Deborah Johnson

Photo of Deborah L. Johnson


B.A., The Evergreen State College, 1989

Biographical Note

I was born and grew up in central Washington's Wenatchee Valley. Voracious reading offered an escape from my vulnerable position as an only child in an abusive household. I found self-reliance through The Boxcar Children and My Side of the Mountain, while Nancy Drew's, Miss Marple's, and Hercule Poirot's sleuthing abilities modeled the critical analysis emphasis I would later encounter at Evergreen. As a child I corresponded with many pen pals, including kindly Wenatchee World columnist Herb Jenkins, whose "Minutes with Herb" occasionally included an anecdote from my letters. (I never met Herb - who shared the name with my grandfather, I told him in my earliest letter - but just last year came across a woman on the Internet whose family lived near him in Ephrata. Her lovely remembrance of him and his passing some ten years ago brought tears to my eyes.)

I sought more sophistication than was available in my hometown; my high-school librarian claimed she kept the school's New Yorker subscription just for me. I showed up at her counter each Monday asking, "Is it here yet?" I very much wanted to go on to journalism school and excitedly selected Oregon's Linfield College as the recipient of my standardized test scores. My parents dashed my hopes: "What ever made you think we were sending you to college?" I felt further discouraged when Wenatchee Valley College's English dean confided to my fiancee that I just didn't seem to have anything to say.

Half a lifetime later, I've worked my way through nighttime AA, BA, and MPA programs and into an engaging, fast-paced, and sometimes frustrating urban planning career that evolved from the secretarial level. Over the years, it's those who've said no to me who've given me the determination to succeed; it's those who've stood by me who've given me the encouragement. Finally, I have something to say: Thank you.

Publication Types

Scholastic, Journalism

Latest Publication

"Beyond Managing Growth: Managing Planning's Relationship with People," in Modernizing State Planning Statutes: The Growing Smart. Working Papers(SM), Volume 2. Chicago: American Planning Association, 1998.

Additional Publications

"Suggestions for Model Transportation Demand Legislation," in Modernizing State Planning Statutes: The Growing SmartWorking Papers(SM), Volume 1. Chicago: American Planning Association, 1996.

Publication Excerpt

From "Suggestions for Model Transportation Demand Legislation," in Modernizing State Planning Statutes: The Growing Smart Working Papers, Volume 1:

Transportation demand management (TDM) is a term used for a set of mechanisms intended to influence individual travel behavior. Such measures include both incentives ("carrots") that promote desirable behavior and disincentives ("sticks") that frustrate undesirable behavior. Much has been written about specific TDM strategies1 that conceptualizes how they might operate and debates their viability and efficacy. However, examples that suggest how TDM theory might be bridged with the political realities of practice are limited. This paper explores legislative options for implementing TDM measures at the state level. Statutes from selected states are evaluated to determine the potential for adapting existing legislation as a model, culminating in three suggested legislative approaches and a proposal for elements that should be addressed as additional states consider legislation.

How did Evergreen help you in your career?

No matter what one might think about Evergreen's former, controversial president, Joe Olander most influenced me to attend Evergreen. On the day the Space Shuttle exploded - coincidentally my birthday - Olander introduced motivational guru Wayne Dyer at a seminar I attended. He opened with an observation on the freedoms enjoyed by Americans, including the freedom to fly into space and be blown up. It was as if the sharp intake of the audience's breath sucked all the air out of the room. I thought if this guy had the audacity to make such a declaration, then surely I needed to go to his school.

In 1987, I began attending the Tacoma campus because it was closer to my South King County home and offered classes to fit the needs of working students. Maxine Mimms, founder and then still director of the Tacoma program, was loud, powerful, and beyond outspoken. She was a presence. She scared the hell out of me.

Tacoma's Hilltop was a much livelier area then. The drug bars were in full swing, the sidewalks an ongoing parade. One night, a television-come-alive police chase ended in our parking lot. A battered undercover car executed a squealing Starsky-and-Hutch turn to block a suspect running from another dubious-looking guy - but this one yelling into a police radio. They zipped by only a few feet away from me and our campus security guard, Walter, as we stood talking in the parking lot. Evidently Walter put a lot of stock into our evening chats: He sent me a couple of romantic declarations after graduation. I've kept them to this day; they're the only love letters I've ever received.

My most difficult study at Evergreen had to be my MPA economics prerequisites. I can still remember the night that, for one shining instant, I got it. I understood the principle of diminishing returns and, just to be sure, restated it to my instructor... in terms of eating pizza. He was less than enthusiastic about the analogy. I never got it again and barely eked by.

The rewards of student work teams became obvious when two other women and I tackled our first group assignment. We convened at one member's upscale suburban home, shared a potluck dinner, drank lots of wine, and laughed our way through exchanged life stories until morning's wee hours. It was a true "girl thang." Then we began working on the assignment.

There was a down side to group work, too. Near pandemonium ensued in my seminar group the night I observed, while discussing writings on a particular presidential administration, that everybody in power all had one thing in common: penises. To me, it was a clear and pointed way of saying there were no women "in the club." To the men in our group, it was a man-hating stab. I suspect our faculty advisor, in whose native culture women undoubtedly don't talk that way, was thoroughly embarrassed. I don't think we ever progressed to a meaningful discussion of that night's reading.

My published papers grew from ideas for my MPA applications project. In each case, my concept wasn't quite complete enough to be an applied topic but nicely fit the American Planning Association's needs for its multi-year Growing Smart(sm) research initiative. As a result of the latter piece (as if I were a national expert!) I found myself the subject of a 1998 interview for a Salt Lake Tribune article on Utah's growth management movement. My applications project never did get finished, but these papers, together with the many correspondence pieces, newsletters, and planning documents I've prepared and am continuing to develop for the public sector, augment the "MPA(ABT)" on my resume.