By Rekaya Gibson
While working as a planner for Pompano Beach, Florida, Gisla Augustin stumbled across Michael Ford's Hip Hop Architecture Camp, a national program that teaches underrepresented youth about architecture and urban design. It sparked her own idea to help increase Black representation in planning, something she'd noticed was lacking throughout her education and career.
In 2018, she launched two successful workshops under the umbrella of a new business, Gigi the Planner. A few months later, she started offering career coaching after seeing how many people struggled with finding work in planning after getting their degrees. She wanted to help people, especially other Black planners, with that transitional phase.
Two years later, Gigi the Planner is still going strong. In March, Augustin kicked off her latest offering: The Urban Planner's Podcast. Each week, she engages in candid conversations with planners and planning students about the field and their experiences, all with the goal of providing representation and a safe space for Black planners. Here's what she had to say about the journey thus far.
What is the podcast about?
Basically, it's a podcast talking about all things planning. I interview predominantly people of color, but other people as well, of course.
What are you hoping to accomplish with the podcast?
I think we as Black planners should speak up about things we are going through, like racism. There are not a lot of Black planners in the world of planning — I want to see them progress in the field. The statement behind my platform is to increase the number of Black planners.
My platform is also about educating and career coaching. I provide a lot of segments related to educating students and giving them tips and feedback on how to progress within the planning field.
"I think we as Black planners should speak up about things we are going through, like racism. There are not a lot of Black planners in the world of planning — I want to see them progress in the field."
— Gisla Augustin, Host of The Urban Planner's Podcast
My other goal is to bring more awareness to the planning field. When I tell people I'm a planner, they think I'm an event planner. I'm trying to spread awareness about what we do. Planning impacts our communities and everyday life, so I think it is important for people to understand. I let them know this is a profession that you can go into to help make change in your community.
Have any of your interviews changed your perspective about the field?
I interviewed APA Past President Mitch Silver, FAICP. He was the first Black APA president and operates the parks in New York City. [Editor's note: Silver is currently the AICP Commission president elect.] He told me, "Parks are for all, even the homeless." When he mentioned that, I thought it was a fresh perspective, because a lot of times we're trying to remove unhoused people from parks, but really, they're for everybody, regardless of your home status.
How has podcasting helped your career?
It's brought a larger awareness to my business, Gigi the Planner. Many people didn't know who I was prior to listening. They've gotten to know me a little more. I talk about my experiences with things that I've gone through and shed light on things that may not be talked about in the planning field.
A lot of us in this field are ostracized and we have to deal with racism. Personally, I was the only Black person in my office for years. Everybody tries to bring you in, but you never really feel like you're in the circle. I guess it's refreshing to hear other people's perspectives on how they were able to muddle through the profession as a Black planner. I'm also young — I started in this field at 18. I have to deal with customers and applicants not treating me with respect because of my age. I make sure the things you deal with in the office are talked about on my podcast.
Learn more about The Urban Planner's Podcast, including ways to listen.
Rekaya Gibson is an author living in Virginia.