Posts

Using Urban Design to Advance Justice Lecture series and book focus on access, dignity and democracy as the pillars of city planning

By Mary Braswell

A deep exploration of social justice as a guiding principle behind urban design will evolve into a book conceived by the UCLA Luskin faculty.

Over spring quarter, Urban Planning brought 10 prominent scholars to campus to shed light on public space in all its complexity. They spoke about the market forces, political calculations, environmental concerns and lifestyle trends that are transforming cities in Southern California and around the world, pushing some citizens to the fringe. And they offered frameworks for putting inclusion back at the center of urban design.

The speakers’ insights will become chapters in a book that shares the same name as the lecture series: “Just Urban Design: The Struggle for a Public City.”

“Cities are very much theaters of inequality, an inequality that has been increasing in the last decade,” said Urban Planning Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, who organized the project with Chair Vinit Mukhija and Assistant Professor Kian Goh.

“The larger question that motivates this series is whether there is anything we can do through physical planning and urban design to create more just cities.”

The speakers who came to UCLA as part of the Harvey S. Perloff Lecture Series and Meyer and Renee Luskin Lecture Series brought decades of experience both in scholarly settings and on the front lines of urban upheaval.

They included Setha Low, described by Loukaitou-Sideris as “one of the most prominent anthropologists and ethnographers of our time.” A professor at City University of New York’s Graduate Center, Low has worked with U.N. Habitat and other institutions to develop global social justice indicators for urban design.

“This is a really important moment in time,” Low said during her April 23 visit to UCLA. “There is a push to create a society, at a moment of great divisiveness, that is much more open and accessible and let’s say free. We need places to come together.”

She said one of her greatest challenges is communicating these ideals to the general public.

“We need to really explain how public space creates flourishing societies,” she said. “We need to really reach outside of ourselves and reach a much broader public so that they understand why it matters.”

The April 25 lecture by Harvard Professor Diane E. Davis was moderated by Goh, who noted, “The things that I learned from her, mostly to do with politics and scale, really informed the work that I do now.”

Davis, who earned her Ph.D. in sociology at UCLA and now serves as the chair of urban planning and design at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, raised foundational questions such as “What makes a city public?” and “What gives a city a robust democratic public sphere?”

“I’m really interested in the politics of how people and states interact or don’t interact with each other,” she said. “I think that is a really important framing for thinking about the best urban design.”

The notion that public space transcends national boundaries guided a May 1 talk by Teddy Cruz and Fonna Forman, professors at UC San Diego and partners in a studio specializing in urbanism, architecture and political science.

“We believe that the convergence of geopolitical borders, climate justice and poverty is ultimately the challenge of our time,” said Cruz, explaining a project the two had created for the U.S. Pavilion at this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale. Called “MEXUS: A Geography of Interdependence,” the presentation cast the border region as a shared space interwoven with environmental, economic and cultural connections.

Forman sounded an alarm about the “nativist mentality” that is moving into the mainstream, “legitimizing open racism that we haven’t seen since the middle of the 20th Century.”

“We see the San Diego-Tijuana border region as a microcosm of all of the injustices that neoliberal globalization has inflicted on the world’s most vulnerable people: poverty, climate change, accelerated migration, gender violence, human trafficking, slow suburbanization, privatization and so on,” she said.

Forman said that she and Cruz want to tell a very different story about life on the border.

“Our work reimagines the U.S.-Mexico border as a tissue of social and spatial ecologies, an amazing laboratory for political, urban and architectural creativity. For us, conflict is a creative tool.”

These other speakers also contributed to the series: Rachel Berney and Jeff Hou of the University of Washington, Alison Hirsch of USC, Kimberley Kinder of the University of Michigan, Matt Miller of the University of Pennsylvania and Michael Rios of UC Davis.

Loukaitou-Sideris, Mukhija and Goh will join the “Just Urban Design” lecturers in contributing chapters to the planned book, which has sparked interest from several publishers.

Collecting the insights of guest speakers in a single book is a model that UCLA Luskin Urban Planning has successfully used before. In 2014, Loukaitou-Sideris and Mukhija invited lecturers to contribute essays examining urban activities such as street vending, garage sales and unpermitted housing to create the book “The Informal American City: Beyond Taco Trucks and Day Labor,” published by MIT Press.

