APA VA wants to hear from you! As in every community we plan, there are stories to its citizens. As a community of planners, we would like to highlight some of our amazing planners across the Commonwealth. If you or someone you know has a great planning story to tell, please reach out to Robert Narvaez, AICP, Director of Inclusion or anyone on the APA VA Board. We can’t wait to hear from you!
I do not think being AAPI has had a huge impact on the trajectory of my career, but I do think that my career as a planner has impacted how I have looked at Asian cities. I spent my childhood going to Manila, Philippines where my mom’s family is from, but since studying planning, I have seen a handful of other southeast Asian cities. I think studying planning has enriched my travel experiences, allowing me to travel with a planner’s eye toward different urban systems. While far from a monolith, a lot of similarities could be drawn between some of the “megacities” I have visited like Manila, Jakarta and Bangkok. Though they are large population centers rich in character and of great importance to their national economies, many have dealt with the traffic and urban sprawl in addition to the environmental issues of flooding and other vulnerabilities exacerbated by climate change.
Going to graduate school gave me the opportunity to learn more about different Asian planning contexts, and write about case studies within these contexts. For instance, I wrote about evictions of residents of riverside informal settlements in favor of Jakarta’s plans to adapt to flooding and climate change, some of the environmental justice issues that informal waste picker communities face in Indonesia and the Philippines, where communities experience a diminished quality of environment and social stigma from accepting waste that they largely did not generate, and the issues surrounding Manila’s plan to phase out jeepneys, an iconic but polluting transportation mode, for electric, higher-capacity vehicles at the expense of drivers that cannot afford to purchase these
Public space, human-scale development, efficient transit and access to services/employment, all with the throughline of equity, are elements that planners need to consider across all planning contexts. This is not unique to the Asian context but is certainly just as relevant to it as Asia continues to urbanize and rural populations continue to migrate to cities. For me, my still limited exposure to Asian cities and planning contexts drives this point home and is an important takeaway for practice in the U.S. I think it would be useful for any AAPI planner in the U.S. to at least do a little research into the planning context of their native country if they have not already. Not only did it increase my understanding of the different dynamics at play in another context, but it also increased my connection to those places as a part of my identity.
Kevin is a recent graduate of the UVA Masters of Urban and Environmental Planning Program. He is interested in landing a role in land conservation or parks and recreation as he reenters the workforce. Before attending graduate school, he spent over three years as a land use planner in the private sector.
Tony LaColla, AICP
Tell us a little about yourself professionally.
I moved to the Washington D.C. region from Tampa about three years ago to join the City of Alexandria as the Land Use Services Division Chief with the Department of Planning and Zoning. The role has broadened my planning background to include zoning, historic preservation and special use permitting. Prior to working with Alexandria, I spent most of my career in Tampa working for Plan Hillsborough (Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission and Metropolitan Planning Organization) in comprehensive planning, neighborhood planning, public participation, and special projects. After undergraduate and graduate school at Florida State University, and prior to beginning my planning career, I served as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer in eco-tourism development in La Paz, Bolivia.
Tell us how and why you got into planning.
As a kid, I always had an interest in geography, architecture, history, and culture. I grew up in a single parent household with little money for travel and exploration, so I did not have the exposure to life outside of Florida that many of my friends had. I would often get lost reading books and magazines about different parts of the world. That led me to choose a major in International Relations with the hope of joining the foreign service or some similar organization in order to see and experience the world. While an undergrad at Florida State University, I took an Intro to Planning class as an elective to fulfill the requirements of my International Relations degree. It was at that point I knew I found my career and my calling in urban planning. While in graduate school, I focused on planning for developing countries, but as with any planning career, you never know where it will lead and here I am today working in zoning.
What are the greatest planning challenges facing your region? What are the greatest opportunities?
Northern Virginia, like many other parts of the country, is facing a housing crisis. The cost of housing has soared while salaries have remained stagnant. Twenty years ago, as a young planner, I was able to buy a home with a modest down payment and without expending all of my income on a mortgage. Today, the prospect of homeownership is difficult, if not impossible, for most young people. As planners, we are doing our best to diversify and expand housing options and supply, however it seems like we are often bailing water out of a sinking ship with nothing more than a bucket.
In my home state of Florida, elected officials are often fearful of making significant zoning changes to allow for more and diverse housing options. The large suburban homebuilders, who refuse to build anything other suburban homes on greenfields, as well as the vocal minority of NIMBY’s who oppose more density usually run the show, making impactful solutions nearly impossible. This area of the country, however, seems to have greater political willpower to implement solutions to the housing crisis. The local elected officials seem to understand the issues and are willing to experiment and explore new options. I have found that plans in Northern Virginia are actually implemented rather than sitting on a shelf collecting dust as they often are in Florida.
What is the best career advice you have ever received?
As a young planner, I would take decisions of a board or commission personally if they went against my recommendation. I would sometimes become visible disappointed and agitated. Even city council members would remark that they could tell what I was thinking about their discussions and decisions by the look on my face. A manager said to me to remember that defeat is part of the job. It is okay to be upset but to remember that it is just a job and how a board or commission votes on a case will not affect me personally. He encouraged me to find something positive in the outcomes. How did I learn or grow? What might I do differently next time? That advice has stuck with me and allowed me to brush off defeat and move on to the next project without looking back for too long.
What are you working on now? Can you tell us about a recent or ongoing project or initiative that you are excited about?
