Luisa Santos ’14 Major: Anthropology.

Sometimes it takes leaving and returning home to realize what truly makes us tick. After her Amherst graduation, Luisa Santos ’14 moved to her hometown of Miami and took a job with an environmental organization. As she perused the city of her childhood, she kept thinking about the role people can play in shaping urban areas.

“Miami’s planning is more car-based,” she says, “and didn’t feel like it was actually supporting people, so I got curious about that. And it seemed to me like people weren’t very involved in the planning process.”

Since then, Santos has again left Miami and headed north—this time to develop her interest in organizing and urban planning. She has just finished a year as an “equitable public space fellow” with the Design Trust for Public Space in New York City, a nonprofit that partners with government agencies, community organizations and private companies to improve parks, plazas, streets and the like.

In this role, she has worked on the organization’s El-Space project, which attempts to make use of public spaces beneath highways, train tracks and bridges—areas that are often underutilized, dark and unsafe. Much of this elevated infrastructure cuts through low-income communities of color, destroying neighborhoods even as it improves transportation. El-Space—an effort in partnership with the city’s Department of Transportation—works to correct those past inequities through systemic improvements to the land.

Among other projects, Santos has also been involved in ongoing efforts to help community gardeners get more access to land, compost and professional business training. In addition, she’s worked on the Power in Place Project, a community asset mapping and planning project in the South Bronx.

In partnership with South Bronx Unite—a coalition of community organizations—Power in Place will support the coalition’s community land trust, which aims to preserve the affordability of apartments, businesses and outdoor spaces in the neighborhood. The Design Trust will help the community determine a plan for land use, and will help in advocacy efforts with city government and possibly private building owners.

As Santos wrapped up her time as a fellow, she
prepared to move to another city—this time, Boston—to begin a master’s program in urban planning and community development at Tufts, where she intends to further pursue her interest in understanding—and improving—the physical structures “that allow for people to come together.” 

Anderson is an Oregon-based reporter who covers social issues, equity and identity. She also served as a Next City Fellow.

Photo credit: Beth Perkins