Urban Planning Turns 50 Longtime observers say activist spirit of its 1960s creation still permeates the program

By Les Dunseith

Fifty years ago, moon landings made headlines, flower children flocked to Woodstock, and college campuses across the nation experienced sometimes-violent protest over issues such as the Vietnam War. As the turbulent ’60s gave way to the 1970s, it was a time of change. Unrest. New ideas.

And amid that backdrop of societal upheaval, the study of urban planning got its start at UCLA.

Donald Shoup, the longtime UCLA professor, was there to see it. Shoup had arrived at UCLA in 1968 as a postdoctoral scholar at the same time as Harvey S. Perloff, the founding dean of the new School of Architecture and Urban Planning, “who was a great figure in urban planning, of course.”

From the beginning, the UCLA planning program under Perloff reflected an activist ethos and a strong interest in equity. “I think that we look very carefully at income distribution and the effects of how any policy would affect lower-income people. We look at how to reverse that pattern,” Shoup said.

Jeffry Carpenter was also studying at UCLA in 1969, and he was among the first group of students to attain a degree in urban planning. “We were supposed to graduate in the summer of ’71. And some of us did,” Carpenter said with a laugh. “And some of us didn’t.”

Carpenter, who would go on to leadership roles as a planner for what was then known as the Southern California Rapid Transit District, the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency and elsewhere, said graduate programs in planning were rare at the time — almost unprecedented.

“The challenge was that in the field, there was a profession. People were selling planning services, and there were planner positions and there were planning consultants, but there weren’t planning degrees,” Carpenter recalled.

When people like him got those first degrees, “the thought was that it would be something really useful. But the challenge was nobody knew exactly what that was,” Carpenter said. “We were — both the faculty and the students — still feeling our way.”

Nowadays, Shoup is a distinguished research professor whose landmark work on parking reform has had broad impact. He left Westwood in the early 1970s to work at the University of Michigan but returned to UCLA to stay in 1974. A year later, Allan Heskin joined him on the urban planning faculty and continued until he retired as a professor in 2001.

Urban planning with a social conscience is important to Heskin.

“I have a history of being an activist,” said Heskin, who oversaw student admissions for some time. “And I always looked for activist students — people who had done things in the world.”

During his two-and-a-half decades at UCLA, faculty and student planners were active in changing the approach of Los Angeles and other local cities to issues related to land use and housing affordability. UCLA scholars were highly influential in Santa Monica political reform, for example, and Heskin remembers that an early graduate, Gary Squier, “almost single-handedly created the housing department” for the city of Los Angeles. Squier, who died in 2012, became the city’s first housing director in 1990.

“Getting the city of L.A. to take responsibility for housing people in Los Angeles was just a major change,” Heskin recalled. “The city’s policy before the UCLA faculty and students did their thing was to say that housing is a federal responsibility, and the city doesn’t do it, and is not concerned!”

Marsha Brown B.A. ’70, who was a manager in the urban planning program at UCLA from 1980 to 2014, said, “There has always been a history of activism.”

The planning faculty and students “are very passionate about what they believe in — whether it’s housing or traffic or diversity or women’s issues. There’s always been a political bent to it,” Brown said. “The goal was always trying to make cities better for the people who live in them.”

Vinit Mukhija, professor and current chair of Urban Planning at UCLA, has been on the faculty since 2001.

He thinks a willingness to defy expectations has been central to the program’s enduring success.

“We never accepted narrow limits of planning or narrow definitions,” he said. “It’s not just land use and transportation and housing. It is much broader than that.”

Somewhat infamously, the program was abruptly split away from architecture in the 1990s and placed into what became the current Luskin School of Public Affairs. But many aspects of today’s UCLA planning program were allowed to blossom naturally over time.

Shoup sees the willingness of faculty to conduct research with students as colleagues as a key to success.

“I think that’s one of the greatest strengths of our program — the collegial relationships between the faculty and the students, and the cooperative learning.”

As faculty have come and gone, the planning program has changed. For instance, transportation planning became more prominent over time. That importance stands to reason in a city known for gridlock, Brown said. “In Los Angeles, transportation is important, you know.”

Another big change has been the gender balance. Shoup gave a recent example — each year he meets with incoming students and tells them why they might want to focus on transportation planning. In his most-recent meeting, “there were 17 women and one man. The complaint at one time was that there were very few women in transportation. So society has changed.”

