Welcome to Monthly Planner March 2021
Bright Spot In My Day: From the Planning Director
A year ago, like many of your organizations, the operations of the Planning & Development Department changed. Work from home, virtual meetings and telephone conference calls became the standard almost overnight. I am unapologetically proud of how we managed the transition.
Unlike far too many businesses in Houston, we did not suffer the crushing blow of the sudden disappearance of customers and sales. Our workload has continued, unabated. For example, in a year-over-year comparison of February (2020 and 2021), both the number of plat applications submitted and the number of lots they will create is higher than last year. The average number of plats each of our development services planners handled in a two-week cycle this past year is 12.3, some cycles that number jumped to 14, higher than the 11 that is the recommended number.
We also continue to review record high numbers of building permit site plans, conduct virtual meeting with members of our Complete Community support teams, coordinate with our partners on public services ranging from transportation planning to housing and maintain the overall city-wide GIS system. And, our administrative functions, such as keeping our personnel organization filled with smart, energetic and creative staff. Surprisingly, more than 20% of our team joined us since work-from-home began – many of them have never met their co-workers in person.
This is an amazing team and I am proud to lead it.
Margaret Wallace Brown, A.I.C.P. Director, Planning and Development Department
Abraham Zorrilla Unites Houston Communities One Step at a Time
Some people have a special gift that brings people together, whether through their words or actions. Abraham Zorrilla has the gift of action, and he has the moves to prove it. For several years he’s been performing a variety of Latin dance forms, from Rumba, Zamba, Tango, Flamenco, Cha-Cha walks and many others. Through dance, Abraham was able to connect to others and learn about their cultures.
“Every country has their own folkloric dances,” Zorrilla said. “If I see somebody doing a step, I’m able to copy it. It’s a way to make friends in Houston. I was able to interact with people from different communities.”
This ability to observe and respond is key to working with diverse groups of people. Dancing is a collaborative process after all. Zorrilla brings this collaborative spirit to working with community residents, building trust and taking the steps necessary to help guide the projects that improve their neighborhoods.
Zorrilla grew up in Peru and moved to the United States at age 18 to attend college. After working in retirement planning, he was inspired to change careers from financial services to urban planning and environmental policy. On a return visit to Peru, he observed the economic growth that was taking place there, but also the growing inequities in Peru’s cities.
“I was curious about what I could do to make a change, and I learned about urban planning,” Zorrilla said.
After returning to college here in Houston he decided to pursue a master’s degree in Urban Planning and Environmental Policy. When Zorrilla joined the Planning and Development team in 2015, he had a more technical role focused on building lines and lot sizes, but he soon took on new responsibilities. His ability to read, write and speak Spanish enabled him to serve as the resident Spanish interpreter and translator for the Community and Regional Planning Division.
Before long, Zorrilla became a Complete Communities planner for multiple neighborhoods, starting with Gulfton and Alief-Westwood and now he serves as lead planner for Second Ward and Magnolia Park-Manchester. His role is one of building trust and listening to the residents of these neighborhoods.
“Abraham is dedicated to helping people,” said Planner Manager Lynn Henson. “His world view helps shape the work he does in the city’s communities. I am elated to have him in our division!”
Zorrilla encourages residents to take an active role in making improvements and making their wishes known. He has proven to residents that their participation can have a direct impact on their neighborhoods by implementing the projects that help to improve their quality of life.
“I like the interaction. I always love the diversity and dealing with people from different backgrounds,” he said. “You can make a difference by hearing their concerns and actually build solutions into future projects.”
One of his biggest challenges is establishing rapport with the residents. They’re often skeptical of outside motivations and don’t always trust government representatives to have their best interests at heart. Zorrilla takes a patient approach to build the relationship and lines of communication. Over time, he’s able to see the shift in attitudes.
“You can see people become more active with the projects and with the city, and that’s exciting.”
Sometimes, working with the community can be a challenge, and it takes the right choreography to make it work. It’s a slow process to engage, motivate and draft plans that will benefit the neighborhood. Thankfully, Abraham knows the right moves to make his community relationships a success.
Article by Eddy Roberts