Jacqueline “Jackie” Leavitt, professor emerita of urban planning, passed away on Nov. 27 at her home in Los Angeles. She was 76.
Leavitt was a committed scholar, teacher and mentor at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, as well as a community activist dedicated to social justice. Her research during her decades-long career focused on housing and community development policy, public housing and the multiple meanings of home, among many other urban and social issues. As a founder of the American Planning Association Planning and Women Division, she is considered a pioneer in research on gender and community development. Additionally, her work brought to light the ways in which low-resourced populations managed to live, work, and survive in cities and regions across the globe.
“I entered urban planning believing in its ability to support social movements through both rigorous research and ethical practice,” Leavitt said in a 2008 interview with Progressive Planning Magazine. “In a country where rights are being usurped, and where the government has an ability to demolish public housing … I still hold to beliefs for social and economic justice, and have tried to develop ways to bring those themes into my classrooms, not as an afterthought but an integral and basic goal.”
“Jackie loved her students, cared for her friends, had passion for her work and community activism,” said UCLA Luskin Associate Dean Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris. “She was as comfortable inspiring her students to change the world, or talking at international gatherings for the rights of the poor, as she was holding the hand of public housing tenants and bringing holiday gifts to their children. We will miss her greatly.”
An award-winning scholar, Leavitt was the recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship to study the privatization of rental housing in New Zealand and Los Angeles, and won first place in the “New American House” competition earlier in her career. She studied the impact of privatization on tenants living in public housing and led projects that helped community organizations reverse disinvestment in underprivileged urban areas. Most recently, she worked with UCLA professor emeritus of law Professor Gary Blasi to study the working conditions of taxi drivers in Los Angeles, expanding this research to include women taxi drivers in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and New York City.
Leavitt held master’s and Ph.D. degrees in urban planning from Columbia University, where she is recognized as one of the school’s outstanding practitioners and a central figure in the feminist movement within her field. She came to UCLA in 1983 as a visiting lecturer after teaching posts in planning programs at Columbia University, New York University, Cornell and City University of New York. At UCLA for 32 years, she was a committed teacher and mentor, serving as faculty director of the urban planning department’s undergraduate urban and regional studies minor and teaching undergraduate courses in urban planning and UCLA’s Undergraduate Honors Collegium.
Since 1999, she served as the director of the department’s Community Scholars Program, a joint program with the UCLA Labor Center of the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment (IRLE), bringing labor and community leaders together with urban planning graduate students to conduct applied research projects. Her work “embodied her deep commitment to participatory planning, and both brought the university into the community and brought the community into the university,” said Chris Tilly, IRLE director and professor of urban planning.
The impact of Leavitt's research and practice was far-reaching. She served as a consultant to nonprofit resident groups, the Swedish Council for Building Research, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the New York City Housing Preservation and Development Agency. She also served on the Nickerson Gardens Community Development Corporation, which was formed to assist one of the largest public housing projects in Los Angeles.
“Jackie Leavitt was a fierce and stalwart critic of the systems and forces that marginalized so many,” said UCLA Luskin school interim Dean Lois Takahashi. “She was strong-willed and articulate, and creative and innovative. That combination of fierceness and creativity is how I will remember her. She was one in a million.”
Said Evelyn Blumenberg, professor and chair of the department of urban planning, “Jackie was a long-time urban planning colleague whose passionate commitment to social justice touched every aspect of her research and teaching on housing, gender, labor, and community development.”
Leavitt is survived by her brother, Howard Leavitt, and his family. A celebration of her life will be held in Los Angeles and New York (locations to be determined), where her ashes will be distributed. The UCLA Department of Urban Planning will hold a gathering in celebration of her life on Monday, March 7 at UCLA.
This obituary was originally published at the UCLA Luskin website.