Launch of New UCLA Luskin Initiative Is True to Its Mission Event celebrating the creation of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative brings UCLA community together with policymakers to share research and exchange information

By Les Dunseith

The newest research center at UCLA Luskin aims to bring together scholars and policymakers to share information so that political leaders can make informed decisions on issues of interest to Latinos, and its Dec. 6, 2017, kickoff event exemplified that goal.

Students, faculty and administrative leaders from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and throughout UCLA were among a crowd of about 175 people that also included elected officials, community activists, business leaders and other stakeholders who gathered in downtown Los Angeles to celebrate the launch of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI).

Attendees had an opportunity to hear keynote speaker Kevin de León, current president pro tem of the California Senate and a candidate for the U.S. Senate, talk about recent legislation on issues related to such diverse topics as labor, good government, the environment and education. He was then joined by a panel of experts in a spirited discussion of the current national political climate and major issues that directly impact Californians, particularly Latinos and other communities of color.

“In the great state of California, we celebrate our diversity,” de León told the crowd. “We don’t ban it, we don’t wall it off, and we sure as hell don’t deport it.”

In his speech, de León talked about the state’s efforts to deal with climate change, to improve education and to provide a safe haven for all residents. For example, Senate Bill 54, the California Values Act, which de León championed, creates a safe zone at “our schools, our hospitals, our churches, courthouses and other sensitive locations so our undocumented immigrant communities can live their lives and conduct their businesses without fear.”

De León declared, “If this president wants to wage a campaign of fear against innocent families, he can count us out. Because the state of California won’t lift a single finger or spend a single dime to become a cog in the Trump deportation machine.”

One of the goals of LPPI, which received its startup funding from UCLA Luskin and the Division of Social Sciences, is to provide better access to information — real data, not alternative truths — to help leaders nationwide resist attacks on immigrants and also help them to craft new policies on other issues vital to Latinos.

“It is impossible to understand America today without understanding the Latino community and the power that it wields. And this institute is going to do that,” Scott Waugh, UCLA executive vice chancellor and provost, told the crowd.

“It’s going to harness all of the intellectual capacity that UCLA has — it’s going to be truly interdisciplinary,” Waugh explained. The co-founders of LPPI — Professor of Political Science and Chicana/o Studies Matt Barreto, UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura and LPPI Director Sonja Diaz MPP ’10 — “have a vision that reaches not just inside the School of Public Affairs but reaches out across the campus in areas like health, education, science, the arts — wherever Latinos have made a difference and continue to affect change in a profound way.”

Darnell Hunt, dean of the Division of Social Sciences at UCLA, noted in his remarks that the founding of LPPI comes at a particularly opportune time in American politics. “It goes without saying that we live in challenging times — challenging political times — and the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative will help us make sense of this contemporary setting with an eye toward transformative solutions.”

Barreto, who served as master of ceremonies for the night, spoke about the scope of LPPI’s vision. “We’re not only going to work on immigration reform — we know that immigration reform affects our community and we will work on that — but we are dedicated to work on every policy issue.”

He added, “Whether it has to do with climate change or clean energy, transportation, housing, homelessness, criminal justice or education, we are going to work on that. And we have experts at UCLA who will join us.”

Many of the 20 scholars from across the UCLA campus who are part of LPPI’s faculty advisory council attended the launch event, which began with a networking reception at La Plaza de Cultura Y Artes near Olvera Street, the founding site of Los Angeles itself. As musicians from La Chamba Cumbia Chicha performed, attendees had an opportunity to meet and exchange ideas with the featured speakers and various former and current elected officials in attendance, such as Gil Cedillo, the former state senator and current Los Angeles city councilman. Also in attendance were former California assemblyman and senator Richard Polanco and Amanda Rentería, the former national political director for Hillary Clinton’s campaign and now a staff member in the executive office of California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.

The event wrapped up with a panel discussion and Q&A moderated by Lucy Flores, a former assemblywoman in Nevada who now serves as vice president for public affairs for mitú, a multimedia enterprise that targets young Latinos. Panelists said that bolstering the number of Latino elected officials has been a vital step in bringing about positive change.

“In the end, votes are what count,” Segura said, noting that Latino’s political influence has not kept up with its rapid population growth. “In order for governments to enact policies that benefit Latinos, it is going to be required that Latinos be a significant share of elected officials.”

Panelist Laura E. Gómez, professor of law at UCLA and former interim dean of the Division of Social Sciences, expanded on that idea in light of a recent wave of disclosures related to sexual misconduct by men in positions of power.

“I think it’s really important … for us to realize that Latinos are a diverse community. We are not just men; we are also women. We are not just straight people; we are also gay and transgender people. And those are important numbers going forward,” she said.

Flores summed it up, “Demographics is not destiny.”

The fact that California often seems to be an outlier in the current national political climate was a recurring topic of the night, with several speakers praising Californians’ resistance to the policies of the current U.S. president. Can the state also serve as a model of progress?

“Despite all of the discord and disunity, California is standing tall for our values,” de León said during his speech. “From education to the environment, from high wages to health care, to human rights, to civil rights, to women’s rights, to immigrant rights, California is proof positive that progressive values put into action in fact improve the human condition regardless of who you are or where you come from.”

De León said California is a leader in innovation — “home to Hollywood and Silicon Valley and the best public university system in the world, the University of California. And we are on the cusp of surpassing the United Kingdom for the fifth largest economy on planet Earth.”

The state is thriving, he said, by doing exactly the opposite of what Donald J. Trump says. “We succeed because we are dreamers, not dividers. We succeed because we double down on lifting people up, not putting them down. We are not going to allow one election to erase generations of progress.”

Photo by Les Dunseith

“I want to ask for your partnership, because this is what we need to do — we need to train a new leadership pipeline that is diverse but also represents us substantively,” LPPI Founding Director Sonja Diaz told the audience.

Saying that UCLA is “arguably the finest public institution in the nation, if not the entire world,” De León spoke enthusiastically of the promise that LPPI represents for elected officials such as himself. “We need the empirical evidence, and it’s about time we have this institution established at UCLA.”

Later, when speaking about climate change during the panel discussion, he expanded on the idea that knowledge equals power.

