2021 Sustainability Almanac Project

Click here to take the COMMUNITY SURVEY!

Good morning! I’m so excited to share this BIG ANNOUNCEMENT with you all.

In partnership with Sustain Our World, I will be writing a Sustainability Almanac for the Los Angeles region and releasing it for FREE in 2021.

Traditionally, an almanac is an annual publication that serves as a calendar of events and also contains important statistical information such as weather patterns, farmer’s planting dates, and the like.

I wanted to create an almanac dedicated to sustainable living for LA residents because I noticed there are many different resources out there for urban farms, local sustainability brands, mom and pop stores, and micromobility options, but it is difficult to find one guidebook on how to use these resources to make one’s own life directly more sustainable.

For instance, I have been getting a lot of calls from community gardens and non-profits that share similar goals in terms of urban farming and sustainable living, but they have never met each other before! My hope is this online guide will serve as a one-stop resource that not only lists local organizations, businesses, and farms that you can support, but also teaches you something you do not know but wish you did.

If you wanted to learn how to live without a car in LA, this guide can help you.

If you wanted to learn why your elected official isn’t doing enough on climate change, and what you can do about that, this guide can help you.

If you don’t know who your elected officials are, and you want to live more sustainably but you rent your home and are unsure if you are allowed to compost, install solar panels, or start a garden, this guide can help you!

This almanac will be informative and, most importantly, contain the most accurate and current data about existing farms, gardens, green space, and public transit maps. But I want to ask YOU what you want to see in this book. What will be most helpful to you? Until October 1, I am releasing a community survey open to all LA County residents so I can receive your direct feedback on what should be in the almanac. Please feel free to share this widely- the more community engagement, the better the results will be.

I can’t believe I can finally share this with you. This has been in the works for several weeks and I can’t wait to show you the final product.

Here is the survey link: https://forms.gle/v1xp5ZWjcjHtgZzZ7

THANK YOU for sharing widely and filling it out for yourself!
Love,
Jamie

Imposter Syndrome

In my third meeting of the day, I find myself seated around department representatives, project leads, and political aides, but the conversation at hand sounds far away in my head. Once again, I look around and see that I’m the only one who looks like me at the table. I feel like I don’t belong.

Is this normal?

I wanted to talk about imposter syndrome for a long time because the topic comes up in almost every conversation I have with talented, brilliant, young women of color. We’ll be sharing office anecdotes, and then somehow we are admitting that there are many moments when we pause and feel like we don’t deserve to be there, or that we are not supposed to be there.

I hesitated to write about this because 1. I was worried someone at work would read this and perceive that I am insecure/lacking confidence at my job and 2. I never sought medical evaluation for a real diagnosis, and I do not want to make light of those who experience true mental health problems because of imposter syndrome. And then the past few weeks, we all saw the world turn upside down. Now I realize that it is time for my colleagues to understand what I have been going through, and that the co-workers who matter most will be the ones who reach out and offer support. The ones who do not simply do not matter. And I think, if we’re being honest with ourselves, we all feel lost at our jobs from time to time. Never has a job turned out to fit the job description I applied for. This is a feeling that is universally felt by BIPOC, Women of Color, and Millennials at large who are beginning their professional careers. I’m going to focus on my experience with IS, when I first noticed it, and what I’m doing about it. So if you want to know more about what it’s like for a Millennial Asian American female to work in America, read on. If you couldn’t care less, you’re in for a pretty boring read.

The room where it happens
I am so proud to represent my Korean heritage on staff, but it can be extremely challenging being Korean-American at work sometimes. I am 5’2 and without makeup I look like I am a high school student. I have four years of public service experience and just finished my Master’s degree in Urban Planning while working full-time. Yet I find myself spending time every morning putting together outfits that will make me look older, and shoving my feet into painful heels so I look taller. And I know this fear of being looked down on is not just in my head. My fear was validated when, during the first year at my job, men refused to shake my hand, asked for hugs, kissed me on the cheek without my consent, and asked me to take notes and make photocopies during large conference meetings.