And the program itself continues to evolve. In time for the 50th anniversary celebration in May 2020, Mukhija said an expanded partnership with Sciences Po in Paris will have been approved. It will offer dual degrees from both universities in a two-year course of study.

Carpenter, who was there in the beginning, thinks future success in urban planning and society as a whole will hinge on continuing to foster the intellectual curiosity of young people.

“The faculty of the school have a very keen appreciation of the powers of perception and understanding, and more particularly also realizing they need to prepare the students to be effective and assume a role and to grow in that role,” he said. “That’s a very encouraging development.”

A Passion for Diversity UCLA Luskin showcases its programs — and its people — who are pushing for all voices to be heard on issues of public concern

By Les Dunseith

The social justice ethos and commitment to diversity that form the backbone of UCLA Luskin’s graduate degree programs were front and center during the fourth annual Diversity Fair.

Dozens of graduate student recruits came to campus in November for a full day of discussions and workshops. Key speakers included Dean Gary Segura and the chairs of each graduate department: JR DeShazo of Public Policy, Laura Abrams of Social Welfare and Vinit Mukhija of Urban Planning, all of whom are professors in their respective fields.

A highlight of the day was a panel discussion during which six alumni talked about why they chose UCLA Luskin and offered insightful advice about how the graduate school experience can help people with a passion for change figure out ways to turn their ideals into action.

“How do governments create safe spaces for immigrants? How do we improve the basic services that government provides so that it actually fits the needs of the people who are using them? All of those things were in my mind as I started the program,” said Estafanía Zavala MPP ’18, who is now project lead, digital engagement, for the city of Long Beach. “I feel like the program really helped me gain a good understanding of what was actually going on in the world and how to process it.”

Taylor Holland MURP ’19, assistant project manager at PATH Ventures, a nonprofit agency that works with the homeless population in Los Angeles, said that she chose UCLA in part because of its vast alumni network in Southern California. She said she met “great alumni by coming to events like this. We have super-active alumni who you can really tell are pushing for change in different systems throughout urban planning.”

Several panelists said that UCLA Luskin helped them to further develop a social justice perspective, and they talked about their own efforts to foster inclusiveness.

Ulises Ramirez MSW ’96 is a clinical social worker and therapist in the Adult Outpatient Psychiatric Clinic at Harbor UCLA Medical Center, and he said that mental health service protocols are too often developed only with English-speaking clients in mind.

“The community that we serve at Harbor UCLA is very diverse. We see a lot of Spanish-speaking clients, and my goal there has been to provide top treatment to monolingual, Spanish-speaking clients,” Ramirez said. “It’s an underserved population, and they have nowhere else to go.”

Christina Hernández MSW ’17, community accompaniment coordinator for Freedom for Immigrants in Santa Monica, said her clients come from immigration detention centers.

“They are asylum-seekers; they’re refugees; they’re immigrants. These are people coming from all over the world,” she said. “Our goal is that the documents that we have for English speakers, we also make available for other languages as well.”

The speakers noted that racial minorities and women have traditionally been underrepresented in some of their fields.

“I think our perspectives as folks of color are so important in transportation planning,” said Carolyn “Caro” Vera MURP ’17, who was born and raised in South Los Angeles and now works as a planning consultant. She makes an extra effort to encourage minorities to pursue planning careers.

“If you ever need anything, hit me up,” Vera told the prospective students of color in attendance at the Diversity Fair. “It’s hard to get into the field. It’s daunting. But we need you in that field.”

Wajenda Chambeshi MPP ’16, a program manager for the city of Los Angeles, noted that a lack of diversity in some professions starts with decisions by young people from minority communities about which courses of study to pursue.

“Some of these professions that we overlook make really, really important decisions about where funds are going to be allocated, how they are going to be allocated and, ultimately, who receives what. That’s why we need diversity,” Chambeshi said, “so when we graduate, we will be able to filter into those positions that are able to divert resources — or even just rethink how we think about planning and public policy.”

As “the housing person on this panel,” Holland talked about the ethnic component of the homelessness crisis in Los Angeles.

“We have 60,000 people on the streets in L.A. on any given night, and it’s largely a black crisis. We have 9 percent of the city that is black; 40 percent of our homeless population is black,” she said.

Holland said her focus is on chronically homeless people, many of whom are people of color.

“They are … people who have been forgotten about in every aspect of their lives and cannot be pulled up by their bootstraps. Looking at social justice and housing — it’s particularly in a crisis in L.A. right now,” she said, directing her attention to the prospective students of color in the audience. “And we need all of you guys to help out as you can.”

