Latino Small-Town Revitalization as “Blight”:
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The recent population growth in emerging Latino destinations has revitalized many small and dying towns across the United States. In fact, from 2000 to 2005, 221 counties would have experienced overall population decline if not for Latino population growth. As Latinos continue to migrate from traditional immigrant gateways to newly emerging destinations (a trend fueled by the restructuring of the agricultural industry, mass immigration, natural increase, and increased employment opportunities) community development professionals will be challenged to create new models of democratic practice that address the conflicts of these transitioning towns. Emerging theories of democracy that challenge traditional power dynamics, such as cultural citizenship, can help further these efforts. Through the case study of Woodburn, a small town in Oregon’s Willamette Valley that has experienced rapid Latino population growth over the last several decades, I detail why even though Latinos are investing and revitalizing economically depressed spaces, the historic downtown is still characterized as “blighted.” I draw from Community Capitals Framework (CCF) to contextualize how Latinos’ generative economic development practices are built upon various forms of capital. I analyze the cultural differences in the definition of “blight” between Latinos and whites in the town and uncover the racial conflicts around (1) small business investment and development and (2) historic preservation efforts. Drawing on 40 in-depth qualitative interviews, an analysis of U.S. Census data, and a spatial analysis of Latino small businesses, I examine the way in which the lack of Latino political representation in formal planning and governance institutions plays a role in how local institutions define Latino generative economic revitalization as “blight.” This case illustrates how formal community planning and development institutions create a discourse of disempowerment by contesting informal generative revitalization efforts within a racialized context.