All posts by Kristen Jeffers

About Kristen Jeffers

I'm Kristen. Almost five years ago, I got tired of not seeing black women as nerded out about trains, better streets, riding bikes, walking not just out of necessity, tall buildings, old buildings and honestly a lot of other things. I was in grad school for community and economic development (ok, it’s actually an MPA), and I wanted to make sure people knew I existed and that I could help them do this thing called placemaking better. Five years later, I’m still doing that, although not from my hometown of Greensboro, NC, but from Kansas City, MO. I spend most of my time in Kansas City promoting better biking and walking infrastructure metro-wide with BikeWalk KC and the Kansas City B-cycle. But I also wrote a book A Black Urbanist (you can grab that over on the right) and sometimes I give speeches and help other communities tell their stories at design charrettes and public meetings. I’ve also written or appeared in all of the major “urbanist” publications, either as a subject or as a writer, as well as most of my hometown papers as subject or writer as well.

How Do You Define Your City? And Does Your City Define Itself In the Same Way?

When I go home to Greensboro, this is what’s around the corner. My little edge city. (Image from a YouTube screenshot).

My whole writing existence, at least at this blog and a little bit at my one just before that, has been making sense and defining the cities I’ve lived in, against how they, and they meaning governmental and development and social/media entities, defined the cities I’ve lived in.

Yet, I wanted to sit down and be explicit about how I define cities and how I counteract those definitions and how I want both myself and the places I live to define cities going forward.

My Childhood Vision of A City

My very first definition of a city, which I developed from around age three until age seven or eight included these things:

  1. Tall buildings
  2. Buses and trains
  3. Bicycles
  4. Grocery stores
  5. Playgrounds
  6. Malls
  7. Jams and Jellies
  8. Maps
  9. Lincoln Logs
  10. My school
  11. Trees
  12. The baseball field around the corner
  13. A big airport with big planes
  14. Sandboxes
  15. The mail lady
  16. Street festivals
  17. Muppets in tire swings

In addition to these 17 things that I could think of off the top of my head from the perspective of my six-year-old self, there were two other formative moments of defining city life for me as a child.

First, from the time I was an infant, until my parents bought a second car around 1992, mornings riding in the backseat of my family’s 1976 Kermit-the-Frog green Buick Regal, fastened tightly into my dirt-brown metal with strategic-cloth coverings car seat, the circa-1949 neighborhood of matchbox houses which slowly turned into a warehouse district with small skyscrapers in the horizon, then more 1940s matchbox residences, with a few sprawling 1960s ranches up on small hills, then this great expanse of farm land, with the sun sitting just right and golden on the eastern edge of the land, then turning back into warehouses, with a random set of garden apartments and a school bus lot to boot.

This would all then go in reverse after we dropped off my dad at his work and my mom and I came home for a day full of PBS, playing in the yard and maybe going to Harris Teeter, where I would often get my mom, after talking with her friend behind the deli counter for about 30–45 minutes, to buy me the golden fried potato wedge delights we called “taters”.

This clearly captivated me. This was the first of what I would define as city. What else helped was that both sets of grandparents lived out and away somewhat from those warehouses and skyscrapers. One set more so than the other (and the one closest to the city lived near the airport, which was its own unique fascination).

What spoiled this idea of city for me, for the first time, was actually two things.

One, the destruction of trees and the creation of a stroad that eventually became a freeway that would forever define how I got from downtown to whichever house I called home at the time. The road wasn’t so bothersome as much as the loss of trees and a corner store that my dad used to take me to, that was the color of lemons on the outside and yet had no gas pumps (ok, maybe it had those old school ones, that nobody saw fit to build those lighted shelters over top).

And two, the construction of the tower you see at the top of the post when I was eight, a white triangular travesty in the midst of what is a mall parking lot on what I considered the outskirts of town. It is 32 stories tall. The tallest buildings in Greensboro, the also relatively new Jefferson-PIlot and First Union towers (and yes, they will always bear those names for those of you who know them as something else entirely) were only 28. They were also clustered together in the place that was called and I came to call downtown. It still freaks me out, as someone who’s more of a fan of gothic and art deco skyscrapers and also someone who loved and still loves going to the adjacent mall. (Even though it’s missing several pieces now, but I’m adjusting. It at least has an H&M and a working movie theater now).

If the point wasn’t driven home enough for you, look harder at the photo leading this post, which shows the convention center, the mall and just to the right of the taller tower, the mound of buildings is our actual downtown in Greensboro.

As I got older, the city began to mean something different in other ways. It was a place I imagined would grow up and live, that looked a lot like the one on Sesame Street, yes, Muppets included. Writers like me lived there and there would be trains and buses and bikes and sidewalks to get me around. Houses with brownstone faces or colorful bricks and turrets at their corners, some with front porches. A nice corner store would have lots of fresh fruit pouring out it, and the smells from the prepared foods counter in the back would tantalize me. It would be next to a bookstore with plenty of books to buy or rent. Yes, the best of Borders with library privileges. (R.I.P. Borders).

And there would be people, lots of friendly and unique people ready to have friendships with me and help me see the world. Make the world a better place.

But This Is Not How Others Define Cities

First of all, while we can all agree that masses of population create urbanization, we can’t all agree about how those masses should be governed, housed, fed, transported, educated, entertained, and loved. Especially not loved.

When I started to do the research on this post, I did have the understanding of my hometown (Greensboro) as a municipal corporation, which in North Carolina, is chartered by the state and allowed to tax people. In addition, the county my hometown sits in (Guilford) is also its own taxing jurisdiction. There’s also a state sales tax and counties and cities are allowed to add to those taxing jurisdictions by votes.

Other things that the county does — all court-related things. We have separate police forces and a separate sheriff’s office, but eventually, you go to the Guilford County Courthouse for all things related to records, marriages, crimes and the like. The registrar of deeds keeps your housing deeds and your birth certificates. I just had them mail me a new birth certificate.

Yet, as I began to research, I also looked up and found the deeds for both of the homes my parents have owned over the years. The one that they brought me home from in the hospital, the one where I determined the definitions above of what a city means to me, was once part of a plot of farmland, that was owned by one man and then turned over into a subdivision. The other, which is what I come home to when I come to Greensboro to visit my mom and everyone else (and what I referenced in this post and the beginning of my book) was part of what is called a township, which is another layer of municipal chartering from the state, that isn’t often used today. Other states put more weight on their townships, ours rarely shows up outside of deeds and other county business.

[Greensboro] Location in Guilford County and the state of North Carolina By Rcsprinter123 — Own work, CC BY 3.0,

But anyway, even with this little bit of research, my idea of what a city is and what and how it’s defined by the place I lived in was already in conflict.

You may remember and note that I’ve lived in Raleigh, Durham, Kansas City, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore. I’ve visited more cities. All of these cities listed have quirks. Especially the ones outside of North Carolina. Then again, those are probably quirks to you if you’re used to other cities working in a specific way.

So in my research on definitions, I moved on to the U.S. Census Bureau. Surely they have a more defined version of what a city is. Actually, they do. And guess what? Because it’s based on population, 80% of Americans actually live in cities.

It only takes 2,500 people to be an urban cluster according to the U.S. Census Bureau, under the definitions they used for the 2010 Census. Once your population hits 50,000 people, you get to be known as an urbanized area.

See this in action for the D.C. area, which has densities in many “suburban” areas far and above the minimum 2500 people it takes to be considered an urban cluster.

And this Wikipedia entry on municipalities details how urbanized areas outside of the United States classify themselves both on population and also by legal bounds and services in so many diverse ways.

Oh and the U.S. Census itself also takes into account that Alaska and Puerto Rico have different designations for cities and that counties are parishes in Louisana.

I’m willing to bet that many of those urban clusters and urbanized areas are sprawling developments, that may or may not have new urbanist or even just old urbanist principles applied to them.

This brings up the fact that the new urbanist charter has a definition for cities. Because of the supremacy clause in the U.S. Constitution and amendments 9 and 10 of the Bill of Rights, all states get to determine what’s a city and what isn’t for the purposes of taxation and such. Yet, the Census goes by population and doesn’t take into account lack of sidewalks or architecture.

Why This Matters

New urbanists already get pegged as being elitist when we talk about how buildings should look in our ideal city.

However, there are some things that I do feel like all urban clusters, even those who use the excuse of being “in the county” or “we’re a suburb” should be providing.

I feel like when populations start to cluster and then marketplaces and service centers (i.e. town/city halls, parks), start to be developed, residential areas, schools, and shopping areas should be human-scaled. Meaning, it shouldn’t take using a vehicle, including a bicycle, for a fully able-bodied person to get to basic needs. And if does take a bicycle, there’s safe infrastructure for that person to get where they need to go on that bicycle or a bus, train or a ridesharing vehicle to come pick people up.