“California has the ability — if we have access to this type of information, this data — to export our policies to other states, even to red states that may not believe in climate change per se,” de León said. “We are showing that, whether you believe in climate change or not, you can actually grow an economy by delinking and decoupling carbon from GDP.”

Access to data is important, but it takes real leadership to turn information into action. “You can have all the academics in the world, all the data, but it doesn’t make a difference if it just sits in a book on a shelf,” de León said. “You have to take that data and move it with political power to actually implement it, execute it, to improve the human condition.”

Segura said it is his goal — and the mission of LPPI — to unite scholars and policymakers for mutual benefit, helping academics turn research into actionable policy.

“Facts do matter. Facts may not be a good way to sell people who don’t want to hear them, but lots of well-meaning elected officials want information,” Segura said. “One of the jobs of the institute is going to be to take the data out of those dusty books and put them in the hands of policymakers in a useful time frame so that policymakers can respond.”

The Latino Policy & Politics Initiative is a comprehensive think tank around political, social and economic issues faced by California’s plurality population of Latinos and other people of color. Anyone interested in providing financial support may do so through the UCLA giving page for LPPI.

Additional photos from the event may be viewed in an album on the UCLA Luskin feed on Flickr. Watch the video of our speakers and panelists.

 

 

 

 

 

Remembering the ‘Father of Urban Planning’ John Friedmann — renowned author, pioneer of theory and founding leader of UCLA Urban Planning — is remembered by colleagues, family and former students at memorial service

By Zev Hurwitz

The late John Friedmann is widely regarded as having pioneered the field of urban planning theory.

“Some call him the ‘Pope of planning’; others call him the ‘Father of Urban Planning,’” said Martin Wachs, distinguished professor emeritus of urban planning, during a memorial for Friedmann on Nov. 2, 2017. “He always chuckled and giggled about those labels, and he really didn’t take them seriously,” Wachs said, pausing and then lowering his voice. “I think, secretly inside, he really did.”

This mix of honorific praise, bittersweet memory and wry humor was commonplace as friends, family, former colleagues and Luskin students — current and past — joined together at the UCLA Faculty Center to remember Friedmann, who passed away in June at the age of 91. In addition to his work in urban planning theory, Friedmann presided over the founding of Urban Planning at UCLA in 1968 and served as its chair four times.

“While this is a memorial to celebrate John, it’s impossible to avoid feeling sad,” current chair of Urban Planning Vinit Mukhija said in his opening remarks.

Mukhija noted that Friedmann had remained close with the Luskin School of Public Affairs even after leaving Los Angeles in the late 1990s when his career and personal life took him to Melbourne, Australia, and then to Vancouver, British Columbia. At the time of his death, the department was hoping to have Friedmann return to Westwood to teach the Planning Theory course in the Ph.D. program, Mukhija told the crowd of more than 50 attendees.

“I think it would have been terrific for our doctoral students to have that, but unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be,” Mukhija said.

Mukhija, Wachs and others spoke of Friedmann’s elite standing in the field of urban planning. Friedmann wrote 18 books and more than 200 book chapters and articles. By themselves, his writings are cited more frequently than the aggregate works of any single planning program in the country, except for the Luskin School’s Department of Urban Planning.

“He was the intellectual force behind what we call ‘planning theory,’” Wachs said, noting that Friedmann also taught at MIT and in countries such as Brazil, Chile and Korea, as well as providing guest lectures at major universities around the world.

Friedmann’s accomplishments were many, but those in attendance also heard about a few of his foibles. Longtime love and wife Leonie Sandercock talked less of Friedmann the educator and more of Friedmann the man: “I feel so lucky to have spent 32 years next to this man, who I adored, and I struggled with and I rolled my eyes at, and I shared my life with. I’m happy that his life touched so many others.”

Sandercock and Friedmann fell in love while corresponding via handwritten letters as pen pals when Friedmann was at UCLA and Sandercock was in her native Australia. A highly accomplished planner herself, Sandercock said Friedmann’s intellectual acumen never waned. “He was still living fully,” Sandercock said of her husband’s final days.

Friedmann was often reflective, Sandercock said, telling of a recent encounter after a walk through nature, when Friedmann ticked off the “lucky things” that had led him to this point in life. Meeting Sandercock was one, she said with a smile. Being denied tenure at MIT was another — it led him to pursue career-changing research in Chile. And then there was the invitation from then-Dean of Architecture Harvey Perloff to come to UCLA and start the Urban Planning program.

In that instance, many of those in attendance felt like they were actually the lucky ones. Lucy Blackmar, assistant vice provost for undergraduate education initiatives at UCLA, recalled a phone conversation with Friedmann back when UCLA Urban Planning was in its infancy and Friedmann gave her the green light to pursue further education.

“I credit John Friedmann with my intellectual awakening,” Blackmar said. “Really, John was an educator, he was a thought leader, he was a global citizen, a man for all seasons and he had an insatiable intellectual appetite.”

Several other former students shared their memories of Friedmann during the memorial, including Goetz Wolff and Stephen Commins, both of whom later became Luskin urban planning lecturers. UCLA Luskin professors Ananya Roy and Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris also spoke about Friedmann, saying he had provided inspiration to them long before they actually had a chance to meet him in person.

Cellist Anne Suda played throughout a reception that preceded the sharing of memories, an homage to Friedmann’s own appreciation of the instrument.

***

To honor the legacy of John Friedmann’s contributions to the field of planning we have established the John Friedmann Memorial Fellowship Fund. Recipients of the fellowship at UCLA Luskin will carry Friedmann’s legacy as leaders and change agents in our world today. If you would like to make a gift, please go here.

Examining an Issue from Every Side Urban Planning students enrolled in Community Scholars and Comprehensive Project efforts work together to tackle problems of significant scope and complexity

By Les Dunseith

As the curtain lifts on another academic year at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, second-year Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) students enrolled in one of two group efforts begin to tackle a major planning issue from multiple angles.

Listening, learning, analyzing, synthesizing and debating, the students enrolled in the Community Scholars and Comprehensive Project options will unite by graduation time to produce a shared vision of how best to address a challenge of significant scope and scale.

