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.

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.

Planner Profile #003

Planner Profile is a regular series that features female urban planners and the vital work they do to build better cities. Here is Dongyang Linda Lin, who is a planning professional from Guongzhou, China tackling transportation policy issues in LA!

AGE :32
CURRENT EMPLOYER: Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG)

Q: How did you decide to become a planner?
A: I love sketching and painting when I was a teenager, and was interested in designing small spaces and houses. I chose architecture, urban planning and landscape architecture as my top 3 targeted majors, and was eventually admitted by the Department of Urban Planning. I really enjoyed my undergraduate learning urban planning and design, so I decided to pursue a master’s degree and work as a planner. I feel motivated and fulfilled when realizing that my work can create a better environment and make people a better life.

Q: How is urban planning related to your career?
A: I was an urban planner working for Guangzhou Urban Planning & Design Survey Research Institute (GZPI) before attending USC. I worked on land use planning and urban redevelopment projects. The most meaningful experience for me was conducting the micro-redevelopment plan for Shenjing Village. This is the city’s first pilot program using participatory planning. We collaborated with college faculty and students, and private companies in building a negotiation platform, in which local residents, local officers, non-profit organization and third parties can work together to plan and build their community.

Q: Tell me about a woman who inspires you!
A: Huiyin Lin (Phyllis Lin), the first female architect in modern China. She is an outstanding woman spending her life in measuring, recording, studying and preserving Chinese ancient architecture. What is the most difficult challenge international students face in graduate school in the US? 

Q: What is the most difficult challenge international students face in graduate school in the US?
A: To understand local policy and planning issues is really hard for me because I don’t have any living experience before I studied at USC. My first semester is extremely difficult for me. In addition to adapting myself in a brand-new environment, I spent a lot of time searching for additional information about every policy that I learn in class to understand its impact on local residents. Luckily, I have wonderful classmates who kept explaining the background and contents of policy issues that I had difficulty with! I am super grateful!! 

Planner Profile #002

Planner Profile is a regular series that features female urban planners and the vital work they do to build better cities. This week, we are featuring Markie Anderle, who also casually makes ~atmospheric~ vibes on her soundcloud

follow Markie’s musical journey on @edges_music

AGE: 25
CURRENT EMPLOYER: Public Matters, an LA-based Social Enterprise
LOCATION: Los Angeles, CA
FAV ORDER AT FAV RESTAURANT: French Fries w/ mayo @ Amsterdam Falafel, Washington, D.C.
FAV URBAN PLACE: The West Side Market, Ohio City, Cleveland, Ohio

Q: How did you decide to become a planner?
A: I decided to become a planner because I was working in Washington, DC in the field of public policy, and was getting frustrated at how removed it was from everyday problems cities like DC actually face. I saw planning as a way of participating in change movements at a much more ground level focus point.

Q: How is urban planning related to your career?
A: Some people in the program at USC have started referring to themselves as “urbanists” which is a term I really like because it doesn’t necessarily imply a traditional planning career. I’d say urban planning has informed the way I think about the challenges we face as a society and is one of the avenues through which I can participate in remedying those problems.

Q: Tell me about a woman who inspires you!
A: That’s a tough one, there are a lot! I think I have to highlight my Mom though. She is a civil rights lawyer who has spent her entire career trying to make educational spaces more inclusive, both working for the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights and now leading UVA’s Office for Equal Opportunity and Civil Rights. Across the board–the way she treats her staff, how she interacts professionally, the issues she is passionate about, are all qualities (among others) I really admire. Her work has inspired a lot of my focus on accessibility issues in planning, as well as my participation on campus in conversations about women’s rights and Title IX.

Q: Adulting is hard. How’s it going?
A: I think how well I think I’m doing at adulting changes day to day–but overall, I’d say pretty well. I’m definitely not ready yet to live a traditional lifestyle or settle down, which is why I’m actually spending most of the summer in Europe studying in Germany and working at a music festival on a farm in England.

Q: How would you describe your music?
A: I think the piano stuff I’ve been putting out lately is actually good background/easy listening. I’ve got a lot in the works for piano/guitar with vocals, so once that’s out I’d love if the words resonated with others. Writing for me is a big catharsis and I guess my preferred aesthetic would be as a storyteller. In general I’d say I’m really inspired by the Fleetwoodmac 70s-esque vibe, which my friends would probably say gives me a little bit of a hippie aesthetic at times.

Planner Profile #001

Planner Profile is a regular series that features female urban planners and the vital work they do to build better cities. Our first Planner Profile features Minjee Hahm, who works for the Planning Department in the City of Glendale!

AGE: 24
FAVORITE DISH: Pork souvlaki with wild rice from Kentro Greek Kitchen (Fullerton, CA)

follow minjee on @princesseminjee

Q: How did you decide to become a planner?
A: It was a stroke of luck actually. I had the opportunity to be an intern for the City of Buena Park during my senior year in high school. My supervisor was a Management Analyst but had background in Urban Studies and Planning. One day, she recommended that I try Urban Studies and Planning. That is how I chose the Urban Studies and Planning major at UC San Diego, where I graduated with a BA– and here I am!  

Q: How is urban planning related to your career?
A: I am currently one of the Assistant Planners for the City of Glendale, so I would say urban planning has everything to do with my career so far! Every day I work on planning cases or assist the public with any planning and zoning questions they might have. I study planning case laws and try to stay up to date with things going on in the planning world so I can help plan better for the City and make it a livable and desirable place for the residents and developers.

Q: Tell me about a woman who inspires you!
A: JK Rowling, not only because I am a Potterhead, but also because of her amazing ability to create (literally) a whole new magical world. She worked so hard to be where she is today–an influential author–and never gave up even in times of hardship and rejection.

Q: Adulting is hard. How’s it going?
A: Adulting is horrible. Cooking for myself and being healthy is hard. Going to the gym is hard. Waking up is hard. Trying not to look forward to Friday every Monday morning when I am trying to get out of bed is hard. But that is what life is I suppose! I am trying to be less boring of an adult though (Boring Adult: wake up, eat, work, work out, eat, sleep, repeat), by making plans hang out with friends and family every chance I get.

Easy ways to live greener

Sustainability can seem like a Big Idea that doesn’t fit into your daily life. When you’re trying to get through Monday without tripping on air and spilling your oatmeal in the middle of Starbucks (haha, just hypothetically), recycling the oatmeal container is the last thing on your mind. Here are some really simple/cool start up ventures I’ve come across that apply sustainability concepts to every day consumer goods- all you need to do is use them!

Nohbo Drops
A Shark Tank venture, Nohbo offers biodegradable shampoos and conditioners in a cute raindrop shape. It’s both aesthetic and reduces plastic consumption. Check it out here:

These are spoons made out of grains and hot water- you can eat them after you’re done with your meal, or simply throw them out in your garden/outside of the Starbucks where you lost your self-pride after use. Comes in flavorless or in Savory/Sweet:

Imperfect Produce
20 billion pounds of produce go to waste in the U.S. annually simply because they don’t look good enough to be displayed on your Trader Joe’s shelves. Imperfect Produce reduces food waste by delivering these ~born this way~ fruits and veggies at a reasonable price per box to your doorstep. Check them out here:

….and that’s it for this post. tldr; you don’t have to be a hardcore hippie to be an eco-hero (aka Not An Asshole). Switch out things you use every day for natural alternatives!

Hi there!

Thanks for checking out She Grows Cities. I created this website to connect with other urban planners who are passionate about sustainability, building stronger communities, and increasing diversity in the planning profession. I’m excited to connect with you!