I have been humiliated time and time again. And then there’s my age. In my field of work, most meetings are filled with middle-aged males who are mid/late-career professionals. For two years, I had to practice finding the right moment to speak up and comment or ask questions. There were some meetings where I could not even find a chance to say one word. In grad school, I was the only Korean-American female in my class, and one of about 5 Korean students in the public policy school.

I love what I do- And I’m good at it

So why did I put up with it? Why didn’t I go to my supervisor? I was afraid of speaking up because I did not want to appear as whiney, bitchy, or lazy. As a Korean-American, I watched my parents work 6 days a week non-stop to put food on the table. I was raised to be thankful for being employed, and that my duty is to work as hard as I can. But no matter how hard I work, even to this day, I come across frustrating moments where I know the person across the table from me is not taking me seriously. All these moments combined made me realize one day that I felt like a fake. I felt like I didn’t deserve to be in grad school, and that I was faking my way through my job somehow. While I was confused about whether or not I was “qualified” for my job, I was only sure of one thing- that I love what I do, and that nothing brings me greater joy than solving problems and providing public services to constituents.

The only thing that makes me feel better about my imposter syndrome is my Community of Badass Women. Every woman in my life is killing it in her field. They are teachers, investment bankers, accountants, consultants, planners, engineers, and small business owners. When they talk about their dreams, their eyes light up and they talk quickly and passionately. And they dream BIG- I can’t wait to see what they do next because it is only a matter of time until their dreams come true. And yet, every one of these women tell me they also feel what I feel- that they haven’t earned what they have achieved and that maybe they are not supposed to be solving poverty/public education/climate change/etc. This, of course, drives me insane. And then I drive THEM insane by revealing, that I, too, feel like an imposter. Despite the fact that I have achieved so much and I love what I do.

So look. If you’re not a POC, you probably do not know how it feels to be the only person in the conference room who looks like you. It is scary, intimidating, and something that I hope happens less frequently. If you are an ally, I hope you take the time to reach out and support your colleagues who may be struggling to break through the glass/bamboo ceiling. If you are like me, and you ARE the person in the room- I am so proud of us for being in the room where decisions are made. Keep going! And if it’s any consolation, just know that I’m right there with you, carefully curling my hair so it looks more “mature” and saving my sparkly lip gloss for weekends because I want to be “taken seriously” Monday-Friday. So if it helps you, I want to talk about this. It’s not a pretty topic, but I think it is important to embrace and overcome imposter syndrome. Because one day soon, we’re not going to be the only ones in the room who look like us. And when that day comes, our seat at the table will be waiting for us, and we need to continue to making more seats for BIPOC, women, and every other person who has felt like a fake walking into a board room.

That’s all for now. The work continues- please check out these resources if you want to learn more: https://blacklivesmatter.com/resources/

Community Garden Profile: Sustain Our World

Hi there! I recently had the privilege to (virtually) meet the brilliant, all-female team behind Sustain Our World, a community garden program in the Valley that has turned into so much more than just green urban space in the Covid Era. The lovely ladies of SOW took some time to chat with me about their garden, how they got it started, and the importance of sustainable public-private-partnerships. She Grows Cities looks forward to partnering with SOW in future programming, events, and, of course, growing more gardens!


Garden name: Sustain Our World (SOW)

Location: While our garden and Homebase is in San Fernando Valley, our mission takes us all over LA County and beyond!

Current members: Madison Jaschke, soil and water scientist; Haley Feng, biologist and urban planner; Stephanie Gomez, educator and policy advocate; and Christina Jimenez, mechanical engineer and marketing professional.

Social media: find us on IG @sustainoworld; website coming soon!

How did you decide to start a community garden?

