Meet our 2023-2024 Division Scholars

Introducing Andrea Cruz Mejía and Jamie Zerillo

Our Division Scholars Program promotes career development for emerging professionals in urban design and historic preservation by providing an opportunity to network with experienced practitioners and contribute to Division outreach and research initiatives. Jamie Zerillo of the University of Florida is our Division's Historic Preservation Scholar. Andrea Cruz Mejía of the University of Texas-Austin is our Design-Preservation Rapid Assistance Team (D-PRAT) Scholar, made possible through an APA Divisions Council Product Development grant.

Learn more about our new scholars' backgrounds, interests, and contributions to our division's program initiatives. We asked Jamie and Andrea to interview each other.


Meet Jamie Zerillo

Historic Preservation Scholar Jamie Zerillo

Andrea interviews Jamie

Andrea: What are you focusing on right now in school/work?

Jamie: In school (University of Florida, Master of Urban and Regional Planning program), I am currently in my first year, so I have not specialized academically yet. Though, I am interested in the intersection of transportation planning and historic preservation, particularly in the broader sense of how urban form can be used to complement transportation planning objectives. I am particularly fascinated by cities whose historical cores have remained intact and the challenges and benefits this affords to transit. I work in a transportation planning firm as a planner. I am usually responsible for a variety of tasks, ranging from design to data analysis and writing.

Andrea: What are you currently working on for the Division?

Jamie: Currently, we are working on looking into the process of updating the division’s policy guide for historic resources. As of writing this, the most recent update to the policy was in 1997, meaning that many modern challenges and opportunities are not included. Some major areas of emphasis we hope to look into are equity, sustainability, and housing. For equity, we hope to look into how all people’s histories can be represented in historic preservation and what policy recommendations are needed to encourage that. For sustainability, we hope to emphasize ways in which historic resources can enhance overall environmental and sustainability goals. In addition, we hope to include recommendations that help to mitigate the damage to historic resources during natural disasters and weather events.

Andrea: What is the main challenge of balancing historic preservation policies and other city needs?

Jamie: A major challenge of balancing historic preservation with other city needs is the perception of historic preservation and how it has been used in the past. Often our first inclination is that a current problem needs a new solution. Many times, the existing resources or techniques we have can help to solve this issue. Housing and urban design are two areas in particular, especially when considering the missing forms of historic housing that are absent in many places in the United States. Housing forms such as duplexes, triplexes, and quadplexes are common in historic cities such as Charleston or Boston but less so in ‘newer’ municipalities. These are all examples of compatible, historic density. Another example might be sustainability, where often we consider a new building to be more sustainable; we might not be considering the amount of energy and resources we use to demolish a building that could be adaptively reused.

Andrea: What is your favorite hobby and why? Or what are your hobbies?

Jamie: Outside of planning, I am an avid runner and love to ride my bicycle around Savannah. I also enjoy playing the guitar, spending time outside in nature (particularly around Georgia’s beautiful sea islands), and reading. Particularly, I love to read any type of historical fiction.

Andrea: How did you get introduced to urban planning, and what made you interested in it?

Jamie: I was first introduced to urban planning in my undergraduate historic preservation classes. Though most of my education in historic preservation was focused on architecture and site-specific design, we had several classes that focused on urban form and spatial planning. I became interested in understanding how the physical urban form of a city impacted how communities functioned. After graduation, I worked for a local municipal planning agency and learned just how wide the field of urban planning was. I find the thing that keeps me most interested in planning is how diverse each day is. Even within a specialized practice, I have days where I could be focusing on data analysis, public participation, or design work.


Meet Andrea Cruz Mejía

D-PRAT Scholar Andrea Cruz Mejía

Jamie interviews Andrea

Jamie: What do you believe makes a good public space?

