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A Passion for Diversity UCLA Luskin showcases its programs — and its people — who are pushing for all voices to be heard on issues of public concern

By Les Dunseith

The social justice ethos and commitment to diversity that form the backbone of UCLA Luskin’s graduate degree programs were front and center during the fourth annual Diversity Fair.

Dozens of graduate student recruits came to campus in November for a full day of discussions and workshops. Key speakers included Dean Gary Segura and the chairs of each graduate department: JR DeShazo of Public Policy, Laura Abrams of Social Welfare and Vinit Mukhija of Urban Planning, all of whom are professors in their respective fields.

A highlight of the day was a panel discussion during which six alumni talked about why they chose UCLA Luskin and offered insightful advice about how the graduate school experience can help people with a passion for change figure out ways to turn their ideals into action.

“How do governments create safe spaces for immigrants? How do we improve the basic services that government provides so that it actually fits the needs of the people who are using them? All of those things were in my mind as I started the program,” said Estafanía Zavala MPP ’18, who is now project lead, digital engagement, for the city of Long Beach. “I feel like the program really helped me gain a good understanding of what was actually going on in the world and how to process it.”

Taylor Holland MURP ’19, assistant project manager at PATH Ventures, a nonprofit agency that works with the homeless population in Los Angeles, said that she chose UCLA in part because of its vast alumni network in Southern California. She said she met “great alumni by coming to events like this. We have super-active alumni who you can really tell are pushing for change in different systems throughout urban planning.”

Several panelists said that UCLA Luskin helped them to further develop a social justice perspective, and they talked about their own efforts to foster inclusiveness.

Ulises Ramirez MSW ’96 is a clinical social worker and therapist in the Adult Outpatient Psychiatric Clinic at Harbor UCLA Medical Center, and he said that mental health service protocols are too often developed only with English-speaking clients in mind.

“The community that we serve at Harbor UCLA is very diverse. We see a lot of Spanish-speaking clients, and my goal there has been to provide top treatment to monolingual, Spanish-speaking clients,” Ramirez said. “It’s an underserved population, and they have nowhere else to go.”

Christina Hernández MSW ’17, community accompaniment coordinator for Freedom for Immigrants in Santa Monica, said her clients come from immigration detention centers.

“They are asylum-seekers; they’re refugees; they’re immigrants. These are people coming from all over the world,” she said. “Our goal is that the documents that we have for English speakers, we also make available for other languages as well.”

The speakers noted that racial minorities and women have traditionally been underrepresented in some of their fields.

“I think our perspectives as folks of color are so important in transportation planning,” said Carolyn “Caro” Vera MURP ’17, who was born and raised in South Los Angeles and now works as a planning consultant. She makes an extra effort to encourage minorities to pursue planning careers.

“If you ever need anything, hit me up,” Vera told the prospective students of color in attendance at the Diversity Fair. “It’s hard to get into the field. It’s daunting. But we need you in that field.”

Wajenda Chambeshi MPP ’16, a program manager for the city of Los Angeles, noted that a lack of diversity in some professions starts with decisions by young people from minority communities about which courses of study to pursue.

“Some of these professions that we overlook make really, really important decisions about where funds are going to be allocated, how they are going to be allocated and, ultimately, who receives what. That’s why we need diversity,” Chambeshi said, “so when we graduate, we will be able to filter into those positions that are able to divert resources — or even just rethink how we think about planning and public policy.”

As “the housing person on this panel,” Holland talked about the ethnic component of the homelessness crisis in Los Angeles.

“We have 60,000 people on the streets in L.A. on any given night, and it’s largely a black crisis. We have 9 percent of the city that is black; 40 percent of our homeless population is black,” she said.

Holland said her focus is on chronically homeless people, many of whom are people of color.

“They are … people who have been forgotten about in every aspect of their lives and cannot be pulled up by their bootstraps. Looking at social justice and housing — it’s particularly in a crisis in L.A. right now,” she said, directing her attention to the prospective students of color in the audience. “And we need all of you guys to help out as you can.”

The alumni panelists spoke passionately about the advantages of being actively involved as students, and they urged attendees to build expansive personal and professional networks.

Vera said she battled depression during her time as a UCLA student and suffered a panic attack during an exam that threatened her opportunity to graduate. But friends helped her through.

