Interview with Membership Director Bryan Eck
Our Membership Director, Bryan Eck, is a multi-talented urban design and planning professional currently serving as a City Planner in the City of Los Angeles, where he manages the updates to Downtown LA’s community plans.
Here’s what Bryan had to say:
What brought you into planning?
In many ways I feel as though I was born a planner, it just took me a while to realize it. I’ve always had a fascination with place – even at a young age – discovering and exploring places, internally cataloging the differences and similarities between places, and trying to understand the “hows” and “whys” of what I was experiencing in different places. As a child my prized book purchase each year from our school’s book fair was the World Almanac and Book of Facts and my favorite weekend activity was a trip to the AAA to stock up on maps. I would lay my maps out on the floor and cross reference the fun facts from the book. These interests led me to study geography in undergrad and it was through this course of study about the workings of the world that I finally found planning. It’s funny, I just had a conversation with a co-worker, another geographer turned planner, that geography is a great foray into understanding how places work but it’s through planning that you can be a part of the system and play a role in the forces that shape places. With a fascination with the world and genuine desire to make places better to improve the lives of those who live there, making the leap to planning was a natural next step for me and I haven’t looked back since.
Where did you go to school for planning, and why?
I went to graduate school at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. The reason I chose to go to school at San Luis Obispo was for the emphasis there on practical skills. With my undergraduate degree in Urban Geography, which is a field that has a lot of overlap, I felt that I already had a very solid theoretical underpinning and really wanted to develop the necessary suite of skills needed to become a city planner. The school takes a very holistic and practical approach to teaching city planning with a heavy emphasis on design and meaningful studio experience. San Luis Obispo is also a perfect laboratory to understand how planning works – it’s such a manageable scale to understand and breakdown the dynamics of planning. When I take part in studio classes at the local schools now as a planning professional, which I’ve now done at USC, UCLA, and Pomona, I’m impressed with the complex environment they have to tackle. While I think learning planning in Los Angeles affords insights into more dynamic, diverse, and rich places, I was still happy for my experience in a smaller town.
My decision to go there was also very heavily influenced by my various mentors and professional contacts as a school that would both be a good fit for me and for Cal Poly’s ability to prepare you to hit the ground running on your first day as a planning professional. Also going to school in a place like San Luis Obispo was amazing.
Why do you love Los Angeles?
There is so much to love about Los Angeles – I’m not sure I even know where to start. In addition to Los Angeles, I’ve been lucky enough to also live in New York and San Francisco – both amazing cities but I find that LA has a leg up on them for a few reasons. I’m not sure exactly what it is, but I feel that compared to those other cities Los Angeles is a more rewarding place for those willing to explore. I think that Los Angeles holds its story just beneath the surface. If you are willing to search a little you really will never get bored here. Los Angeles is also unparalleled for its diversity – diversity of culture, neighborhoods and places, food – which is incredible.
What’s something that’s happening in LA that excites you?
The continuing transformation of Downtown Los Angeles is really exciting. Just in the five years since I moved here it has changed radically. It is providing another option for how to live in the region and it’s an option that often surprises people. I love bringing people from out of town to Downtown when they visit, especially those who grew up or lived in LA at some point. They are usually floored at what they see – the historic buildings, the access to transit, bike share, places like Grand Central Market, people walking all over the place, neighborhoods like Little Tokyo or the Arts District – it’s fun to see that experience totally change their perspective of Los Angeles. And Downtown isn’t the only place in the region that can have that effect, it plays out all over Los Angeles. I am also excited about the vibrancy in the public spaces in Los Angeles and the events and programming that are filling these spaces with people. I’m in constant amazement with the sheet number of opportunities and the quality of events here, whether it’s programming at Grand Park, the countless summer concert series, Chinatown Summer Nights, CicLAvia, art walks, celebrations for the openings of new transit lines, summer outdoor movies. I think these places and events are getting people changing the idea of what Los Angeles is and helping provide a forum to meet other Angelenos and explore new neighborhoods.
What’s your favorite LA recreation activity?
Hiking. I especially like to hike in the Santa Monica Mountains, especially when it gets warmer during the summer. Of course, a post hike taco is always necessary.
Tell us about a good book for planners!
Unruly Place by Alastair Bonnett. It’s not a planning book per se, but a collection short vignettes about hidden or otherwise undiscovered places in the world. The book was a reminder to me that the world, be it the remote places of earth or your own neighborhood, is full of interest and meant to be explored.