Co-founder, Latino Urban Forum
In Latino communities, streets play an important role for purposes other than driving. They function as plazas and gathering places, and immigrants retrofit their houses, front yards and sidewalks to foster a sense of community.
But most Latino immigrants live in impoverished communities that lack open spaces, safe pedestrian crossings and well-maintained streets and sidewalks, notes James Rojas, who is working to reduce these disparities. Through his research on Latino urbanism, Rojas aims to change the way public space is allocated and used.
To help promote safer and healthier Latino communities, Rojas co-founded the Latino Urban Forum (LUF), a group of architects, urban planners and community activists interested in improving the built environment.
LUF organizes residents around projects that celebrate public space, including Cornfields State Park, South Central Community Farm and the Nacimiento Bike Tour of nativity scenes in East Los Angeles.
Rojas and LUF also played a critical role in the creation of the Evergreen Cemetery jogging path in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of East L.A. Without any parks in the neighborhood, health-focused residents navigated the cracked sidewalk bordering the local cemetery.
Rojas and LUF organized the Evergreen Jogging Path Coalition to design a resurfaced jogging path and lobby city officials for funding and support. Six months after the effort began, the new jogging path was in place. It is now enjoyed by roughly 1000 residents of Boyle Heights and neighboring communities each day—five times the daily use of the old path.
He also studies transportation issues in Los Angeles County and oversees millions of dollars in urban design, bike and pedestrian projects. Rojas envisions communities in which people walk, bike and use electric streetcars to reach their destination.
“We need to look at transportation as a quality of life experience,” Rojas says. “Active living is a way to get people out of their house and into their environment.”
“Latino Urbanism,” October Surprise
“Latino Urban Forum,” Latino Professional Network