Stan Paul contributed to this article.

On Flickr:

View photos from the UCLA Luskin Lecture by Setha Low.

View photos from the Harvey S. Perloff Lecture by Diane E. Davis.

View photos from the UCLA Luskin Lecture by Teddy Cruz and Fonna Forman.

Charting the Rise of Latino Empowerment UCLA Luskin Lecture brings together political forces who forged a path for the next generation of leaders

By Mary Braswell

Leading Los Angeles political figures who paved the way for Latino empowerment over the last half-century took the stage at UCLA to share their strategies and personal stories — and underscore that the work is not finished.

To longtime Angelenos, their names were familiar: Alatorre, Cedillo, Molina, Polanco and Villaraigosa. Collectively, their influence has been felt far beyond Southern California.

The speakers are among 10 L.A.-based pioneers profiled in the book “Power Shift: How Latinos in California Transformed Politics in America.” Authors George Pla and David Ayón joined the May 14 conversation in the Ackerman Grand Ballroom as part of the Meyer and Renee Luskin Lecture Series.

“There are 60 million Latinos in the United States, 15 million in California. And the panelists are right, they continue to be stereotyped, continue to be invisible,” Pla said. “But ‘Power Shift’ is not about one group over another. It’s an American story about a group of individuals who have made contributions to our entire society in California and the United States.”

Blazing trails carries an immense responsibility, the panelists agreed.

“We had to kick open the door in order to really get in there and set the example,” said Gloria Molina, the first Latina to be elected to the California legislature and to Los Angeles City Council and the first woman on the L.A. County Board of Supervisors.

“Being the first, everybody was watching. It’s really very important to be at your best all of the time,” she said.

Friends since high school, Gil Cedillo and Antonio Villaraigosa became passionate political activists during their years at UCLA in the early 1970s. Cedillo went on to serve in the state legislature and now sits on the L.A. City Council. Villaraigosa spent decades in public service, including as speaker of the California Assembly and mayor of Los Angeles.

Also in the 1970s, Richard Alatorre was elected to the Assembly before becoming, in 1985, only the second Latino to serve on the L.A. City Council in the 20th Century.

Richard Polanco completed Alatorre’s Assembly term, launching a 15-year tenure in the legislature that was hailed for increasing Latino representation.

“Tonight is really important to me personally,” said Gary Segura, dean of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, which hosted the event. Segura’s work in Latino politics began in the 1990s, when California was roiled by two ballot initiatives. Proposition 187, which denied public services to undocumented immigrants, was later found unconstitutional. Proposition 209, which banned affirmative action in public hiring and university admissions, is still in place.

“I owe my career, and in many ways my current position, to the mobilization of Latino electorates and leaders that resulted in those wars of the mid-1990s that reshaped California and will reshape, eventually, the United States,” Segura said.

Sonja Diaz, the evening’s moderator, noted that the gathered leaders were anything but single-issue politicians. On health care, LGBTQ issues, voting rights and community development, they effected changes felt far beyond the Latino community, said Diaz, executive director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, which is based at UCLA Luskin.

Villaraigosa concurred. “Across the board, all of us, we were not just Latino leaders, we were leaders for the whole state. We were progressives in our time, focusing on issues across the spectrum,” he said.

While coalition-building is important, Cedillo said, “We should be very clear that our community at this very moment is under attack, under siege” by a Trump Administration that has demonized the Latino community. “We should not pause or be shy about organizing ourselves as a community to defend our interests.”

Inspiring the next generation of Latino leaders is key to that effort and part of the reason “Power Shift” was written. The book also profiles political and labor leaders Miguel Contreras, Maria Elena Durazo, Ed Roybal, Art Torres and Esteban Torres.

The Luskin Lecture audience included two UCLA undergraduates who arrived early enough to receive a free copy of “Power Shift.”

Tatiana Velasquez, a chemistry and materials science major, and Patricia Valdezco, a political science major, said they grew up in California but were not aware of the trailblazing history of the evening’s speakers.

“It always goes back to the state curriculum, and what’s being taught is not this,” Velasquez said.

