New Connections Research Spotlight: Erualdo Gonzalez
New Connections is excited to launch our new website series— Research Spotlight! The Research Spotlight highlights the latest achievements of our growing network of grantees. We will feature their recent publications, articles, and projects that address how to build a Culture of Health in communities across the U.S. In our inaugural interview, Dr. Erualdo Gonzalez discusses his new book about urban planning and the various influences that effect the development of cities. Dr. Gonzalez is a professor in the department of chicana and chicano studies at California State University, Fullerton. He received a Ph.D. in urban and regional planning (concentration in community health planning) and a Master’s in social ecology from the University of California, Irvine. Dr. Gonzalez is a Cohort 6 New Connections Grantee.
New Connections: What motivates you to do the work that you do?
Erualdo: I want to know why society is the way it is, and how we can make it better. That’s how it starts. We have opportunities to learn through travel or observing different cities and neighborhoods. We discover how other people view your city. You start seeing how poverty, socioeconomic status, and elite actors influence cities, and how they work to shape the gentrification of areas. I want to examine how this happens, what it looks like, and how communities practice democracy to ensure the places they live are thriving.
New Connections: Who should read your book, and why?
Erualdo: Everybody concerned about our world, cities, and where they live, and people interested in learning how cities get the way they are. My book provides a case study of the Southern California City of Santa Ana and tells a story of how city planning happened there and how the downtowns began to develop over four decades. For example, the word gentrification is thrown around a lot, but what does it mean? Gentrification doesn’t happen overnight. This book looks at it over the course of 40 years (from the 1970s to 2010s) and focuses on the production side of gentrification. The book looks at local government, urban designers, urban developers, and public-private partnerships as key actors producing gentrification in Santa Ana.
In the book, I explore the goals of community development from a planner’s lens, and examine the language describing what is wrong with an area and what needs to be done to make it better. Who are the people and key actors to make this happen? How is this done? What type of redevelopment models are used for this? How are certain demographic groups further marginalized and displaced from an area so that a more desired group can be brought in? What does this all mean to the groups originally living in that area? I address all those questions in this book.
I also examine how community organizations challenge redevelopment that aims to gentrify. In a case study, I describe the efforts of the Santa Ana Collaborative for Responsible Development. The collaborative organized against a proposed Renaissance Plan and a Station District project. I trace, through participant observation, how the group combined participatory action research, community organizing, and other neighborhood planning activities to offer the city and a developer 28 community development policy recommendations as alternatives to proposed redevelopment. This book takes a closer look at how activism and resistance fits into city planning and anti-gentrification struggles and the outcomes associated with such democratic practices.
New Connections: What was your favorite thing about writing your book?
Erualdo: I enjoyed learning more deeply about redevelopment and gentrification. I also enjoyed connecting my academic expertise to my lived experience and childhood upbringing. In many situations, I learned new information about the city I was studying that did not match my preconceived notions. This is what research is all about. I wrote about Santa Ana, California, the city in which I was born and raised, so I had to wrestle with some of the new information I was learning that seemed different from what I thought I knew. I am also proud to contribute to the thin but growing academic literature in Urban Planning focused on Latina/o central cities undergoing gentrification, and I hope this book becomes a thoughtful and useful resource for the field.
To learn more about Latino City: Urban Planning, Politics, and the Grassroots, check out Dr. Gonzalez’ featured podcast from the New Books Network.