Johanna Nyden Leonard

MUPP 2006

City of Evanston, IL

Economic Development Manager


Can you describe your work and how your planning degree contributes to it?


I support the City's efforts to retain and expand Evanston's businesses and attract new businesses to Evanston. The Division I manage also oversees the marketing and support activities associated with Evanston's many business districts. Creating good urban spaces helps encourage a good environment to do business in and having a planning degree and experience in a planning program is integral to this effort. I get to work with businesses to help them understand why good streetscape plans matter, why being near transit is important to drawing customers, why being inclusive and physically accessible is critical, among many others.


What do you like most about your current job or related work in planning?


I like working for a community like Evanston because I get to work with people from all City Departments to address challenges and opportunities throughout Evanston. I do not feel like I am in a silo, but feel like I am part of a large interconnected team addressing the needs of the business community. Part of this experience is the opportunity to work with people from diverse backgrounds and positions within and outside of the City of Evanston.


What advice do you wish you had gotten as a MUPP or, conversely, what advice would you give to young planners today?

My advice to current students would be to utilize class offerings and electives to gain exposure to the "nuts and bolts" of planning: development finance, land use law, environmental planning, and other similar courses that deliver practical knowledge on the field of planning. Focus on one or two internships to take a deeper dive into the application of these principles rather than jumping around to multiple internships. Internships that last longer than a semester are more visible on a resume and present well as consistent work experience. Also, a longer internship will likely open opportunities to be hired full-time or at minimum get greater project experience and responsibility at an organization.