In U.S. Another Liberian Shines, Becomes First Black Deputy Director Of Planning, Preservation And Design

Source: IndyStar

Lourenzo Giple, an architect who is Indianapolis’ first Black Deputy Director for Planning and Preservation, at Frederick Douglass Park

Indianapolis announced on Monday the hiring of the city’s deputy director of planning, preservation and design, a new position within the Department of Metropolitan Development.

Lourenzo Giple — who will be the department’s first Black deputy — will oversee the visionary, long-term projects of city development, day-to-day planning, historic preservation, transportation planning and urban design.

His work will cover everything from the preservation of historic neighborhoods and overseeing revitalization programs, to developing new strategies for architectural design and transit-oriented development. Giple will start effective immediately.

“To have the opportunity to come in and help elevate the city and make it more equitable for everyone,” Giple told IndyStar ahead of the announcement, “is something that I’m truly hopeful for.”

Lourenzo Giple, an architect who is Indianapolis’ first Black Deputy Director for Planning and Preservation, at Frederick Douglass Park, on the city’s north east side.

As an immigrant who fled civil war in Liberia and who has lived within some of Indianapolis’s lower-economic neighborhoods, Giple carries a unique perspective that allows him to understand things from multiple sides, he said.

Giple, 36, plans to use his life experience, along with his knowledge of the way laws and urban planning have historically been used to divide people, to reverse the trend and unify the city.

“How are we in Indianapolis being the best that we can (be),” Giple said. “We are trying to set the bar high for our peer cities.”

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett praised Giple’s accomplishments in a written statement to IndyStar ahead of the announcement.

“When you see Lourenzo’s accomplishments and talk with him about his passions for the profession,” Hogsett said, “it’s evident that he’s the perfect fit for this role.

“Lourenzo analyzes the built environment with a socio-economic lens that aligns with our administration’s vision for the city.”

From fleeing Liberia to growing up in Indianapolis

In 1994, Giple was asleep on the floor in his bedroom and an explosion occurred on the doorsteps of his home, shattering every window of the house.

Giple was nine years old at the time and his family had been living amid a rising civil war in Liberia. After this incident, his father decided it was time to leave.

Soon after the explosion, his father moved Giple, his three younger siblings and their mother to a safer community and began strategizing their exit from the country. Staying in Liberia was no longer an option, Giple said.

Lourenzo Giple, an architect who is Indianapolis’ first Black Deputy Director for Planning and Preservation, at Frederick Douglass Park, on the city’s north east side.

By pooling together money from the local community in Liberia and from relatives in the U.S., Giple said his dad was able to buy himself a one-way ticket to New York and then made his way to Indianapolis. He hoped to bring his family to the U.S. next, Giple said.

“I remember the night before my dad left and the conversation he had with my mom,” Giple said. “He was second-guessing if he could pull this off, but my mom reassured him he would do whatever he needs to to make it, and bring the family back together.”

Within two years, he raised enough money to fly out Giple — who was 11 at the time — and his younger siblings; their mother would not arrive until seven years later.

Giple grew up off Allisonville Road and 46th St. and, by the time he reached high school, his family settled into the Far East side.

There, Giple enrolled at Warren Central High School where he met the counselor who introduced him to architecture for the first time.

Giple was only considering being a doctor, lawyer or engineer, the typical pathways forced upon immigrant children, he said. But, after his counselor encouraged him to take an architectural drafting class, he knew what he wanted to do and he knew where he wanted to go: He wanted to study architecture at Ball State.

“After that, she basically forced me into her office every day to work on this (Ball State) application,” Giple said, “because it’s so competitive to get in.”

He graduated from Ball State with a Bachelor of Science in architecture, then went on to get two master’s degrees from the same university: one in urban design and one in architecture. 

Hopes to improve the city’s inequities

Giple had been working as a project director at a firm before he took the job as deputy director.

As the father of two children, ages seven and three, Giple said he hopes to be able to live up to the high standards set by his dad, who passed away in 2012.

Giple recognizes the pressure his father was under and the sacrifices he made for their family.

“That’s my example,” Giple said, “that I’m supposed to live up to.”

Lourenzo Giple, an architect who is Indianapolis’ first Black Deputy Director for Planning and Preservation, at Frederick Douglass Park, on the city’s north east side.

Working as the first Black deputy director in the Department of Metropolitan Development in a newly created role, Giple told IndyStar he sees an opportunity to help the people who live in the communities where he grew up, whose parents sometimes have to make the hard decisions like the ones his dad sometimes made.

“There were plenty of times where…,” Giple said, “my dad was choosing to pay the rent over the light bill.”

That life experience has helped shape Giple’s outlook.

“Historically, zoning and planning have not been equitable,” he added. “I want to do my best to shift some of those inequities.”

As the deputy director, Giple will be directly involved with city development projects that impact residents’ quality of life.

Giple acknowledges the need for economic investment in minority communities while preserving the integrity of the neighborhood, an intentionality he said he will carry with him into office.

“It’s a little bit surreal,” Giple told IndyStar, regarding how it feels to be the first Black deputy director in the department. “There’s not a lot of people who look like us within the profession.”

“Moving forward, what that means to me,” Giple continued, “is that the city is able to be accurately planned and envisioned from the perspective of everyone.”

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About Cholo Brooks 15849 Articles
Joel Cholo Brooks is a Liberian journalist who previously worked for several international news outlets including the BBC African Service. He is the CEO of the Global News Network which publishes two local weeklies, The Star and The GNN-Liberia Newspapers. He is a member of the Press Union Of Liberia (PUL) since 1986, and several other international organizations of journalists, and is currently contributing to the South Africa Broadcasting Corporation as Liberia Correspondent.

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