‘I See Our Future and It Looks Amazing’ Commencement speaker Janet Murguía urges UCLA Luskin graduates to use their 'public affairs nerd' superpowers for good

By Mary Braswell

As members of UCLA Luskin’s Class of 2019 walked across the commencement stage to receive their hard-earned master’s and doctoral degrees, each took on a new mantle: Advocate. Warrior. Watchdog.

And don’t forget “Superhero.”

“I believe being a public affairs nerd is in fact a superpower, one that if used for good can transform the lives of millions of people,” keynote speaker Janet Murguía told the 260 graduates at the June 14 ceremony at UCLA’s Royce Hall.

Murguía, president and CEO of UnidosUS, the nation’s largest Latino civil rights organization, challenged the graduates to put their educations to work in the world — a feat requiring determination, patience and resilience.

“Your degree and everything it represents can be a force for good,” she said. “We desperately need people with your talents to help us defend and build that more perfect union.”

The newly minted policy, social welfare and planning scholars and professionals are entering the workforce at a pivotal time, UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura said.

“The next 18 months are among the most important in the history of this nation. We face a critical time in deciding who we are as a people, what values matter to Americans and what our historic role is in human history,” Segura said.

“I want to thank you, perhaps prematurely, for all that we expect you to do with all that you have learned.”

Segura shared the stage with faculty members from every department, noting, “Luskin faculty engage the world as it is, to diagnose and hopefully help address our many challenges.” The hiring of 14 faculty members over two years and the fast expansion of the new undergraduate major in Public Affairs are just two measures of the School’s growth, he said.

Following the conferral of degrees, crowds surrounded the graduates at an outdoor reception, offering congratulations, taking photos and admiring regalia decorated with “UCLA 100 Years” to mark the university’s Centennial Celebration. Mortarboards showed off personal touches, often thanking families and friends who buoyed the graduates as they worked toward this milestone day.

Student speakers echoed that spirit of gratitude throughout the commencement ceremony.

Robert Gamboa of Public Policy memorialized his twin brother, Albert, who died seven years ago. “His passing was one of those crystal-clear moments when everything and nothing made sense,” Gamboa said. “But I knew then that I must double down my efforts to fight for social justice.”

Gamboa’s classmates represented different backgrounds and value systems, he said, “and yet we came together as one. We found something in common, something at our very core, something that led us here to Luskin to expand our knowledge. And that something has energized us, guiding us, creating a bridge to change — smart, systemic, lasting change that will save lives.”

Social Welfare speaker Gabriela Andreina Peraza Angulo told her classmates, “The world really needs us right now, maybe more than ever. Injustice, greed, inequity, racism, forces of discrimination, of violence, of exclusion. Forces of sexism. And did I mention racism? All of these forces are gaining in strength. …

“But they’re not counting on us. Here we are. And we’re ready to build those bridges instead of a wall, we’re ready to connect instead of divide.”

Caroline Calderon urged her Urban Planning classmates to challenge power structures in a rousing address that incorporated oral histories she conducted with about 15 of her peers.

“We have seen the possibilities of radical community action,” she said. “Our commitment involves sharing the knowledge we have and being humble about that knowledge, and recognizing the power and privilege that we have been given.

“This is our commitment, to be accountable to our own convictions and values, to be accountable to poor people, to black and brown communities, not in words but in action.”

Three students received special honors at commencement. The Public Policy Student Award went to Lindsay Graef, who earned her MPP and MSW concurrently. Michelé Dianne-Shaunte Jones won the Social Welfare Student Award, and Jacob Wasserman won the Urban Planning Student Award.

Murguía’s address included a poignant tribute to her parents, who instilled a sense of purpose and possibility in their seven children.

“Two humble, simple people from Tangancícuaro, Michoacán, in Mexico with little means worked very hard, sacrificed much and dedicated themselves to the education of their family, and to the service and care of their community. I am a witness to — and in many ways evidence of — their belief in the American Dream,” she said.

