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A Summer Spent Tackling Global Challenges International Practice Pathway blogs provide a look at life abroad for UCLA Luskin’s Public Policy, Social Welfare and Urban Planning students

By Stan Paul

From the sun-bleached poor neighborhoods on the edge of Bengaluru, India, to the traffic-choked streets of Mexico City, students from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs have been tackling global urban challenges this summer as they participate in a unique fellowship program.

Through the International Practice Pathway (IPP) fellowships sponsored by the Luskin School’s Global Public Affairs Program and the UCLA Urban Humanities Initiative, master’s students from all three of Luskin’s departments (Public Policy, Social Welfare, and Urban Planning) received placements with recognized international organizations.

“These are not ‘trips.’ They are professional-level placements in low- and middle-income countries that provide students with a hands-on experience in different areas of global public affairs,” said Stephen Commins, associate director of Global Public Affairs at Luskin. Commins, also a lecturer in Regional and International Development in the School’s Department of Urban Planning, said that students can link their required second-year research and policy projects (requirements for their respective master’s programs at Luskin) with these placements.

IPP, an integral part of the Global Public Affairs Initiative at Luskin, is a global gateway for students from all three Luskin departments to work with local and international communities negatively affected by various political, economic and environmental processes within the context of international development.

As part of the program, all Luskin IPP fellows have been blogging about their experiences this summer on the Global Public Affairs website.

Gus Wendel’s IPP placement took him to Mexico City. For the Urban and Regional Studies master’s (MURP) student, the joy on a child’s face in the simple act of play says it all — even from behind the mask of a luchador, a Mexican wrestler.

But in Mexico City, one of the world’s most populous urban centers, the streets are choked with cars and relentless traffic. It’s no place for children to play freely without worry and constant danger.

That may be changing, if only two hours at a time. But it is a start for Wendel who is focusing on creating safe, temporary play spaces for children to run, jump rope or enjoy crafts and other activities. Wendel worked on a project called Peatoniños, developed in collaboration with the Urban Humanities Initiative and Laboratorio Para La Ciudad.

Peatoniños is a project that aims to liberate and recuperate the streets of Mexico City so that kids can use them to participate in activities such as playing freely, conversing with neighbors, learning new things, imagining different worlds, or making new friends,” Wendel said in an interview. The name of the project is a combination of the words peatón (pedestrian) and niños (children).

He said the collaboration began after a visit to UCLA by Laboratorio founder and director Gabriella Gómez-Mont, who took part in a conversation on issues of youth mobility, mortality and playfulness in Mexico City. The conversation focused on changing public consciousness through changes in public narrative.

Part of that narrative, Wendel explained, includes the following statistics: In Mexico City, 56 percent of the population is under 26 and the number one preventable cause of death for youth is pedestrian-automobile accidents.

“This stark condition implicates a range of current practices surrounding cars, traffic, pedestrian mobility, youth mobility, multi-modal access to the street,” he said.

While it is still early to draw conclusions from the experience, “it is hard not to see the ways that Los Angeles can learn from Mexico City’s example — specifically the relationship between community members and local government,” Wendel said.

“But each play street intervention is only successful as far as local community members are willing to get involved,” he added. For example, those who informally operate public parking, known as “viene vienes,” voluntarily helped to close down streets to traffic for two hours during the first intervention, making it possible to ensure kids are playing in a safe place.

Wendel said that establishing trust between community stakeholders and government and planning for a certain degree of uncertainty seem to be critical elements to ensuring that these types of interventions work.

“Cars and the culture that supports them are relentless, both here and in L.A., so establishing different tactics for slowing traffic and shutting down streets in a civil manner is crucial,” he said.

* * *

Upon landing in Zambia in southern Africa, Corina Post, a master of social welfare (MSW) student at Luskin, said her first impression was that everything seemed “normal” and similar to Los Angeles. “The streets are paved; traffic laws are abided,” she blogged.