Additionally, we should examine things that are marketed to us as being urban this or rural that. Maybe the place you live only has 2,500 people there. But all of those 2,500 people are densely packed and you have all your basic services. What makes you a very small city, versus a big town, versus a singular neighborhood next to a rural or natural expanse?

The Urban to Rural Transect is probably my favorite way of defining cities versus towns versus rural areas that incorporates architecture and land use and resources. However, it still doesn’t capture the effects of practices like redlining, which come from both laws and lack of laws prohibiting a particular behavior. Or just the looks you get sometimes in places where you look very different from most of the other people who happen to be there.

So here we are. I’ve given you my ideal city as a child. And it’s safe to say it’s the same as an adult. Only, I don’t have to have the Muppets or even grape jelly, but I do need the friendly people, willing to give me the benefit of a doubt if I’m standing on a street corner waiting for a bus and the human-scale that makes it easy to have a positive life, and the healthy relationship with the rural and natural areas that make that densely-populated life possible.

I’m Kristen. Seven years ago, I started blogging to make sense of the built environment around me. You can find me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. You can find out more about me at my main website, Support me on Patreon. A version of this post is also on Medium.

Letting Go Of Being a Hometown Heroine And Embrancing My Role as an American Expat in America.

Kristen looking out the window of a different Metro Blue Line train, the one in Minneapolis.

I never thought I would ever live or work outside of Greensboro again. I’ve always felt like if I wasn’t there that the city wouldn’t figure out how to fix itself. That if my work didn’t have a connection to home or if it wasn’t respected at home, then it was completely worthless. That if I didn’t keep up with or seem really concerned about events going on at home, then I’d advanced too far and I’d become too big for my britches.

However, we all know that I’ve left home and I’ve been successful away from home, despite many setbacks and issues. You listen to me talk to you roughly each week in countries all over the globe. I live in one of the most international metro regions in the country and I’ve managed to carve out my own version of survival in that region.

Plus, just having thoughts in a black body is still revolutionary in some circles, especially in this re-hashed climate of high white supremacy/patriarchy we are facing in the States. And on a local level, in some jurisdictions, the pressure to assimilate to a certain idea of what blackness or what fill-in-the-blankness is that isn’t whiteness or cis maleness is.

What I also wanted to address is the need to let go of a lot of these ideas. For the last two and a quarter years, I’ve been trying to live in two places at once. I’ve been trying to be home and yet not be home. I’ve also felt like not just an expat, but an exile.

For those two and a quarter years and honestly many more, I’ve fought feeling like a hometown heroine (or hero) versus an American Expat in America.

I’ve fought through what it means to have civic pride, inferiority, nativism and absolutism. While having civic pride is awesome, possessing either civic inferiority or civic nativity or absolutism is not good.

Additionally, I’ve battled the idea that when we say we want new people, but increasingly we as cities only want a certain type of new person. The elusive young professional. The old retiree. Someone that looks like us and that can remember this obscure power outage that resulted in having to kill ten rats in 48 hours by you, but your friends and neighbors can recite the same story.

Or we fight all new people coming in. Whether it’s failing to fund new airports and train stations, or the extreme of banning certain people from entering the country or just making people “pay their dues” and say the “right things”, we fail to realize that closed systems eventually die out. Yes, with the right spark, they can continue on in infinity doing the same things, but it’s old energy. Or new energy gets sucked in, never to come back out again.

No part of me wants to be a closed system. In fact, a closed system chokes me to death.

This year’s election has shown me that if people step up, there are metro areas that will vote for them to win. If people know where to sign up to run, if they are willing to canvass neighborhoods, hit wallets for small donations and take the heat from those who may not like their style of politics despite sharing a letter next to their name when it comes to party designation, people can do it.

I know I’m encouraged to get my name in the ring. However, it will be a few years from now and it will be where I’m currently living, which may or may not be Baltimore, but it won’t be Greensboro.

For it to be Greensboro, a lot has to change. We need to stop believing that gentrification, of downtown, of Revolution Mill, of other neighborhoods yet to be “discovered” or brought back to life will save us. We need more black, brown and Asian faces in our nonprofit sector and definitely more Latinx and Asian faces in political positions.

Yes, for the next four years our council will be majority women and will be without white men. However, how will we vote on things like corporate incentives, police oversight and transit?

Plus, I need to feel like that I’m ok as a single or single-without-child couple in the city. Although my mom has been great about not asking me for grandchildren, and encouraging me to find a partner who is a good friend first, others directly or casually ask me about this and yes, it hurts. Also, I was the student/girl who didn’t act out or try new things or go outside the box. It’s weird that some of my more “adventurous” classmates, are settled down and more conservative and sometimes more judgmental than I was even in my worse days of being the “Golden Child”.

I need everything surrounding my dad and how he’s no longer here and the house is no longer there to not hurt. I want to mark his grave, but I also want to be doing well. A lot of this travel and moving is for survival. So I don’t end up following in his footsteps.

Lastly, I need artists to be 100% supported. I need Black lives to matter, no matter how uncomfortable that process in making them all matter is. I need us to support fully all kinds of small business ventures.

And finally, I need us to not bully or belittle each other for choosing to be in service. I need us to realize that the truth is negative sometimes. Life is negative sometimes. But as long as we are still living, there’s that wonderful magnetism that comes when the positive and negative dance together and we let them dance together.

Nine years ago, I moved home from Raleigh because I believed I could come home and make a difference and start my lifelong dream of being mayor of the city.

However, that’s been thwarted because I don’t believe that in my current state of being, notwithstanding the moves, I don’t think I could win. I’m too radical. I care too much about people. I think we should spend money on other things besides corporations and development schemes.

Additionally, I don’t think the kind of partner that would love me for all of me, leadership and all, exists there and would support me. Maybe you have been sitting back afraid of getting your foot in the door. Maybe you don’t live downtown and I’ve been expecting you to be there all these years, yet you check all the other boxes and understand why my life’s work is important to me. Right now, I feel like you live somewhere else (Hopefully somewhere in D.C or Baltimore or in between ;)).

One last word. I am proud of the fact that I decided to see what’s outside of my hometown. I still love it, even when it doesn’t love me back. I left Kansas City far too soon and it was just starting to crank up and be great and I miss it. However, I don’t see where I would fit in out there either and I need an airport that works better for the nature of my work now. D.C. is just not where people go when they want to start new things and “bootstrap”. Baltimore is making sure I’m sleeping and eating, but I might need to move on from there too at some point.


Raleigh and Durham too. It’s weird that my campus gets a Target, but the side of Baltimore I’m on can’t keep one. I digress.

So here we are. I’m a proud American Expat in America, lover of all things connected and thriving metro areas and eager to find a space to both plant a few roots, along with being able to fly around and see how other places are doing things.

It will only make these stories better and this space grow.

I’m Kristen. Seven years ago, I started blogging here to make sense of the built environment around me. You can find me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. You can find out more about me at my main website, Support this project on Patreon for as little as one dollar a month.

Why I’m Raising Money for The Black Urbanist and Why I’m Doing it On Patreon

Kristen Jeffers writing at Union Station in Kansas City, MO, Spring 2016

I am raising money to make this the online home I’ve always dreamed it could be and needs to become. I’m doing it through Patreon because Patreon makes it easier for me to see what I have to work with each month and it’s optimized for people who write and make audio and video to promote their work. You know, like a patron of the arts.

Getting to this Point on a Personal Level

Twenty-four hours ago I woke up on a sunny Saturday in a sour mood. I knew I needed help, I knew I didn’t have to stay grumpy and I knew there was a way I could shake myself out of my funk. I started tweeting.

For those of you who’ve been listening faithfully to Third Wave Urbanism, in our recent episode, we talked about the many changes we have going on in our lives. Katrina just returned from Sweden and Amsterdam and is currently raising money for a return trip to Sweden help build the Women-Led Cities initiative. She’s been able to secure a fiscal sponsor and Knight Foundation funding. While she’d had the seeds of this idea in her head for a minute, it was being at the big Women’s March in January, that prompted her to come up with a tangible idea for change and way to channel the energy of surviving our new political reality in the United States.

Meanwhile, I, on that march day, spent it with a long-time fan and now newly minted online friend in Harlem, reflecting on what the world could seriously look like for women of color and taking at least one good day to celebrate and enjoy ourselves, if things got really bad immediately. Later that night, I logged on my computer and saw all the women’s march pictures and I posted to Facebook how excited I was and how down I had been prior to the march and I was ready to take this energy and move forward.

I then launched my Patreon account and my friend, Zia, was both the nudge to do it and one of my first Patreons.

On that original night, I’d been working on three projects: this site, which I honestly just saw as continuing to be more of an archive and a personal blog; Plan to Speak, a webinar/event series I’d developed to try and have a less controversial, but still related to planning and placemaking way of generating income; and Kristpattern, my dabbling in crafts and making a few crafty things to sell and again, have a less controversial way of generating income.

