George Villanueva, USC Metamorphosis



The NELA River Collaborative project builds upon the growing momentum of efforts already underway to transform the Los Angeles River into a "riverfront district" and to create a focal point of community revitalization. For more information visit www.mylariver.org

The USC Metamorphosis project researches the transformation of urban community under the forces of globalization, new communication technologies, and population diversity in order to inform practice and policy. Metamorphosis will develop and coordinate civic engagement activities that incorporate community-based research, popular education, media/technology, and evaluation:


My name is George Villanueva. I am a co-investigator for the Metamorphosis Project at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. We are a research center that focuses on social media and communication research that analyzes the transformation of urban neighborhoods and cities due to population diversity and new media technologies. Our site of study is the neighborhoods and communities within Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, and the Southern California region.

The USC Metamorphosis Project originally helped research and write the grant in 2009 for the HUD Partnership for Sustainable Communities. We were mainly brought in to help figure out some of the civic engagement research and practices that should go into this sustainable community plan.

So HUD was very interested in our collaborative model because we were not only working with the City but also pulling in the private sector, pulling in the non-profit sector, pulling in the media sector, the university sector, because most people when they apply for grants just want to focus on their own organization and at this moment right now with the changing administrations within the City of Los Angeles and with the loss of the Community Redevelopment Agency and the creation of a new economic development department, the city is looking at our planning grant and planning collaborative as a possible model to think about place based approaches towards and collaborative approaches towards planning.

It's really post 2000 where a lot of these more collaborative approaches towards planning are taking shape. It's still a challenge within the city and within the government because there is an inclination to work within their own fields but again, as budgets are shrinking especially at the federal, city and state level, city agencies are trying to find partners outside of the city to also focus on planning and implementing grants.

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I think what we're doing with the Northeast Los Angeles River Collaborative is really putting forth and prioritizing listening to the neighborhoods that live around the northeast section of the river, listening to the small businesses in the area in terms of what type of river developments can actually benefit their existing businesses in the area.

The first goal is to really focus on the exploration of a riverfront district in Northeast L.A. The second goal is to take a comprehensive approach to planning and looking at not just land use in the area, but also looking at workforce development. A third goal, which is really making this planning effort very civic engagement based, in creating different types of popular education workshops and events that really try to bring in residents and local stakeholders to become educated and participate in the planning process so they can give input in these policy goals. Lastly, to look at a model of public media that can be locally based, very kind of hyper-local to think about how to involve the residents and local stakeholders again and in talking about the area and how to harness new media and technology toward sustainable community planning.

Most cities are cutting back on funds, public funds, so city departments are losing staff and there has been a problem where a lot of city departments within the city just work within their silos or within their own fields so it's important to think about not only getting those departments to collaborate together but to use resources and share resources toward a project but also thinking about public and private partnerships and partnerships outside the city that will bring in resources to focus on a planning grant such as the Northeast Los Angeles River Collaborative. That includes bringing in the non-profit sector, the private sector, universities and college and also public media, to really think about and actually plan an area and engage the community so they are involved.

I think the Riverfront district is important to L.A. first to really give L.A. its own sense of history, that the river does exist as not only a concrete channel but also something where you can also recreate, navigate, play at, but also realizing that it connects so many different neighborhoods and communities and really serves as a backbone for that connection.

As Benedict Anderson wrote in his very famous book Imagined Communities, even before a community or a nation becomes physical, it is first represented within the collective imaginary and is really represented within the collective psyche of folks so that's why really communication and media is really important because it provides the representations and the images and the sounds and everything that really feed into the imaginary of whatever we consider a physical community. So I'm really happy to see this collaborative really lead with communication, media and civic engagement because most planning and policy grants lead with heavy handed policy and physical development. We are leading with not only very social scientific ways to media and communication but also kind of humanistic and soft approaches to media and communication that can really build that imaginary for the northeast, river and also the northeast neighborhoods.


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