HAPPY PRIDE MONTH!!! To celebrate, I will be featuring several incredible urban planners who are working hard to make urban spaces accessible and friendly for all! This week, I spoke with Spencer Wejrowski about “gayborhoods”, Thai food, and all things urban in LA!
Name: Spencer Wejrowski
Location: Koreatown, Los Angeles
Q: How did you decide to pursue urban planning professionally?
A I have been passionate about cities since I was a kid. I would spend hours creating sand villages in my backyard sandbox. My childhood included visits to Detroit and Chicago, two very unique cities with similar geographic dimensions. I always wondered why Detroit seemed so desolate, but downtown Chicago was so vibrant. I didn’t understand at the time that this would be a central part of the urban planning profession since urban planning was entirely absent from my K-12 curriculum. When I was 16, I registered for a few Computer-Aided Design courses with an introduction to architecture embedded within. I wanted to analyze the bigger picture, the urban form, and the complex factors shaping [architecture]. This is when I discovered the profession of Urban Planning. From then, it was simple. I graduated Grand Valley State University with a major in Geography and Sustainable Planning, with minors in Environmental Studies, Applied Statistics, and certificates in Geographic Information Systems and Sustainable City Planning. I am obsessed with environmental sustainability, urban spaces, urban forestry, and how that relates to the rest of the urban planning topics. For graduate study, I wanted to focus my attention on planning in a public policy school perspective over the architecture and urban design perspective. Now I attend the University of Southern California Sol Price School of Public Policy in the Master of Planning Program.
Q: How can cities build safe spaces for LGBTQ communities?
A: I want to first say that I truly believe the “Gayborhood” is a slowly dying invention of gay community space. Communities like Hell’s Kitchen in NYC, West Hollywood, or Boystown in Chicago are becoming less and less “gay” as the LGBTQ community becomes more accepted everywhere else. We should strive to build cities that are welcoming to LGBTQ peoples- this may include incubating small businesses so that LGBTQ business owners are a priority over international corporations who only show acceptance to LGBTQ peoples during “Pride Season.” A big one is rethinking how we design restrooms so that everyone feels safe and comfortable within them. Out of the LGBTQ community, the loudest and most prominently recognized voice tends to be white, toned, wealthy men. The rest of the community needs to have their needs considered too! These are the people who are consistently getting left out of the conversation. Gayborhoods have traditionally been spaces for gay white men. If you stroll the West Hollywood gay strip, you will see dozens of gay bars for gay men, but zero for gay women. Even the most gay-friendly spaces in the United Spaces, such as San Francisco, are plagued with issues of sexism, segregation, racism, classicism, and the housing crisis affecting our entire nation is exacerbating these issues. Everything is linked.
Q: Who is someone who inspires you to build better cities?
A: William Whyte. He’s not a perfect man, but his analysis of small urban public spaces was very influential to me. We create so many places in the private and public realm with either the direct or indirect intention of alienating people so they don’t “hang out” or “loiter” there. It is the presence of people “hanging out” and “loitering” in cities that makes cities such a magical and safer place. I want every community to be able to have unique, people-friendly spaces that they are proud of.
Q: Where is your favorite urban space?
A: That is so tough! Agh! If I had to choose one, I would have to say Bryant Park in New York City. It is the ultimate destination to grab a quick lunch, sit at one of the famous dark green moveable chairs and people watch. Maybe a quick yoga flow. It is also beautiful in the rain. Another is Sheeps Meadow, also in New York City. Grab a few friends, grab some cheese and a couple of bottles of wine and lay out in the sun.
Q: How are you spending your summer in LA?
A: I am working part-time and looking for internships and valuable experiences. Lots of boozy brunches and late night Thai food. I will also be doing some quick trips to San Diego, San Francisco, and Santa Barbara. I am trying to experience all California has to offer. In August, I will visit family and friends in Michigan for a week.
Q: Any music/vlogs/projects you would like to plug?
A: I am working on an IGTV/Youtube series about city-planning topics, including being car-less in LA, understanding the LA Metro system, and current political issues within the City of Los Angeles. Unfortunately, the show is still in the development stages. Some of my features include my friend Ricky’s ASMR Youtube series, and my friend Elliott’s IGTV cooking show featuring LGBTQ content. Please follow my Instagram for new updates if you would like to know more. [This interview will be updated to links to the YT channel once it is up!]