The first push worked and I hovered at around $40-$60 a month in Patreon income. Yet also at the same time, I’d been experiencing early bouts of not gaining and keeping contracts and being able to completely sustain myself. I had rent to pay in D.C. and no one I knew that I could just crash with (as I’m doing now in Baltimore). I was adamant about staying in D.C. Then I did get a full time, well-paying contract in the District in March and I was able to start making headways on bills. I did an extra push of the Patreon around the same time and I narrowed focus back on writing this site.

However, when I went back to work, I was working for a somewhat conservative agency and I didn’t want to draw attention to myself or the more radicalized portions of my work. I really needed the money and finally, I’d found a way to make money in D.C. and enjoy being a Washingtonian and doing things like eating out and going to concerts.

Deep down though, my heart yearned to be writing more here and writing in the vein I’d started to crank up and go in into just before I started at that organization. Also, while I was on one floor doing one thing when, my original contract ran out in May and I was moved to another floor, where the work I was doing and the team I was doing it with wasn’t as interesting. I began to start planting the seeds for a full reboot of the site.

If you’ve paid attention since May, we one, relaunched Third Wave Urbanism after our election-induced hiatus. (This was also part of our channeling our Women’s March day energy into something positive). Two, I started to tweet more. Three, I’d already reshaped the weekly newsletter from being a place where I try to sell all the things I’m doing (like the courses and Kristpattern things), after having learned to do that and switching to a bigger email platform at a business event last fall. I went back to Mailchimp and I started doing what I do best– writing about urbanism straight from my heart.

When my job ended on July 28th, I had a week’s notice and I’d already started to put money away, as well as ramp up activities and I was confident that I’d be able to start doing more of my work and I’d find somewhere else to do it. The seeds of a move to Baltimore had also been planted in the spring. In fact, one of the first things I did with my new check at that agency was hop on MARC and come up and visit for a weekend, at the prompting of a friend who’s basically why I’m still in Baltimore now.

Then the floor flooded at my D.C. apartment on the night of August 4th.

I still didn’t panic. Well, I did that first night and texted a couple of people, but I was able to get the puddles under control and go back to bed and think about how I could continue to make my dark and imperfect basement apartment work. I went to see a few places in D.C.. However, I sent another text to another friend and colleague in Baltimore. One Facebook post later, I had a housesitting gig.

I got to Baltimore, started spreading the word about wanting to set up camp here more permanently and I’m now in what I’d like to call phase two, where I’m still crashing with friends, but I’m also excited to be starting not just a new job that allows me to do work I think is worthy (and pays me about the same as I was in D.C.), but also I have access to a car (thanks Lyft rental program!), things are a hair cheaper up here (and the food and cultural opportunities are better) and I also see and interact with people more often. Partly because I can drive or take the train into D.C. specifically for special events and otherwise for being included in things here in Baltimore. Which gets me to phase three– getting back to having one anchor client, which is my paid position at the Baltimore Community Foundation, paying all my bills, getting my own place, and taking this site to the next level. Plus, don’t forget, Baltimore is every city I’ve ever lived in and more.

Now, What I Want for this Site–a Managing Editor and More (Paid) Voices

I thought about what I needed the most for the site and going forward in life. Increasingly, that was my own managing editor. I’ve had some pushback with other editors and sites and I’ve also noticed that I don’t write nearly as much as I would like to, simply because I’ve been at the point where I know I can get paid for it, and potentially syndicate it, for a while now. While not everything I write is truly meant for publication, I’ve also thought about how folks like Seth Godin (and Michael Doyle a little closer to the planning world), are writing either daily or almost daily. They pump out good content and it still makes sense. Plus,I know for myself, I feel better and I start writing things that have even more power and punch.

With an editor, I can make sure one, my writing is clear and error-proof; two, it gets posted on the site; and three, they will be able to point out things that I can’t see and pinpoint places and spaces I could be pitching to, with hopefully writing that doesn’t need too much more editing to fit into their space.

Additionally, this person would help me make sure I’m not over scheduling myself, that I’m managing the funds we generate  well and yes that I eat and rest. Oh, and we hope that this person might also be able to pitch in and help some with editing and managing Third Wave Urbanism, but we are also hoping to raise money through that Patreon or foundation support to get it its own editor/producer.

The second piece of why I’m raising money is that I want this to be the premier space for black urbanist writings and thought. I want to be able to sustain myself writing explicitly and honestly about my experience loving cities, understanding suburbs, respecting farms and preserving natural areas as a black woman, with Southern roots and radical leanings.

I want to be able to call my other black urbanist and black city writer friends, hand them a few dollars and tell them to write with their heart and write directly to their people. Similar to what happens at VSB and Blavity, but with the frame of our urbanist news sphere. I also want folks to be able to write things here that they can’t get placed elsewhere.

I also want to tell city stories without having to explain the blackness or rely on frames that don’t really make sense and keep pushing stereotypes of all kinds that just don’t work. Lastly, I do want my black friends and family to understand our role in the sense of place and continue to create and share a black urbanist ethic, much like I wrote about right after the election.

And again, Patreon is great with writers and podcast makers. Also, Patreon will pay me once a month and I will be able to set a standard day of payment for all staff and vendors. I also would like to experiment with doing a print magazine, using Blurb and also doing a general call for articles quarterly and work to make sure that all content is placed and paid. In the beginning, we will still have more stringent standards, because we won’t have as much money,but if we can raise more money sustainably, we will expand our content.

And yes, I realize Patreon may not be your jam. For that, I’ll be introducing a media kit, or you can just talk to me about me working on a paid project of your own or ask me a question on the app Campfire. I also have a Square Cash setup for one time donations and I still use PayPal (it’s how I process my Patreon donations).

I want to go ahead and thank everyone who’s already donated, in money, time, stuff and a listening ear. Also, in the last 24 hours, I’ve recalculated all the math and we are already almost 50% to the first goal, which I’ve lowered to $250. Read on for more details about how all this works and what’s in it for you.

So What’s In This For You?

In addition to the content, here are the rewards spelled out. Note that if you’re an existing Patreon, these are changing to reflect the new focus on The Black Urbanist.

  • $1/month puts you on my holiday card list. Make sure you include your shipping address and I’ll be sending you a card. And yes, because there’s a lot of you out there (at least 7600+ on Twitter), $1 a month goes a long way.
  • $5/month currently gets you a The Black Urbanist sticker. It will be in your holiday card.
  • $10/month gets you three stickers. Originally it was a sticker reflecting all three brands, now you get three The Black Urbanist stickers. Want a Third Wave Urbanism sticker, donate directly to that Patreon. Look out for an additional reward at this level to be announced. And yes, the holiday card.
  • $20/month gets you all my books signed in perpetuity. If you don’t have a copy of The Black Urbanist yet, hold off, if you’re at this level, you’ll be one of the first to get the revised second edition. Also, this will be for sale. I’m going to be pulling the first edition off of Gumroad and all other online stores over the next few days in anticipation of the second edition coming out at the end of the year. And of course, the holiday card and the stickers.
  • $50/month will get you a custom-designed city related gift. I.e. I’ll be making one of my Kristpatterns and I’ll put it on one of a handful of items that I’ll order using Zazzle, Print All Over Me or a similar design-on-demand site. And everything else.
  • $100/month will get you a customized city map from Point Two/Design. I bought one of their city maps for D.C. back when I was in Vancouver for Placemaking Week and it was great. Sadly, it got lost in the moving shuffle, so in addition to reordering one for D.C., I’m ordering every city I’ve ever lived in for my future portrait wall eventually. And that’s why I’m offering to buy you one too. They will make whatever city you want, in whatever colors you want. I’ll contact you to get the specs. And you’ll get everything else.
  • And you are welcome to go above and beyond my campaign by donating $500, $1000, $2000 or more per month. But the rewards stop at the $100 level.
  • And you can opt out of rewards and just let my work be your reward, as several folks have already done.

And here’s the goals/plans of the site at a glance:

  • Amounts up to $250/month will go to site fees, i.e. Bluehost, Mailchimp, Soundcloud and Adobe. Also, this site needs some fixing and it will cover that too because I can do some of that work myself.
  • Pledges above and beyond $500/month will allow me to add an editor at a pay rate of $250 a month. The editor will help me get my newsletter out and look at adding more newsletters and other daily newsy content. They would also proofread any regular posts of mine and contribute posts as they saw fit.
  • Pledges above and beyond $750/month will allow me to raise the salary of my editor to $500 a month and we’d both be writing more stuff for the site. Also, they would be doing more office managerial things.
  • Amounts above and beyond $1000/month will allow me to start paying writers. Both I and my editor will write in the beginning, but then we hope to add two commissioned pieces a month at $125 per piece. These will be personal essays, i.e. what a traditional guest post would look like.
  • Amounts above and beyond $1500/month would allow us to commission an investigative piece at $750 a month.
  • And amounts above and beyond $2000 would increase my travel budget and increase the amounts of personal essays and investigative pieces we could do, but those would be the rates. Also, I’d like to get my editor to the $1500/month level eventually, possibly more. I’d also like to do special events and introduce a print magazine to highlight all this new digital work.