The alumni panelists spoke passionately about the advantages of being actively involved as students, and they urged attendees to build expansive personal and professional networks.

Vera said she battled depression during her time as a UCLA student and suffered a panic attack during an exam that threatened her opportunity to graduate. But friends helped her through.

“Always advocate for yourself. Create peer networks and check in on each other,” she said.

Noting that the pressures of academic life can be especially difficult for first-generation college students from disadvantaged populations such as herself, she continued: “You are more prone to having depression and anxiety when you come into a program that just doesn’t look like what you are accustomed to.”

Building a network as a student was important to Ramirez as well. He cited his involvement in the Latinx Caucus as a particularly beneficial connection, “and 23 years later, we still get together.”

Hernandez echoed those experiences.

“I am a first-generation daughter of immigrants, and navigating these spaces was very difficult for me,” she said. “So networks were a lifesaver.”

Hernandez ticked off the names of UCLA faculty and staff members who helped her as a student and remain close. “It was amazing to have people who look like me, Latinos, as advisors and as supervisors, who I could go to and say, ‘Hey, I’m stuck with this issue.’”

She continued: “That is the beauty of joining this school. Even after you graduate, you still have folks who are going to be there to support you regardless of the situation.”

View more images from the event on Flickr:

Diversity Fair 2019

Mukhija on Empowering Homeowners to Ease the Housing Crisis

Urban Planning Professor Vinit Mukhija argued for loosening restrictions on “granny flats” and other accessory dwelling units in a Sacramento Bee opinion piece co-authored with state Sen. Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont). As a result of legislative reforms that went into effect in 2017, applications from homeowners who want to build basement apartments, backyard cottages, garage conversions or upstairs additions are up across the state. These units, just one element of a broader strategy needed to ease the state’s housing crunch, are “the low-hanging fruit for cities seeking a quick and inexpensive way to increase housing,” the authors wrote. They urged Californians to support Senate Bill 13, which would reduce fees levied on homeowners, loosen owner occupancy requirements and strengthen state oversight of local ordinances. In addition to relieving the housing crisis, the authors wrote, “homeowners can generate rental income that provides much-needed financial security, especially for seniors who may be house rich but cash poor.”


 

Mukhija on Meeting Affordable Housing Needs

Urban Planning Chair Vinit Mukhija held a wide-ranging dialogue about affordable housing with state Sen. Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) on the podcast Then There’s California. Mukhija’s research focuses on informal, makeshift housing in the United States and abroad. He has studied slums, border areas and farmworker dwellings but noted that unregulated and unpermitted shelter is becoming more commonplace in cities and suburbs. Wieckowski has sponsored legislation to remove barriers to the creation of granny flats, garage conversions and other so-called accessory dwelling units. “This can be a very reasonable way of adding housing supply from our existing physical resources,” Mukhija said. In addition to addressing the growing demand for affordable housing, regulated accessory dwelling units can bring in significant property tax revenues, he added.


 

Graduating Students Seek Out Solutions Near and Far The capstone research projects that are now part of all UCLA Luskin programs tackle local challenges or examine issues that extend far beyond campus and California

By Stan Paul

Newly graduated Social Welfare master’s degree recipient Deshika Perera’s research project extended across the United States and as far north as Alaska.

Evan Kreuger helped create a nationwide database as a basis for his research into LGBT health and health outcomes to culminate his Master of Social Welfare (MSW) studies at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Perera and Kreuger are members of the first graduating class of Social Welfare students to complete a capstone research project as a graduation requirement for their MSW degrees. Like their UCLA Luskin counterparts in Urban Planning and Public Policy who must also complete capstones, working individually and in groups to complete research and analysis projects that hone their skills while studying important social issues on behalf of government agencies, nonprofit groups and other clients with a public service focus.

“It’s been fun; it’s been interesting,” said Perera, who worked with Associate Professor Ian Holloway. Her qualitative study examined the relationship between the Violence Against Women Act and nonprofits, focusing on programs that provide services to indigenous survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence on reservations and in remote areas of the U.S.

As a member of the pioneering class for the MSW capstone, Perera said that although the new requirement was rigorous, she enjoyed the flexibility of the program.

“I feel we got to express our own creativity and had more freedom because it was loosely structured,” Perera said, explaining that she and her fellow students got to provide input on their projects and the capstone process. The development of the requirement went both ways. “Because it was new, [faculty] were asking us a lot of questions,” Perera said.

