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Connecting Bruins with Westwood: Local organizations foster community engagement

Pictured is First Thursdays, which is an all-day event put on by UCLA and the Westwood Village Improvement Association. The event begins with the Westwood Village Farmers’ Market in the day and is followed by an evening block party. (Jenny Xu/Daily Bruin)

By Catherine Hamilton

Aug. 21, 2023 10:45 p.m.

As Bruins prepare to return to campus or arrive for the first time, there are numerous organizations that can help build and strengthen connections between students and Westwood Village.

The North Westwood Neighborhood Council, the Westwood Village Improvement Association and the monthly First Thursdays events give students the opportunity to engage with the local community.

North Westwood Neighborhood Council

The North Westwood Neighborhood Council represents UCLA and Westwood Village to the Los Angeles City Council.

Eric Coestad, a rising third-year political science student and an organizational stakeholder on the council, said neighborhood councils make an important first contribution to local government. Specifically, neighborhood councils often deal with land planning and use issues, Coestad said, adding that NWWNC is working toward more affordable and accessible housing in Westwood.

He said students can get involved with the council by attending meetings on the first Wednesday of every month. Meetings are held at UCLA’s Weyburn Terrace and include reports from elected officials such as assemblymembers and LAPD representatives. Meetings also provide an opportunity to connect with local politicians, he said.

“If something important is happening in Westwood, we’re going to be talking about it at our meeting,” Coestad said. “Coming to our meetings or reading the minutes are just good ways to stay abreast as to what’s happening, what businesses are coming, what challenges our neighborhood is facing and that sort of thing.”

Participating in or attending meetings is important for incoming freshmen and transfer students who want to get involved in local politics, Coestad said. He added that any Westwood stakeholder can join a committee, in which they have the opportunity to review a certain policy and make meaningful contributions to it before it is voted on by the whole council.

Coestad said he is proud of the changes the council has made to the Westwood Village Specific Plan, which controls land use in Westwood. The council was able to reverse parking requirements, such as high costs that make it difficult for people to park and for businesses to reside in Westwood, he added.

Overall, Coestad said the council is important for maintaining a connection with Westwood and understanding what is going on around UCLA.

“(We’re) fighting for more accessible streets, bike and scooter lanes,” he said. “(We’re) really making Westwood a more safe, affordable and fun place to live.”

Westwood Village Improvement Association

The Westwood Village Improvement Association aims to improve the quality of life in Westwood through efforts such as picking up trash and debris, said Michael Russell, executive director of WVIA.

The organization also hosts different events such as block parties and mixers as well as helping out businesses interested in moving to Westwood, he said.

Russell said students can use WVIA services through the safety escort program – which allows students and community members to walk with an escort if they do not feel safe at night – and by asking questions about Westwood.

The biggest event of the year for UCLA students is the Westwood Block Party taking place Sept. 24, Russell said. The event includes rides, games and live music.

“That’s the big one we do every year to welcome the students back,” he said. “That’s a lot of fun because thousands of students and faculty and residents from the community come out.”

Additionally, WVIA hosts the Westwood Village Farmers’ Market every Thursday on Broxton Avenue, and, starting Sept. 9, will be hosting a night market on the second Saturday of each month, Russell said.

Russell said it’s important for incoming students to know that Westwood is a good place to spend time and explore.

“Right in their own neighborhood, just steps away, is a really cool community … (with) a long history of being just a hotspot in LA,” he said.

First Thursdays

First Thursdays are put on by UCLA and WVIA and include events at the Westwood Village Farmers’ Market, followed by an evening block party.

Mary Osako, vice chancellor for strategic communications, said in an emailed statement that one goal of First Thursdays is to showcase talent in the UCLA community, which has been done with more than 150 UCLA artists, dancers, musicians and other students who have exhibited work at the event.

“We wanted to help revitalize Westwood and local businesses after (the) COVID-19 pandemic by bringing our students and the community together through a monthly event to enjoy live music, immersive experiences and art exhibits,” she said.

Students are also able to connect with campus programs such as UCLA Athletics and the Alumni Association, she added. Additionally, she said First Thursdays encourage students to explore what Westwood has to offer, including the Hammer Museum and the Geffen Playhouse.

“First Thursdays is one of UCLA’s love letters to Los Angeles,” Osako said. “As Chancellor Block has said, it’s important to keep the village vibrant for Bruins and our broader community. Our big, audacious goal is to grow UCLA First Thursdays across LA to deepen our ties to the best city on the planet.”

Contributing reports by Sharla Steinman, city and crime editor.

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Catherine Hamilton
Hamilton was the 2023-2024 News editor and a Copy staff member. She was previously the 2022-2023 national news and higher education beat editor and a national news contributor.
Hamilton was the 2023-2024 News editor and a Copy staff member. She was previously the 2022-2023 national news and higher education beat editor and a national news contributor.
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