Madison: SOW Community Garden began as a program developed to engage and provide for the community, especially as an educational space for children. As soon as the pandemic hit and food security was being compromised, the SOW Team kicked into high drive. We had to get this garden planted now in order to support local families, and we did just that. We put together this garden in just one month, utilizing resources and partnerships within the community and repurposing almost all materials. We now have plants in and actively growing!

Christina: When there was an emergency declared March 11th, I foresaw the garden being a huge resource for folks who would be economically impacted in the coming months. The very next day I rallied the SOW girls and my bestie Cindy Villasenor to start transforming the ~5,500 sq. ft lot into fertile ground.

Haley: [We envisioned] a community garden where we host our youth and community programs and harvest fresh, nutritious produce has always been part of SOW’s business plan.

Stephanie: We knew this space would exist as our headquarters, but we responded with the intention to bring it to life quickly to ensure we could provide our communities with access to food as we viewed this time as vital to feed families in need.

How can cities build safe, inclusive urban farms for all communities?

Madison: Utilize empty space! Look into parkway strips and if you are allowed to plant along your sidewalk. If you see a vacant lot overgrown with weeds, contact your local councilmember to see if they can connect you to the landowners or offer any incentives for food gardens. Many politicians will be in support of your efforts. The SOW Team set up a lease agreement to rent the land to grow food, mutually benefiting both parties as gardens and landscaping raise property value. It’s all about finding an underutilized space and turning it into something productive and sustainable.

Stephanie: Cities have the platform to spread awareness on the importance of building urban farms and integrating them as the norm within neighborhoods. Gardens can be added as a section in parks. Cities can also help provide funding for the maintenance of residential community gardens. This would provide residential home owners to comfortably build garden beds that are 4 by 4 on the empty piece of grass on the sidewalk.

Haley: It all starts with policymaking to create the ideal environment for these programs to thrive. One of the most effective things cities can do is to make land affordable and accessible to urban farmers. Additionally, farmers are always in need of supplies. In terms of providing supplies to community gardens like ours and urban farms, the City of Los Angeles is such a good place to be. We were able to obtain compost and mulch fairly easily through the Bureau of Sanitation. I want to urge cities to consider incorporating farms into general/community plans as well as design guidelines. Our City as it is… is not built for farming. We need to work on transforming it into a place where, if you wish to grow food, farmable land is accessible and compatible with the rest of your community. Sometimes this means being creative with where you designate land as farmable – like parkway strips, as Madi mentioned.

Christina: Cities should consider the cultural and economic background of their neighborhoods that would be benefiting from an urban garden. What do these communities eat and would they know how to prepare produce that is new to them? Also, people care about what they put their time into. Integrating involvement through volunteering or resource donations for a shared space like an urban garden, can shape a well-rounded community of people who care about the purpose.

Who is someone who inspires you to grow more gardens?

Stephanie: I am inspired to grow more gardens by my grandparents. I cannot wait to share the fruit of our labor with them. My grandparents allowed me to form a wonderful relationship with the fruits and vegetables from Mexico. Food has always been our common language as I watched my grandparents care for their nopales, guayabas, mandarinas, frijoles, manzanas, and so much more all in a tiny plot of land no more than 100 feet.

Madison: To echo Stephanie, we are inspired by our elder mentors, especially the women in our lives who have been the conduit for our connection to nature. To the grandmas who have brought us along on their gardening chores: thank you for showing us how you do everything so carefully. I have learned so much from you. The teachers who we’ve had along the way who have strengthened our love and knowledge for the natural world. And each other, really.

Christina: My daughter Camila. I want her to grow up with a different perspective of the food/economic system we’re thrown into. She has immense empathy for people who are treated unfairly or have less, and that makes me want to support a basic need for people.

Haley: I am also highly motivated by food, so just day-dreaming about turning fresh ingredients into gourmet food gets me super motivated 🙂

Where is your favorite urban space?

Christina: Little Tokyo has some awesome spots. The Arts District corridor is my go-to hangout spot to get some fresh air and beers. Venice Boardwalk is a close second.

