Lens Explores Low-Density Zoning Impact on Health

Associate Professor of Urban Planning and Public Policy Michael Lens published a policy brief in Health Affairs on the downstream effects of low-density residential zoning on health and health equity. Previous research on the relationship between housing and health has identified four important pathways for health equity: housing stability, housing quality and safety, neighborhood characteristics and affordability. While residential zoning ordinances are designed to address density-related concerns such as traffic and environmental harms, Lens explained that “the effect is often to artificially raise the cost of housing for everyone by limiting housing supply, as well as to exclude people who cannot afford to buy single-family homes on large lots.” As a result, low-density zoning practices have exacerbated segregation by income and race. “Safer and healthier neighborhoods tend to have the most restrictive zoning, pricing people out of those areas and increasing segregation and affordability problems,” Lens said. He acknowledged that zoning reform alone cannot fix disparities in housing or health; sufficient housing subsidy programs are crucial, as well as an increase in new housing developments that are required to set aside some units for lower-income households. “The downstream effects of exclusionary land use regulations on health should make scholars and policymakers pay more attention to reforming zoning and expanding housing subsidy programs to make housing more plentiful and affordable,” Lens wrote. Even if increasing density in more neighborhoods does not have an immediate effect on housing affordability, segregation or health, Lens argued that it is a necessary step toward a healthy and sustainable future.

Manville on Environmental Consequences of Driving

Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville was featured in an article in the Cut discussing ways to combat climate change at an individual level. “The thing that is heating up the planet is that people get into cars, turn the key and start burning fossil fuels,” Manville said. According to the EPA, personal vehicles account for about one-fifth of the United States’ total greenhouse gas emissions. Manville and other experts recommended reducing driving time by shopping local, consolidating errands into single trips and avoiding driving during rush hour. Manville also expressed support for policies that make driving less convenient and more expensive, such as raising parking fees, increasing gas taxes or implementing congestion pricing. Manville called zoning codes that require new construction to include parking “one of the biggest subsidies to car ownership and use that exists” and recommended getting rid of them in order to encourage more sustainable transportation habits.

Transportation Equity Scholar to Join Public Policy Faculty Tierra Bills, an expert on the socioeconomic impacts of transportation decisions, will hold a joint appointment at the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering

Tierra Bills, an expert on the socioeconomic impacts of transportation decisions, will join the UCLA Luskin Public Policy faculty in January.

Bills’ research interests include equity analysis, travel behavior modeling, community-based data collection and transportation-performance measurement. In a joint appointment with the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering, she will teach two courses, “Transportation Equity” and “Travel Behavior Analysis and Forecasting.”

“Too often in the past, political expediency led to the routing of transportation systems like freeways and rail lines without adequate concern for their negative impacts on poorer, mostly ethnic neighborhoods,” UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura said. “The health and economic fallout of those decisions continues to have severe societal impacts, especially in congested urban areas. Future city planners and civil engineers alike will benefit from the expertise of Professor Bills in learning how to create more equitable transportation systems that avoid repeating past mistakes.”

Bills’ appointment as an assistant professor of public policy and civil and environmental engineering is part of a UCLA-wide “Rising to the Challenge” initiative spearheaded by the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies to expand the scope and depth of scholarship that addresses racial equity issues. Announced in June 2020 by Chancellor Gene Block and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Emily Carter, the program was established to help UCLA advance diversity, equity and inclusion. The plan includes the recruitment of 10 new faculty members over five years whose scholarly work addresses issues of Black experience.

“In order to help our students achieve technological breakthroughs that will improve the quality of life and society, we need to recruit faculty who understand the complex and entrenched inequities along racial and socioeconomic lines and address them in their research and teaching,” UCLA Samueli Dean Jayathi Murthy said. “Professor Bills brings the expertise at the nexus of engineering and public policy, which will greatly benefit our students as they tackle challenges in designing more equitable transportation systems.”

Bills is currently an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Wayne State University in Detroit. Prior to that, she was a Michigan Society Fellow and an assistant professor at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She has also served as a lecturer at Strathmore University in Nairobi, Kenya, and as a research scientist at IBM Research Africa, where she used data from smartphones to analyze the quality of transportation. Bills is a co-principal investigator on two current studies, funded by the National Science Foundation, focusing on transit issues in resource-constrained communities.

Bills received her B.S. in civil engineering technology from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University and her M.S. and Ph.D. in civil and environmental engineering and transportation engineering from UC Berkeley.

