Planner Profile #5

Continuing to celebrate P R I D E in P L A N N I N G this month, we sat down to chat with Richard, who is currently working for LADOT and always creating art by exploring space and dance!


Name: Richard Jose Aviles
Age: 28
IG: soynalgona
Location: Los Angeles
Current employer: Los Angeles Department of Transportation–Vision Zero

Q: How did you decide to pursue urban planning professionally?

A: I’ve always been in love with my hometown, Los Angeles. I never knew that urban planning, as a profession, existed. I only knew that I loved the buses and that’s where, as a high school student, I gained a sense of independence. Who needed a car, when I had a bus pass that would allow me to navigate the city. I actually reconnected with my love for Los Angeles through planning. I realized that there weren’t too many people with lived experiences making decisions about the urban fabric of my neighborhood, South Central, and I wasn’t okay with that. When I discovered that there was a way to bring in my advocacy skills, learned through my Social Work background, I decided to make my city into my client. Now I get to work on developing, what I’m calling, “trauma-informed planning.” This approach acknowledges the harms caused in communities as a result of planning processes and empowers communities to reconnect to their built-environment through advocacy.

Q: How can cities build safe spaces for LGBTQ communities?

A: This question is a bit hard for me. Not because I don’t believe in building safe spaces for LGBT communities but because it is hard. First, we must really discern what it means to be a LGBTQ space. For the longest time, LGBT communities have been creating underground spaces as a way to connect and identify with one another. But let’s also remember that historically it has been gay white men who excluded trans women and queer bodies of color. So it’s hard to think about LGBT spaces without a lens of racial justice. I couldn’t care less about West Hollywood. I’m more concerned about trans women being murdered or detained. I think the best way cities can build queer communities is to empower communities to push back. The queer identity and queer ethic was born out of defiance. As urban planners we are called to service, thus opposition should be celebrated. The queer ethical subject should feel empowered to reclaim the public space, in which queer bodies of color reclaimed the piers to create the vogueing scene. When we’re pushed to the margins, we’re forced to create magic, thus the queer city should be place where queer bodies of color and as a result bodies of color take full ownership of their built-environment.

Q: Who is someone who inspires you to build better cities?

A: I am inspired by Dr. Destiny Thomas and Caro Vera both women of color who center their work around justice and the dignity of communities that have been harmed as a result of Urban Planning. Both Dr. Thomas and Caro do this work with grace and by always centering the experiences of residents in all of our projects. They have taught me that when they say Land Use what they really mean is Land User. To work alongside these women reminds me that i love my city and more importantly I love my people and for that reason I want to make sure I uplift their voices.

Q: Where is your favorite urban space?

A: I really love the Midtown Greenway in Minneapolis. It is an old railroad corridor part of the Milwaukee Road. It has been repurposed to be a 5.3 mile bike trail that runs through Minneapolis connecting residents to downtown and several other bike trails. Additionally the trail has a series of shops and park inlets along the trail. It is definitely my go-to spot every time I visit Minneapolis.

Q: How are you spending your summer in LA?
A: This summer I will be spending my work day at LADOT bringing street safety through Vision Zero. In addition to being a planner, I am also a professional artist and this summer I have a couple of performances in Los Angeles and a small tour in Montreal Canada. 

Q: Any music/vlogs/projects you would like to plug?

A: So many to share, but I’m currently jamming to Figgy Baby’s (IG: figgybaby) newest single, Seams. We’re actually both touring in Montreal this upcoming July through this amazing project called Queering the Map ( I also teach a weekly dance class called Reventon: Queer Partner Latin Dance. Every Monday 8pm-9pm at Thee Academy located at 2410 Whittier Blvd in Montebello.

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