Whew, you’re at the end. But thanks to your support, I won’t have to end this project and it can grow even bigger.

I’m Kristen. Seven years ago, I started blogging here to make sense of the built environment around me. You can find me on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. You can find out more about me at my main website, Support this project on Patreon for as little as one dollar a month.

Baltimore is Every City I’ve Ever Lived, Combined in Weird and Wondrous Ways

So here we are, the first true Baltimore-centric post. It took me two months because as I said in my 2017 birthday post, I was scared. This is a city where people get hurt and get hurt often. Especially by people who claim they want to do the right thing. The last thing I needed was for my post to come along and stir up another hornet’s nest. I’m trying as much as possible to fly under the radar.

However, I do have thoughts and thus far, I can say the city’s giving me exactly what I need. Plus, it truly feels like every city that I’ve lived in decided to put all their DNA in a test tube and let it gestate. The irony in this is that Baltimore was born before all the other cities I’ve lived in. However, I can see where it stagnated and where it’s got room to be reborn.  So let’s talk about these common things.

Harris Teeter=Every City I Lived in In North Carolina

And it’s legit. There is a whole row of House-Autry flour mixes. House-Autry flour mixes are one of the nine pillars of modern North Carolina cuisine and it’s awesome that this most obscure of the nine is right here where I can get my hands on it in a short drive to the grocery store. Oh and there’s not just one, but two Harris Teeters. However, like Harris Teeter pretty much everywhere these days, the demographics of the neighborhoods around them tend to be the whitest and the wealthiest of town. Still, I got a car, I got money, I got a belly. Y’all gon see me! And help me make myself at home. (For those of you curious to what the nine pillars of modern North Carolina cuisine are, I got you in a future post).

Power Plant Live!= Power and Light in Kansas City

I’ve been told it’s by the same developer and it shows. Bars that attract the average citizen. Average meaning more likely to be obnoxious by the end of the night. They do have some good concerts there though, I hated missing St. Paul and the Broken Bones and people rave about when Tech 9ine does a hometown show at Power and Light. Also, one of the best parties I attended in Kansas City, was the streetcar progressive party which ended at one of the event spaces in Power and Light. There’s a nice co-working space at Power Plant Live!, as well as a newish Mediterranean/Middle Eastern spot that’s great for folks who when they aren’t consuming the cuisine of their home state, are trying to avoid over-proccessed foods.

The MTA Metro Subway=The WMATA Metrorail Blue Line

I say the Blue Line and the part of the line from Capitol South to Largo Town Center because it does cover similar demographic areas. Also, while the MTA Metro Subway is rumored to go nowhere, it does go to a few places, if you just happen to need to go to Hopkins Hospital, the Maryland State Office Buildings, the Upton Market, the replacement shopping thing at Owings Mills and the two other shopping malls that sit off from it. Oh or the homes, the dense row homes, that happen to sit back off the parking lots. Similar things are happening on the WMATA Metrorail Blue Line. Government buildings. A hospital (or a major medical office). A new shopping center that has some issues, along with a nearby public educational institution. Public food markets. A sports stadium, although arguably one has more activity around it than the other. And yes, I’m including racial dynamics in this as well. Who lives around these stations as the stations move from downtown to the suburbs also mirror each other. (Spoiler, they get blacker as you go out, although Baltimore City’s population is still predominately black, so that skews things a bit too).

The Light Rail= The D.C. and the K.C. Streetcars

The Light Rail works when it works. That’s why it gets to be lumped in with Kansas City’s system, that’s continuing to meet and exceed expectations. When it doesn’t work, it reminds me of D.C.’s poor little H Street line. It’s like the Little Engine That Could. It thinks it can and it does, but it has a lot of work to do to get there. Baltimore’s light rail will take you to the airport, the convention center, Orioles Park at Camden Yards, M&T Stadium, the Symphony Hall,  and a some lovely bars, public markets, food halls and neighborhoods on a north/south axis that’s perpendicular to my current neighborhood. However, I can’t trust when it comes, because the systems on there are in need of renewing. I hear they are tied up in red tape. That’s unfortunate. Yes, if you haven’t heard, I’ve added a car back to my urban travel mix.

The Rowhouse Blocks and the Turrets=D.C.

I mentioned in a prior newsletter that the house where the Underwoods on House of Cards live/lived (mild spoiler there), is actually a house in Baltimore passing for D.C. Much like the rib place he always goes too and a number of other exterior and some interior shots. If all you know of Baltimore on TV is The Wire, then you’re missing out. One day, we might get a show up here that actually shows all the parts of the city, for better or worse. Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to actually being able to afford a turret one day.

The Sprawl=Kansas City

You don’t have a bisecting state line, but you do see the results of building out road corridors and parkways in the years prior to World War II. You see the homes start to get newer and newer, in addition to areas of empty lots and some urban renewal that breaks the patterns, along with the newer downtown towers and the convention center. I think that my time in D.C. drove it home that I’m just going to have to adjust to at least a 15 minute drive to a Target. Well, at least Amazon delivers door-to-door here.

The Love of a Singular Food Object So Much it Defines Your City=Kansas City

Sweet Barbecue & Burnt Ends> Crabs. Crab cakes however are in contention. I’m allergic to crabs alone so I’m a little bit biased. Again, and I attribute this to knowing one cuisine solely for 28 years, North Carolina is so much more than one thing. Again, I will be discussing this claim in a future post.

The Hospitality= North Carolina

Maryland is a southern state. And the friends and colleagues I have here do mimic the ones I have back at home. Plus, I’m here thanks to their hospitality and their nudging. And I do feel ties to being at home. I will say though that there were a handful of folks in Kansas City that did their part. Plus, I’m in less need of a safety net these days, but I have it. So there goes. Argue among yourselves as who’s the nicest.

30% of the License Plates=North Carolina

I asked someone how this could be. Then I was told that a lot of Baltimore undergraduate (and graduate!) students come from North Carolina. I have yet to meet an adult friend who also grew up in North Carolina and is just here, but I have met a few of the former. It’s nice to be able to drive around, squinch your vision and think you’re back in either Charlotte (because stadiums and light rail) or Raleigh (skyline and colleges). We do not have the row house situation in North Carolina, clearly I gave that to D.C. above, but we do have a lot of vehicles that seem to belong to maybe parents that live in North Carolina.

And so that’s it. I’ve got more serious thoughts on Baltimore coming over the next few months, but for now, these are my initial, fun, observations of the city I’m making home for now. Oh and Royal Farms chicken is great, it’s just not equal to Bojangles in the same way and therefore, doesn’t warrant it’s own section of this post.

Listen to the audio version of this post:

I’m Kristen. For seven years I’ve used this space and a few others to make sense of the world around me. Learn more about me and read more of my archives. Subscribe to my newsletter (which comes out mostly weekly) and stay up to date with me. Or, come be one of those Twitter folks who make me think a little harder about what I do. Or I can talk to you, with my co-host and friend and fellow urbanist Katrina Johnston-Zimmerman, roughly every week as well about the next wave of urbanism.

Image of a line of row houses and cars parked on the street on a sunny day in Baltimore’s Reservoir Hill neighborhood. Image via Wikimedia Commons by Smallbones – Own work, CC0,

On The Black Urbanist’s 7th Anniversary — Declaring Worth And Being Honest With Myself and You

I think the best way to start my blog birthday/anniversary post for 2017 is to note that I’ve not been writing much over the past 12 months because I flat-out feel unworthy. However, I’m going to take the time to break out the struggle, talk about why this struggle matters and then talk about what I’m doing next.

A Summary of the Struggle

At first, I thought my struggle to write and feel worthy was because of all the bad things that have happened to me over the past few years. All the struggles and the pain and somehow still being in a challenging situation.

That somehow, people knew or learned I was struggling and don’t want to read, listen, hire or help me anymore. Likewise with the times I’ve been forthcoming on this blog and in the newsletter. That being so honest is why nobody with money or major influence wants to help or make sure I don’t fall behind again.

Then I realized something. Like much of the United States of America when it came to the presidential election, my thoughts on my career and my worth were determined by how things appeared on Facebook and Twitter.

If another news organization, policy organization or independent writer writes an op-ed or a reported feature first on something I’ve had in my head for years, then it’s not worth me writing it, because no one will read it.  In my mind this blog has weight, but it’s still just a blog, run solely by me and not a major news organization or a the very least a major news nonprofit or urbanist organization.

Especially since I don’t often believe the site is reaching enough people and sadly, I’ve seen people tweet out an idea only if it comes from a major source. Never mind there are other, smaller sources, that have the same and maybe even more of a commitment to telling the story of people and how they interact with their environment.

