George Villanueva, a third-year doctoral student at the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, oversaw the Metamorphosis Project’s acquisition of a $380,000 grant to help plan sustainable communities in northeast Los Angeles.
“I’ve always wanted to have a real-world impact on local communities and to help guide policy that can better develop neighborhoods,” said Villanueva, who will be the grant’s research coordinator. “I’ve done field work in urban areas, so I’m excited to be able to link research and theory to applied community work.”
Villanueva will work with the grant’s principal investigator, Sandra Ball-Rokeach, director of the Metamorphosis Project and a communication professor at USC Annenberg.
He said their work will engage nearby community organizations and residents who live in the northeast Los Angeles areas of Elysian Valley, Glassell Park, Atwater Village and Cypress Park.
“A lot of our community and civic engagement research will be approaching these populations to see how they would like to see their community develop to be sustainable in the future,” he said. “Being sustainable is more than just making sure redevelopment is linked to physical development like building streets, transportation and buildings. People need access to jobs, social services, food, education, technology and nature, among many other things.”
The grant is part of the larger $2.25 million Northeast Los Angeles Collaborative grant given by the federal grant program Partnership for Sustainable Communities, headed by the U.S. department of Housing and Urban Development in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency. The partnership aims to reduce barriers to achieve affordable and sustainable communities.
“It’s exciting to work collaboratively not only within the university but also with different organizations and agencies throughout the area,” Villanueva said.
Among the city departments working within the Northeast Los Angeles Collaborative will be the Community Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles, the Department of City Planning and the Department of Transportation.
Metamorphosis also will work with community partners such as the California Workforce Investment Board, the Urban & Environmental Policy Institute, the Hollywood Community Studio and the Worker Education & Resource Center. The goal is to create an implementation strategy and plan for sustainable urban redevelopment guided by civic engagement and community-based work.
“This is a complex consortium,” Ball-Rokeach said. “It is a great opportunity for Metamorphosis to work with key players in local communities to make a real difference. This is part of a much larger trend of the Metamorphosis Project to take what we’ve learned through theory and research and put it into action.
“Our work is not just in academic journals. It’s in use.”
Villanueva, who did his undergraduate work at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said the opportunity to work with Ball-Rokeach was one of the main reasons he wanted to attend USC Annenberg.
“I’m still amazed at how much as a student I have learned from her,” he said. “She amazes me every day with her breadth of knowledge and insight into research and academia and how it should be applied. I respect how she’s been open with her work and able to adjust to changing times in urban areas that, like the rest of the world, are experiencing rapid changes.”
The mission of the Metamorphosis Project is to understand the transformation of urban community under the forces of globalization, new communication technologies and population diversity so that its research can inform decisions by policymakers.