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Urban Redesign and the New Density: the Value of Human Interaction Per Acre

Urban architect Teddy Cruz seeks redesign sub-optimally occupied spaces not only to reintegrate them, but proactively support them. His vision of density is not units per acre, but human interaction per acre.

Photo of Zoe Schlag
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Living Rooms on the Border is an initiative of Casa Familiar, a non-profit organization in San Ysidro, California. It's intention is to 'shape counter political and economic frameworks that will yield tactical housing projects inclusive of these neighborhoods' informal patterns of mixed use and density.' Their idea is to redesign the spatial use of the land from one characterized by arbitrarily placed units to one based upon the flow of human interaction in that space. Essentially, it will transform urban design in these neighborhoods from viewing density as 'units per acre' to 'social exchanges per acre.'

Rebecca Solnit explains how this looks on the ground:
Living Rooms on the Border takes a piece of land with an unused church zoned for three units and carefully arrays on it twelve affordable housing units, a community center (the converted church), offices for the Casa in the church's attic, and a garden that can accommodate street markets and kiosks. The architect behind the idea, Teddy Cruz, says, "In a place where regulation allows one use, we propose five different uses that support each other. This suggests a model of social sustainability for San Diego, one that conveys density not as bulk but as social choreography."

Another of Teddy's ideas is to redesign and convert the McMansions throughout California into three-family homes. Not only would this redefine the market segment to target middle-class families, but would allow these families access to reside in well constructed homes, safe neighborhoods and good school districts.

Teddy's approach is innovative not only because his emphasis on urban planning is interaction-driven as opposed to aesthetic/functionality-driven, but also because he does so with the specific intention to create impact for marginalized groups. He is redesigning these spaces not only to include but to proactively support the informal world that exists in San Ysidro, that of the undocumented workers, their families and other participants who find themselves in the no-man's lands generated by cities.

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Photo of Meena Kadri

Hi Zoe, interesting post! Any chance you could find an image to go along with it? Images help grab attention and tell a story with higher impact. You should be able to use the 'Update entry' button on the right of your post and follow the instructions to add images from there. We know occasionally people have issues uploading images so let us know by hitting the Support tab on the left hand side of most pages of our site if you face any problems. Looking forward to seeing more of your inspiring ideas on OpenIDEO.