Meet the Scholars: Angelíz E. Encarnación Burgos


Angelíz E. Encarnación Burgos is a PhD candidate in architecture at the University of Texas at Austin. She is a part of the Health Policy Research Scholars Cohort 2016.

Before we begin, tell us a little bit about yourself and what your research interests are?

My lived experience profoundly shapes my research and academic pursuits. Moreover, it is the reason why my research agenda is centered on the city as a contested landscape that sustains institutional and legal-political frameworks that contribute to pushing urban poor into high-risk places, making these populations particularly vulnerable. My research agenda focuses on issues at the intersection of planning and health, in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, to contextualize urban poors’ struggles within the broader history of subordinate development and longstanding multi-level schemes of systematic discrimination and exclusion.

In doing so, my research is bounded outside mainstream theoretical and methodological planning frameworks. For me, planning is not a neutral practice; it is a transformative social practice that needs to be committed to uncovering bases of urban exclusions and its consequences.

What’s the story behind why you’re doing what you’re doing?

My path as a professional planner has been a journey toward wholeness, with the ultimate goal of helping historically deprived communities in the Island thrive. Not only through research and practice, but also by teaching the next the generation of Puerto Rican planners to be devoted to justice and equity.

I grew up in one of the oldest colonies in the world, Puerto Rico. This political subordination made me aware of inequalities, privileges, injustices, and colonialism from an early age. Although I lived a considerable part of my life in a subsidized housing building, my access to private education through a scholarship made me aware of my personal privileges or disadvantages depending on the context. This upbringing inspired me to fight for justice, seeking ways in which resources and services may be used and accessed by all. As a professional planner, I decided to use my skills and knowledge to service historically marginalized communities through an AmeriCorps Vista volunteer position. For more than two years, I worked for the Corporación del Proyecto ENLACE del Caño Martín Peña (ENLACE), and the Caño Martín Peña community leaders (G-8). This experience and the historical experiences of the residents of these communities inspired my dissertation topic.

Tell us about a project you are currently working on that you are excited about?

I am very excited about my dissertation, which draws on historical accounts to investigate: how did complex colonial political forces articulate divergent socio-spatial changes through the reconfiguration of institutions and legal-political frameworks; under what historical conditions, and in what ways, did state development and planning processes structure past actions, policy regimes, and institutional configurations. In doing so, I aim to establish how our past and present maneuvers are connected, by causal relationships, to the current geographical unevenness of one of the oldest barrios of the capital of Puerto Rico, Santurce. In this context, I contend how Puerto Rican urban development should be studied as a form of urban colonialism. However, in the case of Puerto Rico, urban colonialism entitles more than only gentrification dynamics.

For people unfamiliar with your research area, what is one piece of information you think is important for them to know?

To understand Puerto Rico’s context, it is essential to understand its political relationship with the United States and its associated extractivist development model put at risk the lives of the residents of Puerto Rico constantly. Since 1898, Puerto Rico has been a possession of the U.S. but is not a part of the U.S. This means, that even though the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico was established in 1952 and legally was defined as an unincorporated territory, Puerto Ricans residing on the Island do not have presidential voting rights, and U.S. Congress still holds complete power over the Island. Furthermore, Puerto Rico’s delegate at the House of Representatives does not have voting rights. This highly complex political relationship and the pivotal legal and institutional arrangements deployed throughout time obscures historical consequences of it.

Although much has been written about Puerto Rico’s development and industrialization experiences, little scholarly work has been done on how this shifting engagement with diverse development/planning strategies and institutional expansion has contributed to the production of uneven geographies, and thus, how U.S. hegemony has also been translated to Puerto Rico’s urban landscape and risky environmental and health conditions. As such, I aim to contribute to this gap in the literature as a first step toward the generation of new urban policies that address social determinants of health.

Who is a researcher you admire and why?

The researcher I admire the most is my former mentor, Carmen Milagros Concepción. Her pioneering work at the intersection of Puerto Rico’s development process and environmental policy and her fantastic work on local socio-environmental mobilizations and struggles contributed significantly to my research interests. Also, she contributed to my take on the importance of historical research to further understand the consequence of colonialism in Puerto Rico’s landscape, and my broader understanding of what “health,” “environment,” “development” and “city” means in our context. She taught me how to consistently deploy a justice lens, not only in my research endeavors, but also how that praxis is translated to the teaching and practice activities. Her support and constructive feedback throughout my graduate journey have helped me grow as a planning scholar.

How has being an HPRS Scholar helped you during your time as a doctoral candidate?

The HPRS program has provided me with tools and a network of great researchers that, in many ways, have shaped and supported my dissertation research. Honestly, I can say that without the HPRS program support, crafting the initial phase of dissertation research would not have been possible. Furthermore, the program shaped the way I want to disseminate the findings of my research. My goal is not only to translate my research into policy practices but also to spread my historical results in an accessible way that allows lay audiences to engage with it. Specifically, I want my findings and the raw data to help historically deprived communities to tell stronger, more compelling stories as support when framing bottom-up solutions.

Thanks to the support provided by the HPRS Dissertation Award, I will be able to develop a webpage to publish a spatial history of Santurce, one of the oldest barrios of the capital of Puerto Rico (San Juan), along with all the material (plans, drawings, official statements, historical maps, aerial photos, among other artifacts) found in more than twelve archives, including community-based ones.

In the RWJF HPRS program we have worked with you to help you think further about using your research to develop policy. If you could use your research to change any policy, what policy would it be?

I aim to use my research findings to change planning and environmental regulations that have fostered exclusionary development and exacerbated urban inequalities in Puerto Rico.

Ok, here’s a fun question to wrap things up. If you could visit any place in the world, where would you choose to go and why?

I would backpack through Latin America to learn more about regional development issues and socio-environmental problems.

Thank you so much for your time!


Angelíz’s Bio 







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