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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.

Roy on Global Poverty and Social Justice

In a Team Human podcast hosted by Douglas Rushkoff, Professor of Urban Planning and Social Welfare Ananya Roy discussed poverty and social justice from a global perspective. Roy explained how the “visible forms of poverty and inequality” in her childhood “shaped [her] interests in the study of cities and the manifestation of social inequality.” Roy discussed the relationships and discrepancies between poverty in the United States compared to developing countries in the global south, explaining that “poverty in many other parts of the world is not necessarily associated with political disenfranchisement in the ways in which it is in the United States.” Roy discussed spaces of mobilization and political power, noting that while “the master’s tools will not dismantle the master’s house, the master’s tools can certainly occupy the master house.” Roy concluded, “As Americans, we have an ethical and political responsibility to address the policies that then produce poverty around the world and in the United States as well.”


Forging a Career Path in the Foreign Service Students intrigued by diplomacy and international development hear from State Department, USAID and Peace Corps experts

By Zoe Day

Global Public Affairs at UCLA Luskin hosted an informational session for students wanting to learn more about career paths and opportunities in U.S. government and international development. The Feb. 7 event featured guest speakers Cecilia Choi from the State Department, Alfred Nakatsuma of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Jeffrey Janis from the Peace Corps. The three shared personal experiences, answered questions about their respective sectors, and advised students how to pursue futures in international development and government.

Choi, U.S. State Department diplomat in residence, discussed the availability of careers in diplomacy, stressing the benefits of combining humanities and writing skills with technical backgrounds in IT or STEM. 

“You have one life to do something meaningful,” said Choi, who has served as the director of trade and investment at the National Security Council, deputy director in the State Department’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, and food safety advisor at the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs. Now a visiting fellow at UCLA recruiting talent for careers in public service and global affairs, Choi is a valuable resource for students interested in learning more about diplomacy and government careers.

As a USAID diplomat in residence who has served in Asia, Latin America and Washington, D.C.,  Nakatsuma highlighted the development side of foreign policy. The agency aims to lift lives and build communities through development assistance abroad, he said, adding “[USAID] isn’t a job. It’s a life.”

Nakatsuma said the plethora of specialties within international development include humanitarian assistance, female empowerment, energy access, global health, education, innovation and technology, clean water and more. For undergraduates interested in international development, Nakatsuma recommended, “Figure out what you love to do and what pulls you. Figure out what kind of thing you’d like to do in a developing country. Develop skills, take classes, expose yourself to real-world applications, learn how development works.”

Nakatsuma will be returning to UCLA during spring quarter.

Janis is a returned Peace Corps volunteer who currently works as the UCLA Peace Corps campus recruiter. The Peace Corps requires a 27-month commitment to work abroad, during which volunteers are strongly encouraged to “live at the local level,” Janis said. With 70% of Peace Corps volunteers in their 20s, many returnees go on to pursue careers in foreign service, including with the State Department and USAID.

Volunteering for the Peace Corps demonstrates “capacity to work with other cultures,” which is essential to careers in international development, said Janis, who also spent years in the nonprofit sector. 

His time in Ukraine with the Peace Corps was “the best experience of [his] life” despite the difficulties, Janis said. It’s “the toughest job you’ll ever love.”

Janis is available in the UCLA Career Center to help students interested in volunteering for the Peace Corps through the application process.

Choi, Nakatsuma and Janis also discussed scholarship and fellowship opportunities within their respective organizations. They included the State Department’s Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship, which offers financial support for recipients in graduate school, guarantees two internships in Washington, D.C., and at an embassy overseas, and includes a five-year employment contract as a Foreign Service Officer. Among the students attending the Global Public Affairs event was Ankhet Holmes, a second-year Public Policy student at UCLA and 2016 Pickering Fellow.

The Charles B. Rangel Graduate Fellowship also supports graduate students interested in pursuing a career in the State Department’s Foreign Service Office. USAID offers the Donald M. Payne International Development Fellowship for graduate students interested in working in international development, and the Peace Corps offers scholarships of up to $70,000 for volunteers who attend graduate school.

Choi also had advice for undergraduates, urging them to gain work, leadership and volunteer experience in preparation for careers in government and international development.

View more photos from the GPA session on Flickr.

Amy Zegart Named to FBI Intelligence Analysts Association (IAA) Board Zegart will provide advice and assistance to the FBI IAA to advance the interests of the FBI’s intelligence analysts in an effort to increase our national security

The School of Public Affairs congratulates Professor Amy Zegart on her recent appointment to the FBI Intelligence Analysts Association (IAA) external advisory board. In this role, she will provide advice and assistance to the FBI IAA to advance the interests of the FBI’s intelligence analysts in an effort to increase our national security.

Professor Zegart has been featured in the National Journal as one of the ten most influential experts in intelligence reform. In addition to her role as an associate professor at UCLA’s School of Public Affairs, she is also a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, and a fellow at UCLA’s Burkle Center of International Relations. In 1993, Professor Zegart served on the Clinton administration’s National Security Council staff. Before her academic career, she spent several years as a management consultant at McKinsey & Company.

The FBI IAA is an independent professional association dedicated to improving the professional development of the FBI’s 2,500 intelligence analysts throughout the FBI’s fifty-six field offices, FBI headquarters, and its offices abroad.