Madison: Interesting question. In Los Angeles, we have a concrete jungle with trees uprooting sidewalks and birds and lizards passing through. My favorite urban space is whenever I’m walking or longboarding down the sidewalk, and I come across a little slice of heaven – someone’s abundant, biodiverse, thriving front yard. I always stop for a second to smell the flowers and listen to the bugs and birds in the bushes, and to just admire the beauty this person has chosen to create.

Stephanie: My favorite urban space in LA would be Echo Park where you can find bookstores down the strip, a beautiful park with a huge lake, vegan taco trucks and restaurants like Sage Bistro, or if you are looking for some delicious deep dish pizza, Masa is the place to visit. The Sunset strip has it all from bars, to taco trucks, a park, dance clubs, fashion boutiques. Truly a great place to spend the day.

Haley: Palms/Downtown Culver City/Ballona Creek is my favorite and where I feel at home. I hope it stays this way. I am biased towards the Westside though, having lived here for the past 5 years. I do want to second all of above too – Los Angeles is amazingly diverse in urban forms and urban personalities.

What’s ahead for Sustain Our World?

Madison: Big things! The SOW Team is composed of four very passionate and motivated women who want to be that conduit for a healthy, sustainable future.

Stephanie: Where do I begin? Currently, we are planning out our blogs that will share a piece of each of our interests within sustainability. We each share the same value to bring awareness to a more eco-conscious lifestyle, however our individual journeys will all look very different and that is what we’d like to highlight about the road to a reduced-waste lifestyle. Our other programs include environmental equity advocacy work to make sure we aren’t only taking physical action to improve our environment but also being part of the conversations when it comes to implementing long term ordinances that affect our natural resources for years to come. A few other pieces that SOW is working on is a podcast and live IG videos that focus on tips and tricks on How to live a more waste-free alternative lifestyle.

Haley: For the time being we are focusing on laying down a strong foundation for SOW.

With the safer at home order, we have been taking turns to take care of the garden while working on developing our online presence. There have been many long, late night Zoom calls, but our passion keeps us going. We want to see our garden thrive, with an abundance of produce, herbs, teas, programs, and events; we will also be launching a zero-waste service program targeting farmers markets and eventually, we hope to tackle bigger events such as music festivals and concerts. In addition to events, we want to work with policymakers to bring zero-waste or zero-plastic to restaurants and businesses.

Christina: We are working on so many things other than the garden at the moment it’s crazy. Keep your eyes peeled for Co-founder Series blog, handmade products from our garden, SOW advocacy chapters at universities, and the launch of other sustainable programs we’ve been holding out on because of the pandemic.

Any individuals/vlogs/projects you would like to plug?

Madison: @cerowastecindy does amazing garden consultations! She helped us start the garden off with a no-till, sustainable method called lasagna layering. I highly recommend following her inspiring cero waste journey. Also, @generationpermaculture and @girl.plants.world, our global friends who share this passion for sustainability and who are spreading and sharing stories of inspiration. Thank you to Michael for the salvaged soil and Daniel for the composted cow manure. Also, @ask_mr_list  is a great resource for gardening wisdom, and we are so grateful for the garden beds!

If you want to support the garden, here is our GoFundMe:

Christina: My sustainable lifestyle brand. Working on a couple of quality pieces of clothing right now. Part of the proceeds will be going to SOW.

Cindy Villasenor has started her garden consulting business to help you start your own urban garden. People with small spaces (apartments/porch only) are encouraged to start. (@cerowastecindy, cerowastecindy@gmail.com)

Stephanie: Currently, I am planning a SOW Spring Closet (Virtual Yard Sale/Thrift Shop Fundraiser- Using Platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Poshmark to sell clothing it will be a Bid Style-Highest Bid Will Take the item)  All proceeds will be going to the programs and events that will take place at the Garden.  I am re-starting a Youtube channel as I’d like to share my journey towards sustainability. Stay tuned for that I used to only post covers of songs now I feel comfortable sharing the challenges of changing my consumer habits.

