Posts

A Spotlight on Park’s Research on Heat, Learning

PBS NewsHour took an in-depth look at Assistant Professor of Public Policy R. Jisung Park’s research linking extreme heat and students’ ability to learn. Every 1-degree-Fahrenheit increase in average outdoor temperature over a school year reduces student learning by 1 percent, a team of researchers led by Park found. The team’s analysis of weather data, test scores for 10 million students, and access to air conditioning in classrooms across the country point to a “Dixie divide”: In hotter counties in Florida, Texas and other Southern states, test scores were lower than those in the North, even after controlling for factors such as family income, a county’s economic status or local pollution. “The causal effect of any given 90-degree day was much larger for lower-income students and racial minorities,” added Park, associate director of economic research for the Luskin Center for Innovation. The study puts a spotlight on the nuanced ways that developed nations will be influenced by global warming.

 

Park on Hot Classrooms and the Achievement Gap

R. Jisung Park, assistant professor of public policy, spoke with KPCC’s “Take Two” about his research linking extreme heat with the racial education achievement gap. Students who experience more hot days during the school year perform worse on standardized exams, Park and his colleagues found. In addition, black and Hispanic students are 9 percent less likely than white students to attend schools with functioning air conditioning, they found. “We know that that can have effects on the economic opportunities that these students can have access to,” Park told “Take Two” in a segment beginning at minute 23:40. Park, associate director of economic research for the Luskin Center for Innovation, advocates for air conditioning powered by clean energy. “In the meantime,” he said, “we need to protect the most disadvantaged communities from the effects of climate change that are already coming down the pike.” Park’s research was also highlighted in USA Today and the Washington Post.


 

Park Researches Unequal Learning in a Warming World

Extreme heat and a lack of air conditioning in classrooms contribute to the nation’s racial education achievement gap, according to research by R. Jisung Park, assistant professor of public policy. His study, forthcoming in the American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, is the first peer-reviewed paper to put dollar figures on the costs and social benefits of air conditioning in schools. Using data from more than 10 million middle- and high-school students across the United States, Park and his colleagues found that students who experience more hot days during the school year perform worse on standardized exams. Up to 40 percent of U.S. schools may not be fully air conditioned. Although black and Hispanic students overwhelmingly reside in hotter locations than white students, they are 9 percent less likely to have school air conditioning, the researchers found.  In hot places such as Houston and Atlanta, each additional year of sufficient school air conditioning could boost collective future earnings by up to $2 million in any given high school of 1,000 students, the study found. Park, associate director of economic research for the Luskin Center for Innovation, advocates for air conditioning powered by clean energy that does not contribute to climate change. “We must recognize that adapting to climate change is a matter of racial and economic justice, especially in schools,” Park wrote in a USA Today op-ed. Keeping students cool could be a cost-effective way to boost climate resilience, promote learning and economic mobility, and narrow the gap between our nation’s haves and have-nots.”

Read more about Park’s research and past work.


 

In Memoriam: Mark Kleiman, World-Renowned Scholar of Drug Policy Educator, prolific author and blogger provided extensive guidance to policymakers on marijuana legalization and criminal justice reform

Mark A.R. Kleiman, emeritus professor of public policy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and one the United States’ pre-eminent experts on drug and crime policy, died July 21 after a long illness. He was 68.

Kleiman’s long list of publications includes his most recent co-authored books, “Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know” (Oxford University Press, 2012) and “Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know” (Oxford, 2011), as well as “When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment” (Princeton University Press, 2009).

He also worked at the United States Department of Justice, serving as director of the Office of Policy and Management Analysis, Criminal Division, and as the associate director for Drug Enforcement Programs. And he held posts as deputy director for management and director of program analysis for the city of Boston.

“Mark was a rare breed in academia, a truly Renaissance mind,” said Mark Peterson, professor of public policy in the UCLA Luskin School and one of Kleiman’s colleagues. “I quickly realized that he was both the smartest person in the building and among the funniest, with a quick wit that often required educational sophistication to fully grasp.”

Peterson added: “I can say that his network was simply enormous, encompassing friends, colleagues, mentees and protégés, graduate and undergraduate students, media figures, state and federal policymakers, all of whom he helped, he informed, he guided, and he just simply cared about.”

