Jacob Wasserman, research project manager at the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies, spoke to Yahoo News about the state of public transit. Transit ridership was in decline even before the pandemic, due in part to expanded access to cars and the growth of ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft. During the pandemic, public transit plummeted overall but still served as an essential service for those without car access who didn’t have the luxury of working from home. “The pandemic showed that public transit is an essential public good, even if it’s not always profitable,” Wasserman said. Now, many once-frequent commuters are hesitant to return to public transit due to concerns about violence and crime. Even with decreased ridership, public transit remains essential to millions of Americans who lack access to other modes of transportation or for whom owning a car doesn’t make financial sense, Wasserman said.
Assistant Professor of Public Policy Zachary Steinert-Threlkeld spoke to Al Jazeera about the Chinese government’s censorship of Shanghai residents’ expressions of frustration over an extended COVID-19 lockdown. “Shanghainese must realize that other countries have adopted looser approaches to COVID, especially in 2022, and probably feel there are less severe policy options available,” Steinert-Threlkeld said. Millions of people were confined to their homes in April as part of China’s “zero COVID” strategy in response to the Omicron outbreak, an approach reminiscent of the Wuhan lockdown in 2020. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has clamped down on social media posts that challenged the harsh lockdown. “The primary goal of CCP censorship is to prevent large-scale collective action,” Steinert-Threlkeld explained. “The censoring is counterproductive if one thinks the goal is to prevent disgruntlement about the lockdown from spreading, but it is productive if it prevents upset individuals from coordinating action outside of their homes.”
Gregory Pierce, co-executive director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, spoke to Fast Company about new measures to conserve water in Los Angeles County. The current megadrought in the western United States is expected to last until 2030. In response, Los Angeles is implementing initiatives such as lawn-free landscaping, better capture of stormwater and new water recycling technology. While some have proposed desalination to increase the water supply, Pierce said the process is energy-intensive and creates concentrated brine that can be harmful to marine life. “Right now [desalination is] neither environmentally nor economically good enough to do, and I think we should do other things first,” he said. At some point, though it’s very controversial, the state may also rethink how water is used by agriculture, he added. Pierce said it may make more sense to grow produce in regions that get more rain than places such as the Central Valley.
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?”
Urban Planning Professor Evelyn Blumenberg was mentioned in a Chicago Magazine article about new approaches to commuting as the suburbs expand and jobs are decentralized. Especially in areas where mass transit is lacking or unreliable and driving is expensive, many commuters are getting creative with bike-share programs and other alternatives to driving. However, many of these alternative transportation programs largely cater to the upper-middle class and leave out low-income residents who need them most. The decentralization of jobs has led to many economic opportunities being located in the suburbs, which are often poorly served by mass transit. This makes job opportunities further out of reach for central-city residents with limited transportation options. Blumenberg found that car-driving residents of the Watts section of Los Angeles have access to an astounding 59 times as many jobs as their neighbors dependent on public transit.
Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare Jorja Leap was featured as a guest speaker on KCRW’s “Scheer Intelligence” podcast discussing the repercussions of the incarceration of women. “We tend to think about [people who are incarcerated] as men, [but] women are the fastest growing group of incarcerated individuals in the United States,” Leap said. Eighty percent of incarcerated women in the United States have children, so incarceration directly leads to the destruction of families, she said. Leap pointed out that “46% of incarcerated women are in jail because they can’t post bail — not because they have been found guilty, but because they are poor.” Once women are released from prison, they face a series of obstacles with virtually no support. “The need is great, but the services are limited,” Leap said. “In America, we’re in love with incarceration, and what we should be in love with are the families and the children of the people who need our help, understanding and support.”
Ananya Roy, director of the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy (II&D), spoke about her research on urban poverty from Los Angeles to Kolkata, India, as the featured guest on the podcast “J.T. the L.A. Storyteller.” Roy spoke of the expiring protections for people who have struggled through the COVID-19 pandemic. “It’s not that the pandemic is over. But COVID compassion is over,” she said. Roy also described II&D’s research partnership with activists working on behalf of the unhoused, which emerged after authorities in Los Angeles cleared an encampment at Echo Park Lake in March 2021 — “really a searing moment in L.A.’s collective memory,” she said. Roy described Los Angeles as a “battleground that makes visible the forced removal of people of color,” but she added, “L.A. has also been a place where communities have fought for their future. … That’s a very inspiring part of L.A. movement histories that continue until today.”
Associate Professor of Public Policy Chris Zepeda-Millán was featured in a USA Today article about the role of immigration policy in driving voters to the polls. Democrats are divided about ending Title 42, a public health order that allows U.S. border agents to expel asylum seekers to Mexico in an effort to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Zepeda-Millán noted that immigration alone is not what motivates most Americans, including Republicans, to head to the polls. “While many Americans don’t agree with immigration policies that separate children or detain families, those policies don’t drive voters to the polls, especially in a midterm year when voter participation is low,” he explained. Even if immigration is not a defining factor for voters, Zepeda-Millán added that it could still affect some voters’ decisions if the Biden administration doesn’t explain that it can repeal the policy to follow international and U.S. law, but also make sure the border stays orderly.
Director of the UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge Paul Ong was featured in a Los Angeles Times article about long-standing barriers to socioeconomic mobility in South Los Angeles. For decades, residents of South Los Angeles have faced lack of employment opportunities, housing and labor discrimination, and subpar education access. “If you look overall and compare it over a half-century, it’s rather depressing that we have not made the progress that people have hoped for,” Ong said, noting a particular lack of significant improvements in public education. Now, an influx of new commercial and residential development is threatening to displace current residents of the area. Ong’s research found that the racial disparities in income among South L.A. households are even more stark than in the rest of L.A. County. White households in South L.A. had a median income of $84,000, compared with $48,000 for Latino households and $36,000 for Black households.
Colleen Callahan, co-executive director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, spoke to ABC7 News about expanding access to clean vehicles in rural communities in California. Electric vehicles are an important strategy to reduce carbon emissions and combat climate change, but zero-emission car sales have largely been clustered in wealthier, urban areas. Many rural communities that would benefit from increased investment of clean energy lack the necessary infrastructure for electric vehicles, such as charging stations. “The same Californians who tend to live in communities most affected by air pollution — including pollution from trucks and cars and other kinds of on-road sources — they’re the same ones that you’d think should be getting the access to the clean vehicles, but that’s not always the case,” Callahan said. She also highlighted the importance of lowering the cost of clean vehicles through rebates and raising community awareness about the benefits of zero-emission vehicles.