Urban Planning Professor Chris Tilly was featured in a Wave Newspapers article on providing support to minority businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. Even after the federal government launched programs to provide low-interest loans to small businesses during the pandemic, confusing documentation and inflexible standards have made obtaining loans a burden for many entrepreneurs, especially those who don’t speak English as a first language. “A major difficulty non-native speakers encounter in filing for a federal loan is in deciphering the technical financial language required to fill out the necessary paperwork,” Tilly explained. “If English is a second language for you, there’s all kinds of unfamiliar words, idiomatic usages and financial terms that might be understandable to the average English speaker but baffling to a person who is still learning English or using Google to make sense of the form.” The article noted that nonprofit organizations are stepping in to guide entrepreneurs through the complexities of accessing loans.
Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, was featured in a CalMatters article discussing how crowded housing exacerbates the spread of COVID-19. Neighborhoods with large numbers of people per household have about 3.7 times the rate of confirmed COVID-19 cases per 1,000 residents as neighborhoods where few residents live in tight quarters. “The problem has increased in the past decade as neighborhoods have gentrified, pushing rents to rise astronomically,” Lens explained. In some neighborhoods in Los Angeles, two in every five households are overcrowded. A report from the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy estimated that 365,000 households in Los Angeles County are at high risk of being forced out of their homes when the statewide freeze on evictions is lifted, which will push them into even more crowded conditions. “Absent some unexpected interventions and generosity … of course people are just going to be way less able to afford housing,” Lens said.
Fernando Torres-Gil, professor of social welfare and public policy, spoke to Ethnic Media Services about the health risks of staying in a nursing home during the COVID-19 pandemic. People 65 and older have been disproportionately infected and killed by the coronavirus, accounting for eight out of 10 COVID deaths in the United States. More than 43,000 deaths and 210,000 infections have occurred in long-term care facilities, accounting for about 40% of all COVID-related deaths. Torres-Gil said that many hospitals intentionally discriminated against elderly people in the initial stages of the pandemic, doling out scarce resources such as ventilators to younger people who had longer life expectancies. “Those who were older, those who have various types of disabilities were put at the back of the line, a clear example of ageism,” he said. Torres-Gil hopes to see a dramatic expansion of home- and community-based long-term care as a result of the pandemic.
Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor was featured in an EdSource article discussing the presence of police officers in public schools. Nationwide protests against police brutality following the killing of George Floyd have prompted a movement to rethink school safety and invest in hiring more counselors and other student support services instead of on-site police officers. “When schools instead invest in a heavy police presence, it can negatively impact school climate,” Astor explained. Police presence in schools has also been highlighted as the beginning of the “school-to-prison pipeline,” with Black and Latino students being arrested and disciplined at higher rates than their peers. “Militarizing and turning schools into things that look like prisons is not healthy for development. It’s not healthy for identity,” Astor concluded.
Public policy lecturer Jim Newton authored opinion articles in the Los Angeles Times and Politico dissecting the current debate on police brutality and misconduct. Newton recalled the L.A. riots in 1992, where “more than a dozen officers watched as other officers beat [Rodney] King into submission — a brutal attack that was overseen and directed by a police sergeant.” Newton argued that King was “the victim of police misconduct, yes, but also of a debased and racist police culture.” Similarly, he wrote that “when a Minneapolis police officer jams his knee into the neck of a Black man suspected of passing a phony $20 bill, that suggests misconduct; when three of his fellow officers stand by for more than eight minutes while the suspect pleads for help, that points to a cultural problem.” While some acts of police misconduct may be the work of a stray, misguided officer, Newton concluded that “one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch.”
Research by Urban Planning Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris was featured in an Age of Awareness article about the use of street art to combat gentrification in Los Angeles. Gentrification has turned areas like Gallery Row into flourishing arts districts with steadily rising rent while nearby areas like Skid Row have slid further into poverty, the article noted. To build a better community in the poor districts of Los Angeles, urban planners recommend increasing arts program funding and research for communities like Skid Row. A 2016 study co-authored by Loukaitou-Sideris found that spontaneous art events in Gallery Row and Skid Row lit up city streets “at a time when most Angelenos still avoided this downtown area because of its reputation for being dangerous and dilapidated.” The article argued that murals brighten concrete structures, create maintenance jobs and bring in tourist revenue. Research also shows that street art may decrease the amount of neighborhood graffiti.
Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, spoke to the Atlantic about the real meaning of “defunding the police.” In addition to dealing with violent crime, many officers are responsible for handling traffic accidents and low-level arrests. Modern policing often involves interacting with people showing signs of mental illness or alcoholism, but the article noted that officers are under-trained to intervene in these cases. Police also serve as “front-line workers for urban homelessness,” Lens explained. “A person who is unhoused interacts constantly with the police, but officers aren’t adequately trained to deal with the issues that those people are dealing with.” The article recommended that cities spend money on homelessness directly, instead of making police responsible for homelessness intervention in addition to other services. Programs in Eugene, Oregon, and Austin, Texas, have “unbundled” police services, instead dispatching medics and mental health counselors to homeless people or others in distress.
Fox 10 News in Phoenix spoke to Assistant Professor of Urban Planning V. Kelly Turner about research measuring how a person experiences heat. The interview, conducted during a triple-digit heat wave in Arizona, focused on a mobile weather station known as MaRTy, invented by Turner’s research partner, Arizona State University Assistant Professor Ariane Middel. The robot collects climatological data to determine “mean radiant temperature,” which “gives us a sense of how pedestrians experience heat, not just how the ground feels to the touch,” Turner explained. The research adds to the body of knowledge surrounding the urban heat island effect, which makes high temperatures in cities even more unbearable. Turner and Middel have been walking MaRTy around urban areas in Phoenix, Tempe and Los Angeles to help city leaders determine which areas would benefit most from increasing shade and planting trees.
Public Policy Professor John Villasenor wrote a commentary for the Chronicle of Higher Education arguing for instructional collaboration among colleges as online classes continue into the fall 2020 term due to COVID-19 concerns. At the same time, “colleges are facing unprecedented budget shortfalls,” he noted. Using the University of California system as an example, Villasenor suggested campuses with similar academic calendars could increase course availability for students and lower overall costs for colleges. “Large-scale intercollege instructional collaboration would benefit students by providing them with more options in choosing their classes. It would also broaden the reach of colleges by expanding the pool of potential students for each course, thereby reducing the chance that a course would be underenrolled,” he wrote. Villasenor cautioned that such sharing arrangements would not come without challenges, but added, “The biggest challenge of all would probably be overcoming the inevitable institutional resistance to such pooling of instructional and virtual classroom resources.”
Jim Newton, lecturer of public policy, spoke to the Washington Post about Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s approach to managing the city’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. Garcetti has made it a priority to be well-versed in all the numbers, he said. “I think the book on Garcetti, correctly, has been that he is smart, articulate, principled, kind of an incrementalist and cautious,” Newton said. “And so what I think all of that has added up to — up to this point, anyway — is a kind of steady but unspectacular time as mayor.” As pressure has increased to reopen the economy, Garcetti’s decision-making process has been driven by cautious reason. Newton explained that the coronavirus pandemic is “the sort of crisis well-suited to [Garcetti’s] strengths: He is smart, good with data, comfortable with science. There’s no blaming. There’s no ridiculousness. It’s very steady and even and straightforward.”