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Empowering Underserved Communities

Hugo Agosto
Master of Urban and Regional Planning
2020
Portland State University

Why did you choose to pursue a graduate education in planning?

I am driven by the desire to see my community thrive. As a first-generation Latinx, I want everyone to have a voice and equitable access to resources. I decided to pursue planning during my service with AmeriCorps as a Community Development Coordinator for a Native Hawaiian Homestead in Honolulu. I gained valuable experience supporting communities in education, healthcare, and other culturally centered programming, but recognized I needed more technical and logistical skills to better create sustainable and effective change for the communities I wanted to support.

Many of the problems experienced within marginalized communities revolve around planning issues (affordable housing, transportation, equity by design, etc.), and representation of marginalized individuals is dismal. I drew parallels between the adversities faced within my community to similar and shared experiences in other communities. 

Indisputably, representation matters and the disconnect between decision makers and diverse communities needs to be addressed. I want to empower underserved communities to engage with the planning process, while organizing projects that would benefit them in the most positive and equitable manner. 

What aspects of your program do you like best?

I enjoy the program’s focus on equity and sustainability. I believe these two concepts are extremely important centerpieces for planners in the 21st century. My program has masterfully fused these concepts into the curriculum and has exhibited the importance of constantly working within this framework. I’ve been able to apply these lessons to real world situations and projects that have had an impact on the local community. 

The faculty have been extremely supportive in my professional development, constantly making space for me to engage and expand my knowledge. There is a strong sense of community within the program, which allows me to display my strengths and learn from others. 

What planning subject or area most interests you?

Affordable housing is my passion! Housing is a fundamental right, and everyone is entitled to a quality and safe space. When my family immigrated from Mexico seeking opportunity and stability, we struggled to secure stable housing due to very limited affordable options. This narrative extends to other vulnerable communities that are also marginalized or low-income. Housing is one of the most fundamental necessities for survival, and experiencing housing insecurity has fueled my desire to ensure that people can reasonably obtain a space that can eventually become a home. 

What advice would you offer someone considering a master’s degree in planning?

Find a program that supports your passion, and develops the skills necessary to support these goals after graduation. It’s important to find a program that allows for specialization but also contains diversity within its curriculum, because that sets the tone for future innovation. Graduate school is your time to focus on yourself and future professional endeavors. 

What do you hope to do after completing your degree?

I will return to Mexico and pursue a career in affordable housing policy and development. My goal is to ensure that impoverished and marginalized communities within my country have a voice in the future development and longevity of their space. I am very fortunate for what my family sacrificed for me, but immigration should be based on choice rather than survival.

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