Making Strides Toward Climate Justice

LAist highlighted the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation‘s work with the Transformative Climate Communities program, which funds neighborhood-level action to reduce the pollution driving the climate crisis. The program is active in low-income and historically underserved communities that have been severely impacted by pollution and environmental racism. A recent evaluation by the Center for Innovation found that the program has made an impact in providing local green jobs, creating avenues for implementing community-driven climate solutions, and building trust between communities and government entities that haven’t always been partners. “There’s definitely a demand for this type of program, one that allows communities to pursue their priorities to advance their vision for change,” said Colleen Callahan, co-executive director of the Center for Innovation.


A Call to Come Together for Climate and Economic Justice

Activist and author Kali Akuno came to UCLA not just to share stories about his lifetime of advocacy for economic and climate justice, but to inspire his audience to join the fight. “I am here as an organizer to recruit you. To motivate you, struggle with you and get you to move in some particular ways,” Akuno told a standing-room-only crowd at the Charles E. Young Grand Salon at UCLA’s Kerckhoff Hall, part of the UC Regents’ Lecture Series. Akuno is co-editor of “Jackson Rising Redux: Lessons on Building the Future in the Present,” released on the same day as his April 11 talk. The updated collection of essays chronicles Jackson, Mississippi’s successful grassroots coalition-building, led by Cooperation Jackson, a nonprofit co-founded by Akuno. That emphasis on the power of coming together permeated his UCLA visit, which included an on-stage dialogue with Assistant Professor of Public Policy Jasmine Hill and office hours with students the following day. During his lecture, Akuno acknowledged that those who work against entrenched government and economic systems often become discouraged, “feeling that we are without a program, that we are without vision and oftentimes that we are without hope.” But the post-pandemic world has opened up a “profound period of opportunity,” he said, calling on progressive groups to set aside ideological and policy divisions, build a level of trust and just get to work. “I need you here in L.A. doing the best work that you can do, building as much power as you can build, and then let’s figure out how to be in dialogue with each other to build the future that we want.”

View photos on Flickr.

Regents' Lecture by Kali Akuno


Climate Expert Puts the Blame on Consumer Culture in Regents’ Lecture 

Efforts to move to green technology and sustainable policies don’t stand a chance against climate change as long as one key element continues to be ignored: “We are overproducing and we are overconsuming,” said author and climate justice expert Denise Fairchild during a Feb. 2 Regents’ Lecture. “Look at the shirt that you have on,” Fairchild told the audience of about 50 faculty, staff, students and other interested parties who had gathered in the Grand Salon of UCLA’s Kerckhoff Hall. “Now think about measuring all the emissions that went into producing those things from the point of extraction. … Think of all the work that took place someplace else, and then how it was shipped to where you live,” said Fairchild, who earned her doctorate in urban planning from UCLA in 1987. “What are the emissions along that supply chain?” In her presentation, the president emeritus of the nonprofit Emerald Cities Collaborative talked about her Climate Breakthrough project, for which she received a $3 million award aimed at advancing transformative solutions to the climate crisis. In her view, it won’t be possible to solve the climate crisis without changing our culture. “We are a culture of individuals. … We don’t have a collective spirit, a spirit of communitarianism. And as a result, our ability to adapt to climate change is going to be compromised,” she said. “We have to figure out how we redesign our lifestyles to create new measures of joy and well-being. How do we reduce carbon? By changing our consumption patterns.”

Read a transcript of the lecture, listen to the audio recording or view photos on Flickr.

Regents' Lecture by Denise Fairchild


World Cities Serving as Learning Laboratories

By Mary Braswell

Powerful experiences on some of the world’s great rivers deepened Jinglan Lin’s desire to shape the policies that affect the planet.

Two weeks rafting on the Colorado during high school led to summers volunteering on China’s Mekong. Now, she’s in the city on the Seine — Paris, where Lin is spending the year as part of the first group of students accepted to a unique dual-degree program pairing UCLA Luskin Urban Planning with the top European research university Sciences Po.

At the end of the two-year program, Lin will emerge with a master of regional and urban planning from UCLA and a master of governing the large metropolis from Sciences Po’s Urban School. Her concentration is environmental analysis and policy.