Kleiman also authored numerous journal articles, book chapters, technical reports and policy memos, as well providing articles and commentary for news media and book reviews and for professional publications. He served as editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis and was a referee for numerous professional policy journals. He also was an active blogger on “The Reality-Based Community,” focusing on public policy analysis of the criminal justice system, substance abuse, and drug policy in the United States and abroad.

Kleiman, who was born in Phoenix and grew up in Baltimore, graduated magna cum laude in political science, philosophy and economics from Haverford College. He earned his master’s in public policy and doctorate in public policy at Harvard.

He came to UCLA in 1996 shortly after the founding of the graduate program in public policy in what was then known as the UCLA School of Public Policy and Social Research. He served on the faculty of the Luskin School until retiring in 2015. He later joined the faculty of New York University, where he was affiliated with NYU’s Wagner School and served as director of the crime and justice program at NYU’s Marron Institute of Urban Management.

Prior to UCLA, Kleiman held academic posts at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, and at the University of Rochester. He also served stints as a visiting professor at the Batten School of Leadership and Policy at the University of Virginia, Harvard Law School, and the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy. He was a visiting fellow at the National Institute of Justice.

In addition, Kleiman served on the National Research Council as a member of the Committee on Law and Justice, and he was chairman of the board of the Los Angeles-based Botec Analysis Corporation, a research and consulting firm that develops solutions to issues in public policy in the areas of crime, justice and drug policy.

“Mark leaves behind a legacy — us,” said former student Brad Rowe, who earned his master’s in public policy in 2013, and who later worked closely with Kleiman. “He was a teacher first and foremost.”

Rowe said that Kleiman was a demanding instructor, but “he could always make you laugh with his ready-made arsenal of anecdotes.”

Rowe, who now teaches a public policy course at UCLA Luskin and serves as the school’s intellectual successor to Kleiman on drug policy, continued, “And, wow, I’ve rarely met someone who so loved seeing justice done.”

UCLA was the launching point and incubator for many of Kleiman’s ideas, Rowe recalled. “It was a safe haven where he valued the commitment this group has for thought and action rooted in truth, equality, dignity and public safety.”

Albert Carnesale, UCLA chancellor emeritus and professor emeritus of public policy and mechanical and aerospace engineering, first met his future colleague during Kleiman’s time as a doctoral student at Harvard.

“In addition to being an extraordinary fount of original ideas, deep insights, and rigorous and revealing analyses, he was a devoted mentor to generations of students, a valuable colleague, a caring friend, and a compassionate and effective advocate for fairness and justice,” Carnesale wrote in an email after learning of Kleiman’s death.

Former student Jaime Nack, the president of Three Squares Inc. and who graduated with a master’s in public policy in 2002, wrote: “Mark Kleiman was an amazing professor … He truly cared that we mastered the material. He knew it would serve us in life and in our careers.”

No services are planned. He is survived by a sister, Kelly Kleiman, who posted on social media: “If you are moved to honor him, please donate to the NYU Transplant Institute, the ACLU, or any Democratic candidate.”

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.

Aspiring Urban Planners Seek to Mitigate Gentrification Impacts in Pacoima Researchers study alternative living spaces in a community about to launch major development and infrastructure improvements

By Les Dunseith

For Silvia González studying for a doctorate in urban planning at UCLA is about more than learning how cities and communities can be better designed. It’s about promoting economic and environmental justice and housing equity, causes she is personally connected to.

González and her family grew up 20 miles north of UCLA in the working-class communities of Pacoima and San Fernando, spending several years in a garage converted to a living space without permits on a property owned by her aunt. Her family eventually moved out, and “later it was torn down, after inspectors found out.”

That result is “exactly what we don’t want to happen” in Pacoima, González said. “If it’s affordable housing, then how do we keep it?”

Fast forward to the past academic year, when González served as a graduate instructor for a comprehensive research project in which 16 urban planning master’s degree candidates in the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs spent nearly six months studying ways to make sure a pending major redevelopment effort in the community does not lead to displacement of the people already living there.

The research and final report were produced for a nonprofit organization known as Pacoima Beautiful, other community partners and government agencies. The research effort was a byproduct of $23 million received by Pacoima as part of a statewide grant process that is providing funding for development and infrastructure projects to achieve significant environmental, health and economic benefits in the state’s most disadvantaged communities.