“However your generation defines the American Dream, I know that, like my parents, you will leave the world a better place than you found it,” Murguía said. “You know how I know? As I look out at you today, graduation day, I see our future and it looks amazing. I can’t wait to see where your superpowers will take us.”

View a video of the 2019 UCLA Luskin commencement:

View a photo gallery on Flickr:

Commencement 2019

Harmony (Dust) Grillo MSW ’05 Named Social Welfare Alumna of the Year Treasures, the nonprofit she launched while attending the Luskin School, offers support to women in the sex industry

UCLA Luskin Social Welfare alumni gathered May 11 at Imperial Western Beer Company in Los Angeles to network, reminisce and recognize achievements in their field. At the reception, Harmony (Dust) Grillo MSW ’05, a social activist for women in the sex industry, was named the 2019 Joseph A. Nunn Social Welfare Alumna of the Year. “I’m so thankful for my education,” Grillo told the crowd. When she began her master’s program in 2003, she said, “I felt very alone in my passion and I felt most people didn’t understand, but this community understood and supported and empowered me.” Social Welfare student Kiana Naimi was announced as this year’s recipient of the Social Welfare Alumni Fellowship. “I am very, very thankful to be at my dream school doing what I want to do, and to be able to go out into the community and serve,” Naimi said.

The latest edition of Luskin Forum includes a profile of Grillo and her work:

‘Harmony had this kind of light about her, this energy. She really had compassion and empathy for people who walked a difficult road.’ — CalSWEC coordinator Laura Alongi Brinderson, who nominated Grillo for the Social Welfare Alumna of the Year Award

Read more: Her Personal Journey Forged a Path for Others

View photos from Social Welfare’s alumni reception on Flickr.

2019 Joseph A. Nunn Social Welfare Alumna of the Year Award

5 Luskin Alumni Are Among New Senior Fellows They join other professionals as mentors for graduate students

For the first time, five alumni of UCLA Luskin are included in the new group of Senior Fellows — two each from Public Policy and Social Welfare, plus a graduate of Urban Planning. In the Senior Fellows Leadership Program, professionals in careers associated with fields related to the School’s academic programs volunteer to mentor graduate students. Senior Fellows also provide UCLA Luskin students with career guidance and arrange an on-site visit at their organization.

The five alumni additions:

  • Michael Alvidrez MA UP ’83 is external ambassador and CEO emeritus of Skid Row Housing Trust
  • Seth Jacobson MPP ’03 is senior director of energy and water programs for Climate Resolve
  • Cheryl Mathieu SW Ph.D. ’05 is founder and CEO of AgingPro
  • Paco Retana MSW ’90 is vice president of programs at Los Angeles Child Guidance Clinic
  • Emily Williams MPP ’98 is senior deputy for human services and child welfare for Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas

Alumni Accolades Career changes and other updates from the alumni of UCLA Luskin

Chinling Chen MSW ’06 is the new Chief Program Officer of Prevention for L.A.-based nonprofit Five Acres. Chen will lead Five Acres’ programs in community-based mental and behavioral health care and help pioneer partnerships with other healthcare providers to prevent family separation.

Mustafa Ghuneim MURP ’18 secured a new position as a Water Resources Engineer Intern at Geosyntec Consultants.

Brandy Henry MSW ’12 was appointed by Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker to the Commonwealth’s Restrictive Housing Oversight Committee.  The committee will oversee the use of restrictive housing in Massachusetts state prisons and county jails.

Mark Kenegos MURP ’18 is now database manager at PLACE Program Division of Chronic Disease and Injury Prevention–LA County Dept. of Public Health.

Allan Nguyen MPP ’18 started a new position as Operations Analyst at Green Dot Public Schools.

Sarah Simons MPP ’07 secured a new position as Advisor at Mexican Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources.

Kiana Taheri MPP ’16 was promoted to Executive Officer to the Deputy Chief of Staff for the Office of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.  Taheri also is a 2016 UCLA Luskin Bohnett Fellowship recipient.

