Kaid Benfield Archive


Innovative East LA high school features urban planning and community engagement

Kaid Benfield

Posted November 19, 2010 at 1:32PM

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A group of Los Angeles teachers just started their own pilot school organized around the unlikely theme of urban planning and design, writes Nate Berg in Metropolis.  In particular:

“The East Los Angeles Renaissance Academy of Urban Planning and Design held its first classes in September on the crisp new campus of Esteban Torres High School, in the heavily Latino East L.A . . .

students at Torres HS, which includes the Renaissance Academy (by: Gloria Angelina Castillo for EGP)“’For our students, at this stage, urban planning is not even a term that they use. We’re mainly talking about community,’ says Martin Buchman, an English teacher who led the effort behind the school and the curriculum.  Buchman and his colleagues felt that urban planners’ emphasis on community development and public participation was especially relevant to local students and their families.  East L.A. has a history of activism (in 1968, it was the site of student walkouts and rallies for civil rights and better school conditions) coupled with a largely immigrant population that’s typically alienated from the political process.”

There are sixteen teachers at the Academy.  None have formal training in urban planning (and neither does yours truly, so I don’t hold that against them), but they are developing the curriculum with planner James Rojas, who founded the Latino Urban Forum in Los Angeles, dedicated to understanding and improving the built environment of Los Angeles' underserved Latino communities.

Berg writes that, in addition to regular high school courses on history and science, the 375-student school also offers electives in geography, film, and architecture, “which has students creating 3-D models with Google SketchUp.”

  Torres HS campus (design by Langdon Wilson Architects, via Clark Construction)  site of Torres HS's urban campus (via Google Earth)

Torres High School (see photo, rendering and site markup) is the first built in East LA in 85 years, and the first to offer pilot schools such as the Renaissance Academy under the local school district’s School Choice program.  Other pilots on the highly urban, neighborhood-accessible Torres campus include Humanitas Academy of Art & Technology; Leadership Academy; East Los Angeles Performing Arts Academy, and the Engineering & Technology Academy.  Gloria Angelina Castillo writes on EGP News that the school is the welcome result after “a decade of petitions drives, protest marches, community education efforts, and parent mobilizations to demand a new high school be built on the eastside.”  The school’s namesake, Esteban E. Torres, was a longtime Congressman and community leader in East Los Angeles.   

Berg reports that the Renaissance Academy is now the third US high school to feature urban planning, joining the New York City Academy of Urban Planning, which opened in 2003, and Milwaukee’s School for Urban Planning and Architecture, founded in 2007 by the University of Wisconsin.  Their sites are interesting, too.

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