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Luskin Summit Takes On Global Climate Justice

Assistant Professor of Urban Planning Kian Goh led a dialogue about equity, grassroots activism and climate change in the Mar. 2 Luskin Summit webinar “Cities and Global Climate Justice.” Goh, who serves as associate faculty director of the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, started the conversation by discussing community-based activism in Jakarta, Indonesia. Eric Chu of UC Davis spoke about competing visions of the urban built environment and the power of activist groups to reimagine what their communities will look like through a lens of justice and equity. Hugo Sarmiento of Columbia University noted that, in Colombia, the main drivers of risk are social, economic, political and oftentimes racial exclusion from the housing market. “Residents have already been displaced by war and conflict, and now they are being displaced by the city,” he explained. Idowu “Jola” Ajibade of Portland State University said issues such as environmental degradation, homelessness, joblessness, and lack of access to sanitation and health care affect the way that climate change is perceived in the Global South, where many communities are already marginalized. “The ways in which people are challenging the system also helps us think about how we might transform the urban society more equitably,” Ajibade said. Kasia Paprocki of the London School of Economics and Political Science discussed how the transition from a rural to urban economy is seen as a necessary and even positive development, which dismisses the experiences of many of the individuals being displaced. Michael Fleming of the UCLA Luskin Board of Advisors was on hand to welcome the panelists.


New Activist-in-Residence Uplifts Voices of the Unhoused

A recent Spectrum News report featured Theo Henderson, an advocate for unhoused people’s rights who was recently appointed as UCLA’s newest Activist-in-Residence. Henderson is the host of the “We the Unhoused” podcast, which aims to shed light on the experiences of those without a home. He created the podcast after years experiencing homelessness himself and now speaks at rallies highlighting social justice issues and leads a movement to create charging stations for the homeless. The Activist-in-Residence program, hosted by the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, provides community activists with a paid position, office space and other resources. Henderson plans to use the platform to “bring unhoused perspectives beyond textbooks by bringing students and faculty to encampments.” A Daily Bruin article noted that Henderson also plans to create a campaign for bathrooms for public use and host a town hall where progressive politicians can engage with students and people who are unhoused. 


A New Role for a Climate Justice Expert  As associate faculty director at the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, Kian Goh brings a global perspective on environmental issues

By Les Dunseith

UCLA’s Kian Goh, who studies the politics around cities’ responses to climate change, becomes an associate faculty director as of the fall quarter at the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy.

She said the institute is a leader in working with and alongside movement-based organizations fighting for change.  

Goh, an assistant professor of urban planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, noted that the typical presumptions of objective research in the social sciences sometimes conflicts with the desire to see the problem from the point of view of oppressed groups, in order to challenge unjust systems and promote greater equity in decision-making in cities. Overcoming this hurdle as it relates to urban responses to climate change is one of the objectives of her recently published book, “Form and Flow: The Spatial Politics of Urban Resilience and Climate Justice.”

“This type of positional research is more attuned to how structural power actually works,” Goh said. “And it’s what I think the Institute on Inequality and Democracy does incredibly well. I’m so excited to be part of it.”

Ananya Roy, the inaugural director of the Institute which was founded in 2016, said Goh’s global perspective and her expertise in community responses to environmental problems are ideally suited to bolster the institute’s efforts to pair critical thought with social movements and activism in the interest of combating societal inequalities.

“Climate justice is of central concern to the institute’s current research priorities, from housing justice to abolition,” said Roy, professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography at UCLA. “It undergirds all of the ways in which we must understand racial capitalism and make change in the world and professor Goh is precisely the scholar whose rigorous research and capacious vision allows us to do so at the institute and beyond.”

Goh sees her new role as the next step in a progression from working architect to urban planning scholar.

While working as an architect in and around New York City in the early 2000s, Goh found her interests expanding beyond the buildings she was designing, especially regarding urban inequalities and the impacts of climate change.

“I would also be really interested in the history of that neighborhood — how it got to be in the condition that it was in,” she said. 

Goh witnessed first-hand the benefits of community involvement in recovery efforts in Brooklyn following Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and that experience contributed to her decision to focus on the topic while pursuing a doctorate in urban and environmental planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her varied academic career began as an undergraduate at the College of Wooster in Ohio and continued at Yale, where she earned her Master of Architecture degree. She previously taught at Northeastern University in Boston, the University of Pennsylvania, the New School in New York and Washington University in St. Louis. 

Goh’s book focuses in part on the Rebuild by Design competition in New York City after Sandy as part of an examination of power relationships and civic activism. The book examines the conflicts that can arise when cities respond to climate change. She looks not only at initiatives in New York but also at the Rotterdam Climate Proof program in the Netherlands and the Giant Sea Wall plan in Jakarta, Indonesia, and analyzes the interconnections of ideas and influence among them.

