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Cities Need Array of Climate Change Strategies, Turner Says

Assistant Professor of Urban Planning V. Kelly Turner was featured in an Arizona Republic article about her research on combating climate change and lowering urban temperatures. Turner partnered with climate scientist Ariane Middel to research the effect of surface-cooling solar reflective paint on how a person walking along the street feels the heat. “The broad lesson has to do with the fact that we need to be sensitive to context when we make decisions,” Turner said. “If the end goal is urban heat island mitigation, then we want to do something different than if our end goal is pedestrian comfort. They’re not the same thing, and they can’t be conflated.” Research like Middel’s and Turner’s is essential for cities developing heat mitigation techniques and investing in new infrastructure. It’s important to develop strategies using a combination of tools that address the specific needs of different city blocks and neighborhoods, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, they said.


Jerry Brown Speaks Out on Curbing Coronavirus and Building a Strong Future Former governor's conversation with biographer Jim Newton draws virtual audience of more than 1,300

By Mary Braswell

Former Gov. Jerry Brown shared his views on stepping up the fight against COVID-19 and repairing the rifts that divide Americans during an expansive conversation with Jim Newton, editor of UCLA’s Blueprint magazine and author of a new book on the California statesman’s life.

More than 1,300 viewers tuned in to the May 12 webinar to hear insights from Brown, who built a reputation as both pragmatist and visionary in his half-century of public service, including four terms at the state’s helm.

The virtual audience had the opportunity to pose questions during the hour-long session, organized by the Los Angeles World Affairs Council & Town Hall and the nonprofit Writers Bloc, in partnership with the 2020 UCLA Luskin Summit.

The webinar took place amid a nationwide debate about how best to contain the novel coronavirus. Newton, author of the new biography “Man of Tomorrow: The Relentless Life of Jerry Brown,” asked the former governor how he would balance the dueling imperatives of protecting the nation’s health and reviving its economy.

Singling out Taiwan as a nation that acted swiftly and effectively to curb the virus’ spread, Brown urged that anyone infected be quarantined away from their families. The urgency of widespread coronavirus testing cannot be underestimated, he said, faulting the federal government for failing to mobilize the nation’s resources to fight the virus.

“This is a great manufacturing powerhouse, we’re a great biotech innovative powerhouse as well,” he said. “So the fact that we don’t have the tests we need, not by the hundreds of thousands but by the tens of millions every day, is leading to the problem we’re now at.

“The longer you wait, the harder it is, the more people get sick, suffer and die,” Brown said.

To rebuild the economy, the former governor invoked the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who called for “bold, persistent experimentation” in his New Deal package of relief and reforms following the Great Depression.

“We need that. Not partisan rancor, not petty politics, not halfway measures. To get this economy going with so many people sequestered at home requires massive federal spending and investment,” Brown said.

He called for the immediate launch of ambitious infrastructure projects to reopen hospitals, bring internet access to rural areas, and build roads, highways and high-speed rail. The projects, he said, would be staffed through a jobs program that would provide a livelihood for millions of Americans now facing prolonged unemployment.

“I would call this really a Rooseveltian moment. And it ought to take into account all the problems that we have. Whether it’s the maldistribution of income and opportunity, whether it’s the pending challenge of climate disruption, all these things are on the table,” he said. “Unfortunately, if we can’t do them right in calmer days, it’s going to be very difficult.”

Known for sprinkling his comments with historical references, Brown cited Roosevelt numerous times and also namechecked economists John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich August Hayek, inventor and architect Buckminster Fuller, and Supreme Court Justice Edward Douglass White, who served in the early 20th Century.

But the names most cited were Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell, the president and Senate majority leader whom Brown held accountable for both an inadequate COVID-19 response and a fractured populace.

“If the choice is Trump for another four years … all these problems, from my vantage point, are going to get much, much worse, dangerously so,” Brown said, looking ahead to the November election.

“We have a lot of challenges and probably the biggest is building trust in our leadership, which is now being done better by our governors than by those occupying a power pole position in Washington,” he said.