“Always advocate for yourself. Create peer networks and check in on each other,” she said.

Noting that the pressures of academic life can be especially difficult for first-generation college students from disadvantaged populations such as herself, she continued: “You are more prone to having depression and anxiety when you come into a program that just doesn’t look like what you are accustomed to.”

Building a network as a student was important to Ramirez as well. He cited his involvement in the Latinx Caucus as a particularly beneficial connection, “and 23 years later, we still get together.”

Hernandez echoed those experiences.

“I am a first-generation daughter of immigrants, and navigating these spaces was very difficult for me,” she said. “So networks were a lifesaver.”

Hernandez ticked off the names of UCLA faculty and staff members who helped her as a student and remain close. “It was amazing to have people who look like me, Latinos, as advisors and as supervisors, who I could go to and say, ‘Hey, I’m stuck with this issue.’”

She continued: “That is the beauty of joining this school. Even after you graduate, you still have folks who are going to be there to support you regardless of the situation.”

View more images from the event on Flickr:

Diversity Fair 2019

ACSP Honors Umemoto for Leadership, Integrity, Solidarity

The Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning (ACSP) has honored Urban Planning Professor Karen Umemoto as the winner of the 2019 Marcia Feld Award for Outstanding Leadership. At the group’s annual conference, held Oct. 24-27 in Greenville, South Carolina, the ACSP honored faculty and students who have distinguished themselves or made major contributions to the planning profession. Every other year, the Marcia Feld Award recognizes a Faculty Women’s Interest Group colleague for outstanding leadership within the ACSP organization. “Quietly, with great talent and courage, [Umemoto] made an indelible mark on the organization and its ability to respond to the challenge of diversity,” said the awards committee, which described her as a “beacon of integrity and solidarity and an agent of positive change.” Although Umemoto was unable to attend the conference, she expressed her gratitude for the award and commented, “Each generation lifts up the next, and I’m very grateful to so many people who have helped me both professionally and personally.” Umemoto said she hopes that the award elevates the importance of research on diversity. A recent UCLA Luskin graduate was also recognized at the conference. Esteban Doyle MURP ’19 received the 2019 Ed McClure Award for Best Master Student Paper, which recognizes superior scholarship in a paper prepared by a master student in an ACSP member school. Doyle’s paper, “The Unequal Dangers of Walking to School,” presented a quantitative analysis of child pedestrian and bicycle crashes in Los Angeles and related their occurrence to neighborhood and built environment characteristics. 


A ‘New Day’ for Asian American Women in Arts and Media Luskin Lecture brings together pioneers striving for more authentic portrayals on screen and stage

By Mary Braswell

Four women who have strived to bring more authentic portrayals of Asian Americans onto the screen and stage shared stories of risk-taking, perseverance and the importance of mentorship at the opening event of this year’s UCLA Meyer and Renee Luskin Lecture Series. 

The pioneers from diverse parts of the arts and media landscape came together for “Dawn of a New Day,” a conversation at the Japanese American National Museum in downtown Los Angeles on Oct. 17.

“Tonight we hear from Asian American women who have risen to shape the narrative rather than be dictated by the gaze of others,” said Karen Umemoto, professor of urban planning and director of the Asian American Studies Center at UCLA, one of the event’s co-sponsors.

The audience heard from Grace Lee, director of documentaries and feature films; writer, actor and satirist Fawzia Mirza; Tess Paras, who blends acting, music, comedy and producing; and comedian and performance artist Kristina Wong.

“One of the reasons I got into storytelling and filmmaking in the first place is that I wanted to tell the story that I wanted see,” said Lee, who co-founded the Asian American Documentary Network to share resources and lift up emerging artists. “I just didn’t see a lot of films or stories out there about Asian Americans, women, people of color.”

Lee says she makes a point of hiring diverse film crews and interns to “develop that pipeline so that they can see models just like I had when I was first making films.”

“It’s living your own values,” she said. “It’s really important for us to question, ‘Who gets to tell this story? We get to tell this story.’ ”

Mirza took an unconventional path into the creative arts. She was in law school when she realized she’d rather be an actor. She finished her degree and worked as a litigator to pay off student loans but realized that “art, for me, is a way of figuring out who I am.”

