Title: Community Development Group – Special Assignment, Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC)
Location: Atlanta, Georgia
Nick is a college friend of mine and we actually met the very first night of school. Although he was interviewed after Remi, Nick introduced us, after the two met in grad school. Always running into each other at various school functions and classes, we kept up throughout our four years at Furman. Fast forward a few years and Nick is one of The YoPro Know's first readers, which brings him to this interview today. After a few months of following along with the blog, Nick addressed an issue that we dive into more in this interview. Though Nick is in planning, I love the concept he touches on about not knowing all of the answers to help a city, or even, in living your life and just not taking yourself too seriously. I'll let you read on to find out what that is, but I appreciate him reaching out and saying something. Not to mention, then also agreeing to share his story on this platform!
Give us a brief overview on yourself.
I went to Furman University (’17) where I played football and majored in Political Science. This past May I graduated from Georgia State University where I earned a Master of Public Policy. These days you can find me doing CrossFit, hitting balls on the range, or exploring a new city.
What has the transition to your new role looked like?
It’s rewarding to see all of your hard work pay off. I started out as an intern at ARC and then transitioned to a full-time role. Finally starting full-time work after being in school for my whole life was a big deal.
Have you had any major challenges yet in your new role and if so, how did you learn from them?
I think my biggest challenge occurred immediately after I graduated from Furman. I had actually applied for several full-time positions but I ultimately decided to enter the graduate program at Georgia State because even though I knew what I liked, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. Really, up to that point, I had been a football player my whole life. Football was my identity and while it is a lot of who I am, I knew I had to figure out what was next for me. Football opened so many doors for me, but I felt that it was time to prove to myself that football was not the only thing that I was good at. I really do have a lot to thank football for, especially bringing me to Furman, which definitely played a huge part in molding me into the person I am today. Football has also instilled in me the value of hard work, and has made me become the driven individual that I am today. Most importantly, the game has taught me how to love something and put your all into it, so now I can do that with other things.
Why did you get into urban planning?
I got into planning because I was very interested in the built environment and how peoples' lives are impacted by where they live. We often hear about issues such as affordable housing, public transportation infrastructure, or the suburbanization of poverty. The reward of being in the planning world is that I can help communities come up with solutions to solve these problems.
Can you speak a little bit more about the struggles surrounding gentrification?
Atlanta is a city experiencing rapid population growth, and decision makers are charged with the task of making the city a place that people enjoy. City residents enjoy watching their favorite teams play at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, as well as taking stroll up the beltline or doing some shopping at Ponce City Market. Attached to these anchors, you have the revitalization of what were typically lower-income and minority neighborhoods. This is great when it is certain that these individuals continue to afford to live in these neighborhoods. I don’t think anyone has an issue with revitalization of these neighborhoods, but many will certainly argue against displacement of the people as a product of this development. These are problems the city of Atlanta is facing and there is going to be a point where decision makers are going to have to make the decision of what we want Atlanta to look like. The Atlanta Growth Machine is here. We have the world’s busiest Airport in Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson and Georgia is the nation's number one city for business. I think in a lot of ways, we have a game plan to become that global city that we have the potential to be, but what does this mean for the people who make Atlanta, Atlanta? What can we do for the people whose roots are tied to neighborhoods that are rapidly changing? That’s a question I’m not sure anyone has an answer for just yet.
More people are moving into these urban areas. How does this affect urban planning in the surrounding communities?
There are still people who prefer to live in surrounding areas like Cobb, Gwinnett, Clayton, or South Fulton. Though planners can often take on the urbanist role and advocate for greater density, not everyone wants to live in the city. Cities such as Woodstock have become great examples for what smaller metro cities can look like. These places have opportunities to activate their town centers, and encourage that familiar main street feel. Something that we can leverage in Atlanta is the whole Idea that it is a city in a forest. It's one of the few places where, within a short drive, you can escape the pace of the city. With that being said, the city of Atlanta is designed less intentionally than other cities. I think that can explain several of the transportation woes that Atlanta has and why we are known for having terrible traffic. We lack the connectivity that other cities have, for example, like in the northeast.
What have you learned during your short career as a young professional?
Going through life, you finally feel like you’re an adult at every “big” milestone. When you’re 18, you go off to college, and again, when you’re 21 because you think you are finally on your own. Then, when you get out of school, you feel even more in control of your own life, but I could not quite experience that right away, because there was more school. Finally, I can live the coveted life as a young professional, and I love it. If there’s anything that I have learned in this short time, it’s that you can’t take yourself too seriously. You have time to do the things you want to do and learn the things you want to learn. Get out there, have fun, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
What motivates you?
My family is what motivates me. Making them proud is what gets me up in the morning. Ever since I could remember, my grandparents emphasized to me that I am the oldest Miller boy and I have to carry the Miller name. I take the responsibility of representing my family seriously.
Going back to your current position, what does your trajectory look like in terms of reaching an elected official position?
I am hoping that when I decide to run for office, I am able to stand on community and economic development as some of my key issues, but right now I am just learning as much as I can about the Metro Atlanta region. I just want to be in a position where I know that I am prepared to make the region a better place.
Considering the diversity and inclusion topic is one that is highly discussed these days, why is this topic important to you?
I like to think about it from a representation lens. When I was growing up, I wanted to be a basketball player because I saw people who looked like me doing it (not to say that there weren’t talented people doing other things). There was no doubt in my mind that I could be a basketball player because there were people, who were one day in my position, doing it. The more people that the next generation sees who look like them that are lawyers, teachers, urban planners, elected officials, and so on, then the more likely they are to feel like they can be those things. Furthermore, all of us can benefit from by being around people different from ourselves. This is how we learn and grow. Diversity is especially important in the workplace. When someone thinks differently than we do, it not only allows for us to re-evaluate how we do things, but it also allows for the team to be prepared to better conquer tasks.
***YoProNote: Nick, who has been an engaged reader of the YPK since its beginning, reached out to me several months ago and asked "Where is the diversity in this blog?" To his point above, not all young professionals could come to this platform and see other young professionals that look like them. So we made a change. I appreciate Nick continuing the conversation and bringing it to this platform, and I can ensure you that The YoPro Know will always represent diverse backgrounds.
The YoPro Know's Takeaways:
– Diversity allows the team to be prepared to better conquer tasks
– Get out there, have fun, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes
– You can’t take yourself too seriously
– Surround yourself with people different from yourself
Check it out: Georgia State University, Furman University, Atlanta Regional Commission
You can also check Nick out on Instagram