But Post, who was placed with World Vision, said she soon noticed small differences. “I felt not too far from home initially, until subtleties reminded me of the privileges the western world holds,” Post said.

As an example, she recounted an early experience from her time in Zambia. During her ride from the airport, she noticed an advertisement for a bank sweepstakes with an unusual prize: 1,000 bags of concrete. She said that “knowing concrete is its own commodity” was one of the first reminders that she “was no longer in Kansas; I was in Africa.”

Other small differences included her interactions with the people in her host country. “People seem to be quite kind to me — honestly, kinder than I have ever been received abroad.” For example, when Post said she went to an exercise class the teacher offered to drive her home. And when asking for directions she said she was not only given directions but people offered to walk with her, a “change of pace from the ‘time is money’” culture she said is used to in the U.S.

A major takeaway for Post was “the gross disservice we as global citizens practice in the homogenization of whole continents.” But, she continued, “This drives me to gain as much exposure as possible to share back home.”

* * *

Master of Public Policy (MPP) student Diego De La Peza traveled to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. There he was paired with the Instituto de Sexualidad Humana, a sexual and family health clinic at the Universidad Autonoma de Santo Domingo, which focuses on educating the Dominican population on sexual abuse and health issues.

“My project has been conducting quantitative research on victims of sexual abuse and analyzing patterns of services solicited, common diagnostics, and social behaviors of these patients,” De La Peza wrote in his blog. He said that his goal is to combine his findings with procedures set by the ministry of public health. He explained that the purpose is to make recommendations on how primary health doctors should respond when a sexual abuse victim seeks medical attention.

“Working on this project in a country whose sexual health beliefs are highly influenced by patriarchy and religion has been an eye-opening experience,” he wrote. “I found it unbelievable the difference that being with a male figure has when walking the streets of the city. Through my research, I have also learned about men’s perspective on women sexuality, and I cannot help but think about all the work that needs to be done in order to break down these barriers that are blocking the country from reducing such high levels of sexual violence.”

De La Peza said that this experience has been educational and inspiring.

“My work environment serves a constant reminder that there are people working hard to improve the issues of the country, advocating for policy changes and better government interventions,” he said. When asked if he would do it again, he wrote: “Without even processing the question, I couldn’t help but answer: in a heartbeat.”

To read all of the IPP fellow blogs from around the world please visit http://global.luskin.ucla.edu/blog/

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

Planning a New Future for Tacubaya UCLA Luskin Urban Planning students use their capstone project to provide guidance to Mexico City as it re-envisions one of its neighborhoods

By George Foulsham

Within the heart of Mexico City sits the bustling neighborhood of Tacubaya, population 5,000. Centuries ago, the area was considered rural, but in the mid-19th century urban growth in Mexico City swallowed Tacubaya and it became one of the poorer neighborhoods in a giant metropolis.

Tacubaya of today is defined by intersecting transportation lines that transformed the once-sleepy neighborhood into a central transit hub for thousands of commuters who swarm the area at various times of the day and night. Crime, poverty, unemployment and informal housing are all painful evidence of a community that has suffered from neglect and a lack of investment. Freeway development and an absence of a cohesive community plan have led to a dearth of public amenities as well.

It’s a town that could use help — the kind of help that urban planners could provide.

To address Tacubaya’s issues, the Secretaría de Desarrollo Urbano y Vivienda (SEDUVI), an agency within the Mexico City government, hired international consulting company CTS EMBARQ to help design a new development tool, El Sistema de Actuacion por Cooperacion (SAC). Translation: a performance system by cooperation. The hope is that EMBARQ’s SAC will help revitalize Tacubaya by providing incentives for developers, thus stimulating new affordable housing development and improving transportation while avoiding pitfalls such as congestion, gentrification and displacement.

Enter the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, specifically master’s students from the Department of Urban Planning. Luskin student David Leipziger worked at the World Resources Institute and established a relationship with several EMBARQ offices. Leipziger asked EMBARQ if there might be an opportunity to work with one of the company’s offices around the world. They suggested Mexico City.