Heather Ward MPP ’04 is an International Cooperation Specialist at the U.S. Agency for International Development. She recently participated in the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Fellowship Program in Japan.

In Support Development efforts include establishment of fellowship fund in memory of Urban Planning's Leo Estrada

Urban Planning’s Leo Estrada, who passed away in November 2018, began his career at UCLA in 1977 and retired just a few months before his death. He leaves behind an extraordinary legacy of service to students and leadership, especially as a role model to Latino and other minority scholars. While at UCLA, Professor Estrada was a pioneer in demography and a leader on UCLA’s campus and beyond, serving as the chair of the Academic Senate and member of the 1991 Christopher Commission, which examined the use of force by the Los Angeles Police Department.

In honor of his remarkable career, Urban Planning celebrated Professor Estrada at a retirement celebration on June 11 at the Luskin School. Colleagues, former students, friends and family members gathered to honor Estrada and the many people he served in his four decades at UCLA.

The department also established the Leo Estrada Fellowship Fund. The fund supports Urban Planning graduate students with an unmet financial need who are from cultural, racial, linguistic, geographic and socioeconomic backgrounds that are underrepresented in graduate education.

To support the Leo Estrada Fellowship Fund, please contact Ricardo Quintero (310) 206-7949 or rquintero@luskin.ucla.edu

SALONS HOSTED BY BOARD OF ADVISORS FURTHER CONNECT UCLA LUSKIN TO LOS ANGELES

In an effort to provide further connections for business and community leaders to engage with the School, UCLA Luskin has created a series of topical salons hosted by members of the Board of Advisors. The first session hosted by Jeffrey Seymour, a longtime member of the Board, was scheduled for December at the SOHO House in West Hollywood.

The salon and others to follow provide an opportunity for Dean Gary Segura and other UCLA Luskin leaders to share information on a wide range of topics, including changes in the School’s three graduate departments and the progress of the new undergraduate major in Public Affairs.

Seymour is a dual-degree holder from UCLA with a B.A. in political science and a master’s in public administration. He and his wife, Valerie, whose UCLA undergraduate degree is in sociology, have been longtime supporters of UCLA and the Luskin School. Seymour is the founder and owner of Seymour Consulting Group, a governmental relations firm specializing in areas of planning, zoning and land use consulting, as well as public policy analysis and ordinance studies.

LUSKIN FELLOWSHIP RECIPIENTS MEET MEYER AND RENEE LUSKIN

Thanks to the overwhelming generosity of Meyer and Renee Luskin, more than 60 Luskin students were recipients of the Luskin Graduate Fellowship this past academic year along with five undergraduate student fellows. The Luskins came to campus on April 10 to meet the recipients, learn about the important work they are doing and hear highlights of their student experiences. Students were able to personally thank Mr. and Mrs. Luskin for their generosity as they work to become change agents while at the Luskin School.

The Luskin Graduate Fellowship has supported students in the School since 2011. Recipients of the award are among the best and brightest in the Luskin School and come from all walks of life. Graduate students and doctoral candidates who have received the award carry forward the Luskins’ legacy of giving back generously to their communities and creating long-lasting positive change.

FIRST LUSKIN SCHOOL UNDERGRADUATE BRUIN FAMILY WEEKEND FEATURES LUNCH WITH DEAN GARY SEGURA

UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura met with students currently enrolled in the Public Affairs under-graduate major and their parents for an exclusive luncheon during Bruin Family Weekend on Oct. 26. Students who attended are members of the first enrolled class in the Public Affairs major after the program was approved by the Academic Senate in April.

Segura outlined his vision for the program, which strives to provide a wide-ranging education with a clear public service ethos. Students who matriculate from the program will be well-equipped to bring what they learn on campus back to their communities to create long-lasting positive change. This emphasis on service learning is highlighted by a yearlong capstone project that will immerse seniors in communities where they can apply their scholarship in the real world.

The program has already piqued interest across campus. More than 100 students have declared the Public Affairs pre-major, outpacing School projections.