Her scholarship is firmly grounded in participant observation. 

“When I look at environmental conflicts that are happening in Jakarta, for instance, I will look at what community activists working in the informal kampung settlements there are doing to protect their neighborhoods — from floods but also from eviction and displacement by the city, which claims that they are in overly vulnerable places that need to be cleared,” Goh explained. “This type of close, on-the-ground participatory research, plus a global lens, fits very well with how the institute sees its work.”

At the heart of Goh’s scholarship are people struggling with crisis, whether it be longer-term threats such as rising sea levels or more immediate dangers like wildfires or floods. Joining the faculty at UCLA Luskin five years ago has encouraged Goh to think about the types of environmental justice issues often seen in California, including water use. 

Goh noted the long history of proposals to revitalize the L.A. River from its current existence as a concrete channel whose primary purpose is flood control. 

“Oftentimes, we see some really ambitious ideas to make the river more ecological, more sustainable,” Goh said. Unfortunately, some of those grand ideas fail to contemplate how neighborhoods near the L.A. River would be impacted.

“So, we have projects that are ostensibly for sustainability and for climate protection,” Goh said. “But if they’re not done in a way that takes into account the voices on the ground, the communities that have previously been marginalized and pushed into some of these neighborhoods, then these people stand to be even further marginalized and potentially displaced.”

Thankfully, she is witnessing a greater acceptance among policymakers to look to community organizers and social movements for answers. 

“What I have seen in New York and also in Los Angeles is more government officials who are saying, ‘We need to look more toward what’s happening on the ground,’” Goh said. “What I think hasn’t happened enough is … how does that actually become part of the plans? There are folks who are doing all these focus groups and talking to people, trying to learn. But sometimes it just becomes a report that lies around somewhere.”

At the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, Goh sees a shared commitment to translate ideas into action. She describes her ideas about a research project around climate justice and cities:

“It revolves around two things — climate and power,” she said. “That the issue of climate change in cities is always a matter of who has the power in cities and who doesn’t.”

Goh intends to investigate how climate justice organizers build social movements in cities. She said researchers have shown that inequality matters in environmental planning — poorer people suffer most from environmental harms in cities. 

“It is not enough simply pointing out inequality without taking on the power relationships that are causing that inequality,” Goh said. She plans to work with colleagues at the institute to model a more democratic process in which urban governance decisions are made in cooperation with movement builders.

“These organizers and activists on the ground need to be seen as a necessary and integral part of how we think about planning for climate change,” she said. 

Roy Protests Olympic Injustices at ‘NOpening Ceremony’

Professor of Urban Planning and Social Welfare Ananya Roy was featured in a KCET article about the NOlympics LA group mobilizing to resist the 2028 Olympic Games. On the day of the Olympics Opening Ceremony in Tokyo, the NOlympics group held a “NOpening Ceremony” in Echo Park to rally support for the movement to stop the 2028 Games from coming to Los Angeles. The event was co-sponsored by the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy. “We are gathered here as a counterpoint to the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo Games,” said Roy, director of the institute and moderator of the event. “That Olympic spectacle, that seeming dream image, is in fact a nightmare… [It] has always been a land profiteering scheme with the excuse of world harmony.” Pointing to a history of racial injustice, policing and class oppression associated with the Olympic Games, the NOlympics group aims to build transnational resistance and reject Olympics anywhere in the world.


Goh Explores Urban Climate Justice in New Book

A new book by Assistant Professor of Urban Planning Kian Goh explores the politics of urban climate change responses in different cities and the emergence of grassroots activism in resistance. “Form and Flow: The Spatial Politics of Urban Resilience and Climate Justice,” published today by MIT Press, traces the flow of ideas and influence in urban climate change plans in three key city centers — New York City; Jakarta, Indonesia; and Rotterdam, Netherlands. In the book, Goh analyzes major climate adaptation plans and projects such as Rebuild By Design in New York, the Giant Sea Wall masterplan in Jakarta and Rotterdam Climate Proof. Goh also discusses the rise of social movements and efforts among community organizations to reimagine their own futures in response to historical injustices and present-day challenges. Many groups of marginalized urban residents have pushed back against city plans and offered “counterplans” in protest against actions that they feel are unjust and exclusionary. Goh investigates how historically uneven development and global connections between cities have shaped the politics of climate urbanism, and her analysis provides insight on how to achieve a more just and resilient urban future. “Form and Flow” sheds light on the new wave of urban climate change interventions driven by environmental urgency, developmental pressures and global networks of expertise. Yale Professor Karen Seto called Goh’s book “a must-read for urban climate scholars and practitioners,” and Cambridge University Professor Matthew Gandy added that Goh’s “comparative global framework advances the field of political ecology in innovative directions.”


