Planning Change with Dr. Lens

Michael Lens looks at every city with expert eyes. Lens is a professor of urban planning at UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Policy. Lens sees himself as an advocate for change.

“I came to the field as somebody who’s always been interested in how public policy affects people in poverty and can help make it less frequent. For people who are in poverty, [I want to know] what can the government do to make lives better. ”

Lens is tall and distinguished. His face is framed with wire-rim glasses and hair is cropped close. Lens explains tedious zoning policies with an enthusiastic and conversational approach.

Lens completed his PhD in Public Administration at New York University in 2011. At NYU his doctoral research explored the effects of housing vouchers on New York City communities.

Lens’s research earned him academic clout, garnering awards and speaking invitations across the field. Last year, Lens’s report on job accessibility and housing subsidies won Best Paper of 2013-14 in Housing Policy Debate. Another 2013 piece investigating crime in low-income housing was distinguished in the Journal of  the American Planning Association.

Lens is dedicated to creating social change through influencing policy.

“We spend a lot of money on trying to help people afford housing and their’s a lot of things that housing affects beyond just the shelters. [Housing] is a big policy area for people who are interested in helping the lives of the poor”

The Luskin School supports Lens’s passion and commitment as a researcher. At UCLA, he’s the associate director of the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Study and a research fellow for the Ziman Center for Real Estate. 

In 2013, Lens and UCLA colleague Paavo Monkkonen received a substantial grant from the MacArthur Foundation. The expansive project examines local government behaviors during housing crises and is funded over several years.

“[The grant] is such an honor. They let you be very independent with how you get the work done, it’s really nice.”

Lens is private, a husband and father of two. He likes how academia complements his family commitments.

“I have a wife whose job is even busier than mine, she’s a lawyer, and we have two kids who are busy themselves! 

I find that a stable academic job is pretty conducive to that balance… It’s somewhere where you can be productive but also set your own hours. Today I’m picking up one of my kids and then coaching basketball. Not a lot of workplaces allow that. That’s a pretty special opportunity“

He tweets occasionally; mixing policy, news, professor gripes and some pop culture gems. He quotes hip hop lyrics, dripping with professorial snark.

Lens is a dedicated academic with the perspective and expertise to impact real change. His influence on the Los Angeles community and the field of urban planning will be lasting. Lens’s work funded through MacArthur Foundation is set for publication in 2016.

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