“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 also 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.

Pacoima is one of many places in Southern California in which many lower-income residents scrape by amid a housing affordability crisis by taking up residence in converted garages and other outbuildings, or in portions of homes that have been added or converted as places to be rented. One subgroup of the UCLA Luskin class utilized aerial images and walked the streets of Pacoima to catalog the presence of these types of living spaces, which are known as accessory dwelling units, or ADUs.

In the geographic area they studied, the team found that almost half of all properties included a secondary dwelling — often without the permits and inspector approvals to be considered legal. According to the project report, about three-quarters of the tenants pay less than $1,000 per month in rent. Almost half live in an ADU on a property in which the main unit is occupied by a relative.

On May 28, the team went to Pacoima City Hall to present its findings, which also detail the personal impact of housing instability on Pacoima’s residents. In their summary report, the researchers wrote that their research questions had presumed that the condition of individual housing units would be the defining characteristic of the tenant experience.

“We were wrong,” they wrote. “Tenants face a variety of good and bad conditions, but the most important factor influencing their quality of life was the relationship between the landlord and tenant.”

González said that Pacoima Beautiful and its partner organizations are committed to finding solutions to address possible gentrification and housing displacement before it happens in Pacoima. As grant awardees, the organizations are required to prepare and implement a displacement avoidance plan. González also works for UCLA’s Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, which had assisted Pacoima with the grant application and is now taking the lead in developing that plan. Pacoima Beautiful is responsible for managing it.

“I really love the way that it came about,” González said. “The decision to address displacement before it happens came from the community. The community is interested in taking advantage of the housing options that are already there and building on that.”

The research effort included one-on-one interviews, focus groups and site observations, with volunteers from the new UCLA Luskin undergraduate public affairs program helping with some tasks.

Some of the findings were surprising.

“I think everyone has these assumptions around accessory dwelling units … that they are only for the short term or for temporary housing, which we found actually wasn’t true,” Bremner said. The majority of residents living in ADUs in Pacoima do so for many years, the study found.

When they looked at how space is used, Bremner said researchers expected that the shared communal spaces common to ADUs would promote bonding among residents, but that was not the case. For example, a youth from a family of five reported sleeping on a sofa in the living room of one dwelling and rarely interacting with the 10 people in other families living in two other ADUs on the property.

This interviewee was among a number of high school youths who spoke to the researchers, and those survey participants provided detailed descriptions of their living arrangements.

“I think the stories of the youth were very impactful,” said González, who noted that most cope with the burden of schoolwork and the pressures of teenage life while living in stressful, overcrowded conditions.

The urban planning team also analyzed the willingness of property owners to sell or lease all, or part, of their land for the purpose of creating community land trusts, which acquire and hold land in the interest of promoting affordable housing by removing properties from the speculative real estate market.

As urban planners concerned about housing equity, the UCLA team tended to view the idea of community land trusts as a good approach. But, González said, the homeowners were “apprehensive about being a part of a community land trust in the way that we were pitching it, which was a community land trust that owns accessory dwelling units.”

Property owners were not interested in the idea if it meant the homeowner would be responsible for dealing with the tenants.

“But if there’s an organization that will deal with the tenants— that will be responsible for them — then [property owners] wanted to participate,” González said.

The comprehensive project was just one step in a long process for Pacoima, but both Bremner and González believe the results will prove valuable.

“From Pacoima Beautiful’s perspective, I think it changed their approach to organizing,” González said. “They are an environmental justice organization. And now seeing how important that housing is to their community, I think it’s going to change the way that they approach the project. And it is going to change the way they do future projects.”

