Urban use of Space

As I was walking down one of the smaller South Phoenix streets, the appearance of the neighborhood caught my eye. The street that I was walking on was dividing this neighborhood into two completely different environments. On one side of the street, the houses were smaller, single story homes and were surrounded by short chain fences. None of the houses had a garage so the vehicles were parked in the driveway or by the side walk. The front yards were filled with residents’ personal items such as furniture, children’s toys, and other things. It seemed to me as if the front yards were as living rooms or guest rooms where people would meet and interact. One of the houses on a side street had a mural painted on it, which was another important part of Latino culture.  

James Rojas, in his article, “The Latino Use of Urban Space in East Los Angeles”, describes this type of environment as “permanent or temporary personalization of public space” As soon as I saw these houses I instantly realized that they were occupied by the Latino residents. Although every house has a short fence, it is not to stay away from their neighbors and be isolated. The fences, for Latino residents have a different meaning. The fences bring the neighbors together for interaction, providing a better sense of community for the residents. In such a community where neighbors constantly interact with and know each other, the neighborhood becomes a safer place to live in.

On the opposite side of the street was a newly built subdivision, with larger, two story houses. At first I thought that none of the houses in this subdivision were occupied because there was no site of people, cars or anything else in front of the houses. These homes, of course, are occupied by middle or upper middle class people, probably all white. Unlike Latinos who express their culture through creation of “personalized” front yards, the subdivision residents seem to prefer a totally opposite lifestyle where they want to be completely isolated from the surrounding. The front yards are not fenced at all because they are not even used. The whole subdivision, however, is surrounded by a ten foot wall and so is the each house. The walls prevent neighbors not only from interacting with but from even seeing each other. Each house has a garage so people can enter their home through the garage, straight from their vehicle, this way avoiding any contact with their neighbors. In her article, “The New Urban Segregation”, Teresa Caldeira points out that the subdivision communities are “fortified enclaves” in which “the character of public space and of citizens’ participation in public life changes”.

Even though the subdivision homes are new and expensive, I would not like to be a part of this kind of neighborhood. A community where every house looks exactly the same, with dull, boring, desert color and there is no street activity and social interaction between the neighbors. I have later come to realize that more and more subdivisions are being built in the South Phoenix area. What does this mean for the Latino community and other minority and lower income residents who have been a part of this community for a long time? What kind of an impact is it going to have on the culture and identity of South Phoenix?

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