Brown, a longtime Democrat whose own presidential aspirations fell short, predicted that an era of greater national unity lies ahead — but it requires abandoning far-reaching proposals from both the political left and right.

“I think we do need a unifier. I know we need polarization to activate the electorate, but in governing we need someone who reaches beyond the particular issues that are currently the stuff of campaigning,” Brown said.

“And that’s why politics is not all that satisfying and why politicians are not enduringly popular.”

Fielding audience questions, Brown weighed in on a range of topics.

On the future of financing higher education in California, he said, “We need to change the university from being an arms race of amenities to one that will be more limited but also fully creative. … The current course is not sustainable without a rising burden put on students, and I think that would be very wrong.”

On his signature issue, combating climate change, he called for an era of “planetary realism” and noted that the coronavirus emergency offers a sober lesson: “If you delay, if you don’t seize the moment when you can, you pay a much bigger price.”

And on maintaining hope amid an array of global threats, Brown took a poetic turn:

“I look out the window here and the wind is blowing on the walnut tree in front of me, the oak trees, the leaves, they’re flourishing” even amid drought, he said. “The rabbits are running around, the dogs are chasing the squirrels, the coyotes are howling at night. …

“Life — just to be here and be part of it — is quite a lot. So to worry, to think about down the road how it’s going to turn out? That’s fortune telling. That’s ouija board stuff.

“Do what you can do in the moment that you have. And God will take care of the rest.”

 

On-the-Ground Guidance for L.A.’s Far-Reaching Climate Strategy University researchers and a robot named MaRTy complete first on-site test of city’s Cool Streets program

By Mary Braswell

Los Angeles’ ambitious plan to cool the city as the planet grows warmer is getting a boost from two university professors and a street-smart robot named MaRTy.

The researchers, from UCLA and Arizona State University, have completed the first on-site evaluation of the city’s Cool Streets program, one of several sustainability strategies outlined in Los Angeles’ 2019 Green New Deal.

By covering several blocks of road with a solar-reflective coating engineered to reduce surface temperatures, the city’s pilot program aims to test the cooling effects on an entire neighborhood. The researchers broadened the body of knowledge by collecting a sophisticated suite of measurements that simulate the experience of a pedestrian walking on the surface.

“Once you take things down to the street level, arguably you have to start thinking about the thermal load on people,” said V. Kelly Turner of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, who collaborated with Ariane Middel of ASU’s School of Arts, Media and Engineering.

The reflective coating aims to prevent asphalt from retaining heat, which contributes to the “urban heat island effect” that keeps cities from cooling down, even in the evening. But the study by Turner and Middel, newly published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, reveals an unintended, ground-level effect: The paint’s highly reflective properties can actually elevate pedestrians’ exposure to heat.

Imagine a scene that has become increasingly common as Angelenos shelter in place: families taking neighborhood walks, often with a dog in tow. On a coated road, the dog might appreciate the cooler surface beneath its paws. But the dog walkers might feel an uptick in heat reflected off the ground.

City workers apply a cooling paint on roads in Pacoima

City workers apply a cooling paint on roads in Pacoima, part of Los Angeles’ strategy to combat climate change. Photo courtesy of Los Angeles Bureau of Street Services

“From an urban planning perspective, this idea of cool pavements is really innovative. Cool streets may be great for mitigating the urban heat island, if that’s the goal,” said Turner, who noted that the widespread use of the reflective paint on roofs, roads and other surfaces can reduce the amount of heat absorbed in the built environment.

However, she added, “If the goal is framed in terms of a public health benefit, we need to know a bit more, since the reflected radiation increases the heat load on a pedestrian walking over the surface.”

Turner and Middel hope their initial findings will open the door to further research that will help the public and private sectors fine-tune their green initiatives. In addition to gathering more information about cooling paint’s impact on human comfort and health, future studies could answer questions about cost-effectiveness, maintenance needs and the tradeoff between daytime glare and nighttime visibility, they said.

