Meet the newest member of the Cal Walks team: Danny Gonzalez
Growing up in North Hollywood, I was one of the few kids walking, biking, or taking transit throughout grade school. Not being trapped in a car everyday allowed me to explore and take in the city at a pace not many in the Southland get to enjoy, and while I didn’t have the terminology to label it at the time, I experienced first-hand the inequities in transportation and the built environment everyday on my way to school.
While the origins of our built environment disparities are multifaceted and complex–enmeshed in a tangle of planning decisions, resource allocation, and ultimately, politics–the real-world outcomes of these disparities on our communities are in plain sight for all to see: entrenched social, economic, and political inequality; inequitable access to opportunity; and substandard infrastructure in our low-income communities and communities of color. Like many kids in my socioeconomic sphere, my community simply lacked active transportation infrastructure. Growing up my mom taught my brothers and I to bike on the sidewalk as the only lawful place to ride because our neighborhood lacked bike lanes. The lack of bike lanes in my neighborhood would eventually lead me to get hit by car making a right onto a residential street. Three years later, the lack of bike lanes would lead my younger brother to get hit by a speeding car. Our neighborhood also lacked safe crossings and walking infrastructure when compared to other communities–my mother has been close to being hit by a car countless times, and I have personally experienced the death of several family friends who were simply trying to exercise their right to walk in our community. While I didn’t recognize it at the time, I do now: my community–despite its residents’ socioeconomic status–deserve a safe and healthy built environment as much as wealthier and more well-off communities. And the only way to ensure that all communities have a safe and healthy built environment is by targeting resources and investments into the neighborhoods that have been neglected for so long.
I vowed to myself that as a professional I would strive to fight toward a more equitable world, which led me to pursue a B.A. in Urban Studies to best help the cities and communities like my own create a more equitable built environment for their residents. My passion for mobility and transportation led me to join transportation research projects, such as the Metro Exposition Line Perception Research Project and a Noise and Air Quality LA Metro Light Rail Transit Study where transportation, environment, and health were examined in tandem. As I continued my educational career, I felt that my program did not center itself on equity. So during my Master of Arts program, I committed myself to researching equality and representation of minority groups in community engagement practices for transportation projects, which concluded that project development and prioritization processes need to be more inclusive and transparent for all.
After grad school, I was lucky to be able to put into practice some of my research when I joined NeighborWorks Orange County, where I worked to build resident leadership in the Mini Townsend neighborhood of Santa Ana through its Community Development Block Grant. I had the opportunity to meet and work alongside residents to establish Mini Townsend Residentes, a growing group of resident leaders that organize and advocate for the Mini Townsend community. Though our project team initially wanted to focus our work with the residents on improving their poor housing conditions, residents expressed and prioritized the importance of multi-modal accessibility and safety–for them, a safe and accessible built environment was integral to their conception of “home.” This was an eye-opening experience for me and served as an important reminder that people do not live in silos, that people’s experience of safety, mobility, and accessibility are intertwined in issues of community health, environment health, and quality of life.
I’m very excited to be a part of the Cal Walks team because I will be able to continue to help communities create accessible, healthy, and safe environments for all and work toward equitable active transportation opportunities and spaces across the state.