PlaceMaking12: Lourdes Rodriguez

Born in Puerto Rico, Dr. Rodríguez serves as Senior Program Officer for Women’s Health at the Saint David’s Foundation and holds an appointment as an Adjunct Faculty with the UTHealth School of Public Health Austin Regional Campus. As a public health practitioner, and in both academic and philanthropic roles, she collaborates, develops and evaluates initiatives to improve health with people most impacted by health inequities.

Dr. Rodríguez’ background is interdisciplinary and combines multiple areas of social sciences –sociology, history, political sciences, psychology, and anthropology – to inform her work in public health. Her work examines the complex pathways that lead individuals, networks, and communities to health, or not. She rounded her education with a fellowship experience with an architect and urbanist at the National Conservatory of Arts and Trades in Paris, France, with whom she learned to think about cities and their neighborhoods as units of intervention. Her dissertation work focused on promoting and documenting collective recovery from trauma post the 9/11 disaster in NYC. Since, she has applied lessons from that work to mobilize communities in response to other natural, man-made, chronic and acute disasters.

When were you a UofO urbanist in residence or teacher?  What did you share?

I served as urbanist-in-residence in 2011 and it coincided with my son Diego’s 7th birthday.  I wanted to connect the occasion to what we were discussing (so he wouldn’t think he was being schlepped around)… So, as I spoke about finding harmony in the city, I mapped a scavenger hunt for Diego to all the places our weekend of events would take us. It helped show, not tell, how we can find magic everywhere. 

What have you learned from UofO?  How do you use it in your work?  

UofO taught me the value of honoring the wisdom of elders, and making room for the wisdom of youth.  I’ve learned what happens when everyone builds on their expertise and shares it generously for the good of the collective, for the good of the city.  

How/what are you seeing/hearing/tasting where you are? Share photos and drawings if you like.

In Austin, TX there is a company called CLEAN that sells sparkling flavored water.  Half of their profits go to people in recovery in the form of scholarships to recovery programs.  In the midst of this crisis, they launched a campaign “This too shall pass” with messages that are encouraging, that connect people to a Suicide Hotline.  That is the most powerful campaign I’ve seen.  

What has changed your perspective or approach to urbanism during this time?  What has stayed the same?

I have learned that appreciation for cities comes hard for people who have not  experienced lively street life, who lack first hand knowledge of the street ballet.  This love/ hate relationship is problematic because it reinforces the myth of independence and self-sufficiency.  Cities are not perfect, but neither are master planned communities. I will take the messiness of city life, any day and twice on Sunday, over the empty sidewalks of suburbia.   

How do we engage community while we shelter in place?

We build from our usual networks and open up to the kindness of strangers.  

In the face of inequality how do we build solidarity?

The overwhelming reality of inequality is seen more clearly through the magnifying lens of disasters and crisis. Solidarity can only be built to the extent we *see* each other.  To build solidarity, we need to tell the stories of those who would otherwise remain invisible. 

How do you express your love and commitment to your city at this time?

Love in the Time of COVID-19 requires a whole new set of Love Languages, and new ways to show our commitment to each other (to me, that’s what makes community, our commitment to each other).  From public expressions of solidarity through handmade signs, to front doors and porches becoming little altars where we quietly place our love offerings in the forms of hand made masks or groceries we pick up for each other. That’s how we express our love and commitment to others and to our city at this time.

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