USC’s Urban Planning Podcast Hopes to Bring Change – Annenberg Media

Some USC students may think city planning is boring.

Sam Ellman and Natalie Ikhrata disagree. In fact, they named their new podcast, “Urban Planning Isn’t Boring.”

“Basic town planning is so difficult to define. Because as a planner you can do so many things like transportation planning, you can do food systems planning, shopping mall planning, whatever. But I think it just influences the built environment,” said Sam Ellman, one of the podcast’s creators and a sophomore at USC pursuing his master’s degree in urban planning.

The podcast connects the history of planning to the issues we face today, from racist policies and questionable zoning procedures, to the discussion of “15 Minute Cities,” an accessible community concept keeping necessities with a commute. 15 minutes and America’s daunting suburban sprawl. Ellman said the podcast seeks to empower people to change planning policies that impact their communities.

“And politics is, [at] the most basic, just being able to have the power to decide, this route will be about 20 feet wide. And there will be an eight-foot bike lane and whatever, you have so much power to decide these things,” Ellman continued.

Ellman recommended attending public meetings to get involved in city planning politics to gain power over their local community infrastructure. “The planning commission, any developer, has to hold public meetings for most projects that go through environmental review, or they have to get some sort of right,” Ellman said. “And so if you go there, or you write, or you call and leave a public comment, they have to consider that legally.”

When discussing the role of planners, Sam asks, “How are we going to help this community in a way that’s meaningful to them? In the context of the South Los Angeles area, this means adapting urban planning policy to the Black and Latino population.

USC students can see an example of urban planning in their own territory. USC Village had long been a staple of the South Los Angeles community, with affordable grocery stores, a movie theater, and other vendors. Today, the village serves USC students with student housing and restaurants, but neglects the needs and history of the surrounding community.

Jonathan Antonio, a senior public policy specialist, grew up in South Central Los Angeles and saw many changes in the area. Antonio has interacted with USC since he was young.

In middle school and high school, he participated in the Neighborhood Academic Initiative, taking classes at USC on weekdays and weekends. Due to the village’s proximity to the USC campus, he would visit vendors.

“[The original USC Village] had a subway, and they had a movie theater and sometimes I would go there with my friends because it was pretty cheap, like $5 or $6. Everything was quite accessible. It seemed like it was affordable for students and it was also affordable for people who lived in the area,” Antonio said.

These are all gone now, with the new USC Village remaining instead, a campus staple.

The podcast raises important questions, not just for planners, but for anyone who lives in a city. It makes urban planning accessible.

Willa Seidenberg, a USC professor specializing in audio journalism and acting director of the Specialized Journalism graduate program, said, “I love the title of this podcast, ‘Urbanism Isn’t Boring,’ because the problem is that there are all these things like city planning that affect our daily lives, and hopefully they will do something that will really make people understand why it’s not boring? Or, how does it affect me?

She continued, “If they make it interesting and relevant to people, that’s doing all of us a big favor.”

And the impacts can be tangible. Seidenberg, speaking about his own “Save As: NextGen Heritage Conservation” podcast, told the story of a Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs commissioner who listened to his podcast.

“I [met] because my podcast won awards… and she said, ‘You know, I was listening to your podcast that you did on Leimert Park. And I heard about this architect and this place that I didn’t know, and I brought it to the commission. And we are marking it. I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t heard your podcast,” Seidenberg said. “And so this is an example of someone [who] was engaged with the content, and something happened.

Urban Planning is Not Boring is available on Spotify, Apple podcast, Google Podcastsand Castos. Their instagram has more information.