Yet, I would only know about this one triggering article if I saw it on Facebook or Twitter. Still, it would ruin my day and I would shut off my laptop or cross out the words in my written notebook and become sad that sharing my thoughts doesn’t seem to matter.

(A side note to the times when I’d pitch these publications or organizations or independent writers or developers, get a lukewarm or sometimes hostile response and hold back publishing it on my page because of the glimmer of receiving a better payoff on the work. Never thinking that I have the same sharing and distribution and possibly even back-end of some of these sites and I can still reach the same amount of people on social media).

Likewise with conferences, workshops, gatherings and the like that I can’t get to because I have to work, or it’s too expensive or far away, or that I didn’t get invited to present or engage in. I would see all the pictures and sometimes read conference symposia and wish I’d had an opportunity to be part of the official record of work. Or at least be in the room to network and meet people face-to-face and then sell them on me as a person.

Again, so many of these activities I wouldn’t know about were it not for being advertised or hyped on social media.

Then, there’s the venting that I see happening on both platforms. If one of my “friends”, especially someone who knows me in real life from urbanism, is venting about a policy or a trend, then I must not have reached them soon enough and my words must not have penetrated. How am I to be trusted as an expert or the very least a theorist, if I can’t get my friends and family to understand what’s going on? Why does it take someone who’s not known as an urban theorist or expert, or even more of an urban theorist or expert to finally get people to see the light?

Or even as I wrote this draft, I was pinged on Twitter by someone who thought something I re-tweeted was problematic. I often get tagged and asked questions that I can’t answer immediately, but I feel the obligation to answer immediately because of the speed of the platform. Sometimes, these discussions get resolved, but other times, I carry an intense measure of guilt, because despite me trying to do the right thing, I was still wrong and I still hurt someone. Yet, I’m going to work on engaging in these conversations in a way that I can have peace with. Even if I walk away still being wrong, if I have to apologize or if I have to follow up later offline, I want to not let reasonable discussion or being challenged take me away from sharing my ideals.

Finally, there’s the basic needs of paying bills, rent, eating and also how that happens. I’ve chosen in some seasons to write this blog and promote this platform with the very real fear that it would write me out of jobs. I chose to leave Kansas City so I could make this blog my primary career and also switch into being a consultant. That part worked. I have been a consultant for the past year and some change. However, I didn’t properly prepare myself for the financial changes that would bring, as well as fully comprehend what moving to D.C. in 2016 to start a business would be like. I also foot the bill for so many things, both expected and unexpected, that have bankrupted me. With me bankrupting myself, I felt like I’d missed something and that again, I was unworthy of being a theorist or expert, because I had no or little cash flow. That’s of course wrong, but I’ve struggled with that too.

With the move to Baltimore, I allowed myself leeway to not force things to happen. Now things are happening. I’m in rebuilding mode and I’m dealing with all those Maslow’s triangle needs head on. Things aren’t perfect, but they are a lot better eight weeks in than they were eight weeks into my DC move last year. Also, I’d never been to Baltimore before February of this year. I had no real concept of what’s going on here, what needs to go on here and why all is not lost here and all is not perfect in D.C.

Why This All Matters on the Eve of My Seventh Blog Birthday

Ultimately, all this matters, because I started this page because I wanted to change the narrative. I wanted the mostly male and white urbanist blogging world to realize that there was more to life than their perfect, paper, urbanist cities.

I wanted my own black community to understand that a lot of what we’ve been fed as good urban policy is bad. That our family and friends who haven’t had it as well may be doing all they can to get ahead, but we still live in a world where we don’t control the entirety of our destiny. That every major change can’t happen over night. And when we do make major overnight changes, we still have to examine our motives and ensure that we aren’t just falling back onto the same patterns, just with different rulers, who might look like us.

I wanted women’s voices to be amplified. I wanted to remind our male urbanist friends and antagonists that yes, planning for strollers is not horrible. That sometimes we buy cars just to keep assholes from harassing us at night. That our schools and playgrounds and areas we take our kids matter.

In all cases, I wanted to break stereotypes and create an environment where we challenge ourselves and challenge others to do better by our environment, whether it was a farm or a row house block or even a pier full of carnival rides and tourist stores. I wanted to go past the stereotypes I mentioned above and create a stronger environment that incorporates all the things a person might need to thrive and be a positive contribution to society.

However, I wanted to eat my cake too and do this from a city that I deemed perfect and in no need of major changes. I wanted to coast along and just bask in the glory of a perfect urbanist environment.

But one, urbanism is grey. When I first used that analogy seven years ago, it was more of a racial analogy. The racial lens is still very important. However, I also see the need to talk about specific behaviors and how we blame the average person for doing things that we give leadership a pass to do.  Two, I see myself needing to be more active in the stew of creating better environments,not just urban ones, and not just supporting them in the abstract.

I’ve been guilty of shaming people for how they choose to transport themselves, where they buy a home (which isn’t as much of a choice as we like to think),and  how they choose to spend their time. I feel like I’m equally critical of policy and systems that preclude equal access to jobs, homes and transportation options. Yet,  I’ve definitely not wanted to engage someone who wants me to believe that their McMansion is the only way to do life.

What I’ve forgotten and what some of us have forgotten is that in the last 20-30 years, that’s been the only housing option for which many people have been able to get loans. Residential redlining in pre-World War II urban neighborhoods still exists and in some cases those neighborhoods are being systematically hollowed out, until the right developer comes by and pays the right price to bring those homes back up to code. Or people are sitting on those homes waiting for the big payout. They may match the racial demographics of the community, but they are more motivated by profit and not community. Developers build these wackadoodle McMansion houses and then leave average people with the heating bills, the mortgages and sadly, the underwater values.

Likewise with transportation systems, education systems and regulation of industry and corporate entities. All of these need regulation. All of these need leaders that see everyone from an equitable, diverse and inclusionary lens, that is also willing to constantly improve what’s wrong and also keep doing what’s right, despite what balance sheets look like.

Blaming someone who’s driving a car because the bus keeps leaving them on the side of the road to get their kid to a school that’s not public, but doesn’t make them sick everyday and force them into the ever-increasing costs of the healthcare system, is not right.

Calling out our elected and appointed leaders, as well as complaining to corporate entities or even withholding money from said entities is the right move. Not pooping on our friend who’s just trying to get ahead. In fact, maybe we can have said friend over, feed them and then blow up the party lines of the government together.

What’s Next for Me?

So the first thing I’m going to do is to again, stop silencing myself. I’m going to be doing more frequent and casual writing, tweeting, audio making and video making.

I help people make media plans sometimes. I tell them to do this and that and it’s usually planned. But planning for me makes me write, and over write and over think and never do. What I will start with is a constant examination of my heart and ensuring good intent. Of seeking a collaborative space, but also being ok with asserting the times that I clearly did something myself.

For understanding that the past year of my life was an experiment. The experiment didn’t work out as planned, but I also created some dope byproducts that are reaping benefits.

Also, I ask of you, besides continuing to listen to our podcast, reviewing our show on the podcast sites, sharing our show on social media, sharing these posts on social and contributing to my Patreon (even the smallest bit counts), that you’re patient with me and that every once in a while, you ping me privately or let me know in some other way that you see me, you care and that I don’t have to be stuck because of what I’ve written above.

For the folks who have been doing that, thank you. My next goal is to be an even better friend and continue to recognize your blessings on the world. Also, to the bigger organizations, publications, practitioners and bloggers that have supported me and us–Thank You!

I’m creating a comprehensive event calendar, as well as a intranet/database where we can share resources. I’m going to test drive some of those things on my Facebook page and group, as well as in the Patreon platform and here. Pay attention to my posts on social, the newsletter and here to make sure you don’t miss out on those changes.

I’m soliciting for volunteers of all ages. I haven’t really grown the page out to being the comprehensive source of information and such that I want it to be, because it’s just me and I can write these posts for free from my bed. Yet, I see a need to be more present and I need more help to do that. I’m also applying for funding so I can make these paid positions.

Also, I’m also creating an informal advisory board, with the eye of creating a more formal board and exploring fiscal sponsorship or a clearer revenue model soon.

Whatever I do, it will be in the interest of what I’ve spelled out above. It will be fair, equitable, diverse, inclusive and open. We will make what we need and we will share our wealth and excess with others.

For now though, let us eat cupcakes and blow out the candles on another year!

I’m Kristen. For seven years I’ve used this space and a few others to make sense of the world around me. Learn more about me and read more of my archives. Subscribe to my newsletter (which comes out mostly weekly) and stay up to date with me. Or, come be one of those Twitter folks who make me think a little harder about what I do. Or I can talk to you, with my co-host and friend and fellow urbanist Katrina, roughly every week as well about the next wave of urbanism.

