Wednesday, February 16, 2005

"Latino New Urbanism"

Via APA, USA Today says hispanic Americans like new urbanism for cultural reasons:
Advocates of this budding movement suggest that places where Hispanics are fast becoming the majority could help rein in sprawl by capitalizing on Latino cultural preferences for compact neighborhoods, large public places and a sense of community.

"I grew up in Mexico. We had a traditional urban square and plaza where everything is happening," says Mario Chavez-Marquez, 31, who lives in one of downtown Santa Ana's new loft apartments. "To me, it made sense to move back to the center, closer to my job. Now I can walk to a supermarket."

Builders and planners have largely ignored the cultural identity of this new wave of home buyers, says planner Michael Mendez, who coined the term "Latino new urbanism."

As a result, many Hispanics moving up the economic ladder choose typical suburbs far from work, mass transit and shopping because it's usually the only path to home ownership, Mendez says. "They have to assimilate into what's available."
I see a couple of interesting points here. First, as in the comparison of dense continental European cities to sprawling English suburbia, culture definitely matters in what kind of built environment people choose. The basic unit of non-hispanic white America is rather inarguably the nuclear family, and thus a large part of that group is content to live in a house by themselves, barely knowing their neighbors. At least in the DC area, this is the only demographic group that consistently moves out to the newest suburbs; everyone else settles much more evenly across the landscape, and some groups seem to cluster in more urbanized areas. So while saying that this or that ethnic group might prefer a different type of city than other groups is a little bit socially uncomfortable, it's not clearly incorrect.

Secondly, and somewhat contrarily, the article seems to be saying that if hispanic homebuyers go to the exurbs, they're being forced to conform to what the housing market provides, whether or not it's what they want; if they go to the innercity, it's because they like that style of neighborhood. Which completely ignores the obvious alternative explanation--they go to those places because it's what they can afford. I suspect that a little more research would find innercity hispanics to be largely poor recent immigrants, while exurban hispanic homebuyers are going out there because they're coming into the market now instead of ten years ago, and that's where the new homes are.