East Bay artist and town planner creates miniature art installations to engage city residents

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OAKLAND; California (KGO) – An East Bay town planner uses art as a medium and as an approach to town planning.

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

“I want people to understand their city as their experiences and relationships,” said James Rojas, founder of Place It. “It’s about your life and your story and how that story is told in town planning.”

Rojas uses craft supplies, toys, and items around the house to recreate small-scale towns.

“By using objects to tell stories, to play and to make art. People have more options to explain their needs in the city,” Rojas said. “Urban planning is really a bit dry and very abstract, but when you have objects people start to connect with their feelings and their emotions.”

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Rojas discovered his love for town planning at a very young age when his grandmother gave him a box of random items and asked him to build something.

“I remembered that I had built a small room and I was so excited that I started to think about the space around me,” Rojas said. “Then I started learning town planning just by building little things and objects. It was a very simple way to engage in this whole process of thinking about cities in a different way. “

Before the coronavirus epidemic, Rojas offered interactive urban planning workshops through his company Place It. Now he operates his workshops online.

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“It’s a way to make people understand how they can change a community in a positive way,” Rojas said. “It’s a different way of getting people to think about problem solving by having them build an ideal space. And to think about things collectively. “

Rojas was inspired to start his own business with interactive workshops when he worked with Latin American communities in Los Angeles. He wanted to find a way to get local Latino residents to participate in urban meetings and interact through objects using their hands.

“I started bringing things into the meetings and once I did that people built things right away,” Rojas said. “It was an easy way to engage them, to open up and tell their stories and memories, and to share 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 Children’s Store in Oakland.

“I want to create more unity in urban planning. I want people to come together to share their needs and aspirations, but I want everyone to have a say in the whole solution,” said said Rojas. “Give them a way to solve their problems based on their own town planning ideas. “

For more information, visit Place It website.

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