Or, you can listen to me somewhat read this post below. I do read parts of this post, as well as annotate what I wrote:

On The Constant State of Motion Through Imperfect Cities

Via Wikimedia Commons

There’s no perfect city. We also can’t expect people to fix cities and not bear the brunt of what it means to be the only person in a city who seems to have all the answers.

And I am not that savior. I love helping you fix them, but I can’t do this all alone.

Aaron Renn and I may not see eye to eye on everything, even with urbanism, but we always seem to come back to the same place when it comes to needing to move to find the right place.

In Governing recently, he asked cities to again reconsider making everyone fit into it and being upset when people, namely people who are seen as promising leaders, movers and shakers, leave. I wanted to drop these two paragraphs in because they really spoke to me:

I travel around to cities across the country and always come into contact with highly talented and motivated people. But there is often a huge divide between those who get traction and find success in a particular place and those who do not. I’ve been puzzled as to why some people who seem to be skilled and sharp are frustrated in these places while others seem to be thriving. Many of the frustrated people leave and find great success elsewhere. This is then cited as evidence of “brain drain.”

The truth is, sometimes there just isn’t a cultural fit between a person and a city. That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with either of them, just that they have incompatible styles. It’s the same as with companies, where a great person might not succeed at a great company simply because there’s not a cultural fit.

First of all, Aaron, thank you for reminding cities that one they have and two, they need to kill their inferiority complex.

Secondly, sometimes you need that reminder that you’re not doing anything wrong.

As much as I know I shouldn’t be seeking approval in others and that it’s a nice side effect over the years that this blog and my later ventures have garnered attention, I still struggle.

I’ve been solving my own city living/occupation-making/relationship-building puzzle for years.

This puzzlement, this feeling of being wrong, and the greater struggle, some of which I wrote about trying to overcome earlier this year, has kept me from being my best self. However, I’d like to first speak to the roots of my discomfort, the simple of act of having to move from home to home over the years.

A Life of Movement

Moving has always been a traumatic experience for me. For the first nine years of my life, I was fortunate that I was able to live with both parents in the same house with my own room and a big backyard that several of the neighborhood kids and grandkids could come and play in. This was 1940s-era suburbia in Greensboro, so imagine a 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom ranch with a picture window in the living room a sizable eat-in-kitchen and a generous front porch with curly awning.  Also, because this is the south, we’ve been inside of the principal city for years, almost since the time the neighborhood was built.

I had a nice swing set, trees, a sandbox and enough room for pick up softball and other major playground games like hide-and-go seek.

However, my parents needed to separate and  divorce. My dad kept our old house and I moved with my mom to a garden apartment a little further out but still part of the city. Five years later mom and I moved to our own house just inside the city limits. 

The apartment had a playground and our unit faced it. Unlike our old yard, my mom couldn’t control and approve who got to play there, so I didn’t play there often and I began to stop going outside to play. Even at my dad’s, where he got me the camping tent I wanted, in addition to all my other old backyard toys, and I spent every other weekend and Tuesday and Thursday nights and a week in the summer. At my mom’s I’d just watch the playground kids from my window, some of whom were my new classmates at my new school, and then turn back to a The Babysitter’s Club book or my Macintosh desktop computer.

This alone, along with my bookishness, caused me a lot of teasing at my new elementary school. Not that I wasn’t teased at my kindergarten and the other elementary school I spent my first through third grade years at, but at least I had a refuge at home.

My parents did do a good job of making sure they spent time with me both inside and outside the house. When it was time to go off to college, my dad was with me every year I needed to move, to load the moving van that I managed to accumulate over the years, and then move me into my first apartment, out of that apartment, and then into my beloved downtown Greensboro second apartment.

I lost him before the move back out of my second apartment and I’ve been at the mercy of moving companies and folks who happened to have a bit of spare time ever since.

While I’ve adjusted to not being able to have conversations with my dad, I’ve not adjusted to the deferred dreams of working on a fixer-upper in my dream city that we had. Nor have I adjusted to having to do so much literal heavy lifting myself, when I’ve wanted to make a strategic move, like I did when I came to D.C.

Meanwhile,  my mom really wanted me to have a home to come back to, and I’ve been extremely grateful for my two trips back home as a resident, as well as summers during college and most of my post nine-year-old life.

Additionally, when she went back to full-time work as a teacher, she was often forced to move classrooms each school year. I used to loathe the end and the beginning of school, because of the time and the emotional weight of having to help her with all those moves.

As I’ve gotten older and had to make moves for my professional success, both with a mixture of trepidation and excitement, I’ve come to understand just why it took so long for us to pack up and rebuild her classroom each year.

As of this writing, I’m looking at having to move again. The basement I’ve been living in has flooded a multitude of times over the summer and I can’t take living in the moldy goo anymore. Plus, to add insult to injury, the temp job I was working has ended and I’m now scrambling to figure out what’s next.

I already felt confined at that job and I’m coming to the realization that often doing the professional work one loves means living in a city that may have less to offer in amenities.

Maybe I’ve not found the right group of folks and funding, but I do increasingly feel like I can’t do what I would like to do in D.C., at least not creatively. In the interim, I’m spending more time in Baltimore and have tested out living there these past few weeks. Also, leaving the United States was already an option pre-presidential election and has become even more of one post-presidential election.

Whose Brain’s Being Drained?

This gets me back to Aaron and his article and a lot of his own work over the years. He mentioned the words “brain drain”, often used by city boosters to mock those who leave despite having characteristics on the surface that they want.

Or do they really want those brains? Sometimes I feel they only want the money and the appearances that come from our thoughts and the jobs and art we create with them.

Oh and sometimes even the jobs and art aren’t enough if you come in the wrong hue, orientation or income bracket.

Even just today at this writing, another issue of the right to public space and provision of social services has come up in my hometown and it just saddens and drains me that most of the power élite, who are on the one hand celebrating innovation, can’t understand that cites thrive from the mixture of folks. Even the folks who have made mistakes have something of value and they definitely don’t thrive when we don’t give them a hand-up!

Granted, I know my hometown isn’t the only one having this problem, but it’s the most personal and hurtful example.

It also hearkens back to why I believe there’s no perfect city. I’m shifting my focus on being a connoisseur of cities. I believe all of them can grow and work, but there are some that don’t nurture me at all and I’m done with naming one or the other as the next best thing for me.

Check back in with me though and I may have found a more permanent spot.

In the meantime, I’ll be on the move, with hesitation, but at least I know my brain isn’t getting siphoned off.

I’m Kristen. I started blogging here to make sense of the built environment around me. You can find me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. You can find out more about me at my main website, Get job listings, interesting articles, links to future posts and more from me via my weekly email. Support my work on Patreon.

How to Keep Your Citizenry From Going Crazy

The abandoned Henryton State Hospital in Carroll County, Maryland by Flickr user Forsaken Fotos under a CC-by-2.0 license.

One of the things I forgot to write in my post on the individual mental health things one should do to endure a city is to embrace its warts and try to heal them.

However, some warts are so bad, they might as well be cancerous. This is where you come in civic or business leader. It’s in your hands to cure these malignant lumps on your city and make them better. Here’s how:

Stop chasing after companies from other places, especially if that company is already in your metro region but not your jurisdiction.

We always complain that we don’t have millions to spend on another school, but millions magically appear to help companies move offices, sometimes just across the city, district or state line. If you want to support businesses, how about setting up a small business fund or providing low or no interest loans to local makerspaces and business incubators?

Create and recalibrate a law enforcement system geared to rehabilitation.

So many people in jails and prisons really should be in mental health facilities or even just job training programs. Yes, punishment for certain crimes is worthwhile, but think about all the new customers, scholars and homeowners we could have if we made sure this system didn’t hold people back for an unreasonable period of time. Or, if we provided the meals, shelter and sense of belonging on the outside such that people don’t look to these facilities and doing crimes just to have that community.

Stop the infighting between other departments, grantees and other nonprofit or corporate partners.

I know this often comes from limited amounts of capital and budget battles, but we’re all in this together. The people who need these services the most don’t want to hear about whose turn it is to get the extra $500,000 surplus or who’s turn it is to lose it. They don’t worry as much as you do about overhead vs. programming, especially if there’s no evidence of that battle on the service provision level. Going back to Mazlow’s triangle, they are trying to get to the top, starting at the base. You as civic and business leaders help them do that.

Everything doesn’t need to be developed, re-developed or revitalized for it to be successful.

I know this is down to making money or just having a dream of seeing something revamped. At its most purest motivations that is. However, what do we really gain from replacing one neighborhood with another, sometimes on top of the neighborhood that was already there? We are in a time where people want Art Deco, Craftsman, Federal, Mansard, Victorian and other types of architecture that pays a lot of attention to details. They might be ok with well-done mid-century modern, brutalist or “Starchitect” type structures, if it serves a good purpose and doesn’t take away from street life and it’s connected to many transportation modes. Also, we want our homes to be affordable, but not cheap. I shouldn’t worry that my brand new house will burn down because it’s made of wood that’s only a few sheets stronger than paper. Also, we can’t forsake neighborhood service businesses, especially corner stores. I won’t get into details of food production and provision here, but we have to keep looking into how affordable, healthy food can come back to our street corners.