LPPI Scholar Curates Special Issue of Health Affairs Journal

Health Affairs, a leading journal of health policy research, devoted its July edition to health issues relating to immigration along the southern border of the United States, with Arturo Vargas Bustamante of the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI) serving as editorial advisor. He curated more than a dozen research studies that provide an in-depth understanding of the effects of U.S. immigration policy on the care, coverage and health outcomes for immigrants. The journal also published two research studies from Bustamante, the faculty director of research at LPPI and a professor of health policy and management at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. One study found that better access to insurance for aging immigrants would improve their health care and reduce emergency room costs for both immigrants and U.S. taxpayers. Another study, by Bustamante and LPPI Director of Research Rodrigo Dominguez-Villegas, focused on the health of immigrants repatriating to Mexico from the United States. Vargas Bustamante also took part in a Health Affairs podcast and a panel discussion with other featured authors from the issue. For those working at LPPI, the special issue represents a sign that public opinion may be shifting on immigration issues, particularly regarding the contributions made by Latino immigrants to America’s social and economic fabric. Such a narrative shift would be a particularly welcome change in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which further highlighted systemic inequities relating to U.S. health care for Latinos and other persons of color.


Bau on Intersection of Culture and Policy

Assistant Professor of Public Policy Natalie Bau was interviewed by the American Economic Association about her research on the effect of pension reform on traditional family arrangements in Indonesia and Ghana. Bau explained that she was curious about how traditional customs of sons and daughters living with their parents after getting married might incentivize parents to make educational investments. She found that pensions led parents to invest less in the education of children who would have traditionally supported them in old age, and it also resulted in more of those children leaving home after marriage rather than continuing to live with their parents, as was the customary practice. She noted that even though her research shows that the pension program in Indonesia is reducing female education, there are still benefits. The best solution would be to “combine the pension policy with other policies that mitigate these negative effects on female education,” she concluded.

Listen to the interview
Read the full report

Monkkonen on Reversing the Legacy of Segregation

Associate Professor of Urban Planning and Public Policy Paavo Monkkonen spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the persistence of racial segregation in Los Angeles and other major U.S. cities. New research has found that many regions of the U.S. were more segregated in 2019 than they were in 1990. Reversing the legacy of segregation is a slow process, said Monkkonen, director of the Latin American Cities Initiative at UCLA Luskin. “It’s a self-perpetuating process, where people are relegated to less attractive parts of the city, and then they’re associated with those parts of the city,” he said. There are also stark disparities in income, home values and life expectancy between residents in segregated communities and those in more integrated areas. Monkkonen said that, while some communities are working to develop proactive policies around fair housing and development, many researchers aren’t convinced that 2020’s reckoning with race will significantly move the needle when it comes to segregation.

Policy Solutions from the Newest UCLA Luskin MPPs

To earn a master of public policy degree at UCLA Luskin, students must demonstrate their command of the analytical and communication skills needed to develop real-world policy solutions. This year, 15 teams completed the rite of passage, presenting the results of their yearlong Applied Policy Project investigations into specific problems faced by a broad array of government agencies, nonprofits and other firms working in the public interest. Clients included several city and county offices; large nonprofits including the United Way and World Vision International; a nursing home in Tianjin, China; and local advocacy groups such as Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights Los Angeles. Students are encouraged to grapple with the challenges of policy implementation amid often conflicting social, political, economic and technical interests. During three virtual sessions in May, the teams described the policy issues they tackled, reviewed their research, presented a course of action, then fielded questions from peers and professors. They also produced full reports documenting their findings, made available to clients as well as future MPP students. This year, honors were granted to four APP projects:

Commencement Events Bring Class of ’21 Together

UCLA Luskin honored its Class of 2021 with two days of celebrations, including an on-campus ceremony that brought classmates together after more than a year of remaining apart. The June 10 stage-crossing event felt like a class reunion for many students who completed their coursework remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although some health protocols remained in place, students from the School’s public policy, social welfare, urban planning and undergraduate programs were able to gather at UCLA’s Los Angeles Tennis Center to hear their names read aloud and take photographs with Dean Gary Segura, department chairs and fellow graduates. “Today, we have so much to celebrate,” Segura told the assembled graduates. “You have accomplished, against all odds, completing your UCLA degree during a global pandemic, and we could not be prouder of you.” Formal commencement ceremonies and speeches were posted online June 11 as the Luskin School bestowed master’s and doctoral degrees — and, for the first time, the new Bachelor of Arts in Public Affairs.

View a livestream of the on-campus event on Vimeo and additional images on Flickr.


UCLA Luskin Commencement 2021


Ong and Shoup Recognized for Exemplary Service to UCLA Awards highlight Paul Ong’s pandemic-related research and Donald Shoup’s international reputation in planning and parking policy

By Stan Paul

Paul Ong and Donald Shoup, research professors at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, have been honored for their decades of outstanding research and teaching and for their exemplary service to UCLA since retirement.

Ong is the recipient of the 2020-21 Carole E. Goldberg Emeriti Service Award, and Shoup is the winner of this year’s Edward A. Dickson Emeritus Professorship Award.

“Congratulations to Paul Ong and Don Shoup who are both deserving of this honor,” said UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura. “These two leaders and thinkers contribute mightily to making communities and neighborhoods healthier, more functional and more equitable. They fully represent the spirit of the School, and we take tremendous pride in their achievements.”

