What are your responsibilities as manager of the city of Columbus Planning Division?
I am primarily responsible for the land use planning side of our department. Land use planning includes just about everything in 2015. Whereas the good old days consisted primarily of zoning, subdivision review, long-term planning and short-term planning (as individual entities), today we see a merger of numerous planning functions, and it's very exciting.
The new age of planning has brought numerous entities into being, such as Midtown Inc., Uptown Columbus, Trees Columbus and the Coalition for Sound Growth. These are citizen-driven organizations that have a strong interest in planning, and we work together very closely. With the exception of Uptown, the other organizations did not exist prior to 2001.
What happens when cities don't plan properly?
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Sprawl and traffic gridlock occur when cities don't plan properly. Historically, many cities have not considered growth impacts as sprawl has occurred. However, once it has, citizens and government look around and wonder what happened. By then it's too late. Regarding traffic, we are very lucky. I know people are reading this and saying this guy's nuts, but you can get just about anywhere in 20 minutes, regardless of time of day (Northside High access not included). But honestly, it's not government that drives new planning functions, it the ingenuity and ideas of our citizens and business people. No one would have envisioned the impact on Uptown that Columbus State University and Eagle & Phenix have provided. Rooftops have turned Uptown into the destination it is. Well, you know, the Historic District has become Mayberry, that's how impacting people-in-place can be. These endeavors in Uptown have now spread to the rest of the community and a sense of place and live/work/play have become the mantra.
You volunteer at Peach Little League at Lakebottom. Is that a rewarding experience?
I played baseball at Peach. It is home and always will be. Herb Wilkinson, Jackie Copeland, the 1952 Originals, man, there is so much history there. This might sound arrogant, but it's a special honor to be Peach alumni. My last son played there in 2011, and now I'm going through with my nephews, Jake and Luke.
Most of the parents are alumni, and we all grew up together. Now our kids are going to be alumni, and they have grown up together. In 25 years, our children will be the leaders at Peach and our grandchildren will play there. That cycles been going on for more than 50 years.
You graduated from Auburn, but are a die-hard Georgia Bulldog fan. How did that happen?
Most of my family graduated from UGA. I, however, don't do well on standardized tests, which is nothing more than a way to make money. I did poorly on the SAT, so I turned to the ACT because it had numerous subjects. To cut to the chase, I did well on it and everyone's fallback school since 1856 accepted me on the spot. So, there I was and I took it. It wasn't so bad; there were plenty of Bammers attending Auburn, so I had allies. But it's truly a wonderful place and to this day I still purchase my textbooks from J & M Bookstore.
What is the best kept secret in the Chattahoochee Valley?
I'm going to be selfish here: Hilton Heights Park and the surrounding neighborhood. We come together like we're having an Amish barn-raising. It's the best. As for Columbus, this town has its curmudgeons and pessimists, but there's nowhere else I'd rather live. As I tell outsiders, it's the largest small town in America, and I wouldn't have it any other way.
Name: Will JohnsonAge: 44Job: Planning division managerHometown: Juniper, Ga.Current home: ColumbusFamily: Sons Tom, 15, Jack, 13, and Phillip, 9. Two dumb dawgs, Osa and Amos (both inherited Labs).Education: Hardaway High School, 1989; Auburn University, Bachelor of Arts in History, 1994; Auburn University, Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, 1997; Jacksonville State, MPA, 2000; University of Georgia, Master of Education, 2006; currently pursuing Ph.D. in Public Administration at Valdosta State.Favorite book: "The Coldest Winter" by David HalberstamFavorite movie: "The Godfather"Favorite restaurant: Speakeasy (unofficial headquarters of Peach Little League)Favorite quote: "Failure is a great teacher." -- Ann RichardsFavorite song: "Song Remains the Same" -- Led ZeppelinBest concert attended: Crosby, Stills, & Nash at Lakewood in the early 1990s.