Andrea: Public parks in urban settings serve multifaceted roles. I have admired the definition of public space by Jan Gehl, who expressed that it encompasses the full spectrum of human activities, the necessity, the optional, and the social behavior within the city. I think that the public spaces within cities must be designed not only to provide a physical location for communal engagement but also to facilitate the fostering of connections among residents. Also, I can define a good public space as one that cultivates a profound sense of belonging among communities, achieved through the provision of programming aimed at offering happiness and overall well-being. I believe that a well-designed public space should always uphold principles of equity, ensuring accessibility to all strata of the population, irrespective of demographic or socioeconomic attributes. Public spaces play an integral role in bolstering urban health, constituting a key component of the broader concept of community resilience. This is why it is crucial that these spaces remain accessible to all, as they play a fundamental role in promoting physical health, mental well-being, and social cohesion within the urban landscape. I will finish by saying that they should always embody and celebrate the local culture that offers a sense of safety, nurtures a profound sense of belonging, and contributes to the very fabric of daily life within the community.

Jamie: What made you decide to specialize in the area you chose?

Andrea: During my undergraduate studies, I did my undergraduate studies as an architect and urbanist abroad at the University of São Paulo. I feel that during my time in the architecture realm, I started to become more curious about the challenges on a city scale. During those five years, I was fortunate to be exposed to different cities around Brazil, and other South America and Central America countries. My constant exposure to the vibrant city of São Paulo made me develop my sensitivity toward the complex process of urban development in collaboration with communities. During my senior year in Architecture, I developed a thesis in Puerto Cortes in Honduras. My home country. It was where I discovered my passion for bridging policies and design values. This experience impacted my professional aspirations, leading me to shift my focus from designing on a small scale to a more holistic approach. I felt I needed to learn and experience more, so I came to Austin to do my dual master's degree in Urban Planning at the University of Texas to learn skills in designing on an urban scale and policymaking.

Jamie: What advice do you have for planners interested in urban design and public engagement?

Andrea: I feel that in the world of urban design, a dominant guiding principle should be the solid consideration of community input. I believe that the fundamental job of an urban planner revolves around the role of shaping urban environments and aiding communities in their need to adapt to evolving urban landscapes, thereby fostering the development and revitalization of the urban place. This is the reason why it is so essential for us, urban planners, to acquire a deep understanding of the unique needs and priorities of a particular community within an urban locale. This can deeply aid us in offering correct and better outcomes, as it facilitates a responsive approach to the resident's needs. Public engagement is challenging and time-intensive but is an indispensable part of the process of building cities. Nevertheless, identifying and implementing effective methodologies for community input collection can facilitate collaboration with an urban agenda. I do not know if this is good advice, but I have discovered it in my path of studying Regional Planning and Urban Design.

Jamie: What are you currently working on for the Division?

Andrea: I am currently actively engaged in the D-PRAT project. This year, the project will be in North Miami, where we will collaborate with the city to help them achieve their urban planning goals. Within our team, I am taking a lead role in coordinating the planning of in-person workshops and community meetings. At the moment, I am collecting information about North Miami and generating informative maps to facilitate the participation of volunteers in our upcoming on-site workshops. I have found interesting meetings with the city officials to start the conversation and gain a deeper understanding of their specific needs and expectations and how we can best assist them. The visit to North Miami is important, as it provides a unique opportunity to engage directly with the community and gain a more profound insight into their requirements. While working from remote 2D or 3D maps has challenges, these in-person workshops will prove invaluable. As I mentioned before, public engagement is key to achieving ideal outcomes. Also, I look forward to collaborating with diverse team members and volunteers, each with unique areas of expertise. Despite our geographical dispersion across the United States, we share a common goal – to aid North Miami in achieving its objectives and fulfilling its needs. The upcoming two days will demand intense effort, but I am excited about the experience and the prospect of translating community input into tangible design solutions for the city.

Jamie: Do you have any interests or hobbies outside of planning?

Andrea: I enjoy a good morning run. I also enjoy other physical activities such as Yoga, Pilates, and Basketball. Another of my hobbies is experimenting with diverse culinary recipes to try new things. I love to hang out with friends, and I have a particular liking for doing open-space activities, like hiking. However, if I were to identify my most beloved hobby, it would undoubtedly be preparing coffee or tea (depending on the time of the day), followed by watching a TV show or a movie.