Dr. Jesus J. Lara works to create spaces that promote general well-being and contentment. As he puts it, he is in the business of “making people happy” by improving their surrounding environment. As an associate professor and Master’s Program Chair in the Knowlton School’s City and Regional Planning Section, Lara focuses his research and teaching practice on sustainable design while minding the relationship between people and space. Part of his studies considers how Latinos revitalize de-industrialized communities – both adapting to and transforming their surrounding environment.
Lara moved to Southern California from Guadalajara, Mexico with his family as a teenager. The journey from Guadalajara to Columbus was by no means linear. Before coming to Columbus, he spent a considerable amount of time studying urban design and landscape architecture at institutions such as Wageningen University in the Netherlands and Bauhaus-Universität in Weimar, Germany. Lara came to Columbus a little over ten-years ago, hired as a professor at Knowlton School of Architecture and Design.
As a professor, Lara integrates the physical Columbus landscape into his research and teaching. He challenges his classes to engage in a process called “service-learning” where they assist the community while learning the best practices of urban design. By practicing this service-learning, Lara and students have created reports on various regions of Columbus such as Linden, Morse Road Corridor, Weinland Park, and the West Side. Listen to learn more about Lara’s commitment to serving the community with the power of urban design and communication:
Watch Jesus Lara speak on the signs of a new immigrant community on Columbus Neighborhoods! (Update, March 31, 2017)
A long journey from Guadalajara, Mexico to Columbus, Ohio:
🎧 Listen (3:36)
“The reason I ended up coming here to Columbus was because of the context. This is an urban university and my research and teaching are focused in urban areas – it’s a great place to study urban planning.”
Promoting sustainable urban planning in a city:
🎧 Listen (1:53)
“What we do in my classes is we develop this strategic plan, these visions and exercises. We work with local residents, community leaders and ask, ‘What are things you like about the community, what are the challenges?’ … Coming from the outside is really good for us to identify challenges and capitalize the opportunities.”
“80% of planning is communication – learning about the community going around to the neighbors talking to the leadership and the residents.”
Outreach and engagement with local schools, photo provided by Jesus J. Lara.
Presentation to residents, photo provided by Jesus J. Lara.
Outreach with residents, photo provided by Jesus J. Lara.
The challenge of establishing a network in a new community:
🎧 Listen (1:29)
“Moving here to Columbus was like moving to another country. Even worse than moving to the Netherlands or Italy… It took me three years to establish my network here.”
Proposed green infrastructure network, Credits – Derek Kuryla and Adam Mitocky.
Vertical Camping, Credits – Chris Laster, Matt Bond, and Brian Kinninger.
Putting an urban planning vision to action with the Wilson Road Park:
🎧 Listen (1:43)
“We decided to approach the problem by looking at, ‘What will be the impact that this bike trail is going to have on the community?’ It’s one of the poorest neighborhoods in Columbus… When they [Lara’s students] were talking to kids in the neighborhood… we found out most of the kids had never been to camping grounds… They proposed camping grounds [that are] elevated so that urban kids can camp in the city… and people got excited.”
The power of observation and adaptability:
🎧 Listen (2:02)
“I think you need to be patient and be able to adapt to all sorts of situations… I think that [the power of observation is] one of the assets that’s helped me to grow and understand who I am… I think it is something that has given me strength to be more adaptable to certain places. And that is what the planning field is about… We deal with adaptability, how to change cities.”
“I’ve been focused on Latino communities, how they revitalize urban corridors again the first aspect is looking at the resiliency of these communities. These people leave their country, they move to a brand new culture, they don’t understand the language and they need to be able to adapt to be successful here.”
Unless otherwise noted, all photos and text are copyrighted to Leticia Wiggins. Music for introduction & interlude by The Original Soundtrack (thanks, guys!).