Stop undermining our educational system.

You either get public funding for your school or you don’t. Also, some metro areas have way too many school options. The last I checked 2×2=4 and E=MC^2. Why do we need so many buildings that offer that lesson, especially ones funded with public money. I’m of the idea and I’ve said it before right here, that you can have public schools and private schools. Public schools provide a basic educational service, as well as service all kids regardless of background. Private schools provide supplemental education, especially of the religious variety. Why we can’t get that equation together is beyond me.

Strengthen the services of our safety net.

This gets back to affordable housing, healthcare, food, schooling, transportation and everything else. We all have good times and bad times. Not everyone needs luxury and everyone deserves a bare minimum of life to live. We shouldn’t have teachers and others who work for a living, just barely able to afford homes or living on couches not by choice.

Be ready for change from the ground up, while yet making sure everyone has a seat and a consideration of ideas.

You might be thinking, how can I do this? This isn’t possible. I have to make money. People like shiny new things. Also, you have no right to say all this. You’re barely old enough to be in the field. Wait until you have to balance a limited budget. Wait until you’ve had some family crisis.

Well, to answer that: one, I’m here to provoke new thought. Two, I have had financial and familial challenges. Three, when it comes to writing and planning things, I’ve been doing both professionally since 2005. Yes, as a teen. And I’ll admit I have more to learn, but I’d also like to fix and grow around both the individual and the corporate principles I’ve outlined.

With that said, we can all do better. And yes, there are sacrifices. However, if I can sacrifice, we all can too. I can say my sacrifices are starting to pay off. What can you say to your city when yours do too?

I’m Kristen. I started blogging here to make sense of the built environment around me. You can find me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. You can find out more about me at my main website, Keep up with my weekly adventures  via my weekly email. Support my work on Patreon.

The Continuous Quest to Mentaly Cope With Modern Civic Life as a Young Black Woman Professional

Kristen looking out the window of a different Metro Blue Line train, the one in Minneapolis.

You can do this thing called life and you can do it in whatever city you need to as a young black professional. Why and how? I am.

You may remember I asked this question of myself and of my home state back in 2014. What does one need to do to find belonging and a sense of place in America, especially the America we currently sit in? How does one cope with double consciousness? How does one deal with microaggressions? How do we fight back or resist? Do we get to survive fighting back and resisting?

I decided I wanted to dive deeper in the things that I do to help cope with being a person in a particular place, especially when you choose to engage with the civic life and the placemaking aspects of it. In my next post, I’ll talk about what governments and institutions can do to make things easier for people living in their jurisdiction, no matter the size or the amenities. But here, the things I’m doing in an individual level, for self-care and self-improvement as I live my city life.

Making peace with my alone time

Even though I’ve moved to bigger cities to find more activities and people, they don’t always happen every night, people get busy and in my case, I can’t afford to go out every night. Plus, I don’t live with roommates in the traditional sense. With that said, I’ve started to feel better about watching TV and spending time on productive internet sites and reading actual books! The time to myself helps me come up with better ideas for writing and new ideas to work on my existing projects.

Finding my own personal hobbies and entertainment

Goes with the first step. But this deals with what I do outwardly. I’ve started to search Meetups. Through that meetup I found a really cool screenwriting club. I’m hoping to use Meetup it to  bring me back to performing music. And to sort of re-launch Plan to Speak, my public speaking and presentation design course platform. I’ve started to meet people out of my normal circles and I’m starting to get way more positive energy, which helps me chase away the down moments.

Shifting productively from being the only one in a room, to one of many, back to being the only one again especially when it comes to race, class, gender and orientation

I’m used to having to do things and look around and watch my back. I still have to, but I also have started to notice that I’m not the only in the room. That’s giving me room to be more of myself in situations where I’m not being depended on to be the token or the “definitive black voice”. I will say, if you’re in a situation where you’re still the only, you still have no obligation to be this voice. It’s even more vital to find people, even if they are online and you have to Skype them to see them, who allow and encourage you to be 100% yourself. I have those kinds of people here in the flesh and it’s a great help when I begin to deal with the next bullet.

Recognizing and responding to insecurity, both in myself  and in others.

I’ve had to realize that especially in the smaller places I’ve lived, that there’s often an unspoken competition between people in the same industry or of the same gender or racial identity or even just between where I think I should be versus where I actually am. The difference in where I am now is not that this spirit of competition has gone away, but that I’ve recognized it as simply machinations of insecurity. Insecurity isn’t just jealousy and envy, but sometimes it’s a more physical manifestation of lack of money or opportunity, i.e., the company that just doesn’t have a position open that fits your skills, just because you like them. They might be grant funded. Or in the case of the federal government at this writing, frozen from hiring. Really hitting the bullseye on this issue has helped me greatly in being able to understand what’s really going on in my career and in social interactions and helped me continue to find new places to thrive.

Being courageous and willing to try new things, as well as make moves.

The move I made almost six months ago was one of courage. So was the one I made in June of 2015. Many of us know the Nina Simone quote about walking away from the table when it’s not serving you. It’s vital to think about that quote when you make moves to find the things that do service you. I’ve been guilty of being on way too many civic boards and neglecting those personal entertainment activities. It took courage to stand up and say I need something different. But even if your city depends on you, you have to know when to say no (more on that in another bullet). You definitely need courage if you have to create the community to help yourself thrive. And patience. And the willingness to be one’s best advocate. Some of us who dwell in an introverted state or have been silenced may have to nudge this skill. However, in the bigger cities, you really have to fight for your right to party ;).

Being realistic about finances, along with being more resourceful

Cost of living is real. I wish I’d let myself really absorb that before I made this move and made some other moves that will take time and lots of creativity to repair. However, I’ve said it before and I’ve said it again, the price you pay to live in the place you want to live, whether that be a big city, a smaller town, a farm or even an island in the sea can only be determined by you. While I’d make some decisions differently, I have learned that surviving in a bigger city is not something I can’t do, even with money being tight. The key is that I’ve been pushing myself to leverage resources both on and offline in my current city. And if you choose to go somewhere because it’s cheaper on the surface, keep in mind the pull of spending more money on things and trips and how that can be just as ruinous on your finances. Find ways to quickly center your finances in a budget and don’t let emotion or fear rule the show here.

Loving myself and setting the right kinds of boundaries.

I still can’t be everywhere for everyone. I’m letting go of the guilt of leaving two very vibrant, but just not right for me communities behind. And with so many opportunities in my new city, it’s sometimes hard to say no, in the spirit of being more courageous as I mentioned above. But at the end of the day, no matter how busy my city is, I need my cocoon and I will cherish it.

Just like I mentioned in my post-election post, self-care is vital. However, we can engage in whatever city we are in for positive good and still be productive, giving citizens. Now, I will say if your safety is repeatedly challenged or you are in direct danger, run. You don’t have to put up with blatant abuse for the sake of being in a certain place or leading a particular community. You will thank yourself.

As always, all of this is a work in progress. I’m learning not to beat myself for having to go backwards sometimes. However, I wanted to share this, because I think we call all learn from the process. Also, review my last post if you need to do an even deeper career related dive.

I’m Kristen. I started blogging here to make sense of the built environment around me. You can find me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. You can find out more about me at my main website, Get job listings, interesting articles, links to future posts and more from me via my weekly email. Support my work on Patreon.

Questions to Ask (and Traps to Avoid) When Considering a Career in Placemaking

Kristen Jeffers writing at Union Station in Kansas City, MO, Spring 2016

Have you ever wondered how a person becomes involved in the world of placemaking and development as a career?

Is it just people buying up properties to manage and flip? Is it just people being city planners, working in their city’s zoning or long-range planning department? Could I be part of the industry as a writer, like you? Or, do real estate agents or tradespeople count? Could I just open a coffee shop in a neighborhood that needs one and open up my doors on a regular basis to community folks?

Also, what kind of schooling or training do I need to have? What’s right for me? There seem to be lots of choices and no one unique path for some of those choices. How do I make this work for me?

I’m going to assume in this conversation that you’re a person between the ages of 16-40, and you live in the United States or Canada and you haven’t made any money in the sector at all. Although some of these personal development exercises could be translated and applied to people in other countries or at different ages or even volunteer roles that have similar rules and roles around property development and management.

To get into the meat of the process there are nine questions to ask yourself, four traps to avoid and a handful of things to do next.These are all things I’ve thought through and learned as I build my business, all while considering new courses, contracts and bridge jobs to take to sustain myself.

Let’s start with the questions and my explanations of the smaller questions they generate:

What type of work do I want to do?
Do you want to build or refurbish homes by hand or as a trade contractor? Commercial spaces? Do you want to sell real estate? Do you want to be more like me and be a writer and theorist? Do you want to facilitate community meetings? Do you want to be a local government manager/planner/etc? Do you want to be an engineer or architect?