Haley: As an urban planner concentrating on Economic Development, I am always keeping an eye out for business opportunities in communities. While nothing is concrete yet, I hope to create a line of products made out of recycled materials, starting with plastics. Stay tuned!

We must tend to our garden….

…or so the Voltaire quote goes. Kind of. I’m sure something may have been lost in translation. While this quote refers to tending to one’s “garden” in a philosophical sense in response to all the hardship and suffering that exists in the world, I don’t think the philosophy perfectly fits our world’s current pandemic. I am an optimist, and believe that the tide will eventually turn back in humanity’s favor, but I disagree with our society’s hustle culture being applied to all of us stuck at home.

There is an immense pressure and expectation applied on us all to come out of this fitter, smarter, better, healthier, etc. This moment should be considered a chance to maximize productivity, master new skills- you have no excuse not to! I don’t have any problem with those who want to do just that, but I want to acknowledge the vast majority of people who are currently in situations where they cannot boast of new achievements because, well, life is kind of crazy right now.

If you wake up early to take a walk, that is great! If you sleep in and treat yourself to pancakes, that’s great too. I don’t want people to think my post is pointing fingers at anyone who is NOT growing their own produce. I recognize that I am privileged enough to have a backyard large enough to start one, and I have the means to buy good wood and tools to help me get started. If you find joy and relaxation from gardening and all things urban farming like I do, then I look forward to seeing YOUR gardens, too! If not, I hope you fill your day with things that make you happy and you find meaningful- I think that’s what Voltaire ultimately meant, anyway.

So, the garden. It is a teeny tiny bed I started with green onion, tomatoes, and lettuce. On the side, I decided to plant some lavender, thyme, and oregano in hopes of warding off mosquitos. We moved my baby aloe vera to the back of the garden bed just ‘cuz (and she’s now about to bloom! More pics of this next time).

So far, not much luck on the thyme and oregano. The green onions are coming along nicely, although the heat waves we’ve been having in LA are concerning. Tomatoes tend to do well in this spot so we’re leaving them alone for the most part. The lettuce is getting attacked by pests- any tips on preventing this?

Also tried soaking ginger and garlic and getting them started in pots- no luck on this end either. I think I did not soak them long enough. Will try again in a few weeks. A neighbor was giving away rosemary so I am trying to grow a few sprigs in a pot as well- another scent that mosquitos hate! We’ve had an awful case of ankle-biters that last few summers.

Finally, Mr. Cheese, my beloved monstera, has been replanted after outgrowing his first home. I tried to propagate him as well- will share status update next time.
If you have a garden or urban farm and you want to share yours, feel free to comment or shoot me an email!

1 year old monstera.

….And she’s back!

It’s been pretty quiet on this blog since the beginning of the year- I was looking forward to getting back to interviewing planners and sharing ideas about urban farming after I finished working on a local political campaign in March. And then Covid-19 happened.

I hope all of you are staying safe and doing what you can to take care of yourselves while focusing on loved ones. We are all going on a different version of this strange journey, and I think it’s important to honor everyone’s individual experiences.

All this to say….I am now settled into a WFH routine, and just submitted my comprehensive exam, which completes my Master’s Program! More on this later- I decided to write a proposal for a food hall that sells local urban farm produce in Watts.

Here’s what you can look forward to from shegrowscities:
– I started a Covid Garden! I am staying with my family during the pandemic, and we have a limited backyard, but I’m so excited to show you what we’ve got going on.
– NEW PLANNER PROFILE: SUSTAIN OUR WORLD EDITION is coming next week! A badass team of women came together to grow a community garden in SF valley in response to Covid-19 and also because urban farming is sustainable, profitable, and equitable. More on this in the interview next week!

