Written by Andi Agnew | Photographed by Paul Wolf
Call Jordan Hillman a mechanic of sorts.
As Deputy Planning Director for the City of Jackson since March of 2018, Hillman says that city planning involves the “nuts-and-bolts” of how cities were built over a long period of time.
A native of Southaven, Miss., Hillman studied landscape architecture at Mississippi State University.
But one of her mentors noticed that she had a knack for something beyond designing well-manicured green spaces.
“One of my professors had a planning background and encouraged me to pursue that direction,” she says.
Hillman went on to the University of Memphis and completed a graduate degree in City and Regional Planning. She and her family moved to LeFleur East in 2011. More recently, she was Community Development Director for the city of Brandon.
Hillman’s role with the city of Jackson goes beyond planning, though.
“I’m involved more in managerial activities; pretty much any interaction to do with owning a business or expanding a business, zoning, historic preservation, permits.”
One of the biggest challenges Jackson faces is the struggle of being a city that has gone through periods of shrinkage. “We’ve lost population steadily over the last 40 years, but it’s starting to stabilize,” she says.
Maintaining infrastructure is a challenge and there is this image that doing business in Jackson is hard.
Hillman says it’s up to her and her team to break down that misconception and make the process more streamlined.
Hillman is particularly proud of a recent effort to streamline the system for zoning, permits and other necessities of doing business with the city of Jackson. Contractors and business owners can interact with city staff dubbed BEAT (Business Entrepreneurship Assistance Team) officers.
“We’re going to stop sending people up and down the elevator, which is not a metaphor; people were literally having to go to different floors in order to interact with different departments. This will be life-changing, and will allow for transparency throughout the entire process,” she says.
Another project she is proud of is a parklet recently installed on Congress Street in front of the Plaza Building. A semi-permanent installation of wooden benches, planters and covered seating, the mini-park was envisioned by long-range city planners Travis Crabtree and Salam Rida and installed on National Park(ing) Day, a global effort to temporarily transform parking spaces into public spaces.
The parklet remains on Congress Street, but pieces can be moved around to fit the needs of the community. “It was designed to get people excited about downtown and encourage them to spend time outside,” Hillman says.
To the city’s credit, Hillman points out that Jackson is Mississippi’s only large city and the capital city, making it a population center for the state.
“There are a lot of community-based organizations here; it’s a hub for the arts, for culinary interests, and more,” she says.
Hillman’s department was the recent driving force behind the award of a $1M Bloomberg Philanthropies 2018 Public Art Challenge grant, presented in Jackson by Michael Bloomberg himself on November 29.