This Planner’s Most Rewarding Work Was a Contentious Streetcar Project

Next City isn’t just a news website, we are a nonprofit organization with a mission to inspire social, economic and environmental change in cities. Part of how we do that is by connecting our readers to urban changemakers and holding an annual Vanguard conference bringing together 40 top young urban leaders. Gunnar Hand is a member of the 2015 Vanguard class.

Gunnar Hand

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Next City isn’t just a news website, we are a nonprofit organization with a mission to inspire social, economic and environmental change in cities. Part of how we do that is by connecting our readers to urban changemakers and holding an annual Vanguard conference bringing together 40 top young urban leaders. Gunnar Hand is a member of the 2015 Vanguard class.

Name: Gunnar Hand, AICP

Current Occupation: Senior Urban Designer at SOM Los Angeles

Hometown: Kansas City, Missouri (GO ROYALS!)

Current City: Los Angeles

Twitter Tag: @MOCK_Studio

I drink: Chai tea lattes

I get to work by: The only subway in L.A.

The area I grew up in is: A streetcar suburb without a streetcar!

What was your first job? I owned my own landscaping business starting when I was 10 years old until I was about 16. In retrospect this may have been my first foray into shaping the built or at least manmade environment.

What is your favorite city and why? Not including my hometown, I absolutely love Copenhagen. I spent a semester abroad there in college, and it taught me almost everything about what I now consider best planning practice. Those Danes are just so happy.

Did you always want to be an urban designer? When I was 12 I dressed up as a city planner for Halloween. Considering most adults don’t know what planners do, I think I have been pretty committed to it for some time.

During Next City’s Reno Vanguard conference, Hand and other 2015 Vanguards planted a rooftop garden at the Community Assistance Center. (Photo by Chris Holloman)

What is the coolest project you worked on? I was recruited by my previous employer, BNIM, to manage the streetcar expansion plan for Kansas City, Missouri. It was the hardest, most contentious and expansive project I have worked on to date, but by far the most rewarding.

What is the biggest challenge facing cities today? We are a largely socio-economically segregated society. As demographics shift and the middle class returns to urban neighborhoods, how we choose to revitalize our cities and support existing communities provides an opportunity to heal or at least begin to address decades of neglect, racism and inequity.

What makes a successful leader? Charisma and conviction balanced by sound morals. Maybe with a sprinkle of genius and imagination.

What career advice would you give an emerging urban leader? Stay on your grind and never give up. The most radical change happens in baby steps, and usually comes down to the wire.

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Tags: next city vanguard

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