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!
This month's member spotlight is APA VA/ Virginia Tech's inaugural Community Scholar fellow. Laura Castro hails from the west coast but has given the right coast a try. This fellowship will help her pursue a Master's in Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) at Virginia Tech - NOVA Campus. Learn about how she found planning (I'm sure we can all relate) and what she hopes to gain from her degree. If you or know of someone who is interested in being in a future member spotlight, please reach out to me, Robert Narvaez, AICP at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"During my undergraduate career at the University of California, San Diego, out of curiosity, I took urban planning courses which eventually led to me declaring my major in urban studies and planning. I took a course to learn how to use ArcGIS and I was assigned a task to download data and apply it to a real-world situation. I decided to study the community I grew up in made of predominantly immigrant and low-income residents in San Diego. I realized how powerful the application of data could be to help explore and solve issues in communities. This realization led me to want to pursue a career in urban planning and learn how to use data to address social inequities in the field.
I am currently pursuing my master's degree in Urban and Regional Planning for Virginia Tech at the Arlington campus. I wanted to broaden my skillset and take classes to learn about fields within urban planning that I may not be familiar with to broaden my perspective. Concurrently, I work part-time for Arlington County analyzing data for the Vision Zero program. It is incredibly rewarding to be supporting a transportation initiative that aims to save lives and creates safety measures for all road users, especially the most vulnerable ones such as pedestrians and cyclists.
This year I had the opportunity to attend the annual APA Virginia Conference back in October where I was recognized as the VT Community Scholar. It was my first time attending an APA conference and I hope to be more involved in the APA community and attend more conferences in the future. It was an overall great experience to be surrounded by leaders who aim to make their communities a better place to live in.
As a young planner, I am excited about the future of urban planning. It is a rewarding career to be in and I am taking every opportunity I can to learn how to be an effective leader in the field."
November’s member spotlight focuses on a Native Washingtonian working for the City of Alexandria for over 25 years! Marlo Ford, AICP brings her personal experiences growing up in Washington DC and how that led her to find planning, what is needed for BIPOC planners to succeed and how she answers the question, "What is Urban and Regional Planning?". Learn more about her below. If you or know of someone who would like to be featured in future member spotlights, please reach out to Robert Narvaez, AICP at email@example.com.
"Hello, my name is Marlo Ford, and I am a true native Washingtonian.
I was born in Washington, D.C. as were my grandparents and great grandparents; so, I have had the pleasure of listening to many stories about changes in the region from housing to the racial makeup. Growing up, I was very interested in how my family was moving around the segregated District from one area to another. My maternal grandparents lived in the Capitol Hill neighborhood but when my mother was in junior high school, my grandparents decided to move to the “suburbs” of Washington DC. They had the opportunity to buy a house in Southeast Washington which had vibrant businesses, restaurants, and parks. Now, the Capitol Hill neighborhood is a majority White, and Southeast is more than 90% minority. But even that is changing again as demographics in the area continuously shift.
I completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Maryland in 1991. At the time, I thought I wanted to be a business major but discovered a major titled “Urban Studies” that appealed to me. Because of the fascinating stories told to me by family about the history of this region, I figured I’d take a class to learn more. There I discovered a major that encompassed many aspects of learning that really interested me.
During my time at the University of Maryland, I took classes with Professor Melvin Levin, who was President of the American Institute of Certified Planners from 1986 to 1988 and formally the Director of Urban Studies at Boston University and the Chairman for the Department of Urban Planning and Policy for Rutgers University. He brought a wealth of knowledge about urban cities and the challenges that were facing them in the 80s. At the time, the Urban Studies program was located under Social Sciences where you obtained a Bachelor in Arts. Now, it’s located under the School of Architecture and now a Bachelor of Science. This exemplifies how the major is changing how people perceive the field of urban studies.
Another fond memory I have is my government class taught by Parris Glendening, the County Executive for Prince George’s County at the time. He was the first person who I remember at that level of government who advocated for the redevelopment of the inner core of the Beltway area and was anti-sprawl. He articulated what it meant for the expanding infrastructure and spoke clearly about how sprawl would leave older communities in a challenging circumstance. He also spoke about the impact the sprawl would have in the rural areas of Prince George’s County. This interested me because my great aunt lived in what was called Croom, Maryland where tobacco used to be grown and harvested. Mr. Glendening went on to become Governor of Maryland and I would find eventually find myself at the school where he received his master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning…Florida State University.
My time at Florida State University gave me an early view of the many challenges we face in bringing minorities into the planning profession. I was one of three Black students and the only Black female accepted into the master’s program in 1993. My professional journey had many challenges and unfortunately, I still see those today with young minorities entering the field. I made it my mission to share my experience with anyone who needed mentoring, but in particular, women and minorities. I have learned that the same level of mentoring and opportunities for internships is lacking now just as it was for me back in the 1990s. This concerns me as we need more mentoring and solid internships to nurture the development of these up-and-coming professionals.
