Chair’s message: Making Environmentally Sustainable and Socially Just Worlds

Welcome to the Department of Urban Planning and Public Policy in the School of Social Ecology!

Residents of California face two existential threats: climate change and entrenched urban inequalities. These threats express themselves through various problems including drought, environmental racism, unaffordable housing, discriminatory municipal policies, poverty wages, and climate change. Our faculty and students draw on the tools of different disciplines (e.g., Urban Planning, Law, Political Science, Sociology, Geography, Economics, etc.) to understand the causes of these problems and develop solutions that lead to sustainable environments and socially just cities. Our staff is dedicated to the Department’s mission and facilitates life in a complex university system. Together, we are more than the sum of our parts, with each of us playing our distinctive role in creating an inspiring intellectual space with the power to change the world.

Our award-winning faculty are engaged in research projects that address water policy, environmental racism, equitable transportation, housing affordability, immigration, and social movements, among other issues. I would like to highlight the exciting and important interdisciplinary research of a small sample of our junior faculty. Dr. Avipsa Roy currently uses big data to examine transportation equity and environmental justice in large urban regions. Dr. Michael Méndez has long examined climate justice politics and is currently studying the impacts of climate disaster on undocumented immigrant communities. Dr. Alejandra Reyes examines how large-scale changes in financial systems impact housing policy in Mexico and California. Dr. Nícola Ulibarrí studies how water governance and infrastructure systems can be designed to address diverse environmental and social needs. This sample of our faculty testifies to the department’s bright future and its commitment to environmentally and socially impactful research.

The Department of Urban Planning and Public Policy offers two undergraduate majors: Urban Studies and Environmental Science and Policy. The Department also offers a cutting-edge undergraduate specialization in Geographical Information Systems.  The intent of these programs is to provide students with the skills needed to work in jobs that address the most important environmental and urban problems of our times. Additionally, the Department offers two master’s degrees: Master of Urban and Regional Planning and the Master of Public Policy. These programs provide graduate students with the professional training needed create policies and plans to ensure a more sustainable and socially just future.  

The Department offers a Ph.D. Program in Urban and Environmental Planning and Policy. Our Ph.D. students study a wide variety of fascinating topics including water policy in Puerto Rico, India, and California, gentrification conflicts across the United States, the impacts of climate change on marginalized communities, and zoning and housing reforms across the United States. Our Ph.D. students have gone on to work at leading research and teaching universities including Northeastern University, University of North Carolina, the University of Wisconsin, Cal Poly Pomona, and the University of Minnesota. Many of our Ph.D. students also seek to create change through work in nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and the private sector.

Knowledge is important to create systemic change, but knowledge left alone is not enough. Change requires strong relations with community members who are on the ground and can translate knowledge into impactful practices. This means that our faculty and students have developed strong partnerships with community organizations, policy makers, elected officials, labor unions, and other stakeholders seeking to create a sustainable and socially just world. Our faculty and students have developed strong relations with community partners in regions as different as Orange County, south India, and northern Mexico. Faculty direct research centers (Blum Center for Poverty Alleviation and Water UCI) that are designed to work with community stakeholders to translate scientific knowledge into real world solutions. Moreover, our two master’s and two undergraduate programs have developed connections with community organizations and policy advocates throughout Orange County.  Such partnerships allow our students to gain real-world experiences and provide a way to directly contribute to the diverse communities in the region.

It is a great privilege to work in the Department of Urban Planning and Public Policy because it is a space where we work together to make the university into force of change. I am honored to serve as Chair and work with faculty, students, and staff to make this the most impactful planning and policy department in the country.

Walter Julio Nicholls
Professor and Department Chair