Exactly how comprehensive are these projects? Here’s the tally from last year:

  • 29 Urban Planning students (now alumni)
  • 20-plus weeks of class instruction
  • 545 total pages (256 pages in one report, 289 in the other)
  • 172 charts, tables, illustrations, infographics and complex data maps
  • dozens of photographs (including a few shot by a drone camera high overhead)
  • hundreds of emails, texts, phone calls and face-to-face sessions

Both of these group efforts are popular among students despite the workload, said Alexis Oberlander, graduate adviser in Urban Planning. In fact, an application and acceptance process is necessary to limit enrollment to a manageable number of about 15 for each.

“Comprehensive projects are more realistic to what it’s like in a professional setting,” Oberlander said of the difference between the group efforts and individual client projects pursued by other MURP students. In the professional world, “You don’t really do anything alone most of the time.”

The group efforts are similar in scope, complexity and instructional approach, but Community Scholars and the Comprehensive Project have key differences.

Community Scholars is a joint initiative of UCLA Luskin and the UCLA Center for Labor Research and Education that has been tackling issues related to jobs, wages and worker rights since 1991. UCLA’s Department of African American Studies was involved in 2016-17 too, joining an effort on behalf of the Los Angeles Black Worker Center to produce a report that reflects broad social concerns: “Black Liberation in Los Angeles: Building Power Through Women’s Wellness, Cooperative Work, and Transit Equity.”

“The idea is that students actually get to take the class with activists from the communities who are trying to accomplish the same things but need the guidance of an academic program,” Oberlander said. “And the students need the guidance of activists. So they learn from each other.”

Conversely, the annual Comprehensive Project is managed solely within Urban Planning. The 2016-17 team prepared a report for the Urban Waters Federal Partnership, which was titled, “Lower LA River Revitalization: An Inclusive Approach to Planning, Implementation, and Community Engagement.”

From concept to completion, a typical Comprehensive Project can stretch over a year or more. Oberlander pointed out that students entering the Luskin School in the fall will decide just six months later whether to register for the next Comprehensive Project, which won’t wrap up until more than a year later.

Thus, now is the time for potential client partners to step forward. “You can come to Luskin and you can get really great research for a third of the cost to hire somebody,” she noted.

The end of an academic year is often a hectic time for Comprehensive Project students. For example, the final presentation to the Community Economics, Health, and Equity Committee of the Lower LA River Working Group was on June 8, 2017. A final (more comprehensive) on-campus presentation took place June 13, 2017, just two days before Commencement.

Public presentations are also typical of Community Scholars. On June 17, 2017, the students gathered at Holman United Methodist Church in South Los Angeles for a rousing public review and reflection on what they had accomplished together.

“It is phenomenal to have the privilege to spend 20 weeks in a room with other organizers and thought leaders who are every day experimenting and making change on the front lines for black workers and black working class families,” said the UCLA Labor Center’s Lola Smallwood Cuevas, the 2016-17 project director.

“We didn’t solve the black jobs crisis in this 20 weeks,” she continued. “But what we did do was create the opportunity for us to get closer, to build the relationships, to build an analysis that will help us shape and continue to hone those definitions and our work together moving forward.”

Their report, which like other student research from UCLA Luskin Urban Planning students can be viewed online, focused on three aspects directly related to African American workers in Los Angeles:

  • a curriculum on trauma-informed self-care for women served by the Black Workers Center;
  • a feasibility study for a cooperatively owned jobs services center;
  • a mobility study of the Slauson Corridor that paid particular attention to the intersection of Slauson and Western avenues, which a collision analysis found to be among L.A.’s most dangerous traffic locations.

Marque Vestal, a PhD student in history who served as a teaching assistant for Community Scholars, noted that the effort was about more than simply doing great research. While studying under Smallwood Cuevas, UCLA Luskin’s Gilda Haas and Gaye Theresa Johnson of UCLA African American Studies, the students examined issues of race, equality and empowerment through the black radical tradition.

“We suspected that something special would be crafted in that room because every week the laughter amid the planning got louder,” Vestal recalled during the presentation. “So we are here today to share that harvest of laughter and planning.”

“And there’s always the people who rise to the top with any group project who end up being the leaders,” Oberlander said. “They are usually the ones who are still working till August after they have graduated, making sure the client has exactly what they need.”

The instructor of the L.A. River project was Diana Varat JD/MA UP ’08, a planner and attorney who was part of the Luskin School’s adjunct faculty for the year. A rotating instructor approach is used for Community Scholars too. In 2015-16, UCLA Luskin’s Goetz Wolff led an analysis of the distribution of goods in Southern California that went on to win a national applied research award.

For the L.A. River project, students looked at gentrification, access and community impacts as part of their detailed analysis of the potential pitfalls of redeveloping the Lower Los Angeles River that runs through 14 cities from Vernon to Long Beach.

“As the potential of the Lower L.A. River becomes more clear, communities along the river are at a critical juncture,” said Alex Linz MURP ’17 during concluding remarks. “By committing to sustained community engagement and empowerment, river-adjacent cities have an excellent opportunity to showcase the Lower L.A. River both as a local and regional reflection of community pride.”

For 2017-18, the Comprehensive Project team will work with Distinguished Professor Emeritus Martin Wachs on the issue of transit-oriented development. Community Scholars will tackle homelessness and housing.

 

A Final Test for Policy Analysis Projects UCLA Luskin public policy master’s degree culminates in a public forum in which students present Applied Policy Projects on issues of regional, global importance

By Stan Paul

By necessity, the Master of Public Policy (MPP) students at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs quickly begin learning skills and tools to complete the program and prepare for problem-solving careers in the public, private and nonprofit sectors.

The students, working in groups, must clear one final hurdle to graduate: the Applied Policy Project presentation.  Each group has 20 minutes to impress faculty and peers by showcasing what they have learned during two rigorous years of study.

Each year, a diverse group of clients “hire” the students, usually in teams of two or more, to tackle real-world problems and offer actionable recommendations and feasible solutions.

“I think one of the exciting aspects of the APP is the variety of topics covered,” said Manisha Shah, associate professor of public policy and faculty coordinator of the program. “Because our students have a diverse set of interests and because we encourage them to identify their own clients, the result is an interesting variety of APP projects.”