“Mexico City seemed to make the most sense for us because of the proximity, and the students just had a lot of interest in what we could be doing,” said Shafaq Choudry, who graduated in June with her Master’s in Urban and Regional Planning (MURP). “There are a lot of parallels that run between the congestion issues that Mexico City faces and L.A.”

Out of this inquiry came a “really fruitful partnership,” according to Choudry, and a 2015-16 capstone project for 16 Luskin MURP students. EMBARQ and Mexico City officials agreed to work with the Luskin students, who studied Tacubaya in the fall 2015 and winter 2016 quarters and provided a detailed report on recommendations that could help officials design a road map for the future of the neighborhood.

The research initiative was arranged by Leipziger and sponsored by Stephen Commins, a lecturer in Urban Planning and associate director of the Global Public Affairs program at UCLA Luskin.

“The capstone projects provide the students with the opportunity to apply the different analytical and research skills that they have learned in the program to a practical, complex set of problems that are similar to what they face as planners,” Commins said. “A key goal is to have applied knowledge and this is what this project entailed.”

Once the details were finalized, the Luskin students conducted extensive research about the context and history of Tacubaya.

“We then took the steps to identify what areas of expertise that CTS EMBARQ provides, and how we could fill in the gaps,” Choudry said. “It worked out well because we’re a group of 16 and everyone is coming with their own interests. And they want to take ownership — what section am I going to be contributing to? And when it’s your thesis project, you really want it to be a reflection of your own interests and your unique research that you want to put out there into the world.”

So 16 students divided into four groups. The teams broke down their daunting task (most capstone projects require a full academic year, not just two quarters) into four categories: incentivizing inclusive housing development; integrating informal housing (any form of shelter outside of government regulation); enhancing mobility and access; and revitalizing public space.

All capstone projects can be challenging, especially when the focus of the research is several thousand miles away, Commins said. “There is a struggle to get focus early as well as the challenge of working remotely,” he said. “As the work progresses, there is a tension between wanting to be thorough and having limited time.”

Choudry said the students very quickly realized that the project would offer important educational and life lessons.

“As the project started to progress, we had to make sure that whatever we were researching and recommending in our findings, that they complemented one another,” Choudry said. “Then, at the end, we’re not producing four separate reports. That was a process in itself. I found it fascinating.”

Another challenge: Only four of the 16 students could fluently speak and read Spanish. “Google translate is a very good tool,” Choudry said.

The students traveled to Tacubaya in shifts, one group going in early December and the others during the second week of January.

“It was intense,” Choudry said. “That was our only opportunity to see the site, start documenting it, talking to as many people as we could.”

The students arranged interviews and established workday schedules with EMBARQ. “At the end of all of this,” Choudry said, “we had to determine what deliverables we would be able to bring to them in the next 10 weeks. It put the pressure on all of us.”

After two visits, countless meetings and hundreds of hours of research, the UCLA Luskin students produced an executive summary and a set of recommendations designed to inform and assist CTS EMBARQ and Mexico City officials with the task of improving life in Tacubaya.

Among the students’ recommendations:

  • Creating a more participatory process that includes Tacubaya residents in housing development decisions.
  • Establishing cooperative methods of ownership in informal housing developments to prevent future displacement.
  • Investing in bicycle paths and traffic-calming measures to help ease congestion caused by heavy traffic surrounding the transit hub.
  • Developing public spaces that fit the community’s needs and desires while designing a future that embraces environmental sustainability.
  • Creating a tiered public benefit zoning system to provide an incentive for development.

The students’ final recommendations have been submitted to CTS EMBARQ. “They were very pleased with the report,” Choudry said. “Our hope was that this could help inform their work, moving forward. That’s how we thought the implementation of this report could be seen. What we’ve done is handed it all off to EMBARQ, with the trust that they may carry it forward to the officials in Mexico City.

