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Using Public Spaces to Benefit the Public Urbanist Gil Penalosa tells crowd at UCLA Institute of Transportation event that public policy and design should improve the quality of life for all residents

By Will Livesley-O’Neill

The UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies kicked off its spring speaker series with one of the world’s most influential urbanists, Gil Penalosa, an advocate for public spaces and sustainable mobility. Cities must meet the challenges of the 21st century through public policy and design that improves the quality of life for all residents, Penalosa argued.

“We need to decide how we want to live,” he told a large crowd of Luskin School students, staff, faculty and community partners.

Penalosa, a graduate of the MBA program at the UCLA Anderson School, is the founder and chair of 8 80 Cities, a nonprofit organization based in Toronto and dedicated to the idea that urban spaces should benefit an 8-year-old or an 80-year-old equally. He also chairs the board of World Urban Parks, an international association in favor of open space and recreation, after getting his start by transforming parks programs as a commissioner in Bogotá.

The groundbreaking programs overseen by Penalosa in Colombia included a weekly event to turn city streets into activity centers for walking, biking and other activities, which has served as a model for CicLAvia in Los Angeles and similar programs worldwide. Penalosa said that after streets turn into “the world’s largest pop-up park,” people begin to think about how much of their city is usually off-limits.

“All of a sudden we realize that the streets are public,” he said, adding that in a given city, around 35 percent of the total land is occupied by roadways. “We need to be much better at using everything that is public.”

Penalosa, who has consulted for more than 300 cities around the world, urges local leaders to use public space such as libraries and schoolyards for communal activities. He said that “playability” is a feature in urban design — making spaces more welcoming for children opens them up for everyone else as well. Every city should set a goal to have some kind of park within a 10-minute walk of any home, Penalosa said.

“Parks and public spaces are fantastic equalizers,” he said, describing the social integration that takes place during large sporting events, political protests and smaller exchanges such as children interacting with a sculpture. Penalosa added that public space helps people make friends and live healthier, but it can also promote transit and climate policy goals.

“Safe and enjoyable walking and biking should be a human right,” he said, noting that non-driving transit modes are not just recreational activities but the primary means of transportation for most of the world’s population. As the global urban population has surged — with the number of people living in cities expected to grow from 3.5 billion to 7 billion people over the next four decades — Penalosa believes that policymakers must shift their focus away from accommodating car travel and toward improving quality of life. This means prioritizing human interaction in public spaces by expanding parks, building sidewalks, reducing speed limits to make walking safer, connecting bicycle routes into cohesive grids, and much more.

Penalosa’s talk was presented in partnership with the California Association for Coordinated Transportation (CALACT), a statewide nonprofit association advocating for small transit agencies, rural transportation funding and coordinated mobility programs. The full schedule for the spring transportation speaker series will soon be available on the ITS website.

View additional photos from the presentation in a Flickr album:

Gil Penalosa

UCLA Luskin Planning Team Receives National Award Project about age-friendly outdoor environments is honored by American Planning Association

A project by a team from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs about age-friendly outdoor environments has picked up another honor — this time an Achievement Award presented by the American Planning Association (APA).

The winner is among 12 Achievement Award recipients chosen by a jury of planners as examples of good planning work. The recipients are recognized collectively at an awards luncheon held during APA’s National Planning Conference, which is set for May 6-9, 2017, in New York City.

The UCLA Luskin project was designated as a silver winner in the category: National Planning Achievement Award for a Best Practice. It had qualified for consideration at the national level by previously being honored in 2016 by the APA Los Angeles Section, which recognizes the “best of planning” from cities, agencies and nonprofits to consulting firms and individuals.

Anastasia Louaitou-Sideris

“Placemaking for an Aging Population,” funded by the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation and the Archstone Foundation, was led by principal investigator and Urban Planning professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris. It provides information about the park needs and preferences of older, low-income adults living in inner-city neighborhoods.

Loukaitou-Sideris, who is also associate provost for academic planning at UCLA, worked on the study with Social Welfare professor Lené Levy-Storms and Madeline Brozen, associate director for external relations for the UCLA Lewis Center and the Institute of Transportation Studies, and program manager of the Complete Streets Initiative. Brozen is also an alumna of the Luskin Urban Planning program.

“Older adults represent a fast growing segment of the population, and U.S. cities are now beginning to realize the imperative of creating age-friendly environments,” Loukaitou-Sideris said in a previous story about the project. She said that while parks can offer many benefits to seniors, “if planners wish to see more seniors visiting parks, they should carefully consider their needs and tastes, and incorporate their voices in park design and programming. Our study seeks to do just that.”

Luskin graduate student researchers — and now alumni — for the project were Lynn Chen SW Ph.D. ’13 and Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) graduates Liz Devietti, Hannah Gustafson and Lucia Phan. Lia Marshall, a doctoral student in Social Welfare, also was on the research team.

More information about the UCLA Luskin project and a list of all 2017 APA award winners may be found on the APA website.

UCLA Luskin Researchers Receive Statewide Recognition Study on parks for senior citizens receives 2016 Academic Award of Merit from the American Planning Association’s California chapter

By Stan Paul

A team of UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs faculty and student researchers has received statewide recognition for a project to foster and fulfill the need for senior-friendly parks in U.S. cities.

In June, the researchers, led by Urban Planning professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, received the Award of Excellence (Academic Award) at the 2016 American Planning Association’s Los Angeles Section Awards Gala. The long-term project, “Placemaking for an Aging Population: Guidelines for Senior-Friendly Parks,” was among the “best of planning” entries representing work from cities, nonprofits, consulting firms and individuals in APA’s Los Angeles chapter, one of eight sections in California. The project is funded by the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation and the Archstone Foundation.

The study has been selected for a 2016 Academic Award of Merit by APA’s California chapter. The award will be presented at the organization’s state conference in October.

In addition to providing evidence for the physical, mental and social needs that parks provide to seniors, the study includes case studies from the U.S. and around the world, as well as guidelines for planners and designers of senior-friendly spaces. The researchers also conducted focus groups as part of the study so that older inner-city residents could have their voices heard and share their firsthand information and perceptions.

“Seniors are a heterogeneous group in in terms of age, physical and cognitive capacities, and socio-cultural capacities,” the authors stated in their Design Guidelines Overview chapter. “Thus, prior to the creation of a senior-friendly park, the preferences and needs of the likely prominent users should be identified and addressed in the design.”

As a statewide award winner, the project is now eligible for consideration for the 2017 National Planning Awards.

The UCLA Luskin team also included Social Welfare professor Lené Levy-Storms and Madeline Brozen MA UP ’11, associate director for external relations for the UCLA Lewis Center and the Institute of Transportation Studies, and program manager of the Complete Streets Initiative. Luskin graduate student researchers, who have since graduated from Luskin, were Lynn Chen Ph.D. SW ’13 and Urban Planning Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) graduates Liz Devietti, Hannah Gustafson and Lucia Phan. Lia Marshall, a doctoral student in Social Welfare, also was a member of the research team.

Not a Walk in the Park In new study, UCLA Luskin Urban Planning and Social Welfare scholars recommend park planning with consideration for the needs of senior citizens of L.A. County

In new study, UCLA Luskin Urban Planning and Social Welfare scholars recommend park planning with consideration for the needs of senior citizens of L.A. County