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UCLA's Plan to Reorganize Its Professional Schools Is Sheer Madness : Planning: At a time when Los Angeles desperately needs an integrated vision, the university seeks to sever its major components.

June 20, 1993|William Fulton | William Fulton is editor of California Planning & Development Report and author of "Guide to California Planning," (Solano Press Books). He received a master's degree in urban planning from the UCLA Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning.

VENTURA — Ten years ago this month, UCLA honored urban planner Harvey Perloff with a spectacular celebration marking his 15th anniversary as dean of the Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning. Though he wasn't in good health and, as it turned out, only a few months from death, Perloff danced with abandon in the courtyard of the building that now bears his name.

With good reason. Under one roof, Perloff had gathered a distinguished and eclectic group of thinkers and designers, ranging from the architectural historian Dolores Hayden to planning theoretician John Friedmann to the post-modern architect Charles Moore. He had charged them with a most difficult task: understanding--and making better--the emerging city of Los Angeles by working on such causes as economic development, urban design, neighborhood organization and environmental protection.

A decade almost to the day after that celebration, UCLA, in effect, buried Perloff's memory--and his vision--by proposing a consolidation of professional schools that would break up the Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning. The change may help balance UCLA's budget, since it is part of a plan to save $8 million a year in overhead costs.

But Los Angeles will feel the loss deeply. Still wounded by last year's riots and staggering from a persistent recession, the city is desperate for precisely the kind of integrated vision that Perloff promoted. Lamentably, UCLA's plans for the school seem an apt metaphor for a city unable to coalesce around positive ideas.

Breaking up the Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning is not the only sad news in Chancellor Charles Young's sweeping reorganization plan. His proposal, announced without warning and overshadowed by a student hunger strike for a Chicano Studies Department, illustrates how vulnerable any poorly endowed professional school at UCLA is during hard economic times. Under the plan, the architecture program would join fine art and theater arts in a new School of Arts and Architecture. Urban planning would move into a new School of Public Policy, along with parts of the School of Public Health, also being dismembered, and the School of Social Welfare. Well-funded professional schools--law and management--would be untouched.

There is no question that, in many ways, the Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning is getting what it deserves. Neither faculty nor students from the two programs have ever had much interaction. The planners crunch their numbers and do their policy analysis on the first floor of Perloff Hall. In the studios upstairs, the architects weave their designs. The breakup would simply formalize a situation that has existed for a long time.

Yet, to cut planning off from architecture at UCLA--especially at this juncture in L.A.'s history, when rebuilding the city is such a high priority--is madness. The respective skills of the two disciplines are so complementary and so vital to the city that the relationship between them should be reinforced, not severed.

The planning program is strong on community empowerment and neighborhood-based economic development, indispensable skills for reviving minority neighborhoods. The need for architects' skills in redesigning and rebuilding urban neighborhoods is obvious.

One of the more ironic aspects of the UCLA school is that while the architects and planners are separated by a Chinese wall when they're students, they work side by side once they graduate and enter the real world. For every urban planner like Anthony Scott, who struggles to bring affordable housing to the Vernon-Central neighborhood as head of the Dunbar Economic Development Corp., there is an architect like Julie Eizenberg, who spends most of her time trying to build the housing projects.

These professionals know that the city's most pressing social and economic issues largely pivot on the relationship between the state of the physical environment and such neighborhood dynamics as demographic change. In short, Los Angeles is afflicted with "competition for race and space," as UCLA planning professor Eugene Grigsby puts it. Planners and architects are the people who will take policy solutions and figure out how to lay them out on the geographic and physical canvas that is the city. To do so effectively, planners need to understand the physical environment and architects need to understand communities.

If the architecture-planning breakup is a done deal, as most people around UCLA think it is, an interdisciplinary program should be created to keep the connection alive. Better still, perhaps the real-estate development community, which has generously supported the concept of a connection between architecture and planning at UCLA, should coalesce around an effort to endow the school, keep it intact and name it for Harvey Perloff.

In making his case for a School of Public Policy, Young said: "(Los Angeles') very size, rate of growth and diversity have strained the total physical and institutional infrastructure, and community leaders are eager for knowledge and ideas that could inform their decisions." This was precisely the reason Perloff put architecture and planning under the same roof. It is still a compelling reason to do so today.

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