Among this year’s clients were the Southern California Association of Governments, Covered California, Peterson Institute for International Economics and a member of the California State Assembly. Internal clients included a research center within the Luskin School, a professional program elsewhere on campus and the University of California’s Office of the President.

“The first-year curriculum of the MPP program is tool-driven,” Shah said. “What I mean by that is we try to give students a diverse set of tools — both quantitative and qualitative — that will help guide them through the APP process and ultimately go out into the real world and conduct policy analysis on issues close to their hearts.”

Shah said she was fortunate to advise a diverse set of APP groups this year. One group of students found that behavioral tools such as reciprocity and commitment devices should be implemented in schools to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables in an attempt to combat obesity. Another group helped improve the service delivery model of an organization in L.A. that tries to get at-risk youth into better employment opportunities. And another group proposed interventions and policies aimed at reducing displacement and gentrification in South L.A.

In all, 18 presentations were made. Luskin faculty watched and then asked questions that tested the students’ depth and breadth of knowledge and the thoroughness of their projects.

The range of projects is broad, including:

  • Local and regional issues such as investments in electric vehicle charging stations in Los Angeles and a rent stabilization ordinance to prevent displacement of low-income minority communities in South Los Angeles.
  • Statewide issues such as bail reform, insuring Californians, health care, access to water and juvenile justice.
  • National and global issues like mitigating the negative impacts of trade on employment in the U.S. auto industry and improving local-level governance amid decentralization reforms in the Ukraine.

A closer look at some of this year’s APPs follows.

Gender Issues in Engineering

Applying qualitative and quantitative methods to their study for the UC’s Office of the President, Traci Kawaguchi, Yuhan Sun and Eri Suzuki focused on the need for connections in their analysis of system-wide retention by gender in engineering at the undergraduate level. They initially determined that the retention rate of female engineering students was significantly lower than for male engineering classmates across the UC system.

Their faculty adviser, Professor of Public Policy John Villasenor, also holds an appointment in electrical engineering at UCLA. He helped connect them with UCLA engineering students, which led to interviews with aspiring female engineers.

Women and men had similar levels of academic performance in the first year, but the qualitative interview uncovered that “affinity groups play a key role in affirming engineering identity and belonging in the field,” according to the UCLA Luskin students’ written summary.

“I think the big thing that came up was just the idea of fitting in,” Kawaguchi said. “When you go into a classroom that is 80 percent male … it may make you feel that you don’t necessarily belong.”

Team members analyzed policy options based on anticipated effectiveness, cost feasibility and institutional feasibility, and they recommended support for female students based on a sense of community and belonging. Adoption of residential living communities and formal peer mentoring programs for female undergraduate students in engineering were also recommended.

 A Program to Help Plug-In Commuters

Another APP team focused on plug-in vehicles with a limited range on all-electric power that switch to gasoline-based power after batteries are exhausted. Specifically, the group studied how workplace charging stations in Los Angeles could increase the number of miles that vehicles travel without burning gasoline.

MPP students James Di Filippo, Mahito Moriyama, Toru Terai, Kelly Trumbull and Jiahui Zhang completed their project, “Prioritizing Electric Vehicle Charging Station Investments in Los Angeles County,” for the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG). Their model combined commuting data from SCAG’s transportation demand study with plug-in electric vehicle registration data, information on vehicle all-electric range, and point data on existing charging infrastructure locations.

The students found that nearly 6,000 plug-in hybrid commuters could benefit from workplace charging but currently do not have access. Full support of those commuters’ vehicles would yield about 76,000 additional miles driven on electric power each day.

The potential increase is concentrated in just a few zones. Di Filippo said that the group used a tool from the Environmental Protection Agency to identify zones that fall within disadvantaged communities that might require additional support, which were more than a third of all zones identified as having potential for investment across Los Angeles County. SCAG should direct additional funding toward those disadvantaged communities to ensure that the benefits are distributed equitably, the students said.

Di Filippo said that the APP process was challenging but rewarding. “I credit my teammates for pulling together quickly, conceptualizing and delivering a strong report that offers actionable information for SCAG’s electric vehicle charging infrastructure siting decisions in only eight weeks,” he said. “My team was fortunate to have the support of faculty and peers who were invaluable in shaping our thinking on key aspects of the report.”

Healthy Food for Children

Sarah White and teammates Sydney Ganon, Hiroto Iwaoka and Jonathan McIlroy examined behavioral economics for tools in nutrition education curricula. Their goal was to promote long-term healthy food choices and habits in third and fourth grade students in light of a growing recognition of negative health outcomes of childhood obesity.

“While the field of behavioral economics is still fairly new, we read a lot of the existing literature and had reason to believe that really low-cost interventions could potentially have large impacts on getting people to make better choices for themselves,” White said.

One challenge that behavioral economics has “rarely, if at all, studied within the realm of children’s nutrition.” That made evaluating different policy options more difficult. “We had to evaluate each policy option on our own,” White said.

The group’s recommendations bundled three potential behavioral tools that are cost-effective. Giving attractive names such as “power peas” to fruits and vegetables in the cafeteria would frame foods in a way that is appealing to children. Giving students something as simple as a sticker and thanking them for choosing the healthy option would promote reciprocity. Having students set goals for eating better would make them more likely to stay committed.

Ayappa Biddanda

Rocking his Comeback

For one student, Ayappa Biddanda, the final APP presentation was a long time in the making. In the early 2000s he left UCLA Luskin to pursue an opportunity that turned into a career in the music industry. He came back this year to do his final presentation — and thus finish his master’s degree.

Biddanda’s project evaluated the impact of an educational enrichment program called Rock the Classroom that paired local musicians with students in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Biddanda’s solo presentation on the final night of the APP program literally rocked the classroom with musical sound bites and his enthusiastic, informative and professionally presented argument that, in education, “art matters.”

A Fond Farewell

Wrapping up two decades of APP presentations, Mark Peterson, chair of the department, thanked the students for their efforts. “I really want you all to applaud yourselves,” he said. “The hard work that went into all of the presentations was obvious to us all, and we really just admire the time you put into all of this and the work that you did to put these presentations on a scale of professionalism that we like to see.”

The 2017 APPs ended on a bittersweet note, with Peterson acknowledging the retirement of a key player. Maciek Kolodziejczak is a longtime UCLA staff member who joined the public policy program when it was founded more than 20 years ago and has long coordinated the APP presentations.

