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On the Natural Urbanism of East L.A. Artists

The planning process often suffers from a lack of community engagement. According to James Rojas, planners can learn from the on-the-ground urbanism of artists in East L.A.
May 5, 2015, 8am PDT | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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Ralph Hockens

In an article for KCET, James Rojas explains how local artists can help guide planning decisions in their communities. He stresses the intimate connection many artists enjoy with their surroundings, an innate sense of place very difficult to impose, or even understand, from above. Rojas writes, "Artists put themselves out there in the public's eye because they are not afraid of the public. Urban planners sometimes dread dealing with the public and [...] hire consultants to do their public engagement."

In Los Angeles' Eastside, this natural urbanism is alive and well among Latino artists. "The Boyle Heights zoning code is similar to the West Los Angeles community of Mar Vista, but these communities feel, look, function very differently. The planning documents do not reflect the community in the visceral way art does."

Unlike the staid methods planners often use to engage the public, art inspires action. "Art venues are designed to engage, transform, and inspire the public by their nature. Public meetings, on the other hand, are frequently scheduled at awkward times, poorly attended, have a rigid agenda, and do not promote creativity [...] People generally leave an art venue satisfied, wanting more, while people leave a public meeting thinking, 'Thank God it's over.'"

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Published on Tuesday, April 7, 2015 in KCET
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