“We strongly believe that this capstone experience combines a lot of the pieces of learning that they’ve been doing, so it really integrates their knowledge of theory, their knowledge of research methods and their knowledge of practice,” said Laura Wray-Lake, associate professor and MSW capstone coordinator. “I think it’s really fun to see research come alive and be infused with real world practice.”

Krueger, who also was completing a Ph.D. in public health at UCLA while concluding his MSW studies, previously worked as a research coordinator for a national survey on LGBT adults through the UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute. He said he had a substantial amount of data to work with and that he enjoyed the opportunity to combine his research interests.

“I’m really interested in how the social environment influences these public health questions I’m looking at,” said Kreuger who has studied HIV and HIV prevention. “I kind of knew what I wanted to do, but it was a matter of pulling it all together.”

For years, MSW students have completed rigorous coursework and challenging educational field placements during their two-year program of study, and some previous MSW graduates had conducted research in connection with sponsoring agencies. This year’s class included the first MSW recipients to complete a new two-year research sequence, Wray-Lake said.

View more photos from Public Policy’s APP presentations.

Applied Policy Projects

In UCLA Luskin Public Policy, 14 teams presented a year’s worth of exacting research during this year’s Applied Policy Project presentations, the capstone for those seeking a Master of Public Policy (MPP) degree.

Public Policy students master the tools to conduct policy analysis during their first year of study. In the second year, they use those tools to create sophisticated policy analyses to benefit government entities and other clients.

The APP research is presented to faculty, peers and curious first-year students over the course of two days. This May’s presentations reflected a broad spectrum of interests.

Like some peers in Social Welfare, a few MPP teams tackled faraway issues, including a study of environmental protection and sustainable tourism in the South Pacific. Closer to home, student researchers counted people experiencing homelessness, looked at ways to reform the juvenile justice system, sought solutions to food insecurity and outlined ideas to protect reproductive health, among other topics.

“Our students are providing solutions to some of the most important local and global problems out there,” said Professor JR DeShazo, chair of UCLA Luskin Public Policy.

After each presentation, faculty members and others in the audience followed up with questions about data sources, methodologies and explanations for the policy recommendations.

View more photos from Urban Planning’s capstone presentations.

Careers, Capstones and Conversations

Recently graduated UCLA Luskin urban planners displayed their culminating projects in April at the annual Careers, Capstones and Conversations networking event, following up with final written reports for sponsoring clients.

Many planning students work individually, but a cohort of 16 Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) students worked together to complete a comprehensive research project related to a $23 million grant recently received by the San Fernando Valley community of Pacoima. The project was the culmination of almost six months of analysis in which the MURP students helped the nonprofit Pacoima Beautiful, other community partners and government agencies prepare a plan seeking to avoid displacement of residents as a result of a pending major redevelopment effort.

“I think our project creates a really amazing starting point for further research, and it provided concrete recommendations for the organizations to think about,” said Jessica Bremner, a doctoral student in urban planning who served as a teaching assistant for the class that conducted the research. Professor Vinit Mukhija, chair of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning, was the course instructor.

View more photos from Social Welfare’s capstone presentations. 

MSWs Test Research Methods

In Social Welfare, the projects represented a variety of interests and subject matter, said Wray-Lake, pointing out that each student’s approach — quantitative and/or qualitative — helps distinguish individual areas of inquiry. Some students used existing data sets to analyze social problems, she said, whereas others gathered their own data through personal interviews and focus groups. Instructors provided mentoring and training during the research process.

“They each have their own challenges,” said Wray-Lake, noting that several capstones were completed in partnership with a community agency, which often lack the staff or funding for research.

“Agencies are very hungry for research,” she said. “They collect lot of data and they have a lot of research needs, so this is a place where our students can be really useful and have real community impact with the capstones.”

Professor of Social Welfare Todd Franke, who serves as a lead instructor for the capstone projects, said his students worked on issues that impact child welfare. Others studied the relationship between child neglect and involvement with the juvenile justice system. Another capstone focused on predictors of educational aspirations among black and Native American students. The well-being of caregivers and social workers served as another study topic.

Assistant Professor Amy Ritterbusch, who also served as a capstone instructor, said her students focused on topics that included education beyond incarceration, the needs of Central American migrant youth in schools, and the unmet needs of homeless individuals in MacArthur Park. One project was cleverly titled as “I’m Still Here and I Can Go On: Coping Practices of Immigrant Domestic Workers.”

“They all did exceptional work,” Ritterbusch said.

