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Planner Profile: Name: Mark Williams

Name: Mark Williams
Title: Planner II, Southwest Area Representative for APA Colorado
Company/Employer: City of Durango

Tells us a little about yourself professionally.
I am a planner with the City of Durango. Before that I work in the planning office for the City and County of Denver, and for the City of Atlanta. Most of my work in Durango centers on housing, from working on policies to build more of it, to project management for getting it built. I never thought I would spend so much time on housing, but the lack of affordable housing is, literally, a front-page news story several times every week.

Tell us how you got into planning.
I grew up in an anonymous suburb of Birmingham, Alabama, and even as a young teenager I thought there must be a more interesting way to live. I moved to the big city as soon as I was able, and loved living in the urban cores of Atlanta and Denver, with all the challenges working in those environments bring. Living in a mountain town is something different, but the environment here, at least in town, is generally supportive of good planning.

Tell us a little about yourself outside of planning.
When I lived in Denver, we had a Subaru Outback and a young daughter, as did our neighbor to the left, and our neighbor to the right. Now that we live in Durango (and love it), we do all the mountain-towny things. I also like to play Bach and Dave Brubeck on the piano, and travel as often as possible. And now it’s my daughter who can’t wait to leave the ‘boring’ place where she lives and move to the big city.

Who is your planning hero or role model?
Greg Hoch, the longtime planning director for Durango, who retired in 2016. Greg had a lot vision about how Durango could grow and how the profession of planning could be used to create quality. It was under Hoch’s watch that the City went from having a glorified zoning department to a place that took planning seriously. The City added commercial design review, then residential design review, and created or enhanced many other programs under Hoch’s watch. Greg also never backed down from a battle if it served to advance the public interest, as many local residents will remember fondly, or not so fondly if they were on the other side of the dispute.

What makes planning special/interesting/difficult/fun in Colorado?
I started my career in the South, in Georgia. Times may have changed there somewhat, but when I started in the late 1990s, the concept of planning and zoning was far from beloved. There was even a famous anti zoning Supreme Court case that originated in Marietta, Georgia, the Atlanta suburb where I had my first job. The institution of planning is much different here in Colorado. Where I have worked, good planning is expected, and the quality of professionals in the state and the level of engagement of residents reflect that strength.

Many people here are eager to commit their time and energy and engage tough subjects when they know their communities will be better for it. As the impacts of climate change from something you read about to something to see, I expect the planning profession will take an increasingly prominent role in implementing long-term solutions.

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