 

Message From the Dean The mission to find and tell the truth sometimes gets you fired, as journalist Jorge Ramos learned

In Henrik Ibsen’s timeless play, “An Enemy of the People,” a medical doctor and a journalist plot to publish a troubling truth about their town’s major attraction, a resort spa. The waters of the spa are contaminated with bacteria. It is not fit for human use. At the last moment, fearing the consequences, the editor cowers and declines to publish the story, imperiling the guests but protecting the town’s economy and — not coincidentally — his hide.

The doctor proceeds to tell the truth in a public forum. It does not go well. The town turns against him and his family. Perhaps the editor made the personally wise decision, but he didn’t make the right one.

On Oct. 9, 2018, the Luskin School presented a UCLA Medal — our highest honor — to Jorge Ramos, a journalist, longtime Univision anchor and proud Bruin. Mr. Ramos recounted his journey from Mexico to Westwood and UCLA. Ramos left Mexico where he was a successful reporter because, unlike Ibsen’s editor, he refused to be censored in his efforts to tell the truth. Ramos was fired for refusing to change a story to reflect a better light on the ruling one-party government in Mexico. He sold his car and came to the U.S. with little more than what he could carry. Not long after, he enrolled in a journalism program at UCLA Extension. “UCLA saved my life,” he told the crowd of students, alums and friends of the University.

We now know that Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, was murdered by his own government. Though there are efforts to offer alternative narratives, there is little question that he was killed and largely as a consequence of his critiques. Khashoggi is, alas, not alone. He joins Daniel Pearl, journalists of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, and many more… The international Committee to Protect Journalists has documented 590 intentional deaths of journalists in just the last decade, some in the cross-fire of international or civil military conflicts, but the overwhelming majority through murder/assassination. The mission to find and tell the truth sometimes gets you fired, as Jorge Ramos learned. And sometimes it gets you killed.

The values of democracy are powerful but do not defend themselves. They require us, citizens committed to the sovereignty of the people rather than autocratic rule, to defend them, to draw lines, to hold accountable those who cross them. We can and should disagree about policy, about which paths are best. But the truth, facts and evidence must inform us. To suppress the truth is unscientific and undemocratic. It is beneath us. And the values of democracy require a courageous, fair and uncensored press. Calling the press the “enemy of the people” is corrosive to an accountable democracy because it risks trading the courageous Jorge Ramos for Ibsen’s small-town editor, too afraid to publish the truth.

Jorge Ramos closed his remarks to the UCLA audience with this powerful affirmation of our duty as citizens. “When you see racism, disobey. When you see inequality, you have to disobey. When you see injustice, you have to disobey. This is not a time to be silent … The greatest social movements in this country and in the world have happened when people disobey authority.”

Be like Jorge.

All the best,

Gary

Riverside Mayor ‘Rusty’ Bailey Named Commencement Speaker The 1999 Public Policy alumnus will give keynote address at UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs ceremony on June 15

By George Foulsham

William R. “Rusty” Bailey, the mayor of Riverside, California, has been named the 2018 Commencement speaker for the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Bailey, a 1999 Public Policy graduate of the Luskin School and the school’s Public Policy Alumnus of the Year in 2013, will speak during the Luskin ceremony at 9 a.m. on June 15 at Royce Hall on the UCLA campus.

“The Honorable Rusty Bailey is a distinguished leader, an innovator and a model of the sort of informed and compassionate elected official which reflects our best nature,” Luskin School Dean Gary Segura said. “As the leader of the 12th-largest city of California, Rusty has a deep understanding of the challenges and opportunities which face our state and its amazing, diverse population. We are proud to call him a Luskin alum and even prouder that he will join us as our commencement speaker this year.”

Bailey is a Riverside native who has served as mayor of his hometown since 2012, having previously been a member of the city council. His family came to Riverside in 1914 and has a long history of service to the community.

After graduating from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point with a degree in political science in 1994, Bailey worked in a variety of public service positions locally and in Washington, D.C.

