East Bay artist, city planner creates miniature art installations for local community

OAKLAND; Calif. (KGO) -- An East Bay urban city planner is using art as a medium and an approach to city planning.

James Rojas recreates tiny replicas of cities around the country to help local residents engage in city planning.

"I want people to understand their city as their experiences and their relationships," said James Rojas, Founder of Place It. "It is about your life and about your story and how that story gets told in city planning."

Rojas uses craft supplies, toys and items around the house to re-create small-scale cities.

"By using objects for storytelling, play and art-making. People have more options to explain their urban city needs," said Rojas. "City planning is really kind of dry and very abstract, but when you have objects, people start to connect with their feelings and emotions."

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Rojas discovered his love for city planning at a very young age when his grandmother gave him a box of random objects and was told to build something.

"I remembered that I built a little room and I was so excited that I started to think about space around me," said Rojas. "Then I started to learn about city planning just by building small things and objects. It was a real easy way to get me engaged in this whole process of thinking about cities in a different way."

Before the coronavirus outbreak, Rojas offered interactive city planning workshops through his company Place It. Now, he is operating his workshops online.

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"It's a way to get people to understand how they can change a community in a positive way," said Rojas. "It's a different way to get people thinking about solving problems by having people build an ideal space. And think about things in a collective way."

Rojas was inspired to launch his own company with interactive workshops when he worked with Latino communities in Los Angeles. He wanted to find a way to have local Latino residents engage in city meetings and interact through objects by using their hands.

"I started bringing objects into meetings and once I did that, right away people were just building stuff," said Rojas. "It was an easy way to get them engaged, open up, and tell their stories and memories, and tell their aspirations and needs."

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Rojas' art installations can be seen at the Exploratorium, the Yerba Buena Center for the arts, and The GoldenBug store for children in Oakland.

"I want to create more unity in city planning. I want people to come together to share their needs and aspirations, but I want everybody to have an equal say in the whole solution," said Rojas. "Give them a way to solve their problems based on their own ideas with city planning."

For more information, visit the Place It website.
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