The City of Alexandria is working on a variety of housing initiatives including updates to the zoning ordinance to encourage more affordable housing and streamline redevelopment in certain zones. We recently passed an ordinance that allows ADU’s in all zones. The first applications are now coming in for processing. In addition, we are working on zoning ordinance text amendments to allow for co-living (modern version of rooming/boarding houses) and basement apartments in commercial and mixed-use zones. The largest amendment proposal currently under study will make changes in our historic townhouse and commercial zones. The current zoning ordinance is suburban oriented, essentially prohibiting the historic development pattern of the city in areas developed prior to the 1940’s. Large suburban setbacks and substantial open space requirements make development and redevelopment in character with the historic areas nearly impossible without approval from the Board of Zoning Appeals or City Council. We are working to ensure a modern zoning ordinance does not prohibit the historic development pattern of the older neighborhoods in the city.
Tell us a little about yourself outside of planning.
Outside of planning, I love to volunteer. In the past I served as my neighborhood president for 10 years, served as a board member and Chair of the Ybor City Development Corporation in Tampa for 10 years, and have been heavily involved with APA in Florida and now in the Northern Virginia/DC area. I currently serve as Treasurer of the APA National Capital Area Chapter and have also recently joined the Friends of Peru and Bolivia which is an organization of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers from Peru and Bolivia working to support development projects in those countries. Several other former volunteers and I are working to revive and breathe new life into the long dormant organization.
When I am not working or spending time on volunteer activities, I love to explore neighborhoods, visit museums in D.C. and around the region, sample new restaurants, and of course travel as much as I can. I have really loved exploring the Mid-Atlantic region since moving here three years ago and now that the world is opening back up, I intend to get back out there to do some more exploration.
Brian Wegener, AICP, CZA
Brian is the new Secretary of the Board for APA Virginia, so we thought we’d interview him for this month’s Member Spotlight. He replaces Whitney DiGiantommaso, who moved out of Virginia with her family. “I pursued the unique opportunity to be on the Board to grow professionally, support initiatives that I believe in, and expand my network,” Brian said.
When asked why he became a planner, Brian went back to his childhood. “Growing up in Flint, Michigan, I was always keenly aware—even as a kid—that daily life is impacted by land use decisions, economic opportunities, and urban design. I would draw cities and try to understand the interrelatedness. I went into undergrad knowing I wanted to be a city planner because I loved learning about buildings and architecture and the history of places. Most importantly, I wanted the ability to understand why metropolitan areas looked the way they did, and the ability to make positive changes.”
Brian worked for a small, employee-owned planning firm in Michigan before moving to Loudoun County, Virginia. “It was a ‘jack of all trades, master of none,’ kind of job. I wrote comprehensive plans, zoning ordinances, grant applications, recreation plans, staff reports—all of it. I worked all over Michigan and really enjoyed the diversity of assignments that comes with being in the private sector.”
At Loudoun County Government, he evaluated land development applications specifically in the zoning division, and now supervises a team of professional planners dedicated to customer service. “I work with amazingly talented people. And Loudoun County has been a challenging and an exciting place to be a planner. It’s remarkable to see all the change and yet the quality of life is still maintained over time. There is so much to be proud of here.”
Brian has a planning degree from Michigan State University and a MPA from George Mason University.
He likes living in Loudoun County for the high-quality neighborhoods, connected non-motorized infrastructure, and farm winery scene. He lives in Leesburg with his two dogs, Parker and Miss Edie.
Michael J. Salgueiro
This past May, I graduated with master’s degrees in Urban and Environmental Planning and Public Policy from the University of Virginia. While the degree programs were slightly disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, my experiences in these programs provided me with a solid base for contributing to the issues I care most about professionally.
I am currently working as a Research Programs Manager at The Equity Center, A UVA Democracy Initiative Center for the Redress of Inequity through Community-Engaged Scholarship. Much of my time is spent working on projects related to the Equity Center’s Democratization of Data Initiative, an initiative which centers community-driven partnerships to provide advocates as well as civic-and private-sector leaders with data and metrics, contextualized analysis, interactive maps and data visualizations, and narrative storytelling as a resource in pursuit of socioeconomic and racial equity throughout the Charlottesville region. In my day-to-day work, I help to build out and staff Advisory Committees made up of community-based partners that will direct and govern the research and practice conducted by Equity Center faculty and staff. I also conduct qualitative research and stakeholder analyses that inform these projects. Ongoing projects relate to digitally mapping and analyzing evictions, climate justice issues, and government accountability throughout the Commonwealth.
More broadly, my professional interests lie in pushing anchor institutions, like the University of Virginia, and the field of community development finance to consider approaches for resourcing historically marginalized groups in ways that produce redress of past harms, repair, and progress toward goals specifically identified by these groups. Innovations being developed at the Equity Center in community-engaged scholarship are providing communities with opportunities to build advocacy capacity and hold those in power to account. And CDFIs (Community Development Financial Institutions) have an important role to play in providing frontline communities with access to public and private resources that will generate dignified, place-based investments. I’ve seen that work take place in Charlottesville, and I’m excited to see how these institutions can serve as catalysts for, versus impediments to, progress on important social and environmental issues in our built environments. As an urban planner by training, I hope I can meaningfully contribute to these efforts and build a better future for communities in the Commonwealth.
To learn more about UVA's Equity Center, please visit https://virginiaequitycenter.org/