2022 AL DÍA 40 Under Forty Honoree: Andrea Gonzalez
Andrea Gonzalez, Urban Planning Consultant at Guidehouse, will be honored during the 2022 AL DÍA 40 Under Forty event on Aug. 26.
MORE IN THIS SECTION
The third annual AL DÍA 40 Under Forty event serves to highlight and showcase some of the most diverse and impactful young professionals across the Philadelphia region.
At this year's event, taking place Friday, Aug. 26, Andrea Gonzalez will be one of the 40 honorees.
Andrea Gonzalez has made it her mission to fight for better opportunities for her community.
Born in Buffalo, NY and raised in Mexico before returning to Buffalo to pursue a degree at the University of Buffalo, Gonzalez grew up as a first-generation American, no stranger to the challenges that lower income and communities of color often experience.
In her work as an Urban Planning Consultant at Guidehouse, Gonzalez utilizes her experience and knowledge through cultural interventions and advocacy to foster development strategies and policies that result in growth and opportunities for disadvantaged groups.
She strives to become a recognized community leader as she continues to work advocating for equitable policies and funding in housing, transportation and community development.
Gonzalez is also very civically engaged, as she was recently appointed the first Latina and youngest member of Mayor Kenney’s Civic Design Review Board, where she reviews every big building projected for development in the city.
As part of the lead-up to the AL DÍA 40 Under Forty event, AL DÍA asked each of the honorees a set of identical questions and collected their responses.
Here are Andrea Gonzalez's responses:
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your professional career?
The greatest challenge I have faced in my professional career was figuring out where I fit in as a Mexican, as a woman of color and as an immigrant.
When I arrived in America at age 21 and with little understanding of American culture and language, I imagined that everything was going to be like in the movies, you know? Like with all those TV families and their big houses, jobs, friends and all of that. But soon enough I learned that those things are out of reach for most folks like me.
In order to figure out where I fit in, I had to work really really hard. It took me 11 years to go from learning English as a second language to graduating from an Ivy League institution with a Masters degree in Urban Planning; and along the journey, I saw inequalities and injustices day after day. I faced challenges that sadly, are far too common for any dreamer that dares bring their hopes and dreams to America in search for a better future.
You would think that in the 11 years I have lived in America, things have changed and that things have gotten better for immigrant communities, however through my education and my passion for community service I then learned that the inequities between affluent and impoverished communities are by design. Did you know that there are entire communities still facing the same challenges I faced 11 years ago: housing insecurity, social profiling, sub-par public education, inefficient health and social services, discriminatory policies everywhere, insufficient transportation and barriers to accessing financial services?
I think that these issues are unacceptable and thus I decided that my voice will be heard louder if I speak for my community at the table where policies are made.
My greatest challenge to this day is to remind myself that this Mexican girl from "La Prepa de Chamilpa" earned her place at the boards where I serve, at the table where at my job I currently contribute to writing the housing policy and designing the housing plans for our clients in government; and that my job now is to make sure that these new policies and plans do not further perpetuate the systems and injustices that immigrants, women and people of color have been facing for generations, so that our kids can aspire to The American Dream; that one from the movies, with houses, jobs, friends and "all of that" too.
What are steps that can be taken to improve diversity, equity and inclusion in your industry? Why is it important to do so?
While the field of urban planning is as old as the first civilizations, the knowledge and awareness of Planning as a discipline is fairly new in the US - Just a few decades old!
Meanwhile, cities have been running with outdated models and grandfathered-in policies that are overdue for updates in order to reflect and better serve its current residents.
Urban Planning, like everything in this country, is a white-male-dominated field and unfortunately, by having a monolithic composition of practicing professionals in the industry, cities everywhere are falling victims to the same mistakes. You have heard of the housing crisis, the opioid crisis, the climate crisis, right? These problems are not exclusive to Philadelphia. They are happening everywhere and while there are many factors at work, the policies that we have currently in place have enabled these issues and change cannot wait.
Recruiting, fostering and involving women and people of diverse backgrounds, origins and experiences in our City's public life, either as politicians, as activists, community leaders and academics would lead to results and the actionable policies that our city so desperately needs!
Through my educated opinion as an Urban Planner, I can confirm that the lived experiences of women, seniors, children, and people of color deserve to be front and center where policies and urban action and interventions are being discussed, because who would know better what our city needs than its own residents? Thus, it is of primary importance that our city continues and expands community engagement efforts like The Citizens Planning School where any community member may join a "class" to learn about urban planning, economic development and how to take action to change our city.
On the other hand, it seems that the private sector and academia, are finally warming up to the idea that women and residents of all ages and backgrounds need to be as involved in planning processes as the city planners themselves; so I applaud efforts like The University of Pennsylvania's Weitzman's School of Design scholarships for diverse applicants (of which I was a full-ride recipient in 2018) to build up the pipeline of future planners with diverse lived experiences and I would encourage and hope that other schools everywhere in the country replicate these efforts and continue to support and nourish the development of a diverse professional cohort because us, we, in connection with our communities are the ones who can save the city.
What does being a leader mean to you?
Being a leader is to have a vision; to imagine change and to design a strategy for achieving it, and to find the means to make it happen. For me, a good leader must have a solid moral compass, that allows them to follow the path for greatest collective good and to involve, include and uplift the people, places, businesses around them.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
5 years from now, I will be a well established and recognized voice of authority in community planning representing the interests of the Hispanic community of Philadelphia in front of politicians, developers, and city officials. I already am, but I am just getting started. Philadelphia, wait for it, because all 40 honorees here are coming in the next 5 years to take positions of leadership in the public and private sector where we will change our industries and city from within towards better representation, better services and better outcomes for the communities we represent.
The 2022 AL DÍA 40 Under Forty event will take place Friday, Aug. 26 at The Vie at Cescaphe. To learn more or purchase your ticket, click here.