Black Lives Matter Pioneer Named 2021 Commencement Speaker Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of the global movement, is an author, educator and artist who has dedicated her life to racial justice

By Zoe Day

Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, delivered a prerecorded address as part of the 2021 virtual commencement ceremony at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Cullors, an educator, artist and best-selling author who has been on the front lines of community organizing for 20 years, participated via on an online platform due to COVID-19 health concerns.

In 2013, the UCLA alumna created the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag on Twitter, which grew into an international movement for racial justice and reform. Last year, Time magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people in 2020.

“Patrisse Cullors is at the heart — and the foundation — of a movement for human rights, social change and genuine equality under the law,” UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura said in March when Cullors was announced as a speaker. “Her work and the work of those who follow is way past due.

“The time has long since come for our society to come to a reckoning regarding the violence and abuse we visit on Black Americans,” Segura said. 

As a teenager, Cullors became interested in activism and joined the Bus Riders Union, an advocacy group that fought for increased funding for bus systems in Los Angeles. She later started Dignity and Power Now, a coalition formed to shed light on brutality by sheriff’s deputies in county jails.

She has also led the JusticeLA and Reform L.A. Jails coalitions, helping them to win progressive ballot measures, fight against a $3.5 billion jail expansion plan in Los Angeles County, and implement the first Civilian Oversight Commission of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

Her activism has been informed by her studies of revolutionaries, critical theory and social movements around the world. She earned a bachelor’s degree in religion and philosophy from UCLA in 2012 and received her master’s in fine arts from USC.

In 2013, Cullors co-founded the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation with Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi in response to an acquittal in the killing of unarmed Florida teenager Trayvon Martin by a neighborhood watch volunteer. Today, the organization supports Black-led movements in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada and has been nominated for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize.

In 2018, Cullors and co-author Asha Bandele published “When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir,” which became a New York Times best-seller.

In 2020, Cullors co-produced the 12-part YouTube series “Resist,” which chronicles the fight against Los Angeles County’s jail expansion plan. She also signed a multi-year production deal with Warner Bros. and has said she intends to use the contract to continue to uplift Black stories, talent and creators.

Cullors serves as the faculty director of Arizona’s Prescott College, where she designed the curriculum for a new master’s of fine arts program focusing on the intersection of art, social justice and community organizing.

It’s Like Reliving History, Yaroslavsky Says

Thirty years after the video of the brutal police beating of Rodney King went viral, Los Angeles Initiative Director Zev Yaroslavsky spoke to USA Today about the killing of George Floyd and the jarring similarities between the two events. A group of white police officers who beat King in March 1991 were acquitted the following year by a mostly white jury in Los Angeles, prompting massive unrest and calls for social reforms. At the time, Yaroslavsky was a Los Angeles city councilman. Last year, Floyd’s death in Minneapolis prompted protests led by the Black Lives Matter social justice movement, and the police officer involved is now on trial for murder. “What happened that instant, on that sidewalk, at that moment, that was not a one-off. It’s a story that has replayed itself for decades, over and over again,” Yaroslavsky said of Floyd’s death. “When I look at what’s happening in Minneapolis, I see L.A. in 1992, so it’s like reliving history again.”


Umemoto on Preserving Asian American History

Karen Umemoto, urban planning professor and director of the UCLA Asian American Studies Center, was featured in an NBC News article about the role of ethnic studies programs in preserving Asian American history. Many of the activists who led the Asian American movement in the 1960s for representation in politics, scholarship and culture are now passing away. The loss has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. “We’re at an important point in history where we have to record their stories,” Umemoto said. “There are so many rich life lessons that we can learn from their involvement in movements for social change.” It has been more than 50 years since the first Asian American studies curricula were established in California colleges, but only a handful of post-secondary institutions offer degrees in the field. Even within those programs, the story of the Asian American civil rights movement and the people who built it is often given short shrift, Umemoto said.


Roy on the Intersection of Scholarship and Activism

Professor of Social Welfare and Urban Planning Ananya Roy was featured on a Quarantine Tapes podcast episode exploring the shared struggles of scholars and activists. Roy’s research focuses on the relationship between property, personhood and the police, as well as the ways in which inequality and power fixate in space. Roy, director of the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, explained how universities as elite institutions continue to reproduce racial harm and discussed her recent experiences calling for UCLA to divest from the police. “We’ve become very good at gestures,” she said. “We’re not very good at actually nurturing students and faculty who come from the communities most impacted by racial harm.” She argued that “we must challenge the university as an institution if we are to produce scholarship to accompany movements,” emphasizing the importance of journeying with and learning from the movements and communities on the front lines in a shared space of scholarship.