Healthy Communities Planner — Miguel A. Vazquez, AICP

My Career Journey as a Planner

Miguel A. Vazquez, AICP

Miguel A. Vazquez, AICP

I currently serve as the Healthy Communities Planner for the Riverside University Health System-Public Health (RUHS-PH) (formerly known as Riverside County Department of Public Health) in California. Our work directly impacts the quality of life of 2.2 million people living in 28 cities and the unincorporated area of Riverside County. For the past five years, my leadership role has focused on the integration of planning and health through policy, programs and outreach.

The words that I think would describe me best are curious, creative and entrepreneurial. I enjoy learning new concepts, formulating questions and investigating, but above all, solving problems through idea generation.

This inclination has been quite useful through my journey as an urban planner. Although I consider myself a generalist, I'm more intimately versed with land use, environmental planning, healthy communities, urban design and community engagement.

I am also a sporadic, hybrid artist. I mainly work with photography and mixed media; my inspiration is drawn from my profession and from observing interactions between people and places. I dream up new approaches for solving challenging problems such as the use of art to communicate complex planning concepts.

My ultimate dream is that everyone on the planet is aware about the power of planning and that people use such knowledge towards creating a more equitable decision-making process, particularly in communities where access to resources and opportunities are scarce.

I am very happy to say that my current position is my dream job. The funny thing is that it was probably the first one of its kind in California: a planner working for the health department. To date, other health departments in California have created similar positions. With full confidence, I can say that the most important reason I got the job was because I had created great professional relationships with colleagues who knew not only my skills, but also my passions. They ultimately recommended me for the position. I will also say that having my AICP certification added tremendous value to my resume. AICP certification demonstrates that although I don't have a Master's degree, my body of work, knowledge and ethics are aligned to the highest standard in the profession.

There have been major turning points in my career; bad ones and good ones, including being laid off twice and almost capturing a prestigious fellowship at Harvard University. What I've learned from my experiences is that the process can be more important than the outcome. In other words, how you react to a particular situation, your attitude is what can bring you down or make you stronger. In my case, I've learned to take the punches with a smile; the great value of pushing the envelope and taking calculated risks towards a more just society.

Whatever I have accomplished is not confined to my own doing. At every step of the way, someone has been there for me: my growth champions. They are the people who have gone out their way to teach me, mentor me, encourage me and to validate that my ideas and dreams are not the ones of a maniac. Instead, they are the ones of someone who could be described as visionary and creative.

I can name as the most important growth champion, a great planner who is no longer with us: Betty Croly, FAICP. She is the one who introduced me early on to the American Planning Association (APA), the Chapters and the California Section and who encouraged me to get involved.

Today, I serve as an APA Ambassador, I am part of the APA Diversity Task Force, I was part of the AICP Certified Urban Designer Job Analysis Task Force, I'm a Board member at the APA Inland Empire Section, I was elected as a member of the California Planning Roundtable, my work has been recognized with various awards at the local and state level. More recently, Mary Means, a nationally recognized urban design and preservation expert, who I met through APA, nominated me for the Loeb Fellowship, because she believed in my potential. Although I did not get the fellowship, it is still a great honor being named as finalist and I am extremely grateful for that.

APA membership has been the best investment I had made as a professional planner because it has offered me with opportunities I didn't even know existed, to stay active, connected with other great minds and to stay fully aware about the wide range of positive impacts planning can do for our communities.

If I could offer any advice to someone considering a career in planning, I would not hesitate to tell them to go for it. It is a very powerful profession that has many applications in the areas of economics, environment and social issues. Planners in general are paid well, there is career advancement or you can combine it with entrepreneurial skills to craft your own destiny. Most importantly, in my view, most planners are caring, optimistic, creative problem solvers and an important link in our communities' decision-making process.

Lastly, I am proud that as a planner, I'm always looking for opportunities to tell everyone about what planning is, what planners do and how equitable planning can improve quality of life.

You can contact Miguel: mavurbanplanning@gmail.com

Listen to His Journey

APA's Career Services Manager Bobbie Albrecht interviews Miguel Vazquez, AICP, on his planning career path, including advice for emerging planning professionals on how to move forward within the field.

See His Career Path: A 15-Year Journey as a Planner

Resources

Riverside University Health System-Public Health

The Riverside County Health Coalition (RCHC) is a public/private partnership formed in 2009 with the mission to promote, improve and sustain social and physical environments for healthy eating behaviors and active lifestyles for wellness through policy development and advocacy, environment change and community empowerment in Riverside County California. RCHC gathers, supports and mobilizes partners from multiple domains; provides leadership and vision; and coordinates county-wide efforts in the promotion of healthier living throughout our county.

APA Ambassador Program

APA Ambassadors are active members of the American Planning Association of any age and level of experience who volunteer their time, experience, and talents to advance the public understanding of planning and promote the planning profession. Through this program, APA particularly hopes to reach future planners with diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Land Use Planning Presentation

An introduction to land use planning answering the how, what, and why. Focus on land use in California. Authored by Miguel Vasquez.

AICP Certified Urban Designer (AICP CUD)

AICP's advanced specialty certifications recognizes certified planners for their expertise and leadership in their chosen specialization. No additional membership dues are paid by members holding the new certifications. Advanced Specialty Certification in Urban Design recognizes an individual's knowledge, experience, and application of design principles.

Loeb Fellowship

Granted through Harvard University's Graduate School of Design. Loeb Fellows represent the broadest spectrum of accomplished practitioners who are influential in shaping the built and natural environment and whose work advances positive social outcomes.

Land Use Planning Awareness Project

Land Use Planning Awareness (LUPA) is a community capacity building project designed to empower communities across the eastern Coachella Valley.

The California Planning Roundtable

The California Planning Roundtable (CPR) is an organization of experienced planning professionals who are members of the American Planning Association (APA) with the mission to advance planning policy and practice through innovation and leadership. Membership is balanced between the public and private sectors and between Northern and Southern California.

APA Inland Empire Section-Diversity Program

The local conduit for planners in the Riverside-San Bernardino region to increase the community's understanding of what planning is and what planners do. In addition, this program is designed to highlight the contributions of planners who come from diverse backgrounds to the planning profession. Lastly, the program seeks to develop the next generation of diverse planners.

Diversity Forum 2012 Blog Post

Jim Schwab, FAICP addresses the question, "How do we mix art and planning to express something new and imaginative about planning?"

Art VULUPS

"Art as a Vehicle to Understand Land Use Planning and Sustainability" is the result of a 10-year assemblage of relationships encompassing geography, environmental science, land use planning, sustainability, art and creativity concepts.