Aspiring Urban Planners Seek to Mitigate Gentrification Impacts in Pacoima Researchers study alternative living spaces in a community about to launch major development and infrastructure improvements

By Les Dunseith

For Silvia González studying for a doctorate in urban planning at UCLA is about more than learning how cities and communities can be better designed. It’s about promoting economic and environmental justice and housing equity, causes she is personally connected to.

González and her family grew up 20 miles north of UCLA in the working-class communities of Pacoima and San Fernando, spending several years in a garage converted to a living space without permits on a property owned by her aunt. Her family eventually moved out, and “later it was torn down, after inspectors found out.”

That result is “exactly what we don’t want to happen” in Pacoima, González said. “If it’s affordable housing, then how do we keep it?”

Fast forward to the past academic year, when González served as a graduate instructor for a comprehensive research project in which 16 urban planning master’s degree candidates in the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs spent nearly six months studying ways to make sure a pending major redevelopment effort in the community does not lead to displacement of the people already living there.

The research and final report were produced for a nonprofit organization known as Pacoima Beautiful, other community partners and government agencies. The research effort was a byproduct of $23 million received by Pacoima as part of a statewide grant process that is providing funding for development and infrastructure projects to achieve significant environmental, health and economic benefits in the state’s most disadvantaged communities.

“I think our project creates a really amazing starting point for further research, and it provided concrete recommendations for the organizations to think about,” said Jessica Bremner, a doctoral student in urban planning who also served as a teaching assistant for the class that conducted the research. Professor Vinit Mukhija, chair of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning, was the course instructor.

Pacoima is one of many places in Southern California in which many lower-income residents scrape by amid a housing affordability crisis by taking up residence in converted garages and other outbuildings, or in portions of homes that have been added or converted as places to be rented. One subgroup of the UCLA Luskin class utilized aerial images and walked the streets of Pacoima to catalog the presence of these types of living spaces, which are known as accessory dwelling units, or ADUs.

In the geographic area they studied, the team found that almost half of all properties included a secondary dwelling — often without the permits and inspector approvals to be considered legal. According to the project report, about three-quarters of the tenants pay less than $1,000 per month in rent. Almost half live in an ADU on a property in which the main unit is occupied by a relative.

On May 28, the team went to Pacoima City Hall to present its findings, which also detail the personal impact of housing instability on Pacoima’s residents. In their summary report, the researchers wrote that their research questions had presumed that the condition of individual housing units would be the defining characteristic of the tenant experience.

“We were wrong,” they wrote. “Tenants face a variety of good and bad conditions, but the most important factor influencing their quality of life was the relationship between the landlord and tenant.”

González said that Pacoima Beautiful and its partner organizations are committed to finding solutions to address possible gentrification and housing displacement before it happens in Pacoima. As grant awardees, the organizations are required to prepare and implement a displacement avoidance plan. González also works for UCLA’s Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, which had assisted Pacoima with the grant application and is now taking the lead in developing that plan. Pacoima Beautiful is responsible for managing it.

“I really love the way that it came about,” González said. “The decision to address displacement before it happens came from the community. The community is interested in taking advantage of the housing options that are already there and building on that.”

The research effort included one-on-one interviews, focus groups and site observations, with volunteers from the new UCLA Luskin undergraduate public affairs program helping with some tasks.

Some of the findings were surprising.

“I think everyone has these assumptions around accessory dwelling units … that they are only for the short term or for temporary housing, which we found actually wasn’t true,” Bremner said. The majority of residents living in ADUs in Pacoima do so for many years, the study found.

When they looked at how space is used, Bremner said researchers expected that the shared communal spaces common to ADUs would promote bonding among residents, but that was not the case. For example, a youth from a family of five reported sleeping on a sofa in the living room of one dwelling and rarely interacting with the 10 people in other families living in two other ADUs on the property.

This interviewee was among a number of high school youths who spoke to the researchers, and those survey participants provided detailed descriptions of their living arrangements.

“I think the stories of the youth were very impactful,” said González, who noted that most cope with the burden of schoolwork and the pressures of teenage life while living in stressful, overcrowded conditions.

The urban planning team also analyzed the willingness of property owners to sell or lease all, or part, of their land for the purpose of creating community land trusts, which acquire and hold land in the interest of promoting affordable housing by removing properties from the speculative real estate market.

As urban planners concerned about housing equity, the UCLA team tended to view the idea of community land trusts as a good approach. But, González said, the homeowners were “apprehensive about being a part of a community land trust in the way that we were pitching it, which was a community land trust that owns accessory dwelling units.”

