We Want More Discourse on Designing Diverse Communities

Broadening our understanding of how different groups interact with their physical environments would be a great first step.

Scientists have proved that the way our brains are wired plays into how we engage with the physical spaces around us. But so, surely, do our life experiences—where we come from, and our cultural values make a difference in how we perceive space and utilize it.

That’s certainly what James Rojas believes. In his 20-year career as a city and transportation planner, Rojas has seen members of local Latino communities across the U.S.—particularly immigrants—carry over ideas about public space uses from the countries they’ve left behind. He’s become a prominent proponent of what he calls Latino Urbanism, the idea that including more Latino ideas and voices in design processes is key to planning more inclusive urban and suburban communities.

A single-family suburban home transforms into an "East Los Angeles Vernacular" style house by incorporating Latino cultural ideas. (Courtesy of James Rojas)

A single-family suburban home transforms into an “East Los Angeles Vernacular” style house by incorporating Latino cultural ideas. (Courtesy of James Rojas)

In many Latin American cities, buildings and their adjacent public spaces were designed following the “Law of the Indies,” a 17th century body of laws that influenced town planning in the Spanish colonies, Rojas explains. One reliable fixture in these towns is the plaza—an open space, often with a central fountain, where children play and neighbors gossip.

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