David Valecillos is a graduate of the BUCPUA Master in City Planning who now works with the North Shore Community Development Corporation as the director of design. Valecillos is also a founder and director for the Punto Urban Art Museum, an open air museum in the El Punto neighborhood of Salem, MA.
On Tuesday, Oct. 27, Valecillos led the third event in the #BUcity Co-Lab Week with a presentation called “Visual Communication for Urban Professionals: The Why and How?” about his work as a city planner and designer.
Valecillos began by explaining that growing up in Venezuela, “a rich country naturally, but with high inequality,” led him to pursue city planning as a way to “understand the intersection of communities and socio-economic divides.”
His work in Salem has brought this interest to fruition. Salem is the second most visited city in Massachusetts, with most tourists visiting in October for the spooky, witchy history of Salem’s colonial past.
While the downtown area receives much attention and tourist attraction, the El Punto neighborhood, which is situated just adjacent to the downtown area, receives little to none. Like Roxbury and Dorchester, El Punto is segregated from the downtown, even though it is just blocks away.
The El Punto neighborhood is a mostly Hispanic neighborhood, with 80 percent of residents from the Dominican Republic. The neighborhood, which was primarily French-Canadian in the early 1900s, used to be an industry center for blue-collar, factory workers.
Valecillos wanted to address the segregation of the neighborhood from downtown Salem as well as the stigma that is associated with the neighborhood, with causes detriment to its residents. To address these concerns, Valecillos developed a plan for community engagement in 2012, which reached 300 people in the neighborhood.
From this plan, some common goals were established: improving housing infrastructure, improving public infrastructure, and reducing the stigma associated with the neighborhood.
Putting these goals into action, Valecillos made 50 units out of 150 into affordable housing, and established a community space for residents in the building to hold events.
The North Shore Community Development Corporation now owns 300 units––30 percent of the neighborhood––and has rehabilitated 200 of the units. Included in this rehabilitation were parks and sports facilities, such as a basketball court which features art chosen by kids in the neighborhood in collaboration with a local artist.
Art is a major part of Valecillos’ work, and it is used to bridge the gap between the El Punto neighborhood and downtown Salem, as well as bringing the community together to erase the stigma of the neighborhood through restorative place-making.
95 large-scale murals have been installed across the El Punto neighborhood, with the collaboration of 75 artists from across the world, but especially artists from Hispanic backgrounds. These murals became what is now the Punto Urban Art Museum, an open air, public museum celebrating the culture of the El Punto neighborhood and its residents.
To help launch the museum and the neighborhood gain traction from the public, Valecillos rebranded the organization and rebranded the webpages. The organization’s worth expanded from $2 million dollar to $3 million as a result.
Valecillos transitioned into the design component of his presentation, emphasizing the importance of technology for young urban planners as they develop their portfolio and brand themselves for future employers.
When is the time to start thinking about your portfolio? Now!
The first step in developing your portfolio, Valecillos said, is identifying how your past projects, life experiences, skills, and education make you a desirable candidate for future employers, and from there, identifying what kind of work you envision yourself doing and succeeding at.
Your portfolio should be an act of storytelling, emphasized Valecillos, that is realized through a few key elements in the design process of your portfolio.
The key elements Valecillos highlighted were: color and text, formatting, general content, and layout.
Within these elements, there are subsections as well.
For example, when choosing the color and text of a page in your portfolio, the first step is choosing your color palette, followed by selecting a font style, and lastly, by organizing the visual aspects of the page into a hierarchy. Larger, brightly colored, or bolded fonts are more eye-catching and therefore higher in the hierarchy than smaller, lightly colored fonts.
Within the formatting element, Valecillos said to identify a type, as well as an orientation and flow. The pages of your portfolio should be formatted consistently so that the reader has a clear picture of what problems in your project or work were presented and how you solved them.
The general content and layout of your portfolio should include: a cover, your contact information, a short bio, an index, and project summaries.
The presentation ended with questions from the audience on gentrification, affordability, and instilling a sense of community.
Valecillos said that it’s important for city planners to have an ear-on-the-ground to listen to the communities they are working with to ensure that they are not imposing, and that any changes are made collaboratively, hopefully easing the fear of gentrification and change.
Anne Jonas, CAS ’21