Gisla Augustin — Planner, Entrepreneur, Coach

Gisla Augustin

Headshot of Gisla Augustin.

I currently work as a planner at the City of Pompano Beach, Florida. I have been working for the City of Pompano Beach for almost seven years coming up in May 2020. Originally, I started out as a paid intern during my last semester of undergrad and continued interning there after having started my master’s degree.

After interning for a year, I was offered a promotion as a zoning technician, working there as a professional while in grad school. A couple of years later, I was then promoted to a planner position. As a planner, I predominately work on reviewing permits and site plans for zoning code compliance as well as maintaining all of the nuances surrounding those projects such as administrative adjustments, unity of titles, right-of-way abandonments, etc.

Intergenerational Challenges

Being that I graduated college at the young age of 18, I would say that planning school did not properly prepare me to jump into the field of planning because of my youthfulness as well as my lack of work experience.

I came into the office as the “child genius,” which has both its perks and problems associated with it.

Gaining the respect from your colleagues as well as building your own self-confidence in the workplace comes with time. Because of my youth, I still find myself not feeling confident in my ability but then I have to remind myself that “I know my stuff,” “I am not a newbie in this field,” and “I have worked hard to get where I have gotten in life."

To put this in greater perspective, I am also the chair of the Planning and Zoning Board of the City of West Park, the city wherein I reside. Although my desire was to become the chair at the onset, I did not believe that I was fully capable of the job even though, I, in fact, was the best candidate for the job. My lack of confidence was solely because I was only 23 years old.

Everyone else that was appointed to the board was at least twice my age with some old enough to be my grandparents. However, none of them had a planning background and after having sat on the board I realized that none of them had the experience of sitting on a board (I am also on the city’s Education Advisory Board and the Youth Council Advisory Board). Yet, even though I was only 23 years old, the other members of the Board decided to elect me as the chair, a position that I am still holding to this day.

Although I am now seven years removed from when I first started working at the City of Pompano Beach and am now a full-grown married adult and a mother, I still face intergenerational challenges. Many of my colleagues still view me as a child.

A few years ago, someone told me that they (my colleagues) will always view me as such until of course, I decide to leave. That is not always the best scenario for all. I instead would suggest that those who are in a similar position that I am in should constantly display a very mature and professional character about themselves in the workplace. Also, in order to gain respect from others, you have to demand it and they will only have to follow in line at that point. If you are a serious employee, they will take you seriously.

GiGi the Planner

Gisla Augustin is the person behind GiGi the Planner, an organization whose mission is to increase the number of black planners in America. Through workshops, mentoring, and coaching, Augustin's aim is to create greater awareness among African American students of urban planning as a career.

Entrepreneurial Mission

The mission of GiGi the Planner is about aiding the increase of black planners in the United States of America as well as being an advocate for the career of planning and bringing more awareness to the field in general.

One part of why I initially started my business is because of my own apparent desire to have black colleagues working with me.

When I first started working at the City of Pompano Beach, there was one black planner there who was actually an architect by trade but he was working in the office as an urban design planner.

After a year, he left and I was the only black planner working in my department for many years until last year when one of my good friends started working in the office. From a feeling of loneliness, an idea was sparked and the great desire to see more black planners gave rise to my efforts.

I volunteered as an APA Ambassador and had stumbled across two workshops that were being held by black architectural designers teaching and exposing black kids to the field of architecture. I thought the programs were really great and decided to start my own thing and share my excitement for the social impact that planning can spread and expose kids to planning as a field of study to consider when heading off to college.

This was how I initially started my business, by having workshops for kids teaching them about planning.

Now I have expanded to offering coaching services to those considering going to planning school, planning students, and planning professionals by giving them advice on how to maneuver within the career. More recently I have also begun to offer planner gear as a means to bring awareness to the planning field for outsiders and to educate the layman on what urban planning is all about. 

Gisla Augustin, aka GiGi the Planner. Photo courtesy Gisla Augustin.

Gisla Augustin, aka GiGi the Planner. Photo courtesy Gisla Augustin.

Advice

As an urban planning career coach, the common theme that I get from new planners and students is them wanting to know what my day-to-day job is like.

One thing I never do is paint a false facade of the field of planning. I am very candid because there were so many things that were not told me about the planning field when I was in school.

Based on that, my number one piece of advice is to get in the door or an organization whether, public, private, or nonprofit via internships or volunteering of some sort. This is especially valuable for those that are still in college so that they can get a good feel for the planning career and aid in “weeding out” what they may want to do as a planner and where they may work as a planner. 

My advice for planning students about to graduate is to apply for the AICP Candidate Pilot Program (if they have a planning-accredited degree) so that they can take the AICP Exam as soon as they graduate. If that program would have been available to me right out of college, I would have most definitely taken advantage of it especially because of the fact that many of the things that I learned in school are reflected on the AICP Exam.

Getting More Done

Managing a busy schedule is most definitely not an easy task. One of the best ways to manage so much is to get a daily planner and write out your daily tasks. The reason why I am able to accomplish so much I am because I am highly ambitious and have a lot of aspirations and dreams with one of them being a full-time entrepreneur one day. 

Look Ahead

Based on the mission of GiGi the Planner, my vision for the future of the planning profession is that it becomes more diverse with the proper representation of planners in the appropriate communities based upon the demographics of those communities.

Schools and Education

Florida Atlantic University: bachelor's in Urban Design with a minor in Geographic Information Systems (GIS); master's in Urban and Regional Planning.

Influences

My mother, Gisla Bush.

Tools

APA’s Planning magazine and Zoning Practice publications

What do you do outside of work that helps you be successful?

I center my energy on my long-term goals and envision them coming to fruition.

Influential people

My mentor, Ronne Brown, Founder/CEO of GIRL CEO Inc.