Phillips Receives Grant to Develop Undergraduate Research Opportunities

Meredith Phillips, chair of undergraduate affairs at UCLA Luskin, has received an inaugural Chancellor’s Award for Community-Engaged Research. Phillips will use the $10,000 grant to develop a new undergraduate course that will bring students and local organizations into a research partnership for the benefit of the wider community. Titled “Making Data Useful for Educational Improvement,” Phillips’ course will equip students to analyze student and staff survey data from elementary, middle and high schools, and present those data to educators and administrators who are seeking to improve their schools. “Community-engaged research creates outstanding learning opportunities for undergraduate students, advances the research of our faculty and benefits our community,” Chancellor Gene Block said in announcing the six faculty recipients of the new award, which is co-sponsored by the UCLA Center for Community Learning. In the coming year, the award recipients will work together to establish guidelines for elevating the learning experience for undergraduates. Their courses, which will be offered in the 2020-21 or 2021-22 academic years, will cover a range of issues, including minority communities, health disparities, environmental justice and education. “This award recognizes faculty for their community-engaged research efforts and at the same time creates a new set of community-engaged course offerings for undergraduates,” said Phillips, associate professor of public policy and sociology. “This first set of courses is just the beginning of what I expect will eventually be an extensive suite of courses, across a wide range of disciplines, that will connect UCLA students’ research training with the needs of our local community.”

Dean’s Message Our professional programs uniformly train students to make families, communities and institutions better, safer, healthier, more responsive, more functional and more effective

Making a difference…

I left traditional social science to come work in a public affairs environment because I had grown frustrated at the slow pace with which esoteric findings in those disciplines find their way into public discussion and social reform — if, indeed, they ever do. This is not to say that this work never reaches a broader audience, but the frustrating truth is that too big a share of that work has no impact outside the journals and libraries in which it is deposited. Part of that is the unfortunate distance between academia and the “real world,” but part of that rests with the choice of “problem” and the approach to research preferred by those disciplines and scholars. That is, some of this failure to have broader influence is on the professors and institutions themselves.

Contrast that with the work of UCLA Luskin. On April 24, the Luskin School hosted its first-ever regionwide summit, themed “Livable LA.” Around 350 policy professionals, civic leaders, business leaders, scholars and elected officials gathered to discuss solutions to many of Los Angeles’ longstanding challenges. Each panel featured Luskin research, and each panel was addressed to making change — using the findings of our work to effect practical change in Los Angeles and beyond, making the lives, families
and communities in our region better.

It is this spirit that animates our work and UCLA Luskin, and it is this mission that we bring to our classrooms and our communities. Our professional programs uniformly train master’s degree students to make families, communities and institutions better, safer, healthier, more responsive, more functional and more effective. Our doctoral students research real problems of real people. Our undergraduates will all spend time working directly in the community. And our faculty members engage the real world and all its challenges as the foundation of our research. It is why we are here.

In these pages, you will read of a trip by UCLA Luskin social workers — faculty and students alike — to the immigrant detention camp in Dilley, Texas. That effort — to bring comfort, support and social services to families who have endured unspeakable hardship — represents the very best of who we are and what we do at UCLA Luskin. I am unbelievably proud of their efforts and humbled by their sacrifice to help these desperate people.

Make a difference,

Gary

The Practical Benefits of Experience Bringing practical lessons into the classroom isn’t just a tradition at UCLA Luskin — it’s part of the mission

By Stan Paul

UCLA Luskin this year continued to expand its efforts to merge scholarship and practical experience by adding to its roster of former-political-leaders-turned-educators when Kevin de León joined the Luskin School as distinguished policymaker-in-residence and senior analyst. The former president pro tempore of the California State Senate is teaching a course in public policy that emphasizes his first-hand knowledge of the state’s complex inner workings.

In his time in Sacramento, de León spearheaded legislation on issues including climate change, immigration and retirement security policy. He also pressed for a clean-energy economy and advanced issues of importance to Latinos.

His course featured a number of guests speaking on a wide range of California topics.

“It is my hope that you can get something out of this class that will help you plan out your future,” de León told his class on the first day. “I want you to have an understanding of the legislative process, how it works, how we craft an idea … how we bring this together —   specifically how we put an idea into legislative bill form.”

Coursework focused on the political and procedural strategies used to overcome opposition to reform, building upon de León’s success in pushing policies to increase energy efficiency, reduce the use of petroleum and promote renewable energy.

“As one of the most effective legislators ever on climate policy and environmental justice, Senator de León offers students insights into successful policy adoption strategies,” said JR DeShazo, chair of UCLA Luskin Public Policy.

As DeShazo noted, Public Policy has a long history of attracting visiting faculty members with deep experience in government. Former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis has returned to UCLA Luskin for more than two decades, setting an example and “passing the torch” to political leaders like de León.

At UCLA Luskin, alumni are another important source of guidance for current students. For instance, alumni practitioners and other professionals have been mentoring graduate students at the School for more than two decades. In other instances, a former student has gone on to assume a role that he or she once studied.

