Brian Taylor, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke with CalMatters about ways to change the habits of Californians who are reluctant to give up their cars. “If we can create environments where traveling by other means becomes easier and easier, people will drive less,” Taylor said. “The challenge is the transition.” He added that increasing housing density could help create pedestrian-friendly cities that render automobiles such a hassle that they become an undesirable accessory. CalMatters also spoke to Kevin de León, UCLA Luskin senior analyst and policymaker-in-residence, about the dual challenge of taking on the fossil fuel industry and convincing consumers to change their ways. “You are talking about persuading [millions of] individual car drivers in the largest state in the union to drive zero-emission vehicles, or take public transportation, or ride a bike, or walk, or rideshare,” de León said. “We drive internal-combustion cars in part because they are easy.”
Michael Manville, associate professor of urban planning, spoke with Curbed LA about a proposal to eliminate parking requirements for newly constructed apartment and condo buildings in downtown Los Angeles. Parking minimums have been “an unmitigated disaster,” Manville said. “Right now, it’s illegal to build for a tenant who doesn’t care if their car is in the same building with them” or who doesn’t own a car at all, he said. The requirement to include parking spots in residential buildings has been blamed for higher housing costs, the construction of unsightly garages and the exacerbation of climate change. “When you require parking, you really do encourage driving,” Manville said. Removing the parking requirement is an “absolutely necessary” step, one of many needed to help Angelenos drive less, he said.
Assistant Professor of Urban Planning Liz Koslov spoke to Vice about “managed retreat” as a strategy for coping with climate change — and perhaps creating a better quality of life. Faced with rising sea levels, some communities lobby for protection from walls and levees. Staying in place is seen as a sign of resilience, moving away a sign of surrender. Koslov noted that walling off cities could create “provinces of the wealthy” that bring about environmental and social havoc. “You could end up with these walled city-states and then everyone else is just left to fend for themselves,” she said. Managed retreat — moving populations away from an environmental threat in a carefully planned strategy — can be empowering and restorative if the people involved have a voice in the move, she said. Koslov, who has a joint appointment with UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, is currently working on a book based on her fieldwork on Staten Island after Hurricane Sandy.
Kian Goh, assistant professor of urban planning, spoke with the Social Design Insights podcast about the impact of climate change on marginalized communities — and the influential role urban designers can play. The wide-ranging conversation touched on the vibrant grassroots movement to protect the poor from eviction in the sinking city of Jakarta, Indonesia; the worldwide influence of Dutch urban planners who draw on 800 years of expertise in dealing with flood control; and the Green New Deal, which could transform urban design with a large-scale U.S. commitment to environmental justice. Planning schools can prepare their students for the coming challenges by stressing that designers must understand the communities they serve. “We do talk in design schools about how to do good, for instance, and to think about marginalized and poor communities and how to help them. But not about the structural, social and political issues that they actually confront,” she said.
Madison Hayes presents research into sexually exploited youth, completed as part of Social Welfare's capstone requirement. Photo by Les Dunseith
By Stan Paul
Newly graduated Social Welfare master’s degree recipient Deshika Perera’s research project extended across the United States and as far north as Alaska.
Evan Kreuger helped create a nationwide database as a basis for his research into LGBT health and health outcomes to culminate his Master of Social Welfare (MSW) studies at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.
Perera and Kreuger are members of the first graduating class of Social Welfare students to complete a capstone research project as a graduation requirement for their MSW degrees. Like their UCLA Luskin counterparts in Urban Planning and Public Policy who must also complete capstones, working individually and in groups to complete research and analysis projects that hone their skills while studying important social issues on behalf of government agencies, nonprofit groups and other clients with a public service focus.
“It’s been fun; it’s been interesting,” said Perera, who worked with Associate Professor Ian Holloway. Her qualitative study examined the relationship between the Violence Against Women Act and nonprofits, focusing on programs that provide services to indigenous survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence on reservations and in remote areas of the U.S.
As a member of the pioneering class for the MSW capstone, Perera said that although the new requirement was rigorous, she enjoyed the flexibility of the program.
“I feel we got to express our own creativity and had more freedom because it was loosely structured,” Perera said, explaining that she and her fellow students got to provide input on their projects and the capstone process. The development of the requirement went both ways. “Because it was new, [faculty] were asking us a lot of questions,” Perera said.