Putting MaRTy into action

To collect their cool pavement data, Turner and Middel took MaRTy for a spin on the streets of two Los Angeles neighborhoods chosen for the pilot project.

The robot is “essentially a garden cart that has a lot of meteorological sensors attached to it,” said Middel, who created the tool at ASU’s SHaDE Lab to calculate “mean radiant temperature” — the data set that gives MaRTy his name.

In addition to measuring surface and air temperature, wind speed and humidity, the robot collects information on long- and short-wave radiation to determine mean radiant temperature, which is a reliable predictor of thermal comfort for humans. MaRTy is also nimble enough to trundle along sidewalks, ravines or other locations where a pedestrian might wander, setting him apart from measurement tools mounted on street vehicles.

On a day in July 2019 when air temperatures hit the high 80s, the research team walked the blocks of the two neighborhoods, in Pacoima and Sun Valley, from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. They found that the coated roadways were cooler to the touch, by as much as 11 degrees Fahrenheit, compared with nearby untreated asphalt — meaning the paint successfully lowered surface temperature, as it was designed to.

However, Turner and Middel also discovered that mean radiant temperatures at midday were more than 7 degrees Fahrenheit warmer in a five-foot–high area above the cool surfaces, compared with asphalt. In the midafternoon, that number fell to about 3 degrees.

While Los Angeles’ Cool Streets program targets roads designed for cars rather than people, the study provides useful data for agencies considering the cooling paint for playgrounds or other pedestrian areas.

Turner and Middel say the findings will also inform their separate, ongoing study supporting California’s Transformative Climate Communities program, which invests in climate action at the local level. Both of the researchers’ projects were underwritten by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, where Turner is associate director of urban environment research.

Greg Spotts, chief sustainability officer for Los Angeles’ Bureau of Street Services, said he welcomes the on-the-ground findings produced by Turner, Middel and MaRTy and called for further study.

“By being the first municipality in California, and possibly the country, to deploy a cool pavement coating on a public street, we now have physical sites where researchers can do some of their work. Before, most of the research was based on computer modeling,” he said.

Spotts, who earned his master’s in public policy at UCLA Luskin in 2008, spearheaded the cool pavement project as one part of a multipronged strategy to combat climate change at the neighborhood level. To date, the Bureau of Street Services has planted trees, built shade structures and installed hydration stations, among other interventions.

Future research could explore how cool pavement works in combination with these complementary measures to reduce the overall heat island effect on a community scale while also increasing pedestrian thermal comfort at the street level.

Turner and Middel concurred that climate change must be tackled from multiple directions.

“There is not just one solution that’s going to solve all our problems,” Middel said. “We have to look at the benefits and tradeoffs of all the solutions we’re considering to come up with the best way to cool our cities.”

LCI Experts on Drinking Water Crisis in the Antelope Valley

Gregory Pierce and Kyra Gmoser-Daskalakis of the Luskin Center for Innovation (LCI) co-authored an opinion piece in the Antelope Valley Times about drinking water problems in the Antelope Valley. The valley is home to about 5% of Los Angeles County residents but reports 80% of its major water quality problems, they wrote. Most of the area’s water systems are small, with limited financial resources and lack of technical and managerial expertise, making water quality and quantity problems more likely to occur. Pierce, associate director of LCI, and Gmoser-Daskalakis, associate project manager, warned that “as the climate continues to change, stresses on water systems will only increase.” They suggested extending the services of larger water systems that are performing well to places where smaller water providers are having trouble; increasing state funding to upgrade treatment facilities and capacity; and improving monitoring of small water systems by the county or state.


UCLA Supports Launch of California’s Transformative Climate Communities Program New Luskin Center for Innovation resource page tracks state's innovative effort to fight climate change

By Colleen Callahan

The UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation (LCI) has supported the launch of California’s innovative Transformative Climate Communities Program (TCC), one of the world’s most comprehensive sets of investments in local climate action. This includes developing the evaluation plan to track progress and evaluate outcomes from investments that could serve as a global model for community-scale climate action.