“Talking about my queer, Muslim, South Asian identity through art is a way for me to survive,” she said, but cautioned, “Just by virtue of claiming your identity, sometimes you’re not trying to be political but you are politicized.”

Paras spoke of the one-dimensional acting roles — like the “white girl’s nerdy friend” — that are often available to Asian American women. After a YouTube video she created to satirize such typecasting went viral, she realized, “Oh, this is what happens when you take a big risk and tell your story.”

There is a hunger for honest portrayals of diverse communities, Paras said, a lesson she learned through a crowdfunding campaign for her film about a young Filipina American who struggles to talk to her family about a sexual assault.

“Folks came out of the woodwork because I was creating something that had not to my knowledge really been told,” Paras said. “There were a bunch of young Filipino women who were like, here’s 15 dollars, here’s 25, here’s 40, because I have never seen a story about this.”

Three of the four panelists — Lee, Paras and Wong — are alumnae of UCLA, as is moderator Ada Tseng, entertainment editor for TimesOC.

“I was convinced that the rest of the world looked like UCLA, … a world where everyone is super-political and talks all the time about politics and identity,” said Wong, whose senior project for her world arts and culture major was a fake mail-order-bride site that skewered stereotypes of Asian women.

“So much of the path I’m on felt quite normal because there were other Asian American queer and non-binary folks who were creating solo work,” Wong said. Not until she left California to go on tour did she find how misunderstood her edgy humor could be.

The event was also the closing program for the multimedia exhibit “At First Light,” organized by the Japanese American National Museum and Visual Communications, a nonprofit media arts group. The UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs co-sponsored the lecture, along with the UCLA Asian American Studies Center and its Center for Ethno Communications and the Asian American Studies Department at UCLA.

“The panel tonight is a testament to how far we’ve come, though we all know there’s still so much further to go,” said Umemoto, noting that UCLA’s Asian American studies and urban planning programs are marking 50-year anniversaries this year.

Also celebrating a milestone is the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, which just turned 25, Dean Gary Segura told the crowd. The Luskin Lectures are a key part of the School’s mission to hold a “dialogue with the people of Los Angeles and California on issues of public concern,” Segura said.

View additional photos from the Luskin Lecture on Flickr.

LLS_Asian Women in Media

Public Policy Hosts Weekend of Learning and Service

About 30 undergraduate students from California and beyond convened at UCLA for a weekend of learning and public service, part of the not-for-profit Public Policy and International Affairs (PPIA) program. UCLA Luskin Public Policy hosted the program, “Advancing Social Justice Through Public Service: Lessons From California,” with senior lecturer Kenya Covington coordinating a full weekend of lectures, conversations and off-campus experiences. Students ventured out to MacArthur Park west of downtown Los Angeles, the Crenshaw District and the office of Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl to hear how policymakers are grappling with homelessness and gentrification. They heard from several MPP alumni from both the policy field and academia, and learned about public service career paths from Dean Gary Segura and other UCLA Luskin staff. Several members of the public policy and urban planning faculty shared research, insights and data-gathering techniques during the Oct. 4-6 event, including Amada Armenta, Kevin de León, Michael Lens, Michael Stoll and Chris Zepeda-Millán. Public Policy Chair JR DeShazo encouraged the students to engage intellectually, socially and emotionally as they explored policy challenges and prepared to make an impact in their own careers. The students formed working groups to synthesize what they had seen and heard, and presented their findings at the close of the program. Joining the large contingent of students from four-year and community colleges in California were participants from Arizona, Illinois, Michigan and Washington. The public service weekend was one of several outreaches around the country that are coordinated through PPIA to promote diversity in public service.

View photos from the PPIA public service weekend on Flickr.

PPIA Public Service Weekend


 

Graduating Students Seek Out Solutions Near and Far The capstone research projects that are now part of all UCLA Luskin programs tackle local challenges or examine issues that extend far beyond campus and California

By Stan Paul

Newly graduated Social Welfare master’s degree recipient Deshika Perera’s research project extended across the United States and as far north as Alaska.