Bailey was elected to the Riverside City Council in 2007, representing Ward 3, and took office on Dec 11, 2007. He was re-elected in 2011 and served in that role until he was elected mayor in November 2012. He took office on Dec 11, 2012, and was re-elected in June 2016.

Bailey is a member of the Western Riverside Council of Governments and its executive committee. He also serves on the Southern California Association of Governments Regional Council 68 and on its Transportation Committee.

Bailey’s accomplishments include serving as a helicopter pilot, platoon leader and company executive officer in the U.S. Army; earning a two-year Presidential Management Fellowship; and working for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Executive Office of the President in Washington D.C.  Bailey also served as a legislative aide for County Supervisor John F. Tavaglione and worked at the Riverside County Economic Development Agency. He spent more than a decade as a teacher at Poly High School in Riverside and served as a member of Riverside’s Cultural Heritage Board.

Bailey lives in Riverside with his wife, Judy, a former elementary and middle school teacher, and his daughters, Elizabeth and Julia.

Learn more about the 2018 Commencement at UCLA Luskin.

Tapping Twitter to Understand Crowd Behavior and Protests UCLA Luskin Public Policy scholar Zachary Steinert-Threlkeld authors a how-to guide on cutting-edge research using social media data

By Stan Paul

Zachary Steinert-Threlkeld has long been fascinated by crowd dynamics, especially among those drawn to mass demonstrations. As a Ph.D. candidate in political science, Steinert-Threlkeld knew that social media generated at protests were a rich source of data — but he could find few tools to help him analyze it.

Now, in a world awash with popular uprisings and social movements — from Tahrir Square in 2011 to the Women’s March following the 2017 presidential inauguration — the assistant professor of public policy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs has used data generated by millions of posts on Twitter to learn more about crowd behavior and mass motivation.

Steinert-Threlkeld created a guide for acquiring and working with data sets culled from Twitter, which has more than 320 million global accounts generating more than half a billion messages every day.

His efforts culminated this year with the publication of “Twitter as Data,” the first guide in Cambridge University Press’ new Elements series on Quantitative and Computational Methods for Social Science. The series provides short introductions and hands-on tutorials to new and innovative research methodologies that may not yet appear in textbooks.

“When I was learning this as a graduate student, there was a lot of piecing together this information,” said Steinert-Threlkeld, who said he relied on sources such as Twitter documentation and online Q&A forums such as Stack Overflow. “I was able to do it, but it would have been a lot nicer if I had a textbook to show me the lay of the land.”

Steinert-Threlkeld, whose work combines his interest in computational social science and social networks with his research on protest and subnational conflict, said the book includes an interactive online version that allows users to click on links to download information and even sample data.

“It is differently comprehensive than a book,” Steinert-Threlkeld said. He described it as a “more interactive book experience — the first in social science that does this.”

In the book, Steinert-Threlkeld writes: “The increasing prevalence of digital communications technology — the internet and mobile phones — provides the possibility of analyzing human behavior at a level of detail previously unimaginable.” He compares this to the development of the microscope, which “facilitated the development of the germ theory of disease.”

He adds: “These tools are no more difficult to learn and use than other qualitative and quantitative methods, but they are not commonly taught to social scientists.”

To remedy this, Steinert-Threlkeld provides a systematic introduction to data sources and tools needed to benefit from them.

For example, people always want to know who’s protesting and how that influences others who might protest, Steinert-Threlkeld said. Most information has been restricted to surveys, which have limitations. “And so the researcher either gets lucky and happens to have scheduled a survey that occurs during a protest, but usually it’s after the fact.”

That is what’s exciting about using big data to study crowd behavior. “It’s like people always answering surveys,” he said. “Basically, every second you’re giving me survey data. Now we can tell in real time who’s protesting.”

