Professor of Public Policy Manisha Shah and Assistant Professor of Public Policy Natalie Bau co-authored an article in Ideas for India about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health in India. Researchers conducted a large-scale phone survey across six states in rural north India to better understand how lockdown measures contributed to economic instability, food insecurity, and declines in female mental health and well-being. Bau, Shah and their co-authors found that strict lockdown measures, while necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19 infection, contributed to economic and mental distress, especially in low-income settings with limited safety nets. Gender norms and low availability of mental health services made females especially vulnerable. For example, roughly 30% of the female respondents reported that their feelings of depression, exhaustion, anxiety and perception of safety worsened over the course of the pandemic. The authors recommended that policymakers target aid, particularly access to food, to vulnerable households and women.
Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville was mentioned in a Smart Cities Dive article about New York City’s plans to implement congestion pricing. Vehicles entering designated downtown areas will pay a congestion fee on a once-a-day basis in order to reduce traffic. New York is currently holding public meetings to discuss the congestion pricing plan, and there will be a 16-month environmental assessment before it can go into effect. Despite local opposition, congestion pricing policies have proven to reduce traffic in other cities, including London, Stockholm and Singapore. “Empirically, from almost any place where we see congestion pricing, it increases transit ridership,” Manville said. Proponents of the congestion pricing plan hope to see increased use of public transit, better traffic flow and reduced air pollution with the new policy. Furthermore, revenue from the congestion fees will be used to fund transit projects throughout the city.
Director of the Los Angeles Initiative Zev Yaroslavsky spoke to the New York Times about the thriving Theatricum Botanicum located in the Santa Monica Mountains. The theater was started by actor Will Geer in the 1950s as a retreat for blacklisted actors who refused to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities about alleged communist activity. Yaroslavsky, who represented Topanga and helped win the theater arts subsidies when he was a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, called the theater a “civil liberties billboard.” Now, the outdoor theater continues to draw crowds in the Topanga area as many seek safe forms of entertainment during the pandemic. “When I think of Topanga Canyon and the Theatricum Botanicum, it’s a constant history lesson of what can happen even in a democracy like ours when people stop being diligent,” Yaroslavsky said. “The whole DNA of that theater is about eternal vigilance.”
Urban Planning Chair Chris Tilly was featured in a Vox article discussing labor shortages as many low-wage workers demand better working conditions. Nearly 16 million Americans quit their jobs between April and July, highlighting the mental and physical fatigue experienced by many, as well as the desire to improve work environments. “For a lot of people, it’s been traumatizing,” Tilly said. Essential workers in California experienced a 30% increase in deaths in the first 10 months of the pandemic, according to an analysis of public data. Many low-wage jobs lack benefits such as health insurance and sick leave, and the work itself can be physically and emotionally taxing. “People settled for that, but they weren’t necessarily thrilled with those jobs,” Tilly explained. He also pointed out that any increases in hourly wages are often countered by inflation. “The labor shortage giveth, and the end of the labor shortage taketh away,” Tilly said.
Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville spoke to KCRW’s “Greater LA” about the future of traffic in Los Angeles and the prospect of flying cars as a solution. Mayor Eric Garcetti’s interest in flying cars resulted in the creation of the Urban Air Mobility Partnership, which aims to release low-noise, electric aircraft by 2023. However, Manville expressed skepticism about the logistics of this new technology. “It’s just the beauty of technology that doesn’t exist yet. … You can say anything about it, right? It’s, ‘Oh, yeah, it’s gonna be affordable, and we’re gonna have this many vehicles in seven years,’” Manville said. “It just doesn’t work that way.” Manville was also featured in another “Greater LA” episode focusing on the cinematic inspiration for flying cars, from “The Jetsons” to “Blade Runner.” “If someone says, ‘We want to have less congestion and make it easier to move around,’ flying cars are a silly way to accomplish that,” Manville said.
Associate Professor of Urban Planning Veronica Terriquez co-authored an article in the Conversation explaining what white privilege is and why understanding the concept is important. White privilege is both the obvious and hidden advantages afforded to white people by systemic forms of racial injustice, the authors wrote. The police killing of George Floyd in 2021 ignited a wave of protests across the globe and intense discussions of anti-Black racism, including the concept of white privilege. The authors noted that “unpacking how whiteness operates to bestow privilege may allow us to understand how ‘others’ are systematically denied those same rights.” Critics have argued that “white privilege” is a term that “reinforces stereotypes, reifies conceptualisations of race, antagonises potential allies and creates even greater resistance to change.” However, Terriquez and her co-authors described the term as an important tool for advocacy to critique systemic racism and global anti-Blackness.
Associate Professor of Urban Planning and Public Policy Paavo Monkkonen spoke to CalMatters about the $500 million in state funding allotted by Gov. Gavin Newsom for affordable student housing. The housing crisis in California has also impacted students, and the funding is meant to help public colleges and universities build affordable housing or renovate existing property through a grant process. Monkkonen noted that the housing aid is a good use of state money. “Unlike grant money or financial aid, housing is a one-time expense that pays dividends because it can be used repeatedly,” he explained. However, experts have agreed that the $500 million package will not be enough to create all of the necessary housing units for public students across California. “A better system would be one in which there’s a long-term plan to grow the stock sufficiently that everyone that wants to live there, can,” Monkkonen said.
Professor of Social Welfare David Cohen joined the podcast “Courageously.U” to discuss mental health, medication and involuntary confinement. Despite advances in scientific research and medication, most indicators show that the burden of mental health in society has worsened in the last few decades. “Mental illness is not like any other illness,” Cohen said. “We don’t [actually] know what a balanced brain is.” As a 21-year-old clinical social worker, Cohen became interested in the social impact of psychiatric medication, including how medication contributes to stigmatization and stereotypes. “Besides being a scientific failure, the mental health system is a runaway commercial and cultural success,” he said. He explained that there is not enough research available on the side effects and consequences of psychiatric medication, especially in children. “Drugs sedate and quiet people, but we still don’t know if we are curing anything or even treating anything,” Cohen concluded.
Latino Policy and Politics Initiative Executive Director Sonja Diaz authored an opinion piece in the California Health Report about disparities in the American health care system. “The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed immense inequities across our health care systems, from coverage gaps to preexisting health conditions,” Diaz wrote. These inequities are felt most acutely by communities of color, she said, calling for urgent action to address the physician shortage and “diversify the field to include more doctors who share language, ethnicity and cultural norms with their patients.” Despite the diversity of the American population, communities of color remain underrepresented in health and medical occupations, which hinders physicians’ abilities to build trust with patients. “Expanding and diversifying our physician pool is a necessary infrastructure investment,” Diaz wrote. She suggested increasing opportunities for Americans to enter health professions by expanding federal scholarships and prioritizing students committed to serving in medically underserved areas for grant funding.
Assistant Professor of Urban Planning Liz Koslov was featured in a Katie Couric Media article about the growing threat of climate change. Many regions are already experiencing the consequences of climate change through frequent wildfires, long periods of drought, and increased frequency and severity of tropical storms. Rising temperatures and humidity have also prompted concerns about the health risks associated with climate change, including heat stroke and heat illness as well as exacerbation of chronic illness. While some changes such as rising sea levels are irreversible, there is still time to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report describing five different climate futures depending on human action to reduce emissions and shift away from fossil fuel use. “There’s so much action happening to try to really transform these conditions,” Koslov said. “If anything, COVID showed us the power of mobilizing on a vast scale.”