July 27 2012

Community Space to Cultural Space: Latino Urbanism and the Transformation of the Built Environment

As described by James Rojas, Latino Urbanism, found in many first and second-generation immigrant communities throughout the United States, can be defined by both the social and built characteristics of a neighborhood, such as:

  • Practice of street vending;
  • Home design where the font yard is used as a courtyard;
  • Fences that act as points of interaction;
  • Streets used as a plazas, or a sidewalk;
  • Mural art used as a source of cultural storytelling;
  • Do-it-yourself approach to transforming public and private space.

Besides being sustainable, vivacious, fun, beautiful, and accessible,” Latino Urbanism provides a built environment that is culturally educational. In a special issue by the Journal of Urbanism, leading scholars in the field delineate the important intersection of Latino culture and the resulting urban form, specifically the influence of cultural practices on the public realm.

Like Los Angeles (a city often discussed in the Latino Urbanism dialogue), Phoenix, Arizona is heavily influenced by Latin American immigrants. Recent research, in the Garfield neighborhood, a previously decrepit area just north and east of downtown Phoenix, finds positive transformation brought about by the 86% Latino population. Through incremental changes to residential, specifically house design, legitimate and culturally sustainable place-making has taken root. This transformation of community (and sometimes even private) space into a cultural space enhances the visual aesthetic of the neighborhood.

Stemming partially from enhancing the built environment, other positive aspects of Latino Urbanism include place-awareness, civic engagement, and even possibly an attitudinal change in non-immigrants as they witness positive neighborhood changes brought about by Latino residents. Urban planners, designers, and community organizers are recognizing this as one approach to sustainable urban form. Understanding the underpinnings of Latino Urbanism to be cultural can help to facilitate the development of healthy communities while preserving tradition.

Planning for just one group can certainly be a double-edged sword. Can the Latino Urbanism label end up excluding other populations?

The Phoenix Urban Research Lab has posted all lectures from their Latino Urbanism Symposium here.

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

Ellen Schwaller

Ellen Schwaller is a former GRID blogger and graduate of Arizona State University's master's program in Urban and Environmental Planning. Spending most of her life in the sprawling sunbelt, it was a recognized desire for human-centered rather than auto-centered places that drew her to the planning field. With a Bachelors of Science in Environmental Science, she looks for ways to integrate the natural and built environments to create spaces and neighborhoods that matter. A large part of her research has been in the realm of residential perception and attitudes and how this might inform city and neighborhood planning and design.

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This entry was posted on Friday, July 27th, 2012 at 3:49 pm and is filed under Architecture, Community/Economic Development, Housing, Land Use, Social/Demographics, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


One Response to “Community Space to Cultural Space: Latino Urbanism and the Transformation of the Built Environment”

  1. Latino Urbanism + Post from The Grid « A Small Wall Says:

    [...] out my full blog post on Latino Urbanism on The [...]

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