Working for Smart Growth:
More Livable Places and Open Spaces


Barbara George Johnson

Smart Growth Award CategoryCary Edwards Leadership Award

Recipient: Barbara George Johnson

Public policy professional combining academic and practical approaches to elevate health as a place-based issue, reduce healthcare disparities among urban and ethnic populations, and champion the sustainable revitalization of our cities.

The Cary Edwards Leadership Award recognizes individuals who have an outstanding commitment to improving quality of life and promoting smart growth in New Jersey through sustainable land-use policy and practice.

As executive director of the John S. Watson Institute for Urban Policy and Research, Barbara George Johnson has leveraged her deep knowledge of public health and broad understanding of urban issues to serve as a uniquely effective leader in advancing policy formation and legislative change in New Jersey. New Jersey Future shares Johnson’s commitment to public health, environmental justice, and redevelopment in New Jersey’s urban centers, and is thrilled to honor Barbara George Johnson with a 2023 Cary Edwards Leadership Award.

Johnson began her career in public health in New York City, before returning to New Jersey to advocate for reproductive rights and HIV/AIDS education, which granted her a foray into both lobbying and citywide issues in Trenton. Johnson’s passion for communities across New Jersey is evident through her dedication to the institute, her sprawling policy portfolio, and her character in forming positive relationships aimed at implementing meaningful solutions to address community needs.

The mantra of the Watson Institute is to “link people to policy.” Johnson’s personal leadership has brought sustained attention to bringing the necessary resources to fostering urban resilience in the face of climate change, and meaningful addressing of long-standing, chronic issues that New Jersey’s urban communities are all too often saddled with.

“She has the capacity to guide you without pushing you. She gives you her very best all of the time. She expects that, because she prepares the people who work for her to do the same thing. She’s raising the next generation because she is impressing upon them not on the important issues but the fact that they can have an impact on the conditions and issues they think need to be addressed, observed Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12) in an interview.

“[We aim to think] strategically how we utilize federal, state, private, dollars in ways that interlock and leverage each other to be able to address the needs of our community,” remarked Barbara George Johnson. “There’s a lot of opportunity for the state of New Jersey to get it right and be a gold standard.”


See all 2023 Smart Growth Award winners

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