Evan Kreuger helped create a nationwide database as a basis for his research into LGBT health and health outcomes to culminate his Master of Social Welfare (MSW) studies at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Perera and Kreuger are members of the first graduating class of Social Welfare students to complete a capstone research project as a graduation requirement for their MSW degrees. Like their UCLA Luskin counterparts in Urban Planning and Public Policy who must also complete capstones, working individually and in groups to complete research and analysis projects that hone their skills while studying important social issues on behalf of government agencies, nonprofit groups and other clients with a public service focus.

“It’s been fun; it’s been interesting,” said Perera, who worked with Associate Professor Ian Holloway. Her qualitative study examined the relationship between the Violence Against Women Act and nonprofits, focusing on programs that provide services to indigenous survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence on reservations and in remote areas of the U.S.

As a member of the pioneering class for the MSW capstone, Perera said that although the new requirement was rigorous, she enjoyed the flexibility of the program.

“I feel we got to express our own creativity and had more freedom because it was loosely structured,” Perera said, explaining that she and her fellow students got to provide input on their projects and the capstone process. The development of the requirement went both ways. “Because it was new, [faculty] were asking us a lot of questions,” Perera said.

“We strongly believe that this capstone experience combines a lot of the pieces of learning that they’ve been doing, so it really integrates their knowledge of theory, their knowledge of research methods and their knowledge of practice,” said Laura Wray-Lake, associate professor and MSW capstone coordinator. “I think it’s really fun to see research come alive and be infused with real world practice.”

Krueger, who also was completing a Ph.D. in public health at UCLA while concluding his MSW studies, previously worked as a research coordinator for a national survey on LGBT adults through the UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute. He said he had a substantial amount of data to work with and that he enjoyed the opportunity to combine his research interests.

“I’m really interested in how the social environment influences these public health questions I’m looking at,” said Kreuger who has studied HIV and HIV prevention. “I kind of knew what I wanted to do, but it was a matter of pulling it all together.”

For years, MSW students have completed rigorous coursework and challenging educational field placements during their two-year program of study, and some previous MSW graduates had conducted research in connection with sponsoring agencies. This year’s class included the first MSW recipients to complete a new two-year research sequence, Wray-Lake said.

View more photos from Public Policy’s APP presentations.

Applied Policy Projects

In UCLA Luskin Public Policy, 14 teams presented a year’s worth of exacting research during this year’s Applied Policy Project presentations, the capstone for those seeking a Master of Public Policy (MPP) degree.

Public Policy students master the tools to conduct policy analysis during their first year of study. In the second year, they use those tools to create sophisticated policy analyses to benefit government entities and other clients.

The APP research is presented to faculty, peers and curious first-year students over the course of two days. This May’s presentations reflected a broad spectrum of interests.

Like some peers in Social Welfare, a few MPP teams tackled faraway issues, including a study of environmental protection and sustainable tourism in the South Pacific. Closer to home, student researchers counted people experiencing homelessness, looked at ways to reform the juvenile justice system, sought solutions to food insecurity and outlined ideas to protect reproductive health, among other topics.

“Our students are providing solutions to some of the most important local and global problems out there,” said Professor JR DeShazo, chair of UCLA Luskin Public Policy.

After each presentation, faculty members and others in the audience followed up with questions about data sources, methodologies and explanations for the policy recommendations.

View more photos from Urban Planning’s capstone presentations.

Careers, Capstones and Conversations

Recently graduated UCLA Luskin urban planners displayed their culminating projects in April at the annual Careers, Capstones and Conversations networking event, following up with final written reports for sponsoring clients.

Many planning students work individually, but a cohort of 16 Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) students worked together to complete a comprehensive research project related to a $23 million grant recently received by the San Fernando Valley community of Pacoima. The project was the culmination of almost six months of analysis in which the MURP students helped the nonprofit Pacoima Beautiful, other community partners and government agencies prepare a plan seeking to avoid displacement of residents as a result of a pending major redevelopment effort.

“I think our project creates a really amazing starting point for further research, and it provided concrete recommendations for the organizations to think about,” said Jessica Bremner, a doctoral student in urban planning who served as a teaching assistant for the class that conducted the research. Professor Vinit Mukhija, chair of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning, was the course instructor.

View more photos from Social Welfare’s capstone presentations. 