Yours in Solidarity,

Jamie

Winter Recap

fall in Old Quebec

2019- what a year! After returning from my solo trip to Old Quebec, a wonderful, historic city that mixes traditional architecture with state-of-the-art geothermal heating and rooftop gardens, I spent the remainder of the fall semester completing the toughest academic courses I have taken in my graduate program so far (while working full time) . All the hard work certainly paid off- learning about environmental governance and the importance of taking climate action on local policy levels was invaluable. And my transportation studio course was packed full of great speakers, fascinating lectures on how streets are made, and culminated in my consulting team’s final product. Check it out under My Projects!

Our transportation studio course welcomes California Transportation Agency Secretary David Kim back to USC Price!

I am also sharing the link to my GIS project, which is a new skillset I am proud to say I now have. I’ve always loved maps and data, and I am excited to apply these skills at my workplace to solve policy problems. Link is here for those who are interested.

What can you look forward to in 2020? Stay tuned for more stellar Planner Profiles and sustainability projects from yours truly. Cheers to a greener and brighter decade!

Green Summer Recap

Hi! I took a break from shegrowscities so I could focus on summer school, travel, and some good ol’ fashioned self care in the form of baking, yoga, and spending time with friends. Grad school is back in session, so I wanted to check in to share what I learned about urban farming, local food systems, and how communities can partner with them…..

gorgeous leafy greens!!!!


Community gardens are economic investments
On a quick weekend trip in San Diego, I accidentally stumbled upon an urban garden next to a church in North Park. The garden is grown and maintained by the International Rescue Committee as a local program that invests in local refugee gardeners by training them in marketable skills and providing fresh fruits and veggies for the area! I loved this concept particularly because it is a win-win-win for the environment, neighborhood, and refugees who need support in assimilating.

from cityfarmer.info


CSAs are subscription boxes for local farm produce
CSAs are a great way to support local farms by cutting out the middleman. Simply find your local delivery/pick up location and you can pick up a box of fresh fruits and veggies on a weekly or monthly basis. Here’s how I found mine.

goodbye grass, hello seasonal fruits and veggies…..


Partnerships are key for sustainable urban farming
Lastly, I am excited to share that I spent the summer also working closely with my local church in La Mirada to launch a pilot communal garden program through the on-site preschool! LM used to have a community garden space, but it has been gone since 2016. It took some research to figure out if this would require a conditional use permit/if we need anything from the county assessor, but I am excited to say the school will soon be experimenting with herbs, bee friendly flowers, and hydroponic systems! I will share more updates about this project hopefully soon…..

I am so excited to kick off my LAST YEAR OF GRADUATE SCHOOL! It will be challenging balancing work and academics again, but learning with my amazing cohort and being constantly inspired by the friends and faculty members I have met through the program keep me going. This year, I hope to learn more about how transportation affects access to nutritious foods, how planning tools can incentivize urban farming, and how planners of all backgrounds can come together to combat climate change through realistic, sustainable planning!
I want to sign off with this article my friend Kavina wrote for Medium about how to get started with your own garden no matter where you live– stay tuned for more content from her soon….

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!

@soynalgona

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 (queeringthemap.com). 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.

Planner Profile #004

ig: @spencerwejrowski

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
Age: 22
Location: Koreatown, Los Angeles
IG: @spencerwejrowski

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!]

Exploring Urban Farming: Tanaka Farms

Over the long weekend, I had the chance to check out an urban farm in Irvine, just a short drive from my hometown in La Mirada. We arrived early in the morning to beat the crowd for the Strawberry Festival at Tanaka Farms, which is a multi-generational family run farm and produce stand open to the public. They are devoted to sustainable farming and educating people on how produce is grown, how it is harvested, and how we can all be more responsible eaters! Here are some more photos from my day on the farm:

All in all, it was an adorable farm, an excellent way to spend a slow Saturday morning, and an easy way to pick my own fresh berries, check out some local, raw honey, and most importantly, realize how easy it is to build urban farms- we just need to be willing to do it! For more about urban farms and the Urban Agriculture Incentive Zoning policy in SoCal, check out here and here.