“As students, we get to play this role of, this is our client, but we have this opportunity for them to hear a voice that they might not be able to incorporate as easily, given the relationship they have with the city,” she added. “What we realized as a class was that we can push the bar further. And whether or not EMBARQ incorporates this into their final recommendations, at least we gave them some food for thought.”

Commins said the Tacubaya Capstone project is a great example of how students can fulfill the UCLA Luskin mission.

“Their presentation was indeed representative of the commitment of our students to engage in real-world questions, to dig into the complexities of urban planning in Mexico City, and to propose specific approaches that are both attuned to the needs of a diverse population and grounded in the specific political/regulatory/environmental context of Tacubaya,” Commins said.

Read the students’ full report.

Gentrification, Growth or Something in Between? UCLA Urban Planners’ report on the impact of cultural revitalization efforts on L.A.’s Gallery Row and adjacent Skid Row is named ‘Best Paper’ by Town Planning Review

By Stan Paul

In the early 2000s, author and urban theorist Richard Florida popularized the concept of the “creative class,” with its purported ability to revitalize cities. This notion has encouraged culture-based economic growth strategies and approaches — by public officials and private developers alike — in urban centers such as Los Angeles.

Looking back after a decade with an update and republication of his book, The Rise of the Creative Class, Florida re-emphasized his point that creativity requires diversity and that “an openness to all kinds of people … was no private virtue but an economic necessity,” explaining that areas that are “most open-minded gain the deepest economic advantage.”

“Yet, as I write these words, all is far from well: The great promise of the Creative Age is not being met,” Florida said.

Consequently, two camps on the subject have emerged: one believes that cultural revitalization efforts accelerate growth, while the other says that gentrification and displacement are the outcome.

Urban planners at UCLA have taken a closer look at the effects of cultural revitalization by comparing two areas of Los Angeles known as Gallery Row and the adjacent Skid Row. Their report, “Skid Row, Gallery Row and the Space in Between: Cultural Revitalization and its Impacts on Two Los Angeles Neighborhoods,” was recently named “Best Paper” by Town Planning Review, a publication of Liverpool University Press.

“The urban growth and cultural revitalization currently taking place in the historic core of downtown Los Angeles is unprecedented, and yet downtown is also home to Skid Row, one of the largest concentrations of homeless individuals in the U.S.,” said Brady Collins, lead author of the study. Collins, who recently completed his Ph.D. in Urban Planning at UCLA, worked with UCLA Luskin Urban Planning professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris on the report.

The authors describe cultural revitalization strategies as “promoting a neighborhood’s ethnic heritage, establishing a cultural or arts district or developing cultural and community centers or local museums.” Collins and Loukaitou-Sideris said the purpose of these strategies is to attract young urban professionals — the so-called Creative Class — as well as business growth and investment.

Collins said that, after conducting nearly a year of research, “I knew I had found something big, and something I thought was important to share.” The Boston native is currently a resident of Koreatown and has served as a member of the Wilshire Center-Koreatown Neighborhood Council.

In comparing Gallery Row, characterized by the authors as a linear district consisting of new art galleries, bars and restaurants, to the Skid Row area of Los Angeles, Collins and Loukaitou-Sideris said they sought to answer questions such as how various groups — from local residents, advocates and community organizations to public and private developers, as well as investors and local, state and federal government — shape the process of revitalization and whether cultural revitalization actually benefits only “wealthy gentrifiers.”

“Gentrification is not always a zero-sum game where gentrifiers win,” said Collins. “By providing a snapshot of the efforts by individuals working on the ground and behind the scenes in Skid Row to shape the social and physical landscape, we show how marginalized groups can use art and culture as a means for resistance.”

In recognizing this, Collins said that the concept of “the space in between” was constructed as “a fraught space between the haves and have-nots, between revitalization and displacement, where human agency and community organizing can create real power.”

“With housing affordability at a historic low in L.A., gentrification and displacement represent real concerns for a number of neighborhoods,” Loukaitou-Sideris said. “Our study, however, demonstrates that it may be mistaken to perceive even the most disadvantaged neighborhood as a powerless victim lacking agency and determination to prevent displacement.”