Now, inaugural progress reports for the first communities awarded TCC grants — Fresno, Ontario and Watts in Los Angeles — are authored by LCI researchers. These reports, and other resources related to LCI’s tracking of the groundbreaking efforts in local climate action, are centralized on a new TCC resource page. Policymakers, community stakeholders, researchers and others interested in local strategies to combat climate change can use this page to monitor progress, best practices and lessons learned over the five-year TCC grant implementation period that began in the spring of 2019.

The program to fund the development and implementation of neighborhood-level transformative plans that include multiple projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions was authorized by Assembly Bill 2722 in 2016. In addition to fighting climate change, the program empowers disadvantaged communities impacted by poverty and pollution to support projects that advance their local economic, environmental and health goals.

“TCC may be the most holistic investment in neighborhood-scale and community-driven climate action anywhere on the planet,” said Jason Karpman MURP ’16, project manager of UCLA’s TCC evaluation. “Lessons learned from this new program could have potentially broad implications for climate action elsewhere.”

The California Strategic Growth Council serves as the lead administrator of TCC and awarded the first round of grants to Fresno ($66.5 million), Ontario ($33.25 million) and the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles ($33.25 million).

Communities are empowered to customize their projects and plans based on their priorities and partnerships. The program includes mechanisms for accountability, including oversight from community members as well as third-party evaluation from academic researchers.

The team at the Luskin Center for Innovation and a similar group from the UC Berkeley Center for Resource Efficient Communities comprised the evaluation team for round 1 of TCC grants. UCLA researchers will take on a fourth TCC site for evaluation, Northeast Valley Los Angeles, during round 2 of TCC implementation.

The evaluation team worked with Fresno, Ontario and Watts stakeholders to create the Transformative Climate Communities Evaluation Plan, which UCLA published in late 2018. This research roadmap is being used to track and assess progress and results over a five-year period in those communities.

Now, UCLA has released the first annual report spanning the initial months of grant implementation.These reports highlight a wealth of data, including community conditions that could change during the five years of TCC implementation. Baseline trends relate to demographic, economic, energy, environmental, health, housing and transportation conditions.

“This first set of reports also documents progress on TCC implementation to date, including project milestones and personal stories of how TCC investments are affecting the lives of people who live and work in the pilot communities,” Karpman said. “This includes the voices of resident leaders in Ontario working to implement the site’s community engagement plan, a job trainee in Fresno learning how to install solar panels, and a high school student in Watts helping to expand a community garden.”

The first set of annual reports focuses on the period following the initial announcement of the TCC awards in 2018 through June 2019, which includes the first few months of project implementation. Common milestones across the three sites include laying the foundation for grant success, establishing partnerships and a governance structure, and launching new local initiatives around health, economic development and the environment.

UCLA’s page includes a number of other resources. Photos of residents and project staff show them working to bring their communities’ vision to reality. Supplemental methodological documentation such as open source code is available for those seeking to replicate findings. And staff bios show the evaluators involved with the project.

TCC is part of a suite of efforts, known as California Climate Investments, funded by the state’s cap-and-trade program. It unifies many of the California Climate Investments project types into a single, place-based initiative. Specifically, TCC funds the following project types:

  • construction of affordable housing near transit;
  • installation of rooftop solar and energy efficiency improvements for homes;
  • purchase of electric vehicles, including buses, that can run on clean energy instead of fossil fuels;
  • expansion of bus service coverage or frequency;
  • improvement and expansion of bike lanes and sidewalks;
  • planting of trees along bike and pedestrian routes and near buildings;
  • implementation of waste diversion programs, such as the collection and reuse of food waste and neighborhood-scale composting.

To maximize the benefits of these types of projects, grantees also must develop and implement the following transformative plans:

  • a community engagement plan to ensure TCC investments reflect the vision and goals of community members;
  • a workforce development plan to bring economic opportunities to disadvantaged and low-income communities;
  • a displacement avoidance plan to minimize the risk of gentrification and displacement of residents and businesses following neighborhood improvements.

