the city of Los Angeles continue to be complicated, time-consuming and expensive, the editorial maintained. It urged city leaders to do everything in their power to help property owners bring their un-permitted units and tenants out of the shadows.


 

New Book by Mukhija Redefines Single-Family Living and the American Dream

A new book by urban planning professor Vinit Mukhija tracks the evolution of single-family living, once held up as an expression of American individuality and prosperity but now under reexamination as homeowners modify their property in response to economic, social and cultural demands. In “Remaking the American Dream: The Informal and Formal Transformation of Single-Family Housing Cities,” published by MIT Press, Mukhija uses Los Angeles as a case study and includes lessons from Santa Cruz, Seattle, Portland, Minneapolis and Vancouver. Across the U.S. and in other countries, homeowners are building backyard cottages, converting garages, basements and recreation rooms, and carving out independent dwellings from their homes to increase and diversify the housing supply. In addition to such un-permitted “informal housing,” some governments are modifying once-rigid land-use regulations to encourage the construction of additional units on lots formerly zoned for a single home. These trends have resulted in a transformation of both the urban landscape and the American psyche, Mukhija writes. He urges planners, urban designers, and local and state elected officials to broaden their thinking on housing options, particularly for disadvantaged groups. “After almost a century of public policy and cultural support for an ideology of single-family housing homeownership, there is a growing recognition that the social, economic and environmental cost of single-family living may outweigh its benefits,” Mukhija writes. “I see the potential for a more open, diverse, just and sustainable American city.”


 

Mukhija, González on Legalizing Informal Housing Units

Urban Planning Professor Vinit Mukhija and Latino Policy and Politics Initiative research director Silvia González were featured in a New York Times article about the prevalence of informal housing units nationwide. The affordable housing crisis has prompted people of every income level to decide to build themselves, creating a vast informal housing market that accounts for millions of units. “This is one of the most significant sources of affordable housing in the country,” Mukhija said. Priced out of many housing options, many renters choose unpermitted living situations that are unsafe or overcrowded, González said. Legalizing informal housing would make units safer, add value to homes and give tenants the security of a sanctioned unit, she said. González participated in research for the nonprofit Pacoima Beautiful that found that informal units can help combat gentrification by creating low-cost housing and allowing families to pool resources.


Mukhija on Shortcomings of Housing Relief

Professor of Urban Planning Vinit Mukhija spoke to the New York Times about the failures of the federal housing relief packages created during the COVID-19 pandemic. In response to the economic devastation caused by the pandemic, Congress created a $46.5 billion fund for emergency rental assistance, one of the biggest infusions in federal housing aid in generations. However, resistance from landlords and difficulties navigating the informal housing market made it difficult for residents to access aid packages, and much of the aid is unspent. The relief package did not account for informal and un-permitted housing arrangements, including subletters and roommates whose claim to their space often isn’t documented. “There’s a completely hidden story about how do we access millions of tenants that are in un-permitted units,” Mukhija said. In Los Angeles County, there are an estimated 200,000 illegal housing units, highlighting the contrast between the low-income rental market and the rest of the housing market.


Mukhija Highlights Difficulties in Fixing Unpermitted Housing

Urban Planning Professor Vinit Mukhija shared his expertise on unpermitted housing units in Los Angeles on KPCC’s “Take Two” and in an LAist article. In 2019, there were more than 2,700 violations associated with unpermitted housing, but citations for these units plummeted during the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving tenants in unsafe living conditions. “Unpermitted housing is very common in the city of L.A.,” Mukhija said. “People end up in illegal units because public housing assistance is extremely limited and L.A. wages haven’t kept up with skyrocketing rents for legal units.” Mukhija said many people end up “living wherever they can find housing they can afford.” The Unpermitted Dwelling Units program, created to bring units up to code, has failed to make a large difference. “I am very happy that instead of shutting down the units, the city is trying to preserve them,” Mukhija told “Take Two” in a segment beginning at minute 22:20. “But this is a difficult task.”


Mukhija on New Backyard Homes Project

Professor of Urban Planning Vinit Mukhija spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the launch of the Backyard Homes Project, a new initiative that aims to address the affordable housing crisis in Los Angeles. Accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, are becoming more popular since state regulations have eased. The Backyard Homes Project, led by the nonprofit LA Más, aims to provide homeowners with affordable design and construction of ADUs if they agree to rent the units to Section 8 voucher holders for at least five years. The goal of the program is to confront high housing prices by making ADU rentals affordable and helping low- and moderate-income homeowners become landlords. “We are nowhere near running out of space for housing in most American cities, including L.A.,” said Mukhija, who also serves as a board member at LA Más. He welcomed the incubation of new ideas in a city that’s long been known for advances in residential design. 