I have now entered my 25th year with the City of Alexandria Department of Planning and Zoning and have worked with some really great people. I have seen and witnessed the changes in this city. I have worked with integrity and have always taken time to patiently guide people who may not understand the planning process. Over the last two years, I have expanded my knowledge by taking classes in Emergency Management. I had the great opportunity to work with that Department for a six-month stint and again during COVID-19 as part of the disaster response team. One major project I headed was identifying critical infrastructure for the city. This was part of a larger project being carried out throughout the entire National Capital Region. Some of these critical infrastructure locations were approved through the development process. When this area found itself in the middle of the unrest last year, these same buildings that housed certain government functions became a concern for other agencies. This began to show the interrelatedness of planning and other fields in our lives.
I could say more but this is how I will end my little story. When I was an undergraduate, my parents could not comprehend what my major was and why I was studying “Urban Studies”. When I would tell people I was going to graduate school, people would ask, “What is Urban and Regional Planning?” After 25 years of working in planning, my answer is as follows, “Planning is the built and the unbuilt environment. It is not only your neighborhood and your roads, but it is your schools, your police and fire departments. It is your parks and your waterways; it is also the areas of natural vegetation. Planning is, in fact your everyday experience in the world around you.”
Irayda Ruiz Bode
October’s member spotlight is a little different from the previous. Irayda Ruiz Bode, AICP brings her personal experiences growing up in Guatemala and incorporates inclusion principles into her professional life. While technically not a current APA VA member, she has strong roots in APA VA and continues to actively participate at the National APA and in international planning. Learn more about her below. If you or know of someone who would like to be featured in future member spotlights, please reach out to Robert Narvaez, AICP at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"I was born and raised in Guatemala City, after graduating from the University of San Carlos (1996), and moved to Virginia to pursue my Master's degree in Urban and Regional Planning from Virginia Commonwealth University (2002), obtained the certification of the American Institute of Planners (AICP) in 2004. Throughout my professional career, I have joined trans-disciplinary and multicultural teams having successfully worked in collaboration with public and private institutions in the United States, Latin America and Caribbean.
I joined APA when I was a student in 2000. My interest and involvement in seeking inclusion has been present in my life and professional career since the beginning. I became actively involved with APA VA Chapter soon after I graduated in 2002, I had the honor of serving as Tidewater Section Chair when Denise Harris was president. Around that time, I attended the first Diversity Summit held at the National Planning Conference in Washington, DC in 2004. After the Summit, Denise encouraged me to apply to obtain a grant from APA National to create the basis to establish the Ethnic and Cultural Committee (ECDC, now Diversity and Inclusion Committee) for the APA VA chapter. Around that time only NY had one, so I used their experience as a basis but soon with the contributions of other colleagues such as Joseph Curtis, Nicolle Thompson and Leon Hughes.
This group added numerous programs from becoming ambassadors, to organizing diversity breakfast and including keynote speakers at the chapter conferences, all great opportunities to promote planning practice and recognize that there is value in seeking inclusion and celebrating our differences.
I shall recognize that I had great mentors and enablers when I worked as an intern in James City County where Allen Murphy (AICP) and Don Davis supported first incursions in the planning world.
My first formal job as City Planner was in Hampton, Virginia where I had the opportunity of joining the comprehensive plan team led by Keith Cannady (AICP) and Terry O’Neill (AICP) as Planning Director in 2002. I shall recognize the positive environment created by the City of Hampton and the genuine interest in supporting and embracing inclusion through clever programs such as the Youth Planners and the Citizens Unity Commission.
In 2004, had the privilege of becoming one of the founders of the Latino Planners Division of the American Planning Association, due to family reasons I left the Virginia in 2007 and returned to Guatemala where I joined the Center for Urban and Regional Studies at University of San Carlos and had the opportunity of conducted research and wrote a book about the impacts of transnational communities migrating from Guatemala to the US. The focus was on recreation facilities, specifically soccer fields.
When I returned to the US, but this time I lived in New Orleans, LA I was elected to serve as a APA LA Board member from 2008 to 2010, having the honor of being the first woman of Hispanic origin to serve in that capacity.
In 2010, I returned to Guatemala and became a founding member of the Guatemalan Association of Urban and Territorial Planners, Creamos Guate where I served as its president from 2017-2019. Since 2019, I serve as a Board Member of the Iberoamerican Federation of Urbanists (FIU).
In 2008, I created Ruiz Bode Consulting, our firm provides a participatory design process for planning, construction and management of public infrastructure, applying resilient, participatory and sustainable practices in urban and rural communities. Our international consulting focus I provide technical assistance in applying and adapting design standards to ensure environmental and cultural pertinence of planning, design and project implementation processes, while developing municipal capacity to enhance community assets.
Our contracts included working for the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) managing post-disaster reconstruction and affordable housing projects in Suriname, Panama, Costa Rica, Belize, Honduras and Guatemala, and with the World Bank in Argentina, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Nicaragua and Tajikistan."
"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
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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