Staff Spotlight: Danielle Gerlach
Danielle was born and raised in Michigan, first in a suburb of Detroit, then in a small rural community in Mid-Michigan. She attended Michigan State University, where she found her passion in urban planning during her third year. After trying her hand in different planning facets (and locations), Danielle found herself in AmeriCorps, which led her to Indianapolis, which she now calls home. Here's some Q&A so you can get to know her better:
Where did you grow up? How would you describe it?
I was born in southeast Michigan but moved to Perry, a small farming community, which was a huge change from the Metro Detroit area.
I am most happy outside: I play soccer and volleyball and I have a passion for hiking and camping. I also dabble in nature photography.
I have three dogs: a flat-coated retriever, Cheyenne; a whippet/springer spaniel, Monty; and a brittany shepherd, Tolbie. I guess another hobby would be rescuing and caring for dogs.
Who is your favorite author? Why?
Maya Angelou and George Orwell – I just love their work.
Where is your favorite place to visit or vacation?
Growing up, I spent as much time as I could at my "up north" in Tawas City, on the east side of Michigan. We have property up there with about 40 acres of meadows and woods. I also really enjoy the Smoky Mountains, particularly Cades Cove. During my first hike in the Smokies, we climbed to the top of Abrams Falls. It is definitely one of the most beautiful and serene places that I have ever been.
When did you first realize that you were interested in planning?
While I should have known through my addiction to Sim City as a kid, I happened upon planning by accident. I secured a position with the Michigan Department of Transportation as a Student Assistant. I was studying something else at the time, but was not enjoying it. I asked the planners about their work and took an introductory planning class. The rest is history! I found something I was passionate about: planning.
What do you think is the most underappreciated aspect of planning?
The most underappreciated aspect, in my opinion, is the data used for planning – both quantitative and qualitative.
What do you think is the most important recent trend in planning? Why?
Taking back public spaces to use, such as roads. Some of the roads have been closed off to support dining and gathering outside. I think this is great and should have been happening even before distancing guidelines. I hope they stay and more pedestrian-only spaces become more prevalent.
Where did you first use public transit?
The first time I traveled to Chicago, which was with my Girl Scout troop, we took the Amtrak train to the city from southeast Michigan and utilized the public transit system while we were in the city. It was quite a shock leaving a car-centric city and then using public transportation.
In your experience, what is the best-planned city in America? Why?
I don’t think there is a “best-planned” city. I say this because planning should be centered around the needs and desires of the people in said community. Because of that, no community can really be the best. I also couldn’t pick a favorite, since there are so many different things that I love about each city I have been to.
If you could wave a wand and magically improve one aspect of Central Indiana infrastructure, what would you do? Why?
Similarly to the important trend, I would add more pedestrian-only spaces and get rid of all this parking! Improve the public transportation system, make more desirable pedestrian spaces, and program the spaces.
If you could go back in time and change one thing about the way Indianapolis has grown over the years, what would you change? Why?
I would go back to when redlining was a regular practice. It is/was unethical and led to problems that are still an issue today and will continue to be an on-going battle. I believe in fair and equitable planning and it saddens me to realize how redlining continues to impact marginalized populations.