Ethnoburbs: why not?

James Frank Dy Zarsadiaz in The Atlantic Cities writes about his ethnographic research into Asian immigrants in Diamond Bar, Calif. (where my cousin lives and works):

While scholars and researchers rightfully problematize political economies, migration patterns, and social dynamics between different racial and class groups in the contemporary ethnoburb, oftentimes post-1965 Asian immigrants moved to these neighborhoods for tangible and banal reasons. Interviewees provided various mundane and frank motives as to why the east Valley sold them twenty or thirty years ago: inexpensive new housing, reputable school districts, easy access to work, distance from urban crime and racial “others,” and by the late 1980s and 1990s, conveniences to ethnic commodities.

As banal as the reasons for moving to suburbia are, though, Asian Americans have reshaped suburbia in some interesting ways. The San Gabriel Valley’s population shift has been accompanied by an influx of a few things that conventional sprawl didn’t accommodate well — like extended families and myriad small businesses — and the towns there have started to extensively retrofit their built environment to accommodate them. By organically adding mixed uses and a wider range of housing types, they’re perhaps well out in front of suburbs elsewhere in America that are seeking to improve their resilience.

Last year, I presented as part of a “Cultural Urbanism” panel at the Next Generation of the New Urbanism which explored additional implications for urbanism that might arise as American metropolitan areas become more multi-ethnic — and assimilate different metropolitan values from the world’s cities.

My bonus slide’s call to action: Great urbanism exists outside of Europe. Before pointing to European cities in your presentations, keep in mind that the next generation of Americans looks quite different. Urban America is already majority minority, and soon America’s children will be as well.

Africa, Asia, Latin America, and even North America are filled with great examples of wonderful urbanism, in contexts no more “foreign” than Europe — so find them, and use them. Want to talk about bike infrastructure? Show off Bogota and Montreal. Transit oriented development? Curitiba and Hong Kong. Mass re-housing under capitalism? Santiago and Singapore. Organic, medieval street networks? You’ll find none more enchanting than Casablanca or Kyoto.

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