“The rafting trip was 14 days on the river without the internet, and it really changed me,” Lin recalled.

With her eyes opened to the beauty of the wild rivers and the environmental perils they face, she planned a course of study that led to the field of urban planning because, she said, “It’s the human activities in cities that are creating all these environmental problems.”

Lin is one of six students completing the dual-degree coursework in Paris after spending a year on the UCLA campus.

The selective program is just one of the study-abroad opportunities available at UCLA Luskin:

  • This year, public policy students can be found at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin and the Graduate School of Public Policy at the University of Tokyo.
  • Seven student fellows traveled to low- or middle-income countries or worked with international agencies in the summer of 2022 in association with Global Public Affairs, which is open to students from all of the School’s graduate programs. Founded in 2014, the Global Public Affairs program typically awards about 20 certificates to graduating master’s degree recipients each year. (Plans are in the works to expand the number of international-focused course offerings, with an associated increase in faculty who focus on global issues.)
  • And the Public Affairs undergraduate program encourages majors, pre-majors and minors to broaden their perspectives through the UCLA International Education Office. Over the summer, 15 UCLA Luskin undergrads completed internships in Argentina, Colombia, Great Britain, South Africa and Vietnam.

The new partnership between the Luskin School and Sciences Po — the UC system’s first graduate dual-degree program with a foreign university — grew out of a longstanding quarter-long exchange program that is still available to urban planning students.

“Students are able to experience two world-class programs, which are complementary and different, as well as two world cities, which are similar in their economic and world importance but totally different in terms of their ways of life,” said Michael Storper, a distinguished professor of urban planning who has appointments at both campuses.

“Over time, we will build deeper ties of teaching and research, and this will strengthen both of our universities.”

While Lin initially had qualms about joining the dual-degree program in its very first year, she could not pass up such a rare opportunity to immerse herself in two great metropolises.

Lin, whose hometown is Guangzhou, China, is no stranger to study abroad. She attended high school in Northern California and earned her bachelor’s in environmental analysis at Pitzer, one of the Claremont Colleges. As an undergrad, she completed an exchange program at Sciences Po and knew she wanted to return.

The Los Angeles and Paris experiences have been markedly different, Lin said. UCLA’s campus is largely self-contained, whereas attending Sciences Po’s Urban School takes her all around the city. The first-year course load is foundational and rigorous — students must satisfy MURP requirements in a single year. Her classes in Paris are emphatically global in scope, taught by professors with experience on several continents.

All instruction is conducted in English, but Lin is also studying French to fulfill a language requirement and better navigate the streets of Paris.

“I didn’t know what to expect coming into this program. But I did know that Sciences Po and UCLA already had robust planning programs,” Lin said. “I knew that, regardless, I would learn a lot.”

An Active Example of Advocacy in West Los Angeles

More than 200 people celebrated the architectural and cultural significance of the West Los Angeles Civic Center and Courthouse on Sunday, Oct. 2, during a public space activation. The event brought together UCLA architecture and urban planning students, public space advocacy organizations, and longtime users of the space in the third and final event organized by UCLA’s (Un)Common Public Space Group. Participants gathered to make use of the space and envision future uses of the bandshell, ledges and pathways, constructing skate obstacles and devising other amenities, learning about the history of the space, and enjoying music and food. The event encouraged dialogue among policymakers, developers and the public to safeguard community amenities. It also connected UCLA-based public space research with the city’s redevelopment plans for the space and engaged with the local knowledge and perspectives of advocacy organizations near the courthouse. Keegan Guizard from College Skateboarding and Alec Beck from the Skatepark Project hosted skateboard contests, highlighting the area’s history of skateboarding activism. The L.A. Conservancy informed participants about the historical importance of mid-century modern architecture, and students constructed future amenities like modular street furniture and colorful shade structures. Over 140 signatures were gathered for public petitions and comments to preserve community amenities and obstacles in the space’s future redevelopment. The (Un)Common Public Space Group activates public space with and for underrepresented and underserved communities in pursuit of spatial justice. The series was supported by the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies and the UCLA Urban Humanities Initiative. — Chris Giamarino 

View additional photos and videos in a Google photo album

Megan Mullin Becomes an Endowed Chair and Faculty Director at UCLA Luskin Environmental politics scholar joins Luskin Center for Innovation leadership team as urgent climate change challenges face California and the country

By Stan Paul and Michelle Einstein

Megan Mullin an award-winning scholar of American political institutions and behavior, focusing on environmental politics —  has joined the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, filling two endowed roles. 