“Sadly, this is the last time that this part of the APP program will be orchestrated, moderated and run by Maciek,” Peterson said.


From the UCLA Luskin Flickr feed:

2017 Applied Policy Project presentations

Martin Wachs Honored for Outstanding Research and Scholarly Work Urban planning scholar and transportation planner to receive UCLA’s 2016-17 Edward A. Dickson Emeritus Professorship Award

By Stan Paul

Martin Wachs

Martin Wachs has spent a life and career in transportation planning, but the emeritus professor of urban planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs doesn’t plan on hitting the brakes any time soon.

“I have had an extremely rewarding and long career, but I can’t quit now because urban transportation is facing its greatest challenges since the invention of the automobile,” said Wachs, who has been named a recipient of the 2016-17 Edward A. Dickson Emeritus Professorship Award at UCLA.

The award honors outstanding research, scholarly work, teaching and service performed by an emeritus or emerita professor since retirement. It also includes $5,000 funded from a gift endowment established by the late Edward A. Dickson, who served as a Regent of the University of California (1913-46).

Following a 25-year career at UCLA, Wachs continued his teaching and research at UC Berkeley and then at the RAND Corp. until his 2011 return to UCLA where he has continued to teach, conduct research, mentor, consult, and serve on numerous committee and advisory boards.

Most recently, he served as an international design competition juror for a remake of the historic Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan, N.Y. Wachs said he also has been invited to be a juror in a competition to design a new Gangnam Intermodal Transit Terminal in Seoul, South Korea.

Wachs said it’s especially rewarding to be able to share his many years of experience and learning with the Luskin School’s urban planning students.

“I have had the great pleasure of working on many complex real-world projects and bringing what I learned from them into the classroom to benefit my students,” Wachs said. “UCLA graduate students in Urban Planning were outstanding when I arrived on campus in 1971, but they seem to get stronger every year. I keep learning by working with the latest generation of emerging scholars.”

Wachs will receive his award May 10, 2017, at the annual UCLA Emeriti Association dinner.

UCLA Luskin Planning Team Receives National Award Project about age-friendly outdoor environments is honored by American Planning Association

A project by a team from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs about age-friendly outdoor environments has picked up another honor — this time an Achievement Award presented by the American Planning Association (APA).

The winner is among 12 Achievement Award recipients chosen by a jury of planners as examples of good planning work. The recipients are recognized collectively at an awards luncheon held during APA’s National Planning Conference, which is set for May 6-9, 2017, in New York City.

The UCLA Luskin project was designated as a silver winner in the category: National Planning Achievement Award for a Best Practice. It had qualified for consideration at the national level by previously being honored in 2016 by the APA Los Angeles Section, which recognizes the “best of planning” from cities, agencies and nonprofits to consulting firms and individuals.

Anastasia Louaitou-Sideris

“Placemaking for an Aging Population,” funded by the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation and the Archstone Foundation, was led by principal investigator and Urban Planning professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris. It provides information about the park needs and preferences of older, low-income adults living in inner-city neighborhoods.

Loukaitou-Sideris, who is also associate provost for academic planning at UCLA, worked on the study with Social Welfare professor Lené Levy-Storms and Madeline Brozen, associate director for external relations for the UCLA Lewis Center and the Institute of Transportation Studies, and program manager of the Complete Streets Initiative. Brozen is also an alumna of the Luskin Urban Planning program.

“Older adults represent a fast growing segment of the population, and U.S. cities are now beginning to realize the imperative of creating age-friendly environments,” Loukaitou-Sideris said in a previous story about the project. She said that while parks can offer many benefits to seniors, “if planners wish to see more seniors visiting parks, they should carefully consider their needs and tastes, and incorporate their voices in park design and programming. Our study seeks to do just that.”

Luskin graduate student researchers — and now alumni — for the project were Lynn Chen SW Ph.D. ’13 and Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) graduates Liz Devietti, Hannah Gustafson and Lucia Phan. Lia Marshall, a doctoral student in Social Welfare, also was on the research team.

More information about the UCLA Luskin project and a list of all 2017 APA award winners may be found on the APA website.

70 Years of Improving Workers’ Lives at UCLA UCLA Luskin's Abel Valenzuela, director of the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, reflects on seven decades of labor market research during a rousing anniversary celebration

By Stefani Ritoper
UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment

On April 11, 2017, more than 250 attendees gathered at UCLA’s Meyer and Renee Luskin Conference Center to celebrate the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment’s 70 years of work. In an evening with music, food and camaraderie, community and campus leaders reflected on the Institute’s long and storied history.

The theme of the evening was “UCLA’s Role in Workers’ Lives Today.” Institute director Abel Valenzuela, who is also a professor of urban planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, opened the evening by posing the question: In this divided political climate, what is UCLA’s responsibility to improve workers’ lives?

Part of the answer lies in the work that the Institute has undertaken over the past seven decades, Valenzuela said. For seven decades, the Institute has conducted timely and impactful research on labor markets and how work impacts workers and their families. Through the work of its units – UCLA Labor Center, Human Resources Roundtable and the Labor Occupational Safety and Health program – the Institute has created programing to improve workers lives, researching key issues such as worker health and safety, the minimum wage, wage theft and immigrant worker issues.

“It’s amazing that you’re still here,” said History professor Robin D.G. Kelley about the Institute’s long tenure at UCLA. He spoke about the work that IRLE has done to build the capacity of worker organizations, and what this has done in turn for workers’ issues in Los Angeles. “What you’ve been able to do is shift attention to low-wage, marginalized workers. It’s not just a position of defending labor; it’s a vision of transforming society.”

UCLA alumna Ana Luz Gonzalez MA UP `02 PhD `15  and political science student Fernando Antunez spoke about the Institute’s teaching program. Gonzalez talked about her research on day laborers and wage theft, and how this research has been pivotal in advancing policy and educational programs aimed at ending wage theft among low-wage workers. Antunez talked about how work and mental health are connected, sharing the moving story of his own family as they coped with his mother’s deteriorating health.

Keynote speaker and former labor leader Maria Elena Durazo described the importance of UCLA’s commitment to working families. “It’s working families that pay for public higher education,” she said. “They are the permanent donors of the public university system.”