Molina recounted a conversation with her young niece, who read “Power Shift” and asked her classmates to name leaders in the Latino community.

“These sixth-graders had a hard time coming up with a name, but they finally concluded that it was Cesar Chavez and Pitbull,” Molina said. “The children got very angry. … They said, ‘Why aren’t we learning this? Why don’t we know this?’ ”

She added, “We need young people to understand that this isn’t a history that was, oh, way back then and now is now. We need to continue that kind of leadership today. … We are not finished. Our agenda has just begun.”

View photos from the UCLA Luskin Lecture on Flickr.

Power Shift

How to Help Queer Kids in Foster Care Author Cris Beam shares insights based on extensive research and personal experience in her Luskin Lecture

By Mary Braswell

LGBTQ youth in the foster care system often grapple with rejection, harassment, violence — and their own mistrust of the individuals and institutions charged with protecting them.

Restoring that trust requires taking a hard look at what these youth really need, not just to navigate the child welfare system but to lead rewarding lives.

This was the message shared by Cris Beam — author, educator and herself the foster mom to a transgender young woman — at a UCLA Luskin Lecture on March 5, 2019.

Beam’s talk included many moments of insight and encouragement, even as she described a foster care system that is woefully broken.

“How can we be spending upwards of $22 billion nationally and nobody — not the kids, not the foster parents, not the bio parents, not the administrators, not the policymakers, not the lawyers — nobody thinks this is working?” she asked.

That question sent Beam in pursuit of answers. Her extensive research into the U.S. child welfare system, LGBTQ issues and the power of empathy, as well as her personal experience becoming a foster parent at age 28, led her to a solution that is both simple and daunting.

What kids in foster care need, she said, is what all kids need: lasting human relationships, whether biological, adoptive or built from scratch with “teachers, babysitters, bus drivers” — people who are willing to step up, learn parenting skills and stick around, Beam said.

“The only way a child can succeed is to connect to a family, or even an individual person, for a lifetime. Whether they are gay or straight or bi or trans or otherwise,” she said.

Beam has published several acclaimed fiction and nonfiction books, including “To the End of June: The Intimate Life of American Foster Care” and “I am J,” the first book with a transgender character to make the state of California’s high school reading list. She is also an assistant professor of English at William Paterson University in New Jersey.

Prior to her lecture on “Queer Care: LGBTQ Youth in Child Welfare,” UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura noted that Beam’s work is in line with the School’s mission to “provide a voice for the unheard and change society in ways that help those most in need, including and especially families and children.”

Beam’s appearance at the UCLA Faculty Center fittingly coincided with Social Work Month and the National Day of Empathy, said Laura Abrams, chair of Social Welfare, which organized the Luskin Lecture.

More than 50 people came to hear Beam’s insights, including students, faculty, lawyers, child psychologists, and current and aspiring social workers. Their questions for Beam revealed frustration at wanting to serve foster youth within a system that often fails them.

“I feel for you because you’ve got so many people,” Beam said of the heavy caseloads many social workers carry. “But if you can stick by somebody and be constant, sometimes you can be that person that is around for someone for years and years. That’s what they need. It’s that human connection.”

LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. To illustrate the cycle that many of them enter, Beam shared the experiences of her daughter, Christina, who was 16 when they met at a group home where Beam taught. Christina had been in and out of foster care since age 7, was jumped into a gang as a 12-year-old boy, survived on the streets by doing sex work, then entered the criminal justice system — all as she transitioned into a girl.

The probation officer who approached Beam about fostering Christina said, “‘Don’t worry. She’s already 16. She only has another year until she ages out.’” But Beam quickly learned that Christina needed much more, including “time to heal, to be stable and to trust.” No adoption papers were needed to form a lifelong mother-daughter relationship, she said.

Building this kind of support network should be a priority of child welfare agencies, Beam said. Instead, the system often labels children who suffer complex traumas as difficult, equates foster children with juvenile delinquents, and squanders resources training teens to get a job, write a rent check, survive on their own.

“Really what queer kids need are not more resources, more things, but human beings to rock with them all the way,” Beam said.

View more photos from the lecture on Flickr.