About Ong’s award

Ong retired in 2017 but has continued his research while serving as director of the UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge. The award, established in 2015, recognizes emeriti for exemplary service to the university and their department and includes a prize of $1,000. Ong was cited for his more than three decades of interdisciplinary social science teaching, policy-focused applied research and engagement with the community, as well as his interactions with policymakers to enable significant change.

The nomination for the award was supported by numerous recommendations from UCLA colleagues, including Professor Chris Tilly, chair of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning, who noted Ong’s continuing dedication to post-retirement service.

“What makes his service truly extraordinary, and extraordinarily timely, is the Herculean effort he has undertaken over the last two years to generate an astounding volume of actionable research addressing the two crises that have convulsed this country in 2020 and 2021: the COVID-19 crisis and the longstanding crisis of racial injustice that flared into mass activism in 2020,” Tilly wrote in his letter of recommendation.

Tilly said that the resulting stream of policy-focused applied research provided a “tremendous service to Los Angeles and other California communities, and by extension to other communities across the nation wrestling with these issues.”

He noted that Ong’s work and collaborations have helped position the university as a major contributor to understanding while “facing the greatest challenges of this very challenging time.”

Announcing the award was the chair of the awards committee, UCLA Vice Chancellor for Academic Personnel Michael S. Levine. He said of Ong: “He is an extraordinary builder of intellectual relationships, transforming empirical research into critical policy discussions in local, state and national venues.”

“In retirement, this advocacy continued and Professor Ong’s commitment to research-as-service came to a fulcrum during the span of the pandemic with actionable policy research addressing the twin crises of the coronavirus and racial injustice,” Levine said.

He noted that city officials in Los Angeles and medical professionals at UCLA Health drew on Ong’s research when creating COVID-19 vaccine equity guidelines.

Tilly called attention to 28 policy-relevant reports spotlighting the disparate impacts of COVID-19 on various racial and ethnic groups published by Ong since the pandemic began in 2020, mostly issued under the auspices of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge in collaboration with other UCLA units.

Ong’s research collaborators have included the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, the Asian American Studies Center, the School of Education and Information Studies, the Ziman Center for Real Estate, the BRITE Center and the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, among others.

“Throughout his career, Dr. Ong has been an engaged scholar par excellence, and this latest chapter has taken that engagement to a new level,” Tilly said.

Ong was one of two awardees for 2020-21. Also honored was Josephine B. Isabel-Jones, professor emerita of pediatrics. They join UCLA’s list of outstanding past awardees.

About Shoup’s award

Shoup, who retired in 2015, was chosen among a select group of UCLA scholars that include Distinguished Researcher Professor Emeritus Benjamin Bonavida of the department of Microbiology, Immunology and Molecular Genetics and Professor Emeritus Warwick Peacock of the department of Neurosurgery. Each will receive a $5,000 prize from a gift endowment established by the late Edward A. Dickson, a regent of the University of California.

Levine noted that since retirement Shoup has received numerous awards and accolades, including being named a National Planning Pioneer by the American Planning Association (APA). In 2017, he received the American Collegiate Schools of Planning’s Distinguished Educator Award, and in 2019 his landmark publication, “The High Cost of Free Parking,” was listed by the APA as a key timeline event since 1900 in the field of urban planning. The 2005 book has since been translated into other languages that include Russian, Chinese, Persian and Romanian.

Shoup followed up in 2018 with the publication of “Parking and the City,” which examined case studies of parking policies recommended in 2005 and outcomes in cities across the world that adopted those policies.

“Shoup is considered the world’s leading academic expert on policies, planning, travel impacts, environmental and social dimensions of parking,” Levine noted, pointing out that his analyses have led to policy changes adopted in various cities and have been emulated throughout Europe and Asia.

Shoup also was nominated and supported by colleagues including the late Marty Wachs, who passed away earlier this year.

“Professor Shoup has lived up to one of the early mottos of the Department of Urban Planning: ‘Linking Knowledge to Action,’” Wachs wrote in his nomination letter. He added, “In addition to scholarly writings addressing parking policy, Donald Shoup for decades advocated for public policies that reflected what he had learned from his research on parking.”

Wachs cited Shoup’s continued scholarship, teaching, mentoring, publishing and advocating on parking and other planning issues of public importance.

“Donald Shoup’s scholarship and advocacy related to parking are examples of what can be achieved when a strong background in the field of economics, meticulous empirical research and decades of attention to detail are combined and brought to the field of public policy and urban planning,” Wachs wrote.

Also supporting Shoup’s nomination was colleague Brian Taylor, professor of urban planning and public policy and the director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA.

“In addition to his ongoing research, Professor Shoup remains a committed teacher and UCLA ambassador to the present day,” Taylor said. “In sum, UCLA Distinguished Professor Emeritus Donald Shoup continues to be a renowned and prominent scholar of land use planning, transportation policy, land development and local public finance; a talented and popular teacher; and an exceptionally influential contributor to public policy and planning practice.”