Durazo emphasized that working people need to protect their ability to defend their rights because many laws are not enforced. She spoke of the UCLA Labor Center’s work, partnering with worker organizations on issues such as wage theft, as well as the role of the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration in preventing worker deaths on the job.

All speakers emphasized the hopefulness that the work of the Institute brings in this current political and economic era. “These are not dark times. These are bright times,” Kelley said. “And you’re shining the light.”

Autonomous Vehicles Are on the Way. Are Cities Ready? UCLA Downtown Los Angeles Forum on Transportation, Land Use and the Environment focuses on planning for the connected movement of people and goods

By Stan Paul

Autonomous vehicles, once considered science fiction, are quickly becoming a reality.

With the technology and testing of driverless cars and trucks progressing rapidly, private industry is investing. At the same time, planners and policy makers are confronting another challenge: How will technology, policy, governmental legislation and industry practices come together to make the potential benefits of autonomous transportation a reality that is responsible, equitable and good for the environment?

To address these issues, two UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs research centers — the Institute of Transportation Studies (ITS) and the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies — used their April 13, 2007 transportation conference to focus on the implications of autonomous vehicles. The 10th UCLA Downtown Los Angeles Forum on Transportation, Land Use and the Environment brought together speakers representing the technology industry, along with planning researchers, and practitioners in the government and private sectors.

This year’s downtown forum, held at the California Endowment Los Angeles Conference Center was titled, “Steering Connected and Automated Mobility in the Right Direction.” Speakers and expert panels provided a look at the policy aspects of ridesharing and driverless transportation, from liability and equality viewpoints to greenhouse gas emissions and infrastructure. The panelists also discussed how the anticipated disruption of autonomous vehicles might play out locally, across California and around the nation.

Lauren Isaac, director of business initiatives for EasyMile, a high-tech mobility startup, discussed how connected and automated technologies may shape the future.

“What the data shows is that there needs to be either a costs savings or a time savings” to get people to participate, Isaac said. “There needs to be some benefit to a user to make that decision. The good thing is because of the way technology is evolving there’s great potential for both.”

Governments also play a part by providing HOV lanes and infrastructure for a faster ride, she said. “I think those are the kinds of levers that both technology providers and government can pull.”

Isaac said that freight companies will most likely be the No. 1 sector among the early adopters. “That industry is really interested in this,” she said, citing a shortage of drivers and huge cost savings that could come from moving goods this way.

“On the passenger side, I think without question we’re seeing the best response come from the younger generation,” she said, noting that there is also significant interest from the senior and disabled communities. “That being said, the challenge is how do you transfer people in wheelchairs or if they need additional help? People still rely on humans to get into the vehicles. So there’s still a lot of issues to work out around the para-transit piece,” Isaac said.

Chris Ganson, a senior planner from the California Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, described some of the research he has seen. “The plus side here is — with a lot of this kind of thinking on automated vehicles — it’s really kind of this funny combination of research and futurism that’s going on,” Ganson said. “We’re extrapolating from our current experiences to try to figure out what things might be like in the future, and what we might need to do about them, but there is a lot of convergence in that thinking.”

Despite this, he said, “We have some tough things to do policywise and politically to receive these autonomous vehicles into our society.”

Ganson also said that it makes sense to be proactive while planning for the future. “While you’re repaving … or building a new transit system, adding the technology now saves 10 times the cost of putting it in later,” he said.

Maya Buenaventura, assistant policy analyst at the RAND Corp., provided a quick primer on common law, tort law and liability issues that would come with taking humans out of the driver’s seat, as well as product liability issues for manufacturers of autonomous cars and parts. There may be some uncertainty in the details initially, she explained, but many of the longstanding concepts of common law that apply to personal injury and property damage would also apply to autonomous vehicles.

“The outcome might not be optimal from a social welfare perspective right away,” she said. “Judges need to start thinking in the long term — what are the long-term costs and benefits — if this is something they’re just going to pick up as autonomous vehicles get introduced. But it is not clear that there are any better options.

“Another thing that we’ve come to realize is the identity of potential defendants isn’t going to be very different when autonomous vehicles are introduced,” Buenaventura added. “There’s still going to be, potentially, lawsuits against the driver, against manufacturers, against the component part manufacturers. And suits against these defendants already exist today.”

For Eric Shaw, director of the Washington, D.C., Office of Planning, “This question of why we want to be ‘smart’ in the first place is actually a question we haven’t answered yet. For us, it’s not just smart vehicles, it’s smart planning. We need to understand how to be smart.”

Shaw, a pre-Luskin 1998 UCLA graduate minored in what was then policy studies, said his city’s overarching commitment is to spatial and racial equity, which must be balanced with the goal of livability, new innovation and understanding urban efficiency.

“We are having crazy growth in our city,” Shaw said of Washington. “We’re a historic city, one of the oldest cities in the nation. We’re one of the most planned cities in the nation.”

With equity and access in mind, Shaw pointed out that the nation’s capital has a huge income disparity. He asked whether creating a system around pricing automatically creates a system that excludes the city’s low-income residents.

With this in mind, Shaw said that his department was looking at a number of scenarios for the city’s future.

“We’re not afraid to test; we’re not afraid to pilot. So we are looking at some of the best practices, looking at ideas of shared mobility and performance, and we’re not afraid to get it all right before we do that,” Shaw added. “We’re OK to test and take some risks, but with the same question right now — racial equity, spatial equity of land use of the built environment.”

Brian D. Taylor, professor of urban planning and director of both the ITS and the Lewis Center, pointed out the importance of addressing the issues covered in the forum.

“The presentations and discussion made clear that the rise of shared, connected and autonomous vehicles poses significant new challenges for transportation planners and policymakers, and in addition cast existing challenges into sharper relief,” Taylor said. “Addressing these challenges head-on today will help to ensure that we steer these new systems in the right direction.”

Getting Transportation Forecasts Right — as Often as Possible In 10th annual Martin Wachs Distinguished Lecture, Professor Joseph Schofer of Northwestern University says systematic learning from experience is vital when predicting the outcome of major infrastructure projects

By Les Dunseith

In the realm of transportation planning, significant time, effort and money go into the process of forecasting, but the gap between predicted outcomes and reality remains a persistent problem for many projects.

