Latinos and Planning Division Scholarship
S. Allison Sponseller
For many years, my career vision has included working with and in Latino communities. Over time, I have explored various ways that I might influence change in these communities. As I prepare to graduate with my Masters in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of Michigan, I am excited to continue on a professional path that includes planning, teaching, and influencing change in the food system. Specifically, I am dedicated to continuing to discover how I can best support increased food access and positive health outcomes in Latino communities.
My interest in food justice was sparked when I worked as an intern at Northwest Michigan Health Services, Inc., a health clinic for migrant and seasonal farm workers in northwest Michigan. The majority of the clinic's client base consists of Latino migrant farm workers, mostly from Mexico. I was deeply affected by the stories I heard from the farm workers and their families. These were stories of constant migration, desperation for work, long hours of physical labor, and separation from family and friends. I started to think critically about our country's food system and its dependence on the underpaid labor of farm workers.
More recently, I have worked with the Latino community in Southwest Detroit through my position as a program evaluator. My team has been evaluating the Health Rx food prescription program at the CHASS clinic, located in a predominantly Latino community. This program uses a new, innovative model to link the health care system to the local food system. Health care providers "prescribe" their patients to each more fruits and vegetables. Once the patients are referred to the program, they receive tokens to use at the clinic's farmers' market to buy fresh produce. It has been exciting to be a part of this new project, one that has potential to improve healthcare and food access in Detroit.
I am eager to be involved in similar planning initiatives that, through collaboration with community partners and the use of models launched successfully in other parts of the country, can work to improve health outcomes in urban areas.
My curiosity about the food system has turned into a steady commitment to understanding and unraveling its intricacies. This pursuit has pervaded much of my work at the University of Michigan and will inform the approach that I take to working in Latino communities on food-related issues going forward.
As a Planner and Community Organizer, I have firm beliefs that people have the ability to design, build, and enact their own cities. Urban Planning fulfills my fascination with human interaction in urban environments. Being from Los Angeles, I especially relate to aspects of Latino Urbanism and everyday urbanism, as they have examined how communities of color can guide physical design to develop a more just, participatory, and autonomous city.
In the San Fernando Valley, also known as "The Valley," all of my Planning efforts have been geared towards improving the postwar working class suburban life and urban form imposed on us by haphazard planning practices of the past. I have focused most of my energy on establishing cooperative working groups that promote the Bicycle as the most efficient form of transportation in what is considered the most car dependent city.
Through the Master of Urban and Regional Planning program at University of California, Los Angeles, I am working to advance the field of participatory/everyday planning and incorporate elements of urban design primarily focused on economically impoverished communities of color.
I am currently working with the design/build non-profit organization KDI on developing a bike share program, bike network, and repair space in a five-acre park in the North Shore community of Coachella, CA. With the help of this Latino community, my commitment of reclaiming streets, personalizing urban spaces, and advocating for social justice can be enacted through the built environment.