“We strongly believe that this capstone experience combines a lot of the pieces of learning that they’ve been doing, so it really integrates their knowledge of theory, their knowledge of research methods and their knowledge of practice,” said Laura Wray-Lake, associate professor and MSW capstone coordinator. “I think it’s really fun to see research come alive and be infused with real world practice.”
Krueger, who also was completing a Ph.D. in public health at UCLA while concluding his MSW studies, previously worked as a research coordinator for a national survey on LGBT adults through the UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute. He said he had a substantial amount of data to work with and that he enjoyed the opportunity to combine his research interests.
“I’m really interested in how the social environment influences these public health questions I’m looking at,” said Kreuger who has studied HIV and HIV prevention. “I kind of knew what I wanted to do, but it was a matter of pulling it all together.”
For years, MSW students have completed rigorous coursework and challenging educational field placements during their two-year program of study, and some previous MSW graduates had conducted research in connection with sponsoring agencies. This year’s class included the first MSW recipients to complete a new two-year research sequence, Wray-Lake said.
Applied Policy Projects
In UCLA Luskin Public Policy, 14 teams presented a year’s worth of exacting research during this year’s Applied Policy Project presentations, the capstone for those seeking a Master of Public Policy (MPP) degree.
Public Policy students master the tools to conduct policy analysis during their first year of study. In the second year, they use those tools to create sophisticated policy analyses to benefit government entities and other clients.
The APP research is presented to faculty, peers and curious first-year students over the course of two days. This May’s presentations reflected a broad spectrum of interests.
Like some peers in Social Welfare, a few MPP teams tackled faraway issues, including a study of environmental protection and sustainable tourism in the South Pacific. Closer to home, student researchers counted people experiencing homelessness, looked at ways to reform the juvenile justice system, sought solutions to food insecurity and outlined ideas to protect reproductive health, among other topics.
“Our students are providing solutions to some of the most important local and global problems out there,” said Professor JR DeShazo, chair of UCLA Luskin Public Policy.
After each presentation, faculty members and others in the audience followed up with questions about data sources, methodologies and explanations for the policy recommendations.
Careers, Capstones and Conversations
Recently graduated UCLA Luskin urban planners displayed their culminating projects in April at the annual Careers, Capstones and Conversations networking event, following up with final written reports for sponsoring clients.
Many planning students work individually, but a cohort of 16 Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) students worked together to complete a comprehensive research project related to a $23 million grant recently received by the San Fernando Valley community of Pacoima. The project was the culmination of almost six months of analysis in which the MURP students helped the nonprofit Pacoima Beautiful, other community partners and government agencies prepare a plan seeking to avoid displacement of residents as a result of a pending major redevelopment effort.
“I think our project creates a really amazing starting point for further research, and it provided concrete recommendations for the organizations to think about,” said Jessica Bremner, a doctoral student in urban planning who served as a teaching assistant for the class that conducted the research. Professor Vinit Mukhija, chair of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning, was the course instructor.
MSWs Test Research Methods
In Social Welfare, the projects represented a variety of interests and subject matter, said Wray-Lake, pointing out that each student’s approach — quantitative and/or qualitative — helps distinguish individual areas of inquiry. Some students used existing data sets to analyze social problems, she said, whereas others gathered their own data through personal interviews and focus groups. Instructors provided mentoring and training during the research process.
“They each have their own challenges,” said Wray-Lake, noting that several capstones were completed in partnership with a community agency, which often lack the staff or funding for research.
“Agencies are very hungry for research,” she said. “They collect lot of data and they have a lot of research needs, so this is a place where our students can be really useful and have real community impact with the capstones.”
Professor of Social Welfare Todd Franke, who serves as a lead instructor for the capstone projects, said his students worked on issues that impact child welfare. Others studied the relationship between child neglect and involvement with the juvenile justice system. Another capstone focused on predictors of educational aspirations among black and Native American students. The well-being of caregivers and social workers served as another study topic.
Assistant Professor Amy Ritterbusch, who also served as a capstone instructor, said her students focused on topics that included education beyond incarceration, the needs of Central American migrant youth in schools, and the unmet needs of homeless individuals in MacArthur Park. One project was cleverly titled as “I’m Still Here and I Can Go On: Coping Practices of Immigrant Domestic Workers.”
“They all did exceptional work,” Ritterbusch said.