MSWs Test Research Methods

In Social Welfare, the projects represented a variety of interests and subject matter, said Wray-Lake, pointing out that each student’s approach — quantitative and/or qualitative — helps distinguish individual areas of inquiry. Some students used existing data sets to analyze social problems, she said, whereas others gathered their own data through personal interviews and focus groups. Instructors provided mentoring and training during the research process.

“They each have their own challenges,” said Wray-Lake, noting that several capstones were completed in partnership with a community agency, which often lack the staff or funding for research.

“Agencies are very hungry for research,” she said. “They collect lot of data and they have a lot of research needs, so this is a place where our students can be really useful and have real community impact with the capstones.”

Professor of Social Welfare Todd Franke, who serves as a lead instructor for the capstone projects, said his students worked on issues that impact child welfare. Others studied the relationship between child neglect and involvement with the juvenile justice system. Another capstone focused on predictors of educational aspirations among black and Native American students. The well-being of caregivers and social workers served as another study topic.

Assistant Professor Amy Ritterbusch, who also served as a capstone instructor, said her students focused on topics that included education beyond incarceration, the needs of Central American migrant youth in schools, and the unmet needs of homeless individuals in MacArthur Park. One project was cleverly titled as “I’m Still Here and I Can Go On: Coping Practices of Immigrant Domestic Workers.”

“They all did exceptional work,” Ritterbusch said.

Taking the Border Crisis to Heart Team from UCLA Luskin Social Welfare counsels mothers and children seeking asylum in the United States

Team from UCLA Luskin Social Welfare travels to immigrant detention center in Texas to counsel mothers and children seeking asylum in the U.S.

Orfield on Role of Magnet Schools in Los Angeles

The recent teacher’s strike in Los Angeles stoked a discussion of the role of “magnet schools” in L.A.’s school district. In an article from Next City, Urban Planning Professor Gary Orfield, also the co-director of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, said, “A good magnet requires a commitment to invest and train people to offer distinctive programs, and of course magnet schools that are run under good civil rights policies have to offer transportation.” Magnet schools, which were originally opened as part of a desegregation plan to increase diversity, are based around a specialized academic focus that attracts students across school district lines and zones. Due to their rising popularity, these schools have also been magnetizing much of the funding that has been allocated to regular L.A. schools. Many school administrators have been considering transforming their schools into magnets, much to the concern of various teachers’ unions.


 

Orfield Comments on Biden’s 1975 Argument Against School Desegregation

Distinguished Research Professor of Education, Law, Political Science and Urban Planning at UCLA Gary Orfield was recently quoted in a Washington Examiner  report on former vice president and possible 2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden. Biden, a lifelong liberal, self-proclaimed product of the civil rights movement and former lawyer for the Black Panther Party, was quoted in a resurfaced NPR interview from 1975 as saying that he opposed the desegregation of American schools through the policy of busing. Biden stated that it was a matter of black Americans preserving their collective identity. Criticizing Biden’s past arguments, Orfield commented: “This is one of the traditional conservative ways to oppose integration. … All of the surveys of African Americans show virtually no preference for segregation. … They favor integration.”


 

Growing to Meet the Challenge of a Changing World UCLA Luskin faculty additions bring new expertise to help keep pace with a rapidly evolving society

By Stan Paul

Retreating coastlines. An information revolution. The ever-evolving ethnic makeup of the United States. These are times of rapid change, presenting new challenges to how and where we live and work.

Meeting the challenges of this new normal and finding solutions to shifting problems and populations, the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs has undergone unprecedented growth. In fall 2018, nine new scholars joined Luskin’s faculty in positions that cross disciplinary lines within the School and across the campus. This follows the addition of six other new faculty members since 2016. Four more are being recruited.

This expansion is partly tied to the launch of a new undergraduate major in public affairs, but it’s about more than filling out a schedule of classes. The School has become one of the most diverse and interdisciplinary units in the University of California system, Dean Gary Segura said. The additions were designed to expand “expertise and social impact,” making the school “profoundly well-positioned to engage, educate, study, and contribute to California’s diverse and dynamic population.”

Among the new faculty, six are women and four are Latino.

Some already have strong interests in Los Angeles as well as ties to UCLA and the region, and others will have the opportunity to incorporate Los Angeles into their work.

