Storper on the Pandemic’s Lasting Impact on Cities

Urban Planning Distinguished Professor Michael Storper co-authored a paper assessing COVID-19’s anticipated impact on the economic, political and social fabric of cities for the journal Urban Studies. As the world continues to adapt to the pandemic, “we remain in a period of extended social experimentation, with households, business, the professions and the public sector all in the game,” wrote Storper and co-authors Richard Florida of the University of Toronto and Andrés Rodríguez-Pose of the London School of Economics. Throughout history, major metropolitan areas have proved resilient to epidemics and other crises and catastrophes, they wrote. “Nonetheless, even if large cities are unlikely to lose their prominent role, they will be transformed and changed — in the short term and even well after mass immunity.” The authors predict that “social scarring” based on the continued fear of coronavirus infection will continue to influence residence choice, travel and commute patterns, and the economic viability of certain businesses and social gathering spaces. The future of downtowns hangs in the balance as remote work is normalized and online shopping grows even more common. “Cities might increasingly become cultural and civic places rather than shopping destinations or office hubs,” they wrote. Despite its horrific toll, the pandemic offers a window of opportunity where cities can reset, re-energize and call old practices into question, the authors conclude. “As cities rebuild and recover, …  they can pilot efforts to confront the widening chasms between classes and neighborhoods and prepare for the many threats of climate change.”


Turner on Increasing Opportunities for Shade

Assistant Professor of Urban Planning V. Kelly Turner was featured in a National Geographic article about the importance of shade in cities like Los Angeles that are growing hotter due to climate change. Urban design in Los Angeles has prioritized access to the sun, with many city codes determining how much shadow buildings can cast. However, climate change has increased the frequency and severity of heat waves, increasing the risk of heat-related death and illness. Furthermore, predominantly Black and brown neighborhoods have fewer parks and trees and less access to shade than white neighborhoods. While asphalt and concrete absorb and release captured heat, contributing to the urban heat island effect, planting trees and creating shade can keep buildings cooler, lowering the risk of heat-related illness. “The really simple thing, if you care about making people more comfortable, is just to offer more opportunities for shade,” Turner said.

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.

Taylor on Post-Pandemic Traffic Patterns

Urban Planning Professor and Director of the Institute of Transportation Studies Brian Taylor spoke to the Los Angeles Times about changing traffic patterns in Los Angeles as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and life returns to a post-pandemic normal. The pandemic altered traffic and transit patterns, with many businesses transitioning to remote work. As the economy reopens, traffic levels have increased, but the next few months will signal how long-lasting the pandemic’s impact on traffic patterns will be. Vehicle travel is increasing in part because more businesses and activities are opening up, prompting people to drive more often and farther from home. Taylor explained that congestion is “spatially and temporally” structured, meaning that it occurs when many travelers are going to the same destination at the same time. “If we go back to pre-pandemic living and working patterns, driving and traffic levels are likely to be similar to before,” he said.

Manville on Proposed Per-Mile Driver Fees

Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville was mentioned in a San Diego Union-Tribune article about the city’s proposed road fee, which would charge drivers a set price for every mile traveled. The road charge would help pay for San Diego’s $160-billion proposal to expand rail, bus and other transportation services throughout the region. It would also help replace the revenue from the current gas tax as fossil fuels are phased out in efforts to combat climate change. “The gas tax, regardless of how much revenue it raises, is in fact a climate tax, a carbon tax,” Manville explained. “We probably shouldn’t just throw that out the window.” A statewide pilot program is also testing the road charge strategy. Experts are debating whether to adopt a flat per-mile fee or charge more to drivers with less fuel-efficient vehicles. While the second option would be more complicated, it would incentivize drivers to adopt cleaner vehicles.

It’s Time to Protect Cities From Extreme Heat, Turner Writes

Assistant Professor of Urban Planning V. Kelly Turner wrote a Next City op-ed about the need for federal regulations to address extreme heat in urban areas. The urban heat island effect makes cities warmer than surrounding rural areas by up to 22 degrees. “Cities are hotter because of how we build them, and they can be cooler if we build them differently,” she explained. Heat waves have become more frequent and severe, and Turner noted that they disproportionately affect low-income communities and communities of color and reduce educational achievement for Black and Hispanic students. Turner proposed a Cool Communities Act that would regulate the production of urban heat by setting standards for building materials and rules for land use. For example, cool roofs that reflect sunlight instead of absorbing it can be up to 50 degrees cooler than standard roofs. “We may not be able to change the weather,” Turner wrote. “But we can turn down the heat through sensible cool communities standards.”

Schwarz on Disproportionate Impact of Heat Islands

Associate Professor of Urban Planning Kirsten Schwarz was featured in a Pasadena Star-News article about her work on urban heat islands and public policy. Asphalt and concrete structures in urban areas absorb and radiate more heat than less developed and better landscaped areas with more shade and greenery. Schwarz, part of a UCLA team awarded $956,000 to research heat solutions in Los Angeles, explained that racially motivated policies established in the past impact how people today experience the same weather differently. “There is an uneven distribution of trees across the city, and that can result in an uneven distribution of heat across the city as well,” Schwarz said. “Areas that have uneven impacts are low-income areas and areas of long-term disinvestment.” According to Schwarz, formerly redlined areas are hotter due to less municipal investment in planted streetscapes and parks. She said an interdisciplinary approach is key to understanding and addressing extreme heat in Los Angeles.

Taylor Emphasizes Need to Improve Transit Service

UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies Director Brian Taylor was featured in a Los Angeles Times commentary about plans to revive transit ridership in Los Angeles by dropping fares. LA Metro approved a pilot program eliminating fares for students and low-income riders. Metro relies on riders for only 5% of its revenue, with the majority of revenue coming from sales taxes in Los Angeles. However, some riders are still concerned about the speed, reliability and accessibility of public transit services. According to Taylor, Metro’s data-based improvements to its bus routes are a promising way to revive ridership by reallocating service. Increased service frequency, decreased wait times, and investments in lighting, added shelter and other safety measures at bus stops could attract more ridership than free fares, he said. Taylor pointed out that riders, even those with low incomes, are more sensitive to changes in service than changes in price.

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


Wachs, ITS Honored with APA Planning Awards

The American Planning Association’s Los Angeles section bestowed multiple awards on the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin and also honored the late Martin Wachs, professor emeritus of urban planning. Wachs, who passed away unexpectedly in April 2021, received the Planning Pioneer Award for his lifelong work as a renowned transportation scholar. The Institute of Transportation Studies won the following honors:

The American Planning Association is a national organization that aims to unite leaders and professionals across the field of planning. Every year, the organization’s Los Angeles section recognizes the outstanding work, best practices and thought leaders that impact the built and natural environment in Los Angeles County.— Zoe Day