What specific skills do I want?
Do you want to draw? Write? Build? Make deals? Develop research or policy? If you choose the path of engineering or architecture, both inside and outside, there are things that you need to be aware of and certifications you absolutely have to have in order to be able to do work in your sector of the field. Also, if you are selling real estate, installing anything, planning anything or even working in an office or a university, you could do some of these things by yourself, without licensure, but licensure and continuing education credits make you look sharper and may help you make more money over time. Or even get you the job in the first place, in a complicated market.

What kind of debt am I willing to live with?
This isn’t just student debt. This is business debt. I’m currently starting a payback plan of debts I incurred when I decided to add being a public engagement specialist to my business. Also, while in the States, you can write things off, you often have to pay taxes on your business, especially if that’s all your doing and you don’t have an employer to absorb that. Some firms pay great, some don’t. Some sectors of our business allow you to make cash as fast as you can hang a light fixture. Others require you to intern at several places and create your own pathway, which may take years and lots of money. Don’t be like me and let the debt scare you or overtake you. Also, don’t let the idea of having to raise money or be in debt temporarily keep you away from the field, especially if it’s your ultimate purpose. More on that later. Lastly, do your best to avoid debt, by considering a graduated plan into the field or financial help.

Where do I want to do this work?
Selling houses in Florida is very different than selling houses in California. Same with building, designing and even how you promote homes and plan neighborhoods. Different cities have very different cultures around how work is done. Same with design firms. Also, you need to be moderately comfortable and able to find a social network, separate from the industry, wherever you are. You also need to be somewhere that you can be alone at, as often some of the best-paid local government jobs are in towns and cities you’ve possibly never heard of and may not have anyone who looks or thinks like you there.

How do I want to work?
Do you want to be on your computer in a cube or open office? Do you want to be in a closed-door office? Do you want to get dirty in the field? Do you want to talk to people? Do you want someone else to talk about your projects for you? The process and the procedure of how you do the work are not always what they look like on paper.

How will I cope with external setbacks?
This is a business where you will learn quickly that everyone is not your friend. Also, funding for design projects can change at the tip of a hat, especially if the money is coming from a government source. Plus, if you’re involved in active home building, supplies may not come on time. If you’re studying an urban phenomenon, you may find that your hypothesis is dead wrong and you may not be the expert in what you thought. You could be well loved in the field one day and hated the next. Which gets me to my next question.

How will I cope with swings in my mental health?
Having a therapist or at least a support group is critical. Even if it starts out as online, self-paid care and forums and you only do it once a month.  I would not still be here today were it not for professionals trained to talk me through some of the mental blocks and changes that I’m going through right now. Also, I’ll add that you want other business coaching or mentoring, but often, these folks will not be your therapist. Also, family and friends can be great too, but often, they may not understand exactly the rigors of your profession and they may discourage you without meaning to because they operate under a slightly different set of workplace rules.

What alternatives am I willing to consider?
If being a licensed practitioner doesn’t work out, could you be happy joining the blogosphere? How about getting appointed to the zoning board? Or planning a block party or farmers market or concert or some sort of community event every month, that builds a community behind it? Placemaking and community building is not just the licensed and regulated trades.

What is my ultimate purpose?
This is the thing that gets you out of bed in the morning. This is what you’ll look back over your life and be happy you did. This is what you hope your involvement in the sector will do both to you and the community you’re working with.

With that said, let’s address a few traps to avoid:

  1. Narrow ideas of your goalgets back to the alternatives question. You should have a Plan B or C (maybe D, E and F).
  2. Defining yourself strictly — some may mock you for having different talents or even wanting to have just one particular talent. Silence them by doing what you do well and being flexible and a lifelong learner.
  3. Not defining yourself at all— You do want to have some idea of what you do, even if that idea is being a person known as a multi-passionate. This video and blog post is a great nudge to people like us who have many ideas.  This person also bootstrapped their business by working in a completely different field. Oh and the field they’re in now is something that only a handful of people do well and understand. Sounds familiar…?
  4. Depending on external validation (both to lift you up or to help you make the right decision in the moment) — This does not excuse you from making sure the measurements on the structure you’re building stand up. If you choose to go into architecture or engineering, your buildings do have to stand up. Even with decorating, designing and planning, you need a clear vision if the goal is to convince a neighborhood or developer to build or allow you to build. However, sometimes, you do know what’s best, especially if your measurement tool is actually a yardstick and not a subjective idea. And sometimes, you may be a junior planner on a project that going to ruin a neighborhood, but as a junior planner, there’s only so much you can say and you may not get all the validation you need. However, use this as a lesson to learn what you really want to do and know that you don’t have to just be a junior planner to have a role in creating and maintaining the world around you.

Ok. You’ve asked yourself the questions and you’ve made note of the traps. What’s next?

  • Create a list of schools, funding sources, and jobs you want to go after. Get to know what these opportunities require and create a plan to go after them.
  • Start talking to any and everyone in the business to get to know them. The journalist/activist in me would often go into these meetings with a heavy dose of skepticism, automatically assuming I knew what people would say or what they were about. However, as a student or at least student-minded, go into these meetings, listen and make notes of things you want to remember. Don’t be like me and learn this the hard way.
  • Make note also of HOW people conduct business, arrange their offices and even things such as grooming and body language.
  • Finally, recognize that even if you never nail a nail, or draft a plan, if you have any idea how you want your community to run or even a policy idea worth testing, you have a role in this space. Once upon a time, homes were built by gathering together all the able-bodied adults to create the raw materials and then put the frames up. Regulations and licenses aid in making sure that process can be done over and over, but every discipline started as someone’s idea in a sketchbook and got professionalized over time.

Good luck in your search! Feel free to reach out to me for more insight and support!

I’m Kristen. I started blogging here to make sense of the built environment around me. You can find me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. You can find out more about me at my main website, Get job listings, interesting articles, links to future posts and more from me via my weekly email. Support my work on Patreon.

Yes, I Borrowed Some Style, Urbanism and Career Cues from The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Image by Jay’s Fine Art Photography

Mary Tyler Moore died last week, making her probably one of the first Ugg 2017 things not related to our current government malaise. And to be honest, having this excuse to tap into a major part of her legacy, her self-titled 1970s series she owned, produced and starred in, was a huge relief. Plus, she was 80 and had been unable to communicate and seemingly in lots of pain.
There are so many things from the show I never realized were from the show, that we take for granted when we see women in the city on-screen or even how we city women live in real life. I knew that Oprah idolized her. I knew about the hat toss and the hat wearing. I also had a mom who came of age in the 1970s and wore versions of those outfits and instilled in me a love of 1970s working girl fashion.
Lately, though, it’s been the growing list of things I seem to have in common with the character, that I’d like to highlight this week, both in the spirit of escapism and because I don’t know when I’ll have another chance to highlight the show and the character. Here’s your bulleted list:
  • The white car (you remember my old car Betsy right)
  • The studio apartment in a room in an old house in the center of town (English Basement dwellers of D.C. stand-up!)
  • The deluxe apartment in the sky(I know, wrong show, but that’s what my dad always called my old Greensboro apartment).
  • The hats and scarves (wearing a hat as I type this post and in both of the pictures that lead and end this post).
  • The going away party (I had a bar crawl when I left Greensboro and a Taco Tuesday surprise when I left Kansas City)
  • Striking out at age 30 after being in a long-term serious relationship. (Yes folks, I’m single. Don’t all line up now).
  • The accidental journalism career (Just a few of my clippings to date, oh and the podcast and this site. Remember this all started to help me make sense of the world, but I do like writing)
  • Maybe I’ll make it? (Bank account…)
  • You’re gonna make it. (Thanks, friends)
  • Changing the world with a smile. (Always ;), even waiting for Metro. )

The CityLab article about Moore’s death and the legacy of the show did mention how the show created the trend of showing urban yuppies and strivers getting ahead on TV. However, it was my friend Evette Dionne over at Revelist that really honed in on what the character meant for women and feminism along with a whole slew of articles on the New York Times website and in print. Plus, Oprah’s many tributes.

And yes, some of the episode’s writing, especially in the early years, could be corny and cliché, but the images and the lifestyle still resonate today. Also, outside of a couple major exceptions, it’s a white world, but I’m not surprised at the lack of representation in the 1970s, despite just coming out of the first waves of the civil rights movement. And outside of Living Single, The Best Man, Martin, and Being Mary Jane, film and TV have not shown us an equivalent black woman character. Glad we got Oprah and a handful of other folks in real life.

And now, to make it (on Metro) after all…

…and keep surviving and resisting.

I’m Kristen.  I started blogging here to make sense of the built environment around me. You can find me on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram. You can find out more about me at my main website, Keep with me via email. Support my work on Patreon.