Dana Cuff, professor of architecture, urban design and urban planning, commented in a Los Angeles Times story on a number of new and updated cultural venues — including museums and a Metro Purple Line station — set to open in the early 2020s in the western portion of L.A.’s Miracle Mile. In anticipation of new development along Wilshire Boulevard’s Museum Row, the article questions whether adequate planning has gone into the public space surrounding the new projects. “We have this museum district, but the stuff that holds everything together is the part we call the city, and that is the part that Los Angeles has never gotten right,” Cuff said. The founding director of cityLAB at UCLA added, “There is no there there. … There is no urban design that has been created for this chunk of Wilshire that will be one of the most pedestrian and populated parts of the city.”
Donald Shoup, distinguished research professor of urban planning, shared his expertise on parking pitfalls and reforms in a wide-ranging conversation on the American Planning Association’s “People Behind the Plans” podcast. Shoup, author of “The High Cost of Free Parking” and editor of the recent “Parking and the City,” spoke of the long history of inequitable policies and made a case for “parking benefit districts,” which reinvest parking revenues directly into neighborhood improvements. Government-mandated minimum parking requirements for businesses are “a disease masquerading as a cure,” one that “poisons our cities with too much parking,” he said. Such policies have led to vast but vacant Home Depot lots and a six-story underground structure at Disney Hall that discourages Angelenos from stepping outside to create a vibrant urban landscape. Shoup concluded, “If you want more housing and less traffic, you shouldn’t limit the amount of housing at every site and require ample parking everywhere.”
“The New Companion to Urban Design,” the sequel to an authoritative anthology on urban form and design co-edited by UCLA Luskin Urban Planning Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, has just been published. The new book reflects current thinking across several disciplines, including urban studies, design, planning and geography, and widens its scope to include perspectives from the Global South. Migration, rapid urbanization, climate change and the explosive growth of digital technology are among the many trends changing the landscape of cities. Essays in the latest volume explore the new economic order fueling these trends, the search for solutions to the conflicts they create, and the role of urban design in bringing about justice, sustainability and other aspirational goals. Loukaitou-Sideris and co-editor Tridib Banerjee, chair of urban and regional planning at USC, assembled contributors from diverse backgrounds to offer original perspectives on the contemporary urban experience. The “New Companion” is a sequel to 2011’s “Companion to Urban Design,” a sourcebook for students, scholars and practitioners. “Urban design scholarship is interested not only with aesthetic issues but also with the social, political, cultural and economic forces that affect the built environment and its residents, as well as the human and environmental consequences of design interventions,” the editors wrote. Loukaitou-Sideris’ research focuses on the public environment of the city, its physical representation, aesthetics, social meaning and impact on the urban resident. The urban planning professor also serves as associate dean of academic affairs at UCLA Luskin and associate provost for academic planning for UCLA.
Ananya Roy, founding director of the Institute on Inequality and Democracy and professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography, was interviewed by the Planning Report on her thoughts about Senate Bill 50, which would have addressed the housing affordability crisis in California through blanket upzoning. The institute’s research has identified some of the underlying causes of housing unaffordability and homelessness in Los Angeles and California, including the “displacement of working-class communities of color from urban cores to the far peripheries of urban life” and the “broad state-driven processes of displacement, racial exclusion and resegregation.” Roy stressed the importance of “[recognizing] that different social classes experience [the housing] crisis in different ways.” According to Roy, policies like SB50 “solve the housing crisis for the upper-middle class—particularly for the white, entitled YIMBY movement—by grabbing the land of those who are truly on the front lines of the housing crisis.”
Michael Storper, distinguished professor of regional and international development in urban planning, shared his views on the future of housing in California during a livestreamed conversation hosted by 48 Hills, an alternative news site in San Francisco. The manifold roots of the affordable housing crisis include high construction costs, income inequality, cumbersome zoning and regulation, and ongoing discrimination, Storper said. He took issue with the approach behind Senate Bill 50, the now-tabled state legislation that would permit blanket upzoning to increase the housing supply. “Both academics and some housing activists have generated a master narrative that concentrates centrally on just one element of that broader puzzle, which is zoning and regulation, and very specifically on getting more housing built as the master solution to the multifaceted problem of housing,” Storper said. He added that he was not aware of any data or research showing that this “zoning shock therapy” would work.