 

 

Taylor on Creating a New Generation of Public Transit Users

In a CalMatters article, Brian Taylor, professor of urban planning and public policy and director of the Institute of Transportation Studies, weighed in on the prospect of offering free public transportation to youth to boost ridership across the state. Student ridership and overall ridership have increased dramatically in Sacramento following the implementation of a transit program that allows students in pre-kindergarten to high school to ride the region’s buses and light rail for free year-round. In an effort to emulate the Sacramento program at the state level, Assembly Bill 1350 would require all California transit agencies to offer free passes to anyone 18 and under in order to get state funding. Taylor said AB 1350 is a “small step in the right direction that could have positive effects,” although he believes “it would be best as part of a broader package to improve transit.”


Turner Explores Environmental Benefits of New Urbanism

A CNU Journal article cited Assistant Professor of Urban Planning V. Kelly Turner, one of several scholars who contributed their expertise to the publication of A Research Agenda for New Urbanism. The book highlights research needs from the social, environmental and economic sides of New Urbanism, including transportation, diversity, accessibility and theoretical foundations. Turner highlighted the impact of urbanism on microclimate as a critical area of climate research and stressed the need for “studies that evaluate the role of design in adapting to hotter urban environments.” Some environmental benefits of New Urbanism, including transit-oriented design and reduction of carbon dioxide emissions, have been well-established. However, Turner pointed out the “lack of empirical assessment of the relationship between new urbanist design and ecosystem services, climate adaptation planning and other environmental outcomes.” She recommended establishing field tests at new urban projects in the U.S. and abroad to gather valuable environmental data.


Park Links Heat to Test Performance in Classrooms

An article in the Hechinger Report highlighted Assistant Professor of Public Policy R. Jisung Park’s research findings on the relationship between heat and student test performance. Air pollution and heat are becoming increasing concerns as a result of climate change, and research indicates that these factors may inhibit student performance in classrooms. In a study conducted in New York City, Park found that hot testing days reduced students’ performance on Regents exams, which are required for graduation in New York, thus decreasing the probability of a student graduating from high school. He found that students are 10% more likely to fail an exam when the temperature is 90 degrees than when it’s 72 degrees. Park also co-authored a study that examined PSAT scores across the country and found that students “had lower scores if they experienced hotter school days in the years preceding the test, with extreme heat being particularly damaging.”


Koslov on NYC’s Battle to Protect Its Shoreline

Liz Koslov, assistant professor of urban planning, spoke with Curbed New York about the tense debate over how to protect New York City’s 578 miles of shoreline from the effects of climate change. Scientists forecast that lower Manhattan will see about six feet of sea-level rise in the next 80 years, triggering regular flooding and intensive storm surges. Koslov spoke about the competing impulses New Yorkers felt after 2012’s Hurricane Sandy, with some pushing to redevelop valuable waterfront properties as others opted for “managed retreat” — relocating away from the perennially threatened coasts. Koslov, who is working on a book about Staten Island communities that rejected the rebuilding narrative, said managed retreat has won grassroots support but raises concerns including the impact of lost property taxes on local governments. She urged civic leaders to flesh out a vision for a well-planned “just retreat,” which can be “potentially empowering and a force for reconstructing communities and making the waterfront public again.”

Goh on Rethinking Homeownership in Face of Deadly Wildfires

Kian Goh, assistant professor of urban planning, wrote an article for The Nation about California’s raging wildfires, the deadly stakes of global warming and a key aspect of the crisis that has not captured headlines: “Yes, climate change intensifies the fires — but the ways in which we plan and develop our cities makes them even more destructive,” Goh argued. Private homeownership, a key part of the American Dream for generations, is an ideal that has blinded us to safer and more sustainable priorities, she wrote. She called for new urban designs that protect whole communities, including their most vulnerable members, rather than individual lots. “Given the scope and scale of the climate crisis, it is shocking that we are being presented with so few serious, comprehensive alternatives for how to live,” Goh wrote. “We need another kind of escape route — away from our ideologies of ownership and property, and toward more collective, healthy and just cities.”