Take the annual Legislative Lobby Days in Sacramento. The two-day program organized by the California chapter of the National Association of Social Workers allows students to meet with legislators and serve as advocates regarding timely and pressing state issues.

Anthony DiMartino MSW ’13 participated in Legislative Lobby Days in Sacramento during both years of his graduate studies. Today, DiMartino is one of those being lobbied thanks to his role in the State Capitol as the legislative director for a number of public safety initiatives on behalf of State Assembly member Shirley Weber, who represents a district in inland San Diego.

Toby Hur of the Social Welfare field faculty was the placement director for DiMartino, leading trips to Sacramento as he continues to do now. “I absolutely loved coming up here and talking to staffers — like me now — about issues that are affecting the state,” DiMartino said.

DiMartino is working on a number of initiatives on public safety, including the high-profile issue of use of deadly force. “I’m a staffer for AB 392, which is looking to change when police can use deadly force — [setting] a higher standard,” DiMartino said. “That is probably, right now, the most talked-about, controversial bill in the state. And people are watching it nationwide.”

The guidance provided by Hur made a positive impact on DiMartino.

“He balances being nurturing and supportive — but also hands off enough — that he allows you, the student, an opportunity to figure some things out for yourself,” DiMartino said. “You never feel alone when Toby is in your corner.”

Richard France MA UP ’10 is a principal at Estolano LeSar Advisors, a planning consultancy co-founded by UCLA Luskin Urban Planning alumnae Cecilia Estolano, Jennifer LeSar and Catherine Perez Estolano. Photo by Les Dunseith

Another onetime student who is now on the other side of the student-educator equation is Richard France MA UP ’10. France is a principal at Estolano LeSar Advisors, a planning consultancy co-founded by UCLA Luskin Urban Planning alumnae Cecilia Estolano, Jennifer LeSar and Catherine Perez Estolano.

France has previously co-taught two urban planning courses with Cecilia Estolano and in the fall will be teaching on his own in a class about transit-oriented communities.

Professor Vinit Mukhija, chair of Urban Planning, noted that France’s employer is known for social justice while also recognizing the political and economic realities of land markets. France’s course will help students “understand how progressive land use policies can be developed and implemented. Richard’s approach is both practical and progressive,” Mukhija said. “We are delighted to have him back.”

In the classroom, France will be able to draw upon a growing portfolio of real-world experience. He has authored an assessment of the health of the region based on indicators of human development. He has worked with the American Red Cross on disaster-related strategies for vulnerable communities in Los Angeles County. He has coordinated a study to improve bike and pedestrian access.

As a student, France was a member of Planners for Social Equity, and as an alumnus he has returned to join several alumni panels, including attending the Luskin School’s annual Diversity Fair.

“The school is very receptive to looking at different models and different ways of engaging alums and also figuring out ways that alums can generate ideas and generate ways to give back to the community,” France said. “The Luskin program itself enabled me to explore different topics.”

France said his student cohort and the wider network of UCLA Luskin alumni are among his “biggest assets” since graduation. The benefit of interacting with educators with ample practical knowledge isn’t just about what they know — it’s also who they know.

“The resources that instructors and professors provide because of their connections out there in the professional world will probably help inform and guide [each student’s] career, especially if you stay in Los Angeles and California,” France said.

A Nexus of Latin Cities New initiative Ciudades finds common ground in urban spaces across the Western hemisphere

By Mary Braswell

They came from Sacramento in the north, Mexico City in the south and points in between, drawn to the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs by a common pursuit: increasing access to high-quality housing in urban areas where opportunities abound.

It’s a worthy goal, shared across borders but beset by a lack of consensus on how to achieve it. So planners, professors and government officials from throughout Mexico and California gathered to share their insights on moving forward, invited by one of UCLA Luskin’s newest ventures, the Latin American Cities Initiative.

The workshop visitors — along with urbanists throughout the region — have much to learn from one another, said Paavo Monkkonen, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, and founding director of the initiative, known as Ciudades.

“Los Angeles is home to millions from across Latin America,” Monkkonen said. “Because of this shared history and present, and because of the potential for urban learning across the region, we established Ciudades to deepen our connections and intellectual exchanges.”

