By: Kevin Johnson, Planner, Alta Planning + Design
Systemic issues have led to a lack of diversity in the planning field. The injustices this has created and perpetuated are large and complex, however that doesn’t mean we as individuals and as a company don’t have a responsibility to engage with them. Alta has been working to build this into our company with our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee, among other initiatives.
What are the ways we can actually walk the talk and put our resources toward promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion? This post is about one such effort to be proactive that has actually been a lot of fun.
The initiative started as an Alta Innovation Lab project led by former Alta planner, Rodrigo Garcia-Resendiz. Rodrigo was interested in engaging with high school students from underserved communities in Los Angeles to see if he could spark an interest in the planning field at a young age.
If you are like me, urban planning wasn’t something you even knew about until well into your adult life. As a young person, the city just exists as a fact of life, not as a series of decisions made by people with names and addresses. If we could get that point across to young people, maybe they will want to study planning or be inspired and empowered to get involved in some other way.
Rodrigo was able to forge a relationship with the organization GEARUP4LA, a federally funded organization that works with first-generation, low income, minority students to prepare them for undergraduate education. GEARUP is very active in LA, so they were a natural starting point. From there, Rodrigo reached out to our alma mater, UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, to see if we could arrange for GEARUP students to visit the school.
UCLA agreed and the day was a total success. The GEARUP students heard from a panel of Luskin professors as well as a number of undergraduate and graduate students who were able to talk about their challenges and interests. The GEARUP students asked hard hitting questions such as: “What is urban planning?” After a pizza lunch, students read articles about urban planning topics and were asked to create memes about the issue with their phones. They had fun with it and created some pretty hilarious, relevant memes. UCLA also wrote up this summary of the event on their site.
Rodrigo passed me the torch to keep the program going in November 2018, and because the first event was so successful, UCLA staff and GEARUP4LA were eager to do another. UCLA also started a new undergraduate program in Public Affairs, so the timing couldn’t have been better.
For this year’s event, we organized a student panel discussion, a campus tour and trivia game, and had a poster session where the students talked about issues in their community and how they relate to public affairs. There were some amazing undergraduate students at the event who went to the same high schools the GEARUP students were visiting from. I was happy to step back as they led interesting discussions about their communities and the college experience. Read more about the event here.
I’m hoping this partnership becomes long-term and that one day we might see more of these bright young students in the planning field, representing and interfacing with their communities.
In the end, it didn’t take much work from us. It was really about using our position as a company and as individuals to make connections between organizations and facilitate meaningful discussions.