Property owners were not interested in the idea if it meant the homeowner would be responsible for dealing with the tenants.

“But if there’s an organization that will deal with the tenants— that will be responsible for them — then [property owners] wanted to participate,” González said.

The comprehensive project was just one step in a long process for Pacoima, but both Bremner and González believe the results will prove valuable.

“From Pacoima Beautiful’s perspective, I think it changed their approach to organizing,” González said. “They are an environmental justice organization. And now seeing how important that housing is to their community, I think it’s going to change the way that they approach the project. And it is going to change the way they do future projects.”

‘Because of His Work, We’re Ready for This Fight’ Symposium honors urban planning pioneer Leo Estrada, a lifelong champion of equal representation

By Mary Braswell

The life and work of Leo Estrada, a pioneer in urban planning and a tenacious advocate for equal representation, inspired a daylong symposium at UCLA that examined demography, redistricting and the power of mentorship.

Estrada, associate professor emeritus at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, fought for voting rights, access to health care, and protections for elderly and minority populations until his death in 2018, just months after retirement.

The May 31 symposium and subsequent memorial gathering brought together many of those whose lives were touched by Estrada: fellow scholars, former students, family members, political figures and civic leaders who shared his commitment to social justice.

A keynote address about Census 2020 demonstrated how Estrada’s early strides in population research and his long service as an advisor to the U.S. Census Bureau resonate today.

“The history of the Census runs parallel with the trajectory of the Latino community and Leo’s career,” said Arturo Vargas, president and CEO of the NALEO Educational Fund, a national nonprofit that promotes Latino participation in civic life.

Calling the possible inclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 Census form a “virulent challenge to our values and principles as Americans,” Vargas noted that efforts to suppress the count of Latinos are not new.

“This fight began decades ago and with fierce opposition,” he said. “One of our warriors along the way was Leo Estrada.”

Vargas pledged, “We will not be rolled over. We will not be scared away. We will not make our community invisible. …

“Fighting for a fair and accurate census is to continue Leo Estrada’s work and legacy. Because of his work, we’re ready for this fight.”

The symposium, organized by UCLA Luskin Urban Planning and the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, explored the power of population studies to effect systemic change and explained the historical roots of today’s fight for minority-majority voting districts.

One panel focused on the importance of mentoring the next generation of leaders. To advance this goal, UCLA Luskin established the Leobardo Estrada Fellowship Fund, which supports Urban Planning students with financial need who are from backgrounds that are underrepresented in graduate education.

Estrada’s 40-year career was marked by innovation and leadership on and off the UCLA campus. He was one of the first scholars to teach courses about diversity and planning, and he helped guide the university as chair of its Academic Senate. In addition to his service with the Census Bureau, he was an advisor to organizations focusing on Latino empowerment, aging, health care, law enforcement and many other issues.

Following the symposium, speakers gave tribute to Estrada as a teacher, colleague, advocate, friend and family man.

Ivelisse Estrada described her husband as selfless, wise and patient with his family and “the ultimate professor” to his students.

“Leo was soft-spoken but the power of his words and his work were a catalyst for change,” she said. “Make him proud.”

Urban Planning Chair Vinit Mukhija harkened back to Estrada’s retirement celebration, saying he wished he had taken the opportunity to touch his colleague’s feet, a sign of respect in the Indian culture.

With this gesture, he said, “You get blessed. And in that blessing, the person who blesses you transmits their knowledge, their experience, their virtues. And I know all of us would love to have a little more of that from Leo.”

 

View photos from the symposium and memorial gathering on Flickr.

Demography, Redistricting & Power

Using Urban Design to Advance Justice Lecture series and book focus on access, dignity and democracy as the pillars of city planning

By Mary Braswell

A deep exploration of social justice as a guiding principle behind urban design will evolve into a book conceived by the UCLA Luskin faculty.

Over spring quarter, Urban Planning brought 10 prominent scholars to campus to shed light on public space in all its complexity. They spoke about the market forces, political calculations, environmental concerns and lifestyle trends that are transforming cities in Southern California and around the world, pushing some citizens to the fringe. And they offered frameworks for putting inclusion back at the center of urban design.

The speakers’ insights will become chapters in a book that shares the same name as the lecture series: “Just Urban Design: The Struggle for a Public City.”

“Cities are very much theaters of inequality, an inequality that has been increasing in the last decade,” said Urban Planning Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, who organized the project with Chair Vinit Mukhija and Assistant Professor Kian Goh.