“I’m extremely excited to be coming home, living on the Eastside and working on the Westside,” said Chris Zepeda-Millán, associate professor of public policy and Chicana/o studies. Zepeda-Millán, a political scientist who grew up in East Los Angeles, studies how mass protest impacts public opinion, policy preferences, identities and political participation. His book, “Latino Mass Mobilization, Immigration, Racialization, and Activism,” received awards this year from the American Political Science Association and the American Sociological Association.

Zepeda-Millán is thrilled to be at UCLA: “It’s truly a dream come true.”

Martin Gilens, professor of public policy, previously taught political science at UCLA. After a long stint at Princeton, he returned to UCLA, where he has multi-generational ties — his parents and grandfather are

Bruins. A native Angeleno, Gilens studies race, class, social inequality and their representational effects in the political system. He teaches courses to graduate and undergraduate students.

“I’m looking forward to the interdisciplinary environment of the Luskin School,” Gilens said. “My Ph.D. is in sociology, and I’ve taught in political science and public policy, so I’m a walking embodiment of interdisciplinarity.”

Natalie Bau adds global perspective and reach. She is an economist studying development and education, with a particular interest in the industrial organization of educational markets. She looks at cultural traditions — such as bride price and dowry practiced in some countries — and their role in determining parents’ human capital investments in their children, and how they evolve in response to the economic environment.

In Zambia, she and research colleagues are tracking the outcomes of 1,600 adolescent girls to evaluate the effects of an experiment that randomly taught negotiation skills.

“My research interests include understanding factors that impact police decision-making and public trust in police,” said Assistant Professor of Public Policy Emily Weisburst, who studies labor economics and public finance, including criminal justice and education. “I am also interested in how interactions with the criminal justice system affect individuals, families and communities.”

Amada Armenta earned her doctorate in sociology in 2011 from UCLA and returns as an assistant professor in UCLA Luskin Urban Planning.

“I am thrilled to be back, to contribute to a university that has played such a formative role in my education,” said the author of the award-winning book, “Protect, Serve and Deport: The Rise of Policing as Immigration Enforcement.” Most recently she has examined how undocumented Mexican immigrants navigate bureaucracies in Philadelphia.

“Put briefly, I study the social impacts of climate change and how cities are adapting,” says Assistant Professor of Urban Planning Liz Koslov. “My research specifically focuses on the adaptation strategy known as ‘managed retreat,’ the process of relocating people, un-building land, and restoring habitat in places exposed to flooding, sea level rise, and other effects of climate change.”

Koslov is working on a book aptly titled, “Retreat,” that follows residents of Staten Island in New York City whose houses were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Sandy and who subsequently decided to relocate rather than rebuild in place.

Like Koslov, new Urban Planning colleague V. Kelly Turner conducts research with an environmental lens. Her work addresses the relationship among institutions, urban design and the environment through two interrelated questions: How does urban design relate to ecosystem services in cities? And to what extent do social institutions have the capacity to deliver those services?

Turner said her approach draws from social-ecological systems frameworks to address urban planning and design problem domains. She has used this approach to investigate microclimate regulation through New Urbanist design, water and biodiversity management through homeowners associations, and stormwater management through green infrastructure interventions.

Joining UCLA Luskin Social Welfare is Amy Ritterbusch, who has led social justice-oriented participatory action research initiatives with street-connected communities in Colombia for the last decade, and also recently in Uganda. Her work documents human rights violations and forms of violence against the homeless, sex workers, drug users and street-connected children and youth, and subsequent community-driven mobilizations to catalyze social justice outcomes within these communities.

“My current research contemplates the dilemmas within our social movement in terms of how to create protective environments for social justice researchers and activists in the midst of working on and against acts of violence and injustice,” Ritterbusch said.

Assistant Professor of Social Welfare Carlos Santos draws on diverse disciplines, theories and methods to better understand how oppressions such as racism and heterosexism overlap to create unique conditions for individuals.

With a background in developmental psychology, Santos believes that developmental phenomena must be studied across diverse disciplines and perspectives. He draws on the largely interdisciplinary interpretive framework of intersectionality, which is a view “underscoring how systems of oppression overlap to create inequities.”

