My research examines Latinx communities that contest the boundaries of the United States. The border of the mainland United States exerts a massive force, both culturally and spatially, against those outside of and adjacent to its bounds. As the U.S. is projected to experience significant demographic changes over the next several decades, it is critical to ask: how will these changes affect the planning for and designing of communities? Latinxs, in particular, hold connections across nation-state boundaries that test our traditionally-held notions of “community.” As such, their spaces often challenge ideas of “Global North” and “Global South” in ways that unbound this dichotomy in urban theory. My work seeks out liminality and not only asks what urban planning and design looks like in these space, but it also asks how should we plan for liminality? Currently, my research is focused on U.S./Mexico border colonias and Puerto Rico and its diaspora.
Fighting against the wide-spread assumption that colonias are inherently apolitical and incapable of horizontal integration, this research constitutes a long-term project to capture the impacts of colonia organization for political representation and basic services. The research seeks to draw attention to planning practices that muddy the distinctions between the Global "North" and "South," a theoretically inaccurate description of global planning that, in communities like the colonias, places these communities in a liminal position between "community development" and "international development." Currently, this research is examining issues of flooding in Rio Grande Valley colonias, working alongside the community to ask: why are colonias so susceptible to flooding? And, how can the community become more resilient against flooding?
For almost 100 years, Puerto Rico has served as a "guinea pig" for U.S. social and economic policies. The early history of neoliberal policies on the island predates its implementation on the mainland. Today, the island is buried under massive debt that, following David Harvey's analysis, may provide a post-neoliberal view of social and economic crisis in marginalized communities. This new research project seeks to untangle the complex social and economic issues plaguing Puerto Rico, but also seeks to capture the radical planning strategies used by islanders to survive day-to-day. These strategies pull largely from Lefebvre, as a Puerto Rican interpretation of the "Right to the City," horizontalidad, and autogestion.
Following Hurricane Maria, this research has taken a more urgent turn. Working with professors Amy Javernick-Will and Abbie Liel in Civil Engineering, our interdisciplinary research group is examining housing and community development issues after Hurricane Maria. The insurgent practices used by Puerto Ricans have become more crucial for day-to-day survival. I am currently revisiting the scope and purpose of this project to align with the realities of the current post-disaster situation.
The Decolonizing Toolkit
The Decolonizing Toolkit seeks to lay the groundwork for strengthening efforts to decolonize theory and practice in the spatial professions. The "spatial professions" include architecture, urban planning, and landscape architecture. The site works across these disciplinary boundaries to further highlight theories and practices overlooked by the hegemonic boundaries of the traditional spatial professions.
There is a clear movement across the spatial professions to create decolonized and more inclusive theories (Petti, et al, 2013; Roy, 2016; Sandercock, 2004; Ugarte, 2014). However, while the research surrounding decolonized and inclusive design theories has emerged as a rich area of study over the past ten to twenty years, there are limited resources for introducing these critical perspectives into the classroom (Chan, 2018). This is particularly pronounced given that current design instructors were largely trained in traditional hegemonic theories and, therefore, have the daunting task of re-learning the theoretical bases of the professions to reflect these research innovations in their classrooms. The goal of The Decolonizing Toolkit is, therefore, to begin assembling a public resource for decolonizing the theorization of the spatial professions.
merging the charlands
The results of a Master's Thesis project at the University of Pennsylvania with Kieran Timberlake Architects (KTA), the research examined the charlands of Bangladesh. Chars are fluvial islands prone to extensive flooding during Bangladesh’s annual monsoon season (barsha). Despite this vulnerability, chars are home to an estimated 3.5 million Bangladeshis. Detached from government services due to their remoteness, chars are the sites of rampant corruption and lathiyals (rural gangs). As a result, many basic charland services are provided by non-governmental organizations (NGOs). This project asks what networks of services are needed to serve charland households and whether NGO programs are meeting the needs of charland residents. Through this project, it becomes clear that NGOs are neglecting the need for increased social connectivity to and communication with the shabekland (mainland). Thus, this project concludes with suggestions for increasing charland resident’s sense of connectivity while supporting their basic services needs.