L.A.-Paris Connection Offers New Double Master’s Degree for Urban Planners UCLA Luskin's partnership with a top European university will allow graduate students to earn two distinct degrees in two years

By Mary Braswell

A new partnership between UCLA and a top European research university offers urban planning students an opportunity to earn two distinct master’s degrees in two years while studying in the global cities of Los Angeles and Paris.

Beginning in the fall of 2021, the highly regarded urban planning programs at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and France’s Sciences Po will join forces to offer a double master’s focusing on global and comparative planning and governance.

Students accepted into the program will be immersed in two thriving urban laboratories where perspectives on managing cities are quite distinct.

“The approach to urban governance in France and across Europe is very different from the American approach,” said Professor Chris Tilly, chair of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning. “This double master’s is a unique opportunity to learn how things are done in different cultures and to bring that knowledge to a range of global urban environments.”

‘There could not be a better two-city laboratory for learning how to become an urbanist today.’ — Professor Michael Storper

Students will spend the first year in Los Angeles, where UCLA Luskin offers rigorous training in urban planning, development and design with a strong emphasis on social, environmental and racial justice.

Year 2 will be spent at the Paris campus of Sciences Po’s Urban School, which takes a deep comparative and critical approach to public administration and the social transformation of cities. English is the language of instruction at the Urban School, which attracts students from across the globe.

Upon completion of the program, students will receive two degrees: a Master of Urban and Regional Planning from UCLA Luskin and a Master of Governing the Large Metropolis from the Urban School.

“By creating this dual degree, we get the best of both worlds,” said Professor Michael Storper, who holds appointments at both UCLA Luskin and Sciences Po. “Paris and Los Angeles are both world cities, but they couldn’t be more different in lifestyle and layout.

“Paris is historical, dense, public-transit oriented. And yet, the cities share many of the same challenges for planners, such as economic development, infrastructure, gentrification and housing, diversity and segregation, public space and climate change,” said Storper, a French-American citizen and resident of both cities.

The double master’s program is geared toward students seeking to work internationally or to bring a global perspective to urban planning in their home countries. And the opportunity to study abroad and build a network of friends and colleagues from around the world will be particularly welcome after travel restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic are lifted.

What sets this program apart from other international exchange programs is that it grants two degrees in urban planning, accredited in the United States and Europe, in the time normally needed to earn just one.

Across the University of California system, only one other similar international partnership exists: a double executive MBA program offered by the UCLA Anderson School of Management and the National University of Singapore.

The alliance between UCLA Luskin Urban Planning and the Urban School dates back to 2016, with the launch of a quarter-long student exchange program. To build on that relationship, a team from UCLA Luskin, including Storper, Associate Dean Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris and past Urban Planning Chair Vinit Mukhija, advocated for the double master’s program, which required approval from UCLA and the UC Office of the President.

By design, the program will be small and selective. The roughly 15 students accepted into each year’s cohort will complete coursework and internships integrating theory and scholarship with real professional experiences, preparing them for work in the public, private and nonprofit sectors in any region of the world.

Applications to join the program in fall of 2021 are due on January 31. More information is available on the UCLA Luskin website. 

“This program is a natural fit of two great universities and two great cities that are complementary in their differences,” Storper said. “There could not be a better two-city laboratory for learning how to become an urbanist today.”

A Celebration of the Extraordinary Amid once-in-a-lifetime circumstances, UCLA Luskin honors the Class of 2020

By Les Dunseith

It was a UCLA Luskin commencement ceremony unlike any other — delivered remotely by keynote speaker John A. Pérez to honor 281 graduates scattered across the nation and around the world amid a pandemic. 

“Clearly, these are not ordinary times,” Pérez said in his remarks, which remain available online and had been seen by a total of 1,265 new graduates and their loved ones as of midday Monday after the ceremony. The impact of the COVID-19 health crisis was obvious in the virtual setting, but Pérez, chair of the University of California Board of Regents and former speaker of the California Assembly, also took note of the political upheaval that has led hundreds of thousands of protesters worldwide to march for racial justice in recent weeks.

“My message to you today is also going to be somewhat different than usual. It has to be,” Pérez said. “It has to be different for George Floyd, for Breonna Taylor, for Stephon Clark and Sandra Bland and Eric Garner. For Sean Monterrosa and Manuel Ellis. And for Emmett Till and James Chaney and countless others — known and unknown — whose lives have been taken by the systemic racism that is the original sin and ongoing shame of our great nation.”

