Mike Powe
Mike Powe, planning, policy & design doctoral student, wants to see Skid Row transformed into a viable, equitable and economically diverse living environment. Mike Powe

In Los Angeles’ Skid Row district, homeless camps, shelters and drug treatment centers share the streets with trendy restaurants and shops. Upscale lofts symbolize the neighborhood transformation underway in an area marked by poverty and blight.

This dynamic fascinates Michael Powe, UC Irvine planning, policy & design doctoral candidate, who heads a project to recommend development and policies to city officials and businesses that would foster economic diversity on Skid Row. This spring he won a $10,000 Public Impact Fellowship from UCI’s Graduate Division that supports students whose research could have significant local, national or global benefit.

“Mike is highly committed to conducting research that will guide policy and planning decision-making,” wrote Kristen Day, UCI planning, policy & design professor, in a nomination letter for Powe. “He regularly moves beyond concern about issues to take constructive action.”

By interviewing loft residents, the homeless, business owners, real estate developers, social service providers, Los Angeles officials and police officers, Powe hopes to identify the diverse demographics of Skid Row. He also is reviewing city policies, loft marketing materials and media reports to understand how the various interests coexist.

One way to improve the quality of life for all Skid Row residents, he says, is through more consistent services dealing with the neighborhood’s trash. Often, trash ends up in the streets due to a simple lack of waste bins. And some social service agencies that deliver food to Skid Row leave the cleanup to residents.

“It’s not as if the poor want to live with garbage strewn all over the sidewalks,” says Powe. “There are simply not that many trash cans and even fewer people paid to empty them.”

He wants to shape a future in which longtime Skid Row residents and loft dwellers work together for the common good.

“The area has the potential to develop into a sustainable, viable and diverse community,” Powe says. “In such a neighborhood, people can live different lives but, ultimately, look out for each other.”