Master of Planning students at the USC Price School of Public Policy introduced 80 high school sophomores from the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools in the Koreatown neighborhood of Los Angeles to the possibilities of urban planning with two workshops at the University Park Campus.
It’s one of two ways the Associated Students of Planning and Development (ASPD) is trying to help the community during the spring semester, along with a program to put bikes left on campus in the hands of low-income individuals.
The most rewarding part is enabling others to act.
Jason Patrick Douglas
“I think it’s really important at a young age to understand that you’re able to create change in your community,” said MPL student and ASPD President Jason Patrick Douglas. “The most rewarding part is enabling others to act. Even if they don’t go into planning, they can apply what they learned here to any career. It’s still important to engage in the community and raise awareness of issues.”
The Planning for College workshops were in collaboration with GEAR UP 4 LA, a program that aims to increase student success in high school through counseling, tutoring, mentoring and education about college and careers.
A glimpse into urban planning
The day opened with an address from Professor Marlon Boarnet, senior associate dean for academic affairs and director of graduate programs in urban planning at USC Price.
I want you to begin to think about looking around your neighborhoods.
“Urban planning is not something that a lot of high schoolers have learned about, and today we’ll give you the opportunity to get a glimpse into this field as a career,” Boarnet said. “I want you to begin to think about looking around your neighborhoods, your cities and realize how there are decisions made that affect the quality of life in the places where you and your friends are growing up. That is what planners are working on.”
During the workshop, the students drew their own neighborhood, mapped an area on the USC campus, planned a trip around Los Angeles using public transportation, reviewed historical photos from parts of LA before and after planning changes, and learned about financial aid possibilities for attending college.
In the final capstone activity, they broke into groups to develop their own city charter, using the thought processes, leadership skills, planning knowledge and experiences they accumulated throughout the day.
The activities got us motivated not to take things for granted.
“I feel like having urban planning as a minor or major could help me improve the community for the better good,” said RFK student Jennifer Martinez. “The activities got us motivated not to take things for granted. Like every day we ride the bus, but we never thought about how someone took the time to plan the bus route.”
Douglas and ASPD Vice President Lawrence Young coordinated “Planning for College,” the workshop series that the student organization has organized for the past three years.
“When I was younger, I wish I would have participated in a program like this to learn about urban planning,” Young said. “You do an exercise like plan a city where they think about how to use space to create a community, and they really start to understand what urban planning is. It’s really exciting to see their faces light up, like, ‘I get it now.’ ”
MPL student Ariane Briski came up with the idea for the Neighborhood Bicycle Program when she noticed how many bikes on campus never seemed to move. In some cases, people may just leave bikes on campus if they break down or when they head home at the end of a semester. As sustainability chair at ASPD, she wondered if there might be a way to repurpose those bikes.
She found that the USC Department of Safety collected the abandoned bikes and stored them in a parking structure off campus. With Briski and ASPD colleagues Douglas and Young taking the lead, the student group developed relationships with DPS and other parties on campus.
As a result, ASPD was able to get 25 of these bicycles from DPS and then found a community partner in the East LA Community Corp. On April 11, ASPD is planning to give the bikes to residents of the Sol y Luna multifamily affordable apartments recently opened by the East LA Community Corp.
In the works
But first, there was work to do. The bikes needed to be cleaned and repaired to make them suitable for donation. With the help of Jacob Peters from the USC Dornsife Joint Educational Project and his bicycle-repair knowledge — along with funding for bicycle parts from USC Price Professor Leonard Mitchell, executive director of USC’s Center for Economic Development — ASPD volunteers started with simple fixes like adding rear reflectors and replacing grips on handlebars, and then recently began replacing tires and adjusting the gearing.
The students won’t just be handing over the bicycles. They are providing a workshop on bike safety and rules of the road for the lucky recipients.
“We spend a lot of time at the Price School talking about community organizing and engagement,” said Briski, who often rides her bike from her apartment in Koreatown to USC. “This is a way to take an underutilized resource and reappropriate it in a way that forms a connection with the community. Not only do we want to help people in the lower-income bracket but also get as many people on bikes as possible.”