“Forecasts don’t always get it right,” said Joseph Schofer, professor of civil and environmental engineering and associate dean of faculty affairs at Northwestern University. Schofer spoke on the topic of forecasting the future during the 10th annual Martin Wachs Distinguished Lecture, held at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs on April 4, 2017.

The Wachs Distinguished Lecture features prominent and innovative scholars and policy makers who draw on many years of research and thinking in the field of transportation. Created by the students in honor of Emeriti Professor Wachs, the lecture rotates between UCLA and UC Berkeley, respectively.

This year’s lecture invitee, Joe Schofer, provided a wide-ranging view about forecasting – a prominent feature of transportation planning. In Schofer’s talk titled “When Forecasting Fails: Making Infrastructure Decisions in an Uncertain World,” he explained that learning to accept the inherent limitations of the forecasting process is a necessary first step in helping planners improve their predictions of cost, utilization, performance and impact.

“Don’t expect that the gap between predicted outcomes and reality is going to get really small,” Schofer told a crowd of more than 50 scholars, planning professionals and transportation decision-makers who came to hear him. “The world is changing at a faster and faster pace. And those big sources of uncertainty — sources of risk — often are outside the transportation system.”

Schofer’s lecture focused less on the shortcomings of forecasting than on “improving decisions by systematic learning from experience,” as Brian Taylor, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies and professor of urban planning, described the topic during his introduction of Schofer.

Schofer acknowledged the significance of the occasion during his opening remarks, taking a moment to recognize the presence in the audience of his “dear friend and colleague of a lot of years. This is not just another lecture. It’s me giving the Martin Wachs lecture,” said Schofer, who also cited Wachs’ “immeasurable impact on ideas in transportation, transportation planning, transportation policy and transportation finance.”

On Limitiations

In his lecture, Schofer focused on “what we can do in a situation where we don’t always get it right.”

For starters, he said, planners need to understand that they can never know everything there is to know about the dynamics of human behavior. It’s also important to keep in mind the rapid pace of change in today’s world.

“Changes that are going on right now literally make it impossible to forecast what the future is going to be like,” Schofer said. He pointed to examples such as the proliferation of cellphones, which enhance the speed of communication but negatively impact the capacity to do telephone-based polling research.

Schofer also pointed to other factors that limit forecast accuracy. “Data aren’t complete. There might be better models that we can use. Perhaps those models are not even available to us yet,” he said.

Although transportation experts are making strides and “using better and better data all the time, it’s not a calculus problem; we will not get infinitely close to zero error,” Schofer said.

He also noted that it’s common for forecasts to be impacted by unforeseen factors. For instance, major infrastructure projects often experience cost overruns and construction delays when previously unknown grave sites of historical or cultural significance are found during excavation.

On Being Grounded

Dealing with uncertainty may be avoided if planners make an effort to ground their projects firmly in the reality of previous experience. When forecasting a new project, planners must “ground that by finding out what someone else has experienced,” Schofer said.

The idea of looking at case studies and data related to past events is an essential element of evidence-based decision making, he said.

Some projects face the added complication of being based on visionary thinking — the “visionary ideas of interesting people,” he said. “It’s very difficult in a forecasting situation to go against that because you are dealing with somebody who has a firmly held vision, who is really committed to a particular idea.”

The goals of a visionary leader may outweigh an expert’s forecasts in the decision-making process, Schofer noted. The upside, he said, is that a diligent and resourceful planner can seize the opportunity in these situations to approach that visionary leader directly.

“You may be able to get his or her attention, which may be an opportunity to talk about a more realistic forecast,” Schofer said.

In most circumstances, however, it’s data that drives forecasting, and Schofer said he has seen some promising signs in getting access to better and more useful information.

Among the notable efforts he cited was a federal effort to mine existing administrative data, not to collect new information, to make better-informed decisions during evaluation of social programs.

In the medical field, he noted an effort known as the Cochrane Collaboration that is a loose confederation of people in medical research around the world who have an agreement to produce evidence-based information and to advocate for sharing of that information.

“A bunch of people around the world who have agreed to share data, agreed to work together, are bringing together data from a variety of studies to amplify the impact of that data,” Schofer said.

It’s a model that could easily translate to transportation planning, he said, an “opportunity to look at cases, to bring cases together, and to codify that.”

Schofer envisions a sharing of information among scholars, doctoral researchers, professionals and, perhaps, even journalists, in which information about the success or failure of infrastructure projects would be gathered into a database that could be accessed by “every one of us who wants to ask the question, “How well is this going to work in my town?’”

The shared data would be available for forecasters to evaluate, either analytically or qualitatively, and decide if there’s something useful from which they can learn.

For this type of case-based reasoning, it’s important to have a large dataset from which to draw conclusions. It’s also important for the cases to be kept up-to-date.

“The cases that we studied two years ago or 10 years ago, those are dead,” Schofer said. “We have to look at what’s happening right now.”

On Being Flexible

Given the limitations they face, Schofer said, it’s also important for transportation forecasters to be flexible in their thinking. In his lecture, he called this strategic incrementalism.

Think of it as hedging against uncertainty, he said, “getting ready for something different to happen that you didn’t expect to happen, and maybe putting some dollars against it, so that you are ready for it. So you can preserve future flexibility.”

In practical terms, this might mean erecting a building at a certain height but with the foundation and structure to allow it to become taller should the need for additional space later arise. It could mean building a bridge with one roadway but adequate architectural support to add a second deck later.

It means taking a long view when building major infrastructure projects, then monitoring, collecting data and watching closely to see how the new project actually gets used. If a project has design flexibility in the beginning, any future expansions can proceed at greater speed and at lower cost.

“We have to convey the notion of flexibility and adaptability and real options with the public and decision-makers,” Schofer said. “What you need to say is: “Let’s be a little looser about this, a little more flexible, to get what you really need.’”

Making better decisions in an uncertain world, Schofer said, involves collecting, analyzing and sharing as much data as planners can. Better information leads to better forecasting.

“In the end,” Schofer said, “it’s all about learning.”