The new social welfare, planning and policy graduates earned their graduate degrees in extraordinary circumstances at a time that UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura views as a pivotal moment in the country’s history. He congratulated the Class of 2020 and also noted the high expectations they carry into their futures.

“This celebration is partly about what you have accomplished, but it is also about what you have yet to do,” said Segura, thanking the new graduates “for all that we expect you to do with all that you’ve learned.”

The virtual platform incorporated several wrinkles that set the 2020 celebration apart from previous UCLA Luskin graduations. In addition to the recorded remarks by Segura and Pérez, video presentations from California Gov. Gavin Newsom and his wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, UC President Janet Napolitano and UCLA Chancellor Gene Block were woven into the online presentation that was made available to all graduates.

Other aspects of the ceremony were able to be customized for each of the three departments that awarded degrees. So, Chair Laura S. Abrams spoke to the Social Welfare graduates, Chair Vinit Mukhija addressed the Urban Planning Class of 2020, and Chair Martin Gilens offered advice and congratulations to the new Public Policy alumni.

Instead of the past tradition in which names of individual graduates were read as they walked across the stage at Royce Hall to be handed a diploma, this year’s graduating students got a few moments of dedicated screen time to themselves. Each graduate’s name appeared on screen as part of the departmental ceremony, often accompanied by a photo and a personal message of thanks or inspiration provided by the graduating student as a text message or a video clip — or both. And an online “Kudobard” allowed family and friends to offer messages of congratulations to the Class of 2020.

The presentations by the student speakers were also unique to each department this year. All three spoke of the memorable circumstances that they and their classmates experienced while wrapping up their graduate degrees during such an extraordinary time in history.

“No one wanted this. No one wants to live in this type of world,” said Social Welfare speaker Akinyi Shapiro, who views her graduation as a time for both celebration and reflection. “Listen to those who are being attacked for nothing other than the color of their skin. Decide who we want to be as social workers, how we’re going to change our communities and commit to anti-oppressive practices that will make this country better.”

Amy Zhou noted that the stay-at-home order in Los Angeles took place just as the winter quarter was winding up at UCLA. “We had no idea that the last time my classmates and I would see each other at the end of the winter quarter would be the last time that we would see each other in person as a graduating class.”

Zhou took advantage of the virtual platform to include a series of video clips that showed her and her classmates pledging solidarity in their dedication to practice planning in a manner that will uplift their communities. “When one falls, we all fall,” they conclude, their voices in unison. “When one rises, we all rise.”

As with any commencement, the virtual ceremony was also an opportunity for the graduating students to acknowledge their mentors — the faculty, friends and, especially, family members who have helped them along their journeys.

Muchisimas gracias,” said Kassandra Hernandez of Public Policy during her commencement remarks. “Thank you, mom and dad, for all that you’ve given me — all the sacrifices you have made for me.”

Hernandez then addressed her peers. “You are ready to take on the world and cause some change because we all know that that’s why we came to Luskin — to cause change.”

In his keynote address, Pérez also spoke of change. He talked about his time as a leader in California’s government, pointing to accomplishments such as health care reform and the creation of the state’s Rainy Day Fund. That financial reserve had grown to about $16 billion by the time of the pandemic, he noted, helping the current Legislature and governor lessen the economic damage from the COVID-19 downturn.

In Pérez’s view, making a meaningful difference to society requires not only a vision, but perseverance. 

“As graduates of one of the nation’s premier schools for progressive planning and policy, you need to be among the leaders. Make ripples. Make waves,” he said. “Push yourself. Push the system. And when you think you’ve pushed enough, take a step, take a pause, and then push some more.”

In Memorium: Mickey Wapner

Mickey Wapner, former development officer for the UCLA School of Architecture and Urban Planning, died Jan. 22. She was 95. During her tenure at UCLA in the 1970s and ’80s, the Texas native — who moved to Los Angeles in 1946 — helped founding Dean Harvey S. Perloff “build a financial support community for the new school,” said Martin Wachs, distinguished professor emeritus of urban planning. Urban Planning became its own department in 1969 and merged with what is now the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs in the 1990s. Its half-century will be celebrated this year. “She was a major figure in our history,” Wachs said, noting that Wapner left UCLA after her husband, the late Joseph Wapner, became an international celebrity because of his popular and long-running television program, “The People’s Court.”  “She wanted to travel the world with him for interviews and guest appearances,” said Wachs, who kept in touch with Wapner over the years. “Mickey Wapner was very special to our department, and she was going to be an important guest for our 50th anniversary,” commented Vinit Mukhija, chair of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning. “We were looking forward to having her there. She will be missed.”