Transportation and Isolation: Serious Challenges for Diverse, Older Angelenos Research conducted by UCLA Luskin and USC Leonard Davis — and supported by AARP — examines travel, technology and mobility issues

In an effort to identify solutions to improve the lives of older adults and people of all ages and abilities, the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, with the support of AARP, recently conducted surveys of diverse, older Angelenos, exploring their travel patterns, use of technology, and the mobility problems they face.

“We united on one common goal, the importance for understanding community needs, opportunities, and barriers that can support, create and sustain livable and age-friendly communities in Los Angeles,” said Nancy McPherson, State Director of AARP. “We know that the more connected and engaged people are with their community, the more likely they are to age successfully and remain living in their homes for as long as possible, as the vast majority wish to do.”

The UCLA research team focused on identifying mobility and travel patterns by conducting focus groups and interviews with 81 older adults in the neighborhoods of Koreatown, Westlake and East Hollywood, including adults visiting St. Barnabas Senior Services (SBSS), a local organization that provides health and social services. The UCLA report, “Bolstering Mobility and Transportation Options for Low-Income Older Adults,” found that:

  • Participants expressed difficulty in getting around, often endure long transit trips and uncomfortable or scary walking environments and social hazards that could cause them to trip and fall, significantly reducing their independence and quality of life.
  • For many, walking around their neighborhoods is the primary mode of transportation; however, there are significant physical and social impediments that constrain mobility.
  • A small number own cars and many rely on family and friends to drive them. Use of point-to-point travel services (e.g., taxis, ride-hailing services) is rare and constrained by finances.
  • Many lack competency with technology to order ride-hailing services.
  • Mobility constraints affect the number and frequency of trips.
  • Differences exist among study participants in regard to the numbers of social and recreational trips. Older adults visiting SBSS take a larger number of daily trips and have a higher likelihood of making social and recreational trips than those who are not visiting SBSS.

“Mobility affects the quality of life. Decreased mobility means also decreased access to city amenities or jobs, and socialization opportunities, as well as a higher risk for social isolation. Our findings suggest that certain improvements both in the physical environment and in the transit and paratransit services can help increase the mobility of low-income, older adults, and we articulate these improvements in our report,” said Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, Associate Dean of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. “We are welcoming the opportunity to join forces with the AARP and our USC colleagues and advocate for more age-friendly California cities.”

For more information on the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies report, “Bolstering Mobility and Transportation Options for Low-Income Older Adults,” click here.

In recent years, there has been a growing focus on the consequences of loneliness and isolation, especially among older adults. While adoption of technology and social media has the potential to reduce isolation, issues such as cost, disinterest and lack of the skills needed to use various devices may hinder older adults’ adoption. Los Angeles’ ethnically, linguistically and geographically diverse population of older adults made it an ideal location for the USC Leonard School of Gerontology to explore how this population uses technology and the extent to which they believe it can improve connectivity and reduce isolation.

The USC research team conducted six focus groups in English, Spanish and Korean at SBSS with 48 older adults living in a low-income area of Los Angeles, home to a diverse, largely immigrant population. Key findings from this report, “Aging in Place in Los Angeles: Recognizing Challenges to Social Connectedness,” include:

  • A relatively high use of some technology among this engaged group, as well as a wide range in social connectivity with family, friends, and members of the community;
  • Although some older adults did not have the resources or the desire to use technology, others used mobile phones, smart phones, tablets, and computers – either in combination or alone – for purposes of contacting their family and friends, accessing health care information, getting the news, shopping, and watching television;
  • Cost, disinterest, and lack of the skills needed to use various devices hindered older adults’ adoption of technology and social media;
  • Many older adults indicated a reluctance to adopt newer technology because they preferred to communicate in-person and they expressed concerns that technology is too complicated or too expensive; others used it for entertainment, to plan local and long-distance travels, and to communicate with their loved ones.

“Our findings suggest that although technology isn’t a cure all for loneliness, it can be a tool in the tool box for addressing social isolation. Policy makers and tech developers need to consider how older adults currently use technology, how it can better suit their needs, and barriers that prevent them from using it effectively,” said Kate Wilber, USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology professor. “We are thankful that AARP and our UCLA collaborators recognize the importance of addressing social isolation and look forward to working toward solutions that benefit older adults in Los Angeles and beyond.”

For more information on USC’s “Disrupting Isolation in Housing for an Aging Population,” click here.

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