One application of Twitter data is estimating crowd size, Steinert-Threlkeld said. In the past, he has had to rely on reports from organizers, police and the media to gauge the size of protests. “But I’m collecting tweets with GPS coordinates so I can say, ‘Oh, there are these many tweets or these many users from L.A. at this time or Pershing Square at this time, and explain whether that’s a reliable estimate or not of actual protesters.”

Twitter information can also be used to create data based on images shared from protests, Steinert-Threlkeld said. “The work I did before was all text based: What are people saying? Who’s saying it? When are they saying it? That sort of thing. But people share a lot of images online. They share more than they did three or four years ago. It’s really where the space is moving.”

Steinert-Threlkeld said that getting data into a form that a researcher can use requires a different skill set than designing and administering a survey. “But it’s still in some ways survey-like at the end of the day,” he said.

And “it’s fun,” he said. “Now we can tell in real time who’s protesting. We don’t know where the person lives, or their income, or their name. It’s still anonymous. We don’t know if the person who shares the image was there so we’re not incriminating anyone, but we can get a lot of information about protesters that we couldn’t before.”

In the final section of his guide, Steinert-Threlkeld writes: “These data are not a ‘revolution.’ Instead, they represent the next stage in the constant increase in data available to researchers. To stay at the forefront of data analysis, one needs to know some programming in order to interface with websites and data services, download data automatically, algorithmically clean and analyze data, and present these data in low-dimension environments. The skills are modern; the change is eternal.”

Recruiting ‘High-Caliber’ Luskin Students More than 200 students attend a career fair held by the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, meeting with employers from a variety of fields with the hope of landing jobs and internships

By Zev Hurwitz

Scores of first- and second-year graduate students worked the room at the annual UCLA Luskin Job and Internship Career Fair, networking and trading business cards with prospective employers.

Held Jan. 30, 2018, at the UCLA Faculty Center, the event gave students in all three disciplines — Public Policy, Urban Planning and Social Welfare — a chance to meet future employers, who were looking to fill jobs and internships.

Mirna Jewell, a researcher with the Los Angeles Department of Public Health, attended for the first time to recruit UCLA Luskin students on the advice of her colleague, a public policy graduate. Jewell was looking for interns for the Public Health Department’s food insecurity program.

“I work with a Luskin MPP graduate who has said so many nice things about the program,” Jewell said. “My colleague specifically wanted to target these students because of the high caliber and strong reputation.”

A strong contingent of Luskin School alumni were on hand.

“Half of the employers we have here today are represented by our alumni,” said VC Powe, director of career services and leadership development at UCLA Luskin. “To see these former students come back and hear about what they’re doing is wonderful. Seeing them here to give back to our students is the best.”

Greg Srolestar, director of technical assistance with Fair and Just Prosecution, a group that works with elected local prosecutors to provide policy and networking support, said he was looking for a few good students to join his team.

“Thus far, our organization has been really heavy on lawyers, which makes sense,” said Srolestar, a Luskin public policy alumnus. “It’s always great to get people with different perspectives and backgrounds. I’ve been the core team member without a law background, and it’s time to look for more people who may come from that kind of background.”

Srolestar was one of several dozen Luskin alumni who attended the fair on behalf of their employers.

Megan Kirkeby MPP ’12, a housing policy research specialist at the California Department of Housing and Community Development, attended to fill recently opened positions.

“We’re primarily recruiting for jobs,” Kirkeby said. “ We passed a big housing package in 2017 with 15 new laws that went into effect Jan. 1. We know we’re going to have to staff up starting in July, so we want to make sure people know about us and know that Sacramento is a wonderful place to work and live.”

Adam Russell, a first-year urban planning student with a focus on design, development and transportation, said the career fair had a good mix of employers.

“This is a really good starting point for looking at internships,” Russell said. “I’ve been making the rounds, getting to know who’s here and what’s out there.”

Sarah Burtner, a second-year MPP candidate, said she also hoped to size up potential employers.

“I’m looking to see how I’ll spend my 40-hour work week in the near future,” she said. “The type of work I will be doing, the type of communities I’ll be working with, and will they make good bosses or coworkers.”

