Jason Gilman looks back on his five years as director of La Crosse city planning
Gilman steps away to take pressure of city budget and focus on new responsibilities
LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – Every road, building, and neighborhood starts on paper. Jason Gilman has spent five years in La Crosse planning ways to improve the city.
No structure in town was built without an idea. People like Gilman think about cities a lot differently than most. It’s a chessboard of problems and opportunities.
“We’re doing the best we can with what we have,” Gilman said.
In Gilman’s words, think of city planning as both prevention and opportunity.
“What do we know about how climate is affecting the city? What do we know about how affordable housing or housing scarcity is affecting the city?” Gilman said. “What can we do in terms of policy so that they don’t become greater issues down the road?”
Plans aren’t possible without the people who live here.
“Making sure the public wants to spend their hard-earned money on whatever we’re building,” Gilman said.
He said it is time for him to move on. He cited more than $4.4 million that was cut from the city’s budget due to the pandemic.
“I wanted to make sure that the younger people in their careers had opportunity beyond,” Gilman said. “I had the opportunity to make the biggest impact on the budget because I am the highest-paid individual being a director.”
He also is a big advocate for diversity and new ideas.
“It opens the door for diversity in the leadership structure which I think is important,” he said.
Gilman was elected president of the Wisconsin chapter of the American Planning Association last year. Gilman will begin that role in December of 2021. He is also a grandfather and he wants to spend more time with his family.
“I’ve got two brand new granddaughters, twins, that were born a few months ago,” Gilman said.
City projects take years to go from paper to an architectural reality. It’s up to his staff to make plans to ensure a bright future for people. Of course, he never said that was easy.
“It drives a person crazy at times but it’s so rewarding in the end when you actually see that the citizens are engaged and proud of the outcome,” Gilman said.
He said reinvesting in businesses and neighborhoods can bring people financial peace. The planned department even helped jump-start victory gardens so those who lost their jobs can eat.
“Probably the great value is reminding people that when times get tough we can be self-sufficient,” Gilman said. “There are ways to help each other.”
Planning is his passion.
“I will miss it,” he said. “I’m already missing it.”
He said he’s looking forward to the next person’s ideas to shape a better La Crosse. “We’re always going to have challenges, but this is such a great city with so much to offer people.”
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