'Nonconforming Urbanism' the New Face of Density

Architect Teddy Cruz examines the south-north flow of "nonconforming urbanism" in the Tijuana-San Diego region, and how changing communities in this dynamic area could shape the way we think about increasing density.
February 4, 2009, 7am PST | Nate Berg
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"These illegal flows are physically manifested, in one direction, by the informal land use patterns and economies produced by migrant workers flowing from Tijuana into San Diego, lured by the strong economy of Southern California. But while human flow mobilizes northbound in search of dollars, the urban waste of San Diego moves in the opposite direction, where it is used to construct emergency housing in the shantytowns of Tijuana."

"As the Latin American diaspora travels north, it inevitably alters and transforms the fabric of San Diego's subdivisions. In these neighborhoods, multigenerational households of extended families shape their own programs of use, taking charge of their own micro-economies in order to maintain a standard for the household. The result: nonconforming uses and high densities that reshape the fabric of the residential neighborhoods where they settle. Alternative social spaces spring up in large parking lots; informal economies such as flea markets and street vendors appear on vacant properties. Housing additions in the shape of illegal companion units are plugged in to existing suburban dwellings to provide affordable living."

"The areas of San Diego that have been most impacted by this nonconforming urbanism are concentrated in its first ring of suburbanization. The mutation of these older bedroom communities--from rigid, monocultural and one-dimensional environments to informal, multicultural and cross-programmed communities--opens the question: how do we anticipate density? It may be that the future of Southern California urbanism will be determined by tactics of retrofit and adaptation, making the large small."

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Published on Tuesday, February 3, 2009 in The Nation
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