Corina Post, a graduate student in her third and final year of a dual degree in public policy and social welfare, said she was hoping the job fair would kick off her career search.

“I’m hoping to learn more about organizations, what they’re looking for and put things on my radar for me to look for as I’m graduating,” Post said. “I appreciate the diversity of organization that are here. Coming from both public policy and social welfare backgrounds, I’m really impressed with how VC and the career center staff have been able to bring together organizations that are interesting to all three departments.”

Tuesday’s event marked a return to the traditional job fair format. Last year, a “speed dating”-style event paired alumni employers with students with related interests.

“I’m excited about tonight because a lot of employers thought that career fairs are becoming passé, so we didn’t do one last year,” Powe said. “It was students who asked me to bring back a nonprofit career fair.”

While the event was originally billed as a nonprofit fair, high interest from alumni and employers in government and the private sector helped broaden the scope. Powe had hoped to attract at least 30 employers, but more than 200 students and 55 employers registered for the event, making it one of the most popular job fairs ever, Powe said.

“It’s a little bit tricky to have a job fair in January, because it’s difficult for students to commit,” Powe said. “But there are employers here with internships, fellowships and jobs in hand for this session.”

A Smart Way to Make a SMART Park New toolkit produced by the Luskin Center for Innovation provides a guide for making parks more user-friendly and sustainable

By George Foulsham

The burgeoning world of smart technology includes everything from phones and televisions to thermostats and voice-activated home assistants. Now, thanks to the Luskin Center for Innovation at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, you can add neighborhood parks to the “smart” category.

The Luskin Center has just released “SMART Parks: A Toolkit” to highlight how technology can enhance the efficiency of — and more comfortable access to — public spaces.

What makes a park smart?

“A smart park uses technology to achieve equitable access, enhanced health, safety, resilience, water and energy efficiency, and effective opera­tions and maintenance,” said Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, professor of urban planning and associate dean at UCLA Luskin, who led a small team of researchers and UCLA students on the SMART Parks project.

The toolkit, which is intended for park managers, designers, landscape architects, advocates and anyone who wishes to learn how technology can be incorporated into parks, is a compilation of technologies that cities and counties can use to make parks smarter.

The 275-page guide is organized by pertinent chapters — activity spaces, digital landscapes, hardscapes, lighting, irrigation, softscapes, stormwater management and urban furniture.

The kit includes a wide range of technologies that can be utilized in parks to provide benefits:

  • Interactive play sets that increase park accessibility for children with physical and mental disabilities by providing language, game and noise settings that can be adjusted by park management to meet community needs.
  • Path pavement materials that are more comfortable for older adults, making them feel welcome in parks and encouraging them to walk, thus improving their health.
  • Energy-generating exercise equipment that charges cellphones while providing users with free access to physical activity.
  • Irrigation controllers that conserve water by optimizing watering patterns in each park area depending on microclimate and soil type.
  • Soils that improve groundwater infiltration and remove pollutants from stormwater runoff, thus improving local water quality.
  • Self-healing concrete that reduces maintenance and replacement needs by preventing and healing cracks in park infrastructure, thus reducing park management costs.

The toolkit also includes guidance on how to navigate the challenges associated with the park management process, such as staff training and cost constraints, and pro­vides an overview of potential funding strategies to help create SMART Parks.

“The toolkit’s aim is to address concerns about park underutilization, high maintenance costs, and water and energy waste by rethinking the neighborhood park so that it becomes ‘smart.’ Parks represent assets for cities, but in an era of limited municipal resources and concerns about energy and water usage, they have also been viewed as liabilities,” Loukaitou-Sideris said.

The researchers emphasize that the toolkit is a starting point for park managers, landscape professionals, local government, nonprof­its and interested community members to gain information on technological innova­tions and their potential benefits for parks.

More research is needed, they add, to ensure that the technologies and their benefits are appropriate for specific parks.

A downloadable copy of the SMART Parks toolkit is now online.