The best laid plans
Marshfield native Josh Miller discusses his role as city planner
By Adam Hocking
MARSHFIELD — City Planner Josh Miller is a Marshfield native who now plays a key role in the operations of the city. Being a native son gives Miller a greater sense of duty to Marshfield than he might have in any other place.
“I love Marshfield. I think it’s a great city to grow up in and to work for,” Miller said.
Coming out of high school Miller did not know what he wanted to do until a friend’s brother told him about his experience in land use planning.
“Within the next week I looked up River Falls, looked up the program for land use planning, and the next semester I was in school there,” Miller said.
After graduating from Marshfield High School in 1996, Miller moved on to UW-River Falls, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in land use planning. He then worked in Menomonie as a municipal planner for the engineering and consulting firm Cedar Corporation.
Miller was not planning on coming home to Marshfield, and he liked living in Menomonie, but he was seldom there on the weekends, instead tending to travel home or to visit friends in Madison or the Twin Cities. Miller’s father alerted him to a job opportunity in Marshfield for a planning and zoning administrator. He applied and decided that if he was offered the job, he would take it.
“When they (the city) called me, I was surprised,” Miller said. “I love working with Jason (Jason Angell, Marshfield’s planning and economic development director) and for Jason and with the other staff here.” Miller has been with the city of Marshfield since 2009. Once the city hired a full-time zoning administrator in 2014, Miller’s position evolved into city planning.
Having a city position makes Miller a public figure, and it can be difficult when decisions made by the city are criticized. Miller played a prominent role in developing concepts for the Second Street corridor project and presenting them at public meetings. A number of business owners along the corridor disapproved of the project. There was also significant negative commentary towards the project on social media.
“You have to have thick skin in this job,” Miller said. “You just can’t take things personally in this business.”
Miller said his job varies day to day and includes long-term planning, ensuring potential development projects fit into existing planning documents, and studying conditions and demographics to help develop or update city planning documents. Miller said in planning it is important to first look at the available land in the city, then where infrastructure is or could be put in most cost effectively, and then where growth in the community is desired.
“So you kind of put all these things together in a map, and then you try to develop goals and objectives and policies to guide the city, so when projects do come up you kind of say, ‘OK, this is really fitting with where we want to go as a community.’”
Miller joked that as he was growing up he did not really know what a city planner was but that, “I knew I liked to play Sim City.”
“I guess deep down I probably always thought that this (being a city planner) would be really cool. I just didn’t know what that was.”