 

Luskin Lecture Peers Into Future of an Aging America AARP’s Jo Ann Jenkins urges society to ‘disrupt aging’ with a fresh outlook on the nation’s increasingly older population — and how society must change as a result

By Les Dunseith

The number of Americans age 85 and older now constitutes the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population.

The second-fastest growing age group? Those age 100 and older.

The impact on society of increased longevity thanks to advances in medicine and healthier lifestyles was a centerpiece of a presentation by Jo Ann Jenkins, CEO of AARP, as part of the Meyer and Renee Luskin Lecture Series held Feb. 7, 2017.

Jenkins, whose bestselling book “Disrupt Aging” also served as the title for her lecture, talked about the necessity to rethink how we view the aging process in the years ahead.

“It’s not just about adding years to the end of life. It’s about changing the way we live throughout our lives,” Jenkins told a crowd of more than 200 people at Skirball Cultural Center. “Our ability to live longer, healthier and more productive lives is one of mankind’s greatest accomplishments. And yet we don’t see it that way. We often view it as a problem rather than an accomplishment.”

She urged the audience to think about a youngster they know today, perhaps a child or grandchild around 10 years old. Current research thinking predicts that child will have about a 50/50 chance of living to be 100.

She also noted that gerontology experts speculate that the first person who will live to be age 150 has already been born. “In this audience,” she joked, and the room erupted in laughter.

Her point, of course, is that increased longevity for a significant portion of the population not only impacts healthcare and public policy and the infrastructure of communities, but also the way people deal with the aging process and its impacts on their loved ones and themselves.

“The way people are aging is changing, but our attitudes and our stereotypes have not changed,” Jenkins said in an interview prior to the lecture. “I would like for us to be this ageless society. So that regardless of your age, you are judged on the quality of your mind and what you bring to the workplace, or what you bring into the environment. And that it’s not about being a particular age.”

Coping with the societal impact of the demographic reality is a challenge that “we find ourselves woefully unprepared” to deal with, said UCLA Luskin urban planning professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, who is also UCLA’s associate provost for academic planning. “Most seniors live in cities, but the cities are not really designed, planned or developed for them.”

New policies and approaches are needed to successfully adjust to an aging population. “Older adults are equal citizens who have a right to expect the same rights and benefits and amenities from cities as other groups,” Loukaitou-Sideris said. “This is not yet happening. The onus is on the people who are the city builders, the policymakers, the planners, the politicians.”

Because those are the types of people who work and study at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, hosting a visit by Jenkins was a natural fit. She is the CEO of an influential national organization that has about 38 million members over age 50.

The Luskin Lecture by Jenkins was also an example of a growing relationship between the university and AARP that was fostered by Fernando Torres-Gil, professor of social welfare and public policy, over the past few years while he served on the organization’s board of directors.

“UCLA is the premier university when it comes to geriatrics and the biomedical side of gerontology,” Torres-Gil said in advance of the lecture. “UCLA, as a university, has tremendous research strength in issues of aging.”

AARP is “beginning to understand what we can do for them,” he said about UCLA and its research, educational and planning capabilities. “In a nation becoming old and moving to majority-minority status, AARP needs to take a leadership role in responding to multicultural populations and the nexus with aging.”

People at UCLA in fields of study such as medicine, gerontology, public policy and urban planning “have an enormous opportunity to rethink the course of life,” Jenkins said. “If we are going to live to be 100, how might that change the way we educate — not only the youth, but all of us — throughout the lifespan?”

California and Los Angeles, in particular, present a perfect opportunity for organizations such as AARP to achieve a better understanding of the needs of older Americans from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds. One aspect of that effort is a $300,000 grant from AARP to help fund the research of faculty members such as Loukaitou-Sideris, whose studies of the public environment in and around cities have previously noted shortcomings related to the needs of older residents, particularly those in minority populations.

In a question and answer session that followed the lecture and was moderated by Torres-Gil, he asked for Jenkins’ perspective on diversity given the fact that so many of those entering old age are from ethnic minority populations.

“We at AARP have a huge role to play in showing how nonprofit organizations ought to be community partners at the local level,” Jenkins responded. “Our goal at AARP is to be in your life every day, concerned about the issues that are important to you, not just necessarily about what’s important to AARP. And that absolutely includes diverse communities all across this country.”

Not only are people living longer, but their expectations for quality of life are changing as well. This notion of rethinking what it means to grow old is one that Jenkins has championed since she became the leader of AARP in 2014, and it is the core message of “Disrupt Aging.”

“We ought to accept our age and feel good about where we are in life,” Jenkins said. “Among our members, many of them are not retiring. They might be leaving a particular job, but it’s to do something different.”

Still, she noted, American society is obsessed with age. When people are asked what they are most likely to lie about, age is the top answer. “But what if we could eliminate our preoccupation with a number? For example, what if we decided that middle age started at 65? What would that do to your own preconceptions?” Jenkins asked.

“It’s not our own aging that we need to fight against,” Jenkins said during the lecture. “It’s the ageist attitudes and perceptions that permeate society and play such a huge role in our culture.”

She acknowledged that aging does create challenges that older Americans wrestle with every day. “As we get older, many of us find things that we have always taken for granted more difficult to achieve,” she said. “Our wants and our needs change, but our environment does not always adapt to address those changes.”

In her view, the capacity to deal successfully with that reality is an issue that impacts individuals, governments and businesses in equal measure. “We blame ourselves. Instead of changing our environment to fit our needs, we bemoan getting older,” she said.

Efforts by AARP and by researchers such as Loukaitou-Sideris seek ways to make communities more livable for an aging population. Jenkins cited a research example that focuses on the fact that many older people have trouble getting in and out of a car.

“We attribute it to the weakening of the leg muscles and the loss of sense of balance rather than considering the inadequacies of a car seat that does not swivel and allow us to emerge straight forward rather than trying to slide out of the car sideways,” Jenkins said. “Car seats were not made with a 75-year-old in mind.”

The idea of refocusing our thinking to better accommodate an aging population also applies to communities and housing. Today, more people are living into their 80s and 90s and want to stay in their homes as long as possible.

“Basic access should be built into the homes, just like wiring and plumbing,” Jenkins said. “Living in a community with services nearby and having a home that accommodates our needs are tremendous assets for those of us who want to age in place.”