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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, www.kristenejeffers.com. Get job listings, interesting articles, links to future posts and more from me via my weekly email. Support my work on Patreon.

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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, www.kristenejeffers.com. Keep up with my weekly adventures  via my weekly email. Support my work on Patreon.

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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, www.kristenejeffers.com. Get job listings, interesting articles, links to future posts and more from me via my weekly email. Support my work on Patreon.

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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 goal— gets 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, www.kristenejeffers.com. Get job listings, interesting articles, links to future posts and more from me via my weekly email. Support my work on Patreon.

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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, www.kristenejeffers.com. Keep with me via email. Support my work on Patreon.

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Why I Love IKEA

The answer’s simple— it lets me feel like I’m worthy of having a wonderfully designed home, no matter what that home is.

However, there’s a long answer to this and I discovered it on my recent trip to the College Park, MD IKEA. I’ve also talked about it in my book.

Before we get started with the long answer of why I like IKEA, let’s talk for a moment about how I got there and I how I chose to go to College Park versus the other two Baltimore/DC area IKEAS.

When I did the map Googling, Google got me to College Park in 49 minutes, versus 1.5 hours to Woodbridge. On transit. And that delivered. I walked the twelve minutes to the Georgia Ave.-Petworth Station. I zoomed the few stops to the College Park station after about a ten minute wait for the next Greenbelt-bound train.

I got off and noticed a couple of interesting touches: students waiting for a shuttle seated on the concrete and a mini escalator that only went up. Maybe it goes down at morning rush hour, but I only saw it at midday and after, as I got to the station around 2:45 p.m.

About seven minutes later, the #17 The Bus came to get me. Yes, in Prince Georges County, MD, it’s simply known as The Bus. I was sitting in the designated shelter when I ‘grammed this teaser.

It was also sunny and about 55 degrees, so not a bad wait outside. It pulls up and I set off on a 10-minute ride past the University of Maryland campus entrance and typical suburban strip mall characters mixed with some newer city-wannabe buildings. We get to the I-495 Capital Beltway junction and to the left, just over the gully of the highway, I saw the blue box and the top of the store flags. We wove around the parking lot to the bus shelter, which was