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Employee Profile

Munro Johnson, Vice President, Neighborhood Strategies

Munro Johnson, Vice President, Neighborhood Strategies

What was your first job?

There are a couple different ways I could answer this question, but the first W-4 I filled out was at age 13 for a job as “deck cook” at the Alpenhof Lodge in Teton Village, Wyoming. I had some trouble lighting the grill on my first day and arrived home denuded of eyebrows and eyelashes.

How did your previous roles lead you to NYCEDC?

Intellectually, I think I was always destined to be an urban planner. I’ve always been fascinated by how urban planning brings together different disciplines to solve problems. Once I landed in the profession, I found myself drawn to how it can create public goods like parks, waterfronts, and transit that make life more efficient, equitable, and enjoyable. Also, low-density sprawl both terrifies and depresses me—helping the nation’s largest city succeed is a win for density and for a lighter, more compact human footprint on the earth.

When did you join the company? What’s your day-to-day role?

I joined about a month after Superstorm Sandy in 2012. It was an intense time for NYCEDC. Many were volunteering or getting redeployed for disaster response, while others were working 24/7 to produce the Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency report to articulate commitments to resiliency for a city that had just tangibly experienced the hazards of global climate change. Coming to NYCEDC, I was given the Staten Island portfolio, meaning it was my responsibility to stay abreast of all our projects in the borough, connect dots, and act as a kind of institutional memory, big-picture guy, and information clearinghouse for other NYCEDC staff working on projects there. During the pandemic and recession, while a lot of projects were put on pause, I was given another role, which was to develop an internal data tool for evaluating disparate vulnerabilities within and between city neighborhoods—thereby informing an equitable recovery strategy.

What would you be doing if you hadn’t decided to follow this career path?

Before discovering urban planning, I studied, lived, and worked in Japan. If not for a pause and self-assessment at around age 25, I would probably still be there working as a translator, in international affairs, business, or Japan-oriented academia. On the other hand, observing the vastly different human settlement patterns in Japan, I think it planted a seed in my brain that sprouted into my interest in cities and urban planning…so who knows?

What surprised you most when you joined NYCEDC?

The size of it, and the talent and drive of my co-workers. NYCEDC is actually fairly lean in comparison with many City agencies. But I had always worked in much smaller organizations (10-12 people) and managed by myself facets of projects which, at NYCEDC, have entire departments devoted to them—things like developer agreements, community relations, and land-use applications. It was intimidating at first, but then very empowering to see the incredible talent spread across all these functions at NYCEDC. I like to say that we are the Broadway of economic development professionals, attracting the brightest stars of the profession from all over. I really do believe that, when a well-coordinated, collaborative team comes together at NYCEDC, there’s almost nothing we can’t do. The depth and breadth of talent here is stunning.

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