Launched in early 2019 with the support of UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura, the initiative is just the latest example of the School’s global ambitions and outreach.

With the international city of Los Angeles as a home base, faculty have spearheaded research into HIV-infected youth in sub-Saharan Africa, mass protests in Ukraine, sex markets in Indonesia and degradation of the Amazon rainforest, among many other pursuits.

The School’s Global Public Affairs program brings graduate students into the mix, preparing them to navigate an increasingly integrated world. GPA students choose from a wide array of concentrations, including political dynamics, health and social services, the environment, development, migration and human rights.

Ciudades zeroes in on the Western Hemisphere. The binational, bilingual workshop on urban housing was just the type of cross-pollination of ideas that the initiative was created to foster.

In cities across Mexico and California, low-density sprawl has limited access to jobs, transit, retail and parks, creating roadblocks to prosperity. But federal and state programs to remedy this with denser urban development have met with resistance from municipalities, which often face political blowback.

Bridging this divide was the aim of the Ciudades workshop. Planners, academics, students and officials from all levels of government, including the cities of Tijuana, Ensenada, Compton and Los Angeles, came together to share data, resources and cautionary tales. Among them was Haydee Urita-Lopez MURP ’02, a senior planner with the city of Los Angeles.

“I’m just very happy today that we’re able to collaborate at this academic and practical level,” Urita-Lopez said, inviting her colleagues to continue the conversation in the weeks and months ahead. “We share an integrant political, social and cultural history. … Geopolitical lines on a map have not erased our cultural ties.”

Ciudades focuses on urban spaces in the Americas, but the topics it embraces are unlimited. Local democracy, public finance, indigenous populations and historical preservation will steer the dialogue in a knowledge network that reaches across disciplines as well as borders, Monkkonen said.

He envisions field visits by faculty and students from each of UCLA Luskin’s graduate departments, Public Policy, Social Welfare and Urban Planning. Grants and internships will promote Latin-focused student research.

Monkkonen’s studio courses in Baja California provide one model for learning: Students identify a problem, define the scope of their analysis, then conduct interviews, site visits and scholarly readings to develop practical solutions.

Ciudades also brings voices from across the Americas to campus. Over the 2019 winter quarter, students and the public heard from experts on social mobility in São Paulo, indigenous groups in Cancun, sustainable development in Bogotá and many other topics as part of the weekly Ciudades Seminar Series.

“Academia and professional practice can benefit a lot from greater levels of communication,” and that interplay creates a spirited learning environment, Monkkonen said. When students speak with practitioners, both sides ask questions that professors may not have thought to ask, he added.

The connections that Ciudades is forging will make UCLA Luskin a draw for graduate students, planners and policymakers from across the region, Monkkonen predicted. Looking ahead, he envisions quarter-long exchange programs with universities in South America and Central America.

“Our student population is so Latin-descended, and many want to study in the places their parents are from,” he said.

Monkkonen has been interested in the Spanish-speaking world since he can remember. Enrolled in a Culver City elementary school that offered one of the first language immersion programs, he became fluent as a child. As a young man, he taught English as a second language in Spain and Mexico. His wife is from Mexico and his daughter is a dual citizen. Monkkonen is a permanent resident of Mexico and is currently applying for dual citizenship.

Much of Monkkonen’s long-term research is based in Mexico, but he has also conducted studies in Argentina, Brazil and across Asia. UCLA Luskin, he said, is an ideal laboratory for urban studies in the region.

In March, Ciudades posed the question “Is L.A. a Latin American City?” Author and journalist Daniel Hernandez and UCLA’s Eric Avila debated the question at a forum moderated by Monkkonen.

The answer, they concluded, was both yes and no.

Los Angeles “is developing in a way that only benefits the people who already have money,” a familiar pattern in Latin American cities, Hernandez said.

Avila, a professor of Chicano studies and urban planning, said the city’s population and built environment are very Latin but “Los Angeles is not a Latin American city in regard to the historically sustained efforts to whitewash and erase the Spanish and Mexican past.”

The panelists touched on racial hierarchies, environmental justice, gentrification, food, art and identity. It was merely one of many conversations Ciudades intends to spark.

“We hope that this initiative is just the beginning of something larger that deepens ties across South, Central and North America,” Monkkonen said.

Zoe Day contributed to this report.