Nevertheless, Collins and Loukaitou-Sideris argue that local grassroots efforts cannot go it alone against “their own larger political interests and powerful real estate forces.” To ensure more equitable outcomes, the authors propose that public officials include affordable housing development, housing preservation and local economic development in planning considerations.

As “Best Paper” published in the June 2016 volume of Town Planning Review, the report will be free to access for three months at the Liverpool University Press website.

UCLA Carbon Upcycling Team Enters XPrize Interdisciplinary researchers, including UCLA Luskin faculty and students, will compete with teams from around the world vying for $20-million NRG COSIA Carbon XPrize

Carbon Upcycling, an interdisciplinary team from UCLA, has announced its official entry into the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE. Carbon Upcycling, headquartered in Los Angeles with 13 team members, is among a growing number of teams from around the world vying for a share of the $20-million prize purse.

The Carbon XPRIZE is a competition that challenges teams to develop breakthrough technologies that convert the most CO2 into one or more products with the highest net value. Co-sponsored by NRG and COSIA, the multi-year competition is designed to address CO2 emissions from fossil fuels, a leading contributor to climate change.

Carbon Upcycling is composed of UCLA professors, students, and staff. The team has formed over the past year to explore new approaches for developing construction materials. Led by five distinguished professors including Gaurav Sant, associate professor and Henry Samueli Fellow in Civil and Environmental Engineering, and J.R. DeShazo, director of the UCLA Luskin Center and professor of Public Policy, Urban Planning and Environmental Engineering, the team has succeeded in developing a new technology which transforms waste carbon dioxide from power plants into a new building material that can replace cement, a material responsible for approximately 5 percent of worldwide CO2 emissions.

“We have proof of concept that we can do this,” DeShazo said. “But we need to begin the process of increasing the volume of material and then think about how to pilot it commercially. It’s one thing to prove these technologies in the laboratory. It’s another to take them out into the field and see how they work under real-world conditions.”

By removing CO2 from power plant smokestacks this technology reduces the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions and could be a game-changer for climate policy, DeShazo said.

For more information about team Carbon Upcycling, please visit http://www.co2upcycling.com/. High-resolution images, video and other team materials are available upon request.

For more information about the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE, visit http://carbon.xprize.org.

Melinda Morgan Named Social Welfare Alumna of 2014 The two-time UCLA Luskin Alumna Melinda Morgan will accept her 2014 Social Welfare Alumna of the Year award on April 26th

Two-time UCLA Luskin Alumna Melinda Morgan (MSW ’89,  PhD ’98) has been named the 2014 Dr. Joseph A. Nunn Alumna of the Year by the Department of Social Welfare for her commitment to helping military families.

For over six  years, Morgan has served as site director of the Camp Pendleton FOCUS Program. FOCUS (Families OverComing Under Stress) is a resilience training program for military families, children, and couples implemented in 2008, in collaboration with the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior and the US Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery. The program, now part of the UCLA Nathanson Family Resilience Center, is in operation in over 20 sites around the world and has provided services to over 500,000 service members and their families.

Morgan teaches as a field instructor for the University of Southern California San Diego Academic Center for Military Social Work and supervises interns placed at FOCUS. In addition, she works as a consultant for the National Military Family Association as an embedded team member in Operation Purple Camps for military families throughout the country.

Prior to receiving her MSW and PhD from UCLA, Morgan was a probation officer working primarily with Latino youth gangs and worked as a psychiatric social worker During her program at UCLA, Morgan maintained a private practice in psychotherapy, and was a co-investigator and assistant professor for UCLA’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology researching neurophysiologic correlates of women’s mood disorders. For the majority of her academic career, Morgan also raised four children as a single parent.

While one of Morgan’s favorite things to do is go on kayaking trips in the Sea of Cortez, she gladly will forgo a beach trip for the annual MSW Alumni Reception on Saturday, April 26 where she will accept her 2014 Social Welfare Alumna of the Year award.

 

 

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