“The larger question that motivates this series is whether there is anything we can do through physical planning and urban design to create more just cities.”

The speakers who came to UCLA as part of the Harvey S. Perloff Lecture Series and Meyer and Renee Luskin Lecture Series brought decades of experience both in scholarly settings and on the front lines of urban upheaval.

They included Setha Low, described by Loukaitou-Sideris as “one of the most prominent anthropologists and ethnographers of our time.” A professor at City University of New York’s Graduate Center, Low has worked with U.N. Habitat and other institutions to develop global social justice indicators for urban design.

“This is a really important moment in time,” Low said during her April 23 visit to UCLA. “There is a push to create a society, at a moment of great divisiveness, that is much more open and accessible and let’s say free. We need places to come together.”

She said one of her greatest challenges is communicating these ideals to the general public.

“We need to really explain how public space creates flourishing societies,” she said. “We need to really reach outside of ourselves and reach a much broader public so that they understand why it matters.”

The April 25 lecture by Harvard Professor Diane E. Davis was moderated by Goh, who noted, “The things that I learned from her, mostly to do with politics and scale, really informed the work that I do now.”

Davis, who earned her Ph.D. in sociology at UCLA and now serves as the chair of urban planning and design at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, raised foundational questions such as “What makes a city public?” and “What gives a city a robust democratic public sphere?”

“I’m really interested in the politics of how people and states interact or don’t interact with each other,” she said. “I think that is a really important framing for thinking about the best urban design.”

The notion that public space transcends national boundaries guided a May 1 talk by Teddy Cruz and Fonna Forman, professors at UC San Diego and partners in a studio specializing in urbanism, architecture and political science.

“We believe that the convergence of geopolitical borders, climate justice and poverty is ultimately the challenge of our time,” said Cruz, explaining a project the two had created for the U.S. Pavilion at this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale. Called “MEXUS: A Geography of Interdependence,” the presentation cast the border region as a shared space interwoven with environmental, economic and cultural connections.

Forman sounded an alarm about the “nativist mentality” that is moving into the mainstream, “legitimizing open racism that we haven’t seen since the middle of the 20th Century.”

“We see the San Diego-Tijuana border region as a microcosm of all of the injustices that neoliberal globalization has inflicted on the world’s most vulnerable people: poverty, climate change, accelerated migration, gender violence, human trafficking, slow suburbanization, privatization and so on,” she said.

Forman said that she and Cruz want to tell a very different story about life on the border.

“Our work reimagines the U.S.-Mexico border as a tissue of social and spatial ecologies, an amazing laboratory for political, urban and architectural creativity. For us, conflict is a creative tool.”

These other speakers also contributed to the series: Rachel Berney and Jeff Hou of the University of Washington, Alison Hirsch of USC, Kimberley Kinder of the University of Michigan, Matt Miller of the University of Pennsylvania and Michael Rios of UC Davis.

Loukaitou-Sideris, Mukhija and Goh will join the “Just Urban Design” lecturers in contributing chapters to the planned book, which has sparked interest from several publishers.

Collecting the insights of guest speakers in a single book is a model that UCLA Luskin Urban Planning has successfully used before. In 2014, Loukaitou-Sideris and Mukhija invited lecturers to contribute essays examining urban activities such as street vending, garage sales and unpermitted housing to create the book “The Informal American City: Beyond Taco Trucks and Day Labor,” published by MIT Press.

Stan Paul contributed to this article.

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View photos from the UCLA Luskin Lecture by Setha Low.

View photos from the Harvey S. Perloff Lecture by Diane E. Davis.

View photos from the UCLA Luskin Lecture by Teddy Cruz and Fonna Forman.

Blueprint editor Jim Newton, left, with panelists Vinit Mukhija, Christina Miller and Phil Ansell. Photo by Les Dunseith

A Moral Imperative to Combat Homelessness A dialogue on 'the most pressing problem in this region' draws in civic leaders, scholars and citizens

By Mary Braswell

Ending homelessness is a stated priority for legislators and policymakers up and down the state.

But it’s also a moral imperative for every citizen, one that will “define our civic legacy in the eyes of future generations,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.

“Homelessness is the most pressing problem in this region,” he said to open a wide-ranging dialogue hosted April 30 by UCLA’s Blueprint magazine. “Mere steps away from the dozens of cranes looming above the gleaming towers of downtown, we find Angelenos — our brothers and our sisters — in utter squalor.”

