Posted January 4th 2012 at 11:10 pm by
in Featured Contributor

A Conversation with John Arroyo


Why do you blog?

Blogging allows me to blend my academic and professional backgrounds in journalism and urban planning. As a form of civic media, I am drawn to blogging because it’s an outlet for local knowledge and storytelling. I’m a firm believer that there’s never a single story for every place or person. In fact, I see blogs as forums that can provide a unique power to often overshadowed community triumphs. They have the potential to change misperceptions and shift attitudes to reveal possibilities and solutions.

Unlike traditional journalism, blogging isn’t solely about gathering data and reporting as an outsider or spectator. It’s about being an agent (whether as a community member or as a professional) who is personally invested and reflective about the topic at hand. It’s about sharing lessons with similar communities all across the world. Someone recently asked me the following question: “Are you a storyteller or an urban planner?” I responded: “Do I have to choose?” That’s why I blog.

Your interests lie at a unique intersection of art, architecture, media, equity, and of course social justice. Can you describe a favorite project or initiative that embodies all of these components?

That’s a tough one. How about a quick list (in no particular order)? These range from soundmaps and video to locative (location-based) mobile apps and mental mapping/cartography projects.

  • • Conflict Kitchen (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania): A rotating take-out restaurant that only serves cuisines from countries that the United States is in conflict with. Besides food, Conflict Kitchen programs events about each country they focus on.
  • • Wave Manual (Mexico and U.S. borderlands): A Spanish-English language newsprint zine and free radio platform for transnational autonomist community resistance in Mexico and along the U.S./Mexico border.
  • • KCET Departures (Los Angeles, California): An online digital mural/travelogue/documentary about L.A.’s diverse communities (in partnership with Adobe Youth Voices).
  • • Notes for a People’s Atlas of Chicago (Chicago, Illinois): A multi-city community mapping project that started in Chicago in 2005 and has since expanded worldwide (also the basis for my first CoLab Radio Thesis Chronicles series, Arts and Culture Mapping on the L.A. River.)
  • • Invisible 5 (California, between Los Angeles and San Francisco): A self-guided critical audio tour and soundmap about environmental justice along California’s Interstate 5.
  • • Project Cabrini Green (Chicago, Illinois): A public art installation that incorporated poetry, sound, and video to document the lives of the residents (and their advocates) of one of America’s most notorious public housing projects.
  • • Grassroots Mapping (Worldwide): A participatory project that uses balloons, kites, and other tools to produce aerial imagery to settle cartographic dispute.
  • • PDUB’s Mobile Hi-Fi Tours by Public Matters, LLC (Los Angeles, California): A mobile tour using the perspectives of immigrants (from different time periods) in L.A.’s Historic Filipinotown community via GPS-enabled Nokia tables.


The posts on CoLab Radio are not always objective. Do you think first person voices and opinions are useful for urban researchers?

Definitely. Planning is a very broad field. It includes urban design, cultural policy, education reform, public health, affordable housing, workforce development, environmental justice, and more. CoLab Radio remains committed to a democratic and social justice vision not regularly found in mainstream media. This is embodied in the following statement about CoLab Radio: “CoLab doesn’t endorse every idea on the site. Rather, it endorses unfettered sharing of ideas and stories.”

Apart from being broad, planning is also about values systems. One person or community may be committed to the benefits of a light rail route, but another might feel that building a park would fulfill his neighborhood’s primary need. I love CoLab Radio because it’s a conduit for generating diverse ideas and solutions for the pressing civic issues that continue to challenge cities and communities of every scale. It invites people from all over the world to teach, learn, and celebrate one another’s perspectives and values. In a field that is often driven by quantitative data, CoLab Radio assists urban researchers in understanding the equally important merits of qualitative information.

Photo by KCET Departures

Comments are closed.