Few people would connect "New Urbanism" — dense, mixed-use buildings and public transit in pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods — with the Latino barrios of Western cities. One Southern California-based group, however, sees this planning movement and Latino culture as nothing but simpatico.
The Transportation and Land Use Collaborative
has organized an annual conference and a series of smaller
dialogues to explore how Latinos’ cultural preferences for
denser communities, thriving public spaces and a
pedestrian-friendly scale can influence the building industry as
well as the larger picture of American urbanism. They call it
"Latino New Urbanism."
"To ignore that there’s a
cultural dynamic at play is to miss the opportunities," says
Katherine Perez, the collective’s director. "Hopefully,
we’ll inform a much larger audience than Southern
With the West’s population
skyrocketing, Latinos are part of the pressure cities and towns
face to house new residents. Builders are looking for new ways to
use infill and redevelopment to accommodate this growth, says
Richard J. Lambros, vice president of the Building Industry
Association of Southern California.
Michael Mendez, whose graduate planning thesis influenced the
creation of the dialogue series, upwardly mobile Latinos who are
looking to buy houses need options other than the single-family
home in the suburbs. Planners and developers should look to the
nuances of Latino culture, he says.
These include the
sidewalk vendors, parking-lot shrines and front-yard courtyards
made with chain-link fencing that define areas like East Los
Angeles, notes James Rojas, founder of the Latino Urban Forum. He
says, "Latinos are redefining streetscapes in L.A. by the way they
use public space."
The Latino New Urbanism Conference
will take place Nov. 19, 2004. For more information and for the
location of the gathering, contact the Transportation and Land Use
Collaborative: 626-969-5599, www.latinonewurbanism.org.