Blueprint is a civic affairs publication of the UCLA chancellor’s office and the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. The event drew about 100 people to Cross Campus, a co-working venue in downtown Los Angeles.

Joining the conversation were public officials and scholars on the front lines of the region’s fight against housing insecurity: Phil Ansell, director of L.A. County’s homeless initiative; Christina Miller, deputy mayor for the city of Los Angeles’ homeless programs; and Vinit Mukhija, chair of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning. Mukhija’s research focuses on substandard housing in the United States and abroad, and it was featured in the latest issue of Blueprint. Editor-in-chief Jim Newton, a UCLA Luskin lecturer in public policy, moderated the panel.

Stark numbers framed the conversation: “We have 52,000 people on any given night experiencing homelessness in the county,” Miller said.

To ensure housing security for all who need it, 560,000 affordable units must be built, Ansell added.

The discussion made clear that homelessness takes many forms. The chronically homeless may spend years on the street. Others find shelter in their cars or dwell in makeshift or substandard living conditions. Many drift in and out of homelessness due to precarious incomes and high rents.

Each of these populations requires a different response. And all of the proposed solutions require not just money, but time.

Miller said 10,000 “permanent supportive housing” units will be built over 10 years thanks to Proposition HHH, the $1.2-billion city bond measure passed by voters in 2016. These units are designed for people suffering chronic disabilities — a small subset of those in need.

For short-term assistance such as temporary rent subsidies and job training, both the city and county offer rapid rehousing programs.

“People haven’t always connected the fact that the homelessness crisis is a housing crisis,” Miller said. “We see our system get better at lifting people up once they become homeless and getting them back into housing as quickly as we can, but we’re not seeing progress because the tide is too strong.”

Mukhija advocated for interim steps to provide safe living conditions while more permanent solutions make their way through the system.

“I love hearing all the numbers about 10,000 permanent supportive houses, and I think that’s the kind of thing that gets people galvanized to vote for a proposition and that’s wonderful,” he said. “But I would like to see storage for the homeless. I’d like to see more toilets. … I would like to see money targeted for improving existing accessory dwelling units,” such as garages that can be converted into shelter.

Ansell spoke about the county’s expanding Safe Parking L.A. program, which will soon be the largest of its kind in the nation.

“Safe parking means a parking lot where a person who lives in their car, van or RV can sleep safely at night, where there is security and they won’t be bothered, and there’s [an outdoor toilet] or other restroom facility, and hand washing,” Ansell said. “I think that’s a very important and promising strategy, particularly in a community where over half of our unsheltered homeless population is living in vehicles.”

Another county resource is la-hop.org, the county’s homeless outreach portal. “Anyone in Los Angeles County — a resident, a first responder, a city employee, a business, a faith organization — can use it 24 hours a day” to reach one of nearly 800 full-time outreach workers, Ansell said. A homeless person who needs immediate assistance should find a phone and dial 211.

The county’s homeless initiative was bolstered by the 2017 passage of Measure H, a sales tax expected to raise more than $350 million a year to combat homelessness. However, Ansell said, “This is not a crisis that the county can effectively address on its own.”

Citing support from government, philanthropy, the nonprofit sector and faith organizations, Ansell said, “We have hundreds of organizations and thousands of people who are involved on a full-time basis as part of this movement, and hundreds of thousands of other Los Angeles County residents who care very deeply about bringing their homeless neighbors home.”

“Housing and the Homeless: A Crisis of Policy and Conscience” is the theme of Blueprint’s latest issue, funded by a grant from Wells Fargo Bank.

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Blueprint Panel: Homelessness

Man standing in unfinished garage

Garage Conversions Could Ease California Housing Crisis

Three UCLA Luskin-affiliated urban planning scholars co-authored a CityLab piece on single-car garage conversions as a way to ease the California housing crisis. The authors — Urban Planning Chair and Professor Vinit Mukhija, Distinguished Research Professor Donald Shoup and Anne Brown MURP ’14 Ph.D. ’18, an assistant professor of planning and policy at the University of Oregon — argued that homeowners should convert their garages into an apartment or accessory dwelling unit (ADU) to create more affordable housing in California. “Garage apartments create horizontal, distributed and almost invisible density, instead of vertical, concentrated and obvious density,” they argued. These units not only create more affordable housing but provide new avenues of income for homeowners and more secure neighborhoods, they wrote. “America can reduce the homelessness problem with a simple acknowledgment: Garages would be much more valuable for people than for cars,” the authors concluded.