Saturday & Sunday 5:30pm
Join James Rojas in the Lobby for hands-on community visioning.
This is a FREE event.
James Rojas is an urban planner, community activist, and artist. He has developed an innovative public-engagement and community-visioning tool that uses art-making, imagination, storytelling, and play as its media. He is an international expert in public engagement and has traveled around the US, Mexico, Canada, Europe, and South America, facilitating over four hundred workshops, and building fifty interactive models. He has collaborated with municipalities, non-profits, community groups, educational institutions, and museums, to engage, educate, and empower the public on transportation, housing, open space and health issues. His award-winning method has been implemented all across the globe.
He is also one of the few nationally recognized urban planners to examine Latino cultural influences on urban design and sustainability in the US. He has written and lectured extensively on how culture and immigration are transforming the American front yard and landscape, and he is the founder of the Latino Urban Forum, an advocacy group dedicated to increasing awareness on planning and design issues facing low-income Latinos.
He has lectured and facilitated workshops at MIT, Berkeley, Harvard, Cornell, and numerous universities, schools and public forums. His work has been installed at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Arts, the Venice Biennale, the Exploratorium, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Bronx Museum of Art, the Getty and on streets and sidewalks of major cities. His research has appeared in the NY Times, LA Times, Dwell, Places, and in numerous books.
Q&A with James Rojas
How have you used film as a tool?
For urban planning purposes the setting of the story is just as important as the narrative itself because cities are physical, three-dimensional spaces. That’s why I have people build their setting or narrative because I want to know what the details in the built environment are that matter to them. For example what are the details they see, hear, touch, smell, and feel. This exercise teaches people how the physical world shapes our lives. Places should engage and convey information and tell stories.
To achieve this I apply art-making to city-making. My tools are the public’s experiences, emotions, imagination, fingers, and having them build using thousands of small objects. Through this process people image, investigate, construct, and reflect. By doing this participants become artist and the city becomes a canvas. This creative expression gives the public autonomy in the planning process to inspire them to participate because planning becomes about them. Its much easier for people to build a story than tell one.
I like to take the participants on a journey of self-discovery that starts with their childhood and ends with solving current urban issues such as transportation, health, housing, economic development and more. Children have a very keen sense of the physical world around them that shapes their lives. Plus every adult has a favorite childhood memory or story they can share.
By having a group of strangers build their favorite childhood memories they are telling us who they are, where they come from, and what they value. Through these stories we develop collective values. People bring to the planning table a lifetime of rich experiences to help solve today’s urban problems. Through this process people are ready to plan together, and by building together they are using the spatial nature of the city to collaborate, which is difficult to do just through words.
In the past 50 years urban planners have planned and built cities that do not engage people.
Why isn’t public participation more meaningful at the moment?
James: Public participation or urban planning is not meaningful because it is not about people’s lives and public meeting tend to about projects, plans, and development. We never have meeting on creating community values. People need to share who they are, what they value, and meet each other face to face to build the social and planning capacity. I prefer facilitating meeting with smaller venues where everyone participates, and bonds.
By relying on zoning alone planners fail to capture the narratives of a place. For example, a zoning map of retail and commercial spaces of the Mission District looks much the same as one of Stockton or Union Square. However in reality these are very different places; the experiences of eating a taco on Mission at 2:00 a.m., or dim sum in Chinatown on a Sunday morning, or lunch at Union Square on a weekday are all very different.
Because to this these places are vulnerable to having their character erased and subject to change, gentrification and redevelopment.