In January, she joined the faculty of UCLA Public Policy as the Meyer and Renee Luskin Endowed Professor of Innovation and Sustainability. Mullin, currently a professor at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, has also been appointed the new faculty director of the Luskin Center for Innovation. Meyer and Renee Luskin recently endowed both the professorship and faculty director roles.

“Megan Mullin is a unique scholar whose work, at the intersection of environmental protection and the policy process, is perfectly suited to take the Center for Innovation to the next level,” said Gary Segura, former dean of the Luskin School.

Mullin’s appointment comes amid challenges facing California and the country relating to heat, drought and wildfires related to climate change. The path to solutions is steeped in politics from the level of local communities to the nation’s capital.

“I explore environmental policies that are just, effective and environmentally sustainable. Governance research can help ensure that policies are successfully implemented,” Mullin said.

Her areas of research include the governance and finance of urban water services, public opinion about climate change and the local politics of climate adaptation. 

“Megan understands the factors necessary for action – from the role of public opinion and elections, to how environmental policy is affected by the complex layers of American federalism,” said Public Policy chair Mark A. Peterson. “My colleagues and I are thrilled that Megan will be joining our department as she also takes on the faculty director role at the Luskin Center for Innovation.”

As faculty director, Mullin plans to build upon the center’s work solving environmental challenges through collaborative, actionable research.

“I’m delighted to help advance the Luskins’ vision of bringing UCLA’s expertise to confront our biggest public challenges. The center is bringing that vision to life by collaborating with decision-makers and community members to make on-the-ground impact in environmental policy,” Mullin said. “I look forward to joining that important work and furthering it.”  

Mullin brings a breadth of qualifications for the position. In addition to her role at the Nicholas School, she also held appointments at Duke’s Department of Political Science and Sanford School of Public Policy. Mullin is a 2020 Andrew Carnegie Fellow and serves on the leadership team for C-CoAST, a National Science Foundation-funded interdisciplinary initiative to study human-natural interactions in coastal systems. Recipient of five awards from the American Political Science Association, she earned a Ph.D. in political science from UC Berkeley.

“Megan is one of the nation’s most esteemed social scientists addressing the local politics of inequitable access to clean water and climate adaptation,” said Gregory Pierce, formerly the acting co-director of the Luskin Center for Innovation. “She will increase our local and national impact through her scholarly and community-engaged understanding of how to affect change at a critical time.”

In a recent article in Nature, Mullin explained why Americans have been slow to respond to the climate crisis and argued that “it is time to bring political knowledge to bear on decisions about protecting people from its consequences.”

Mullin envisions expanding upon the center’s work with a governance lens. Her research aims to understand political feasibility. Specifically, Mullin wants to increase the Luskin Center’s influence on environmental policies in California and more recent work on the national stage. 

“There are so many lessons learned from California’s environmental innovations that can be applied elsewhere,” Mullin said. “That’s not just about helping California learn, but also understanding what’s transportable to different contexts.” 

“She will bring an integrated set of research skills, teaching experience and policy impact that’s a fantastic fit,” said Peterson, a professor of public policy, political science and law at UCLA. 

Mullin plans to start teaching courses in the spring quarter and said she believes that students are an important bridge for research and practice. 

“And yes, I really love teaching and mentoring students,” Mullin said. “That’s an excitement about Luskin – the extent to which the center is integrating students into so many different parts of its activities.” 

She also welcomes the Luskin School’s focus on the intersection of policy, planning and social welfare. “That intersection is a powerful combination to understand environmental policy at the local level,” Mullin said. “For instance, confronting climate change also requires thinking about housing and social services. And considering how communities have enormously different risks and capacities. This is a unique opportunity to bring all of those pieces together.” 

Mullin is the recipient of a Duke University award for excellence in graduate student mentoring. She teaches and advises students in the areas of environmental politics, local politics and water governance in the United States.

“So many of my former students are now out working in environmental professions, and that’s how I understand what challenges they’re confronting. That informs my research agenda. It’s an ongoing conversation,” said Mullin, whose research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Carnegie Corporation, the JEHT Foundation, and the John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation. 

Mullin’s appointment completed the Luskin Center for Innovation’s leadership transition following the departure of JR DeShazo, the founding faculty director, who was appointed dean of the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas in 2021.

As the faculty director of the center, Mullin joined an existing executive team with Pierce,  V. Kelly Turner and Colleen Callahan. Pierce and Callahan continue to serve in executive leadership roles, and Turner is taking on a new leadership role furthering her research on climate action.

Hecht on 50 Years of Engagement with Amazonia

Susanna Hecht, professor of urban planning at UCLA Luskin and director of the UCLA Center for Brazilian Studies, was a recent guest on the 74 Podcast series “Urban Nature.” Hecht, who holds appointments in geography and UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, discussed her five decades of research and engagement with the Amazon as well as changes in the region over the past century. Topics of the program, recorded in July, included the ideological view of the Amazon as a frontier. “It was not actually ever a frontier,” said Hecht, arguing “that ideology of frontier is the ideology of conquest. It doesn’t reflect a reality.” Hecht, an authority on forest transitions and sustainable agriculture, as well as a founding thinker in the field of political ecology, described the Amazon as a “major center of civilizations … a major area with large-scale urban structures with linkages between those structures,” as opposed to a void that is subject to what she calls a “development tsunami.”


Turner Talks About Extreme Heat in University of California Video

UCLA Luskin’s V. Kelly Turner is prominently featured in a content package and video story about the impacts of extreme heat recently posted to the homepage of the systemwide University of California website. She describes research being done by herself and others that has helped pinpoint sources of dangerous heat in urban areas. She also talks about research efforts to devise ways to lessen the danger as climate change increases the frequency of extreme heat days in places like California. Turner is an associate professor of urban planning and geography at UCLA, and she is the interim faculty co-director of the Luskin Center for Innovation.

Watch the video story:


Informing Equitable Stormwater Investments in L.A. County

In a drought-prone area like Los Angeles, rainwater provides tremendous potential to boost local water supply, as well as provide multiple other ecosystem and community benefits. That’s why in 2018, L.A. County voters approved Measure W, a tax that raises about $280 million annually to capture, clean and reuse water runoff. Measure W and the program it created, the Safe Clean Water Program, funds projects to clean and strengthen the local water supply and build community resilience. Research by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation and Stantec is helping to ensure that these investments benefit all Angelenos, especially residents of disadvantaged communities, as the program already calls for. A new report provides advice to the county to strengthen the impacts of the program over time. The study analyzed 116 projects funded by the program — projects like converting open spaces into wetlands and adding rain gardens along transit lines. Researchers explored the program’s selection process and how projects are geographically distributed in disadvantaged communities. The team also conducted workshops with nonprofit, community-based, and public and private sector stakeholders to understand neighborhood needs and anticipated benefits from each project. “It’s crucial that members of disadvantaged communities have the opportunity to identify those benefits for their own communities. It can’t just be a top-down process,” said Jon Christensen, co-author of the report and an affiliated scholar at the Center for Innovation. This project builds upon the center’s research on local water resilienceenvironmental equity and urban greening, as well as L.A.’s voter-approved infrastructure measures

Read the full story

Preparing for a Future of Rising Heat

News media covering this summer’s record high temperatures have highlighted climate research by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. Fox40 News spoke to Rae Spriggs, the center’s climate action research manager, about a new heat mapping tool that allows Californians to visualize where and who will be most affected by severe temperatures. The California Healthy Places index was developed by the Center for Innovation and the Public Health Alliance of Southern California. The Hill spoke to center co-director V. Kelly Turner and graduate student researcher Emma French, co-authors of a study showing that major U.S. cities are unprepared to deal with the challenge of extreme heat. “If cities are not painting a complete picture of heat — how chronic it is and its disparate impacts on the ground — we’re not going to be able to fully protect residents, and we could end up exacerbating existing social and environmental injustices,” said French, an urban planning doctoral student.