Humphrey School News—December 21, 2015

Understanding the Needs of Minorities in Urban Planning: Spotlight on Assistant Professor Fernando Burga

A recent addition to the Master of Urban and Regional Planning program, Assistant Professor Fernando Burga, spent much of his first semester at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs becoming familiar with the department, developing his research agenda and identifying ways in which his teaching and service can provide concrete benefits to the School.

Burga’s academic background includes master’s degrees in architecture and urban design from the University of Miami and a PhD in city and regional planning from the University of California, Berkeley. His research focuses on the intersection of diversity and planning, with a focus on undocumented Latino immigrants.

In Minnesota, he will collaborate with University of Minnesota Extension to consider ways in which planning issues may foster leadership and civic engagement for undocumented Latino immigrants throughout urban and rural Minnesota.

Over the past couple of decades, demographically homogenous towns in rural Minnesota have experienced population growth in their Latino communities. With this sudden demographic shift questions dealing with difference, equity and race have become increasingly important for planning practitioners. Burga is particularly interested in the relationship between political power, rights, and how those rights can be mobilized around planning issues such as land use, housing, or transportation.

Burga is also interested in the ways that collaborative planning methods may address the lives of undocumented immigrants. He says that planning practice tends to assume that the residents have citizenship as well as the capacity to deliberate, advocate, and mobilize. “However, in the case of undocumented immigrants living in our cities and towns, these assumptions become complicated. Undocumented immigrants need to manage and negotiate their visibility.”

Burga’s research focuses on  central questions:. First, how do you plan for residents who are “invisible” due to their citizenship status? and second, how does a non-citizen advocate for or against planning issues? Using a qualitative ethnographic approach, Burga intends to both expand on contemporary equity questions and advocate for Latino community empowerment in civic engagement. In doing so, his research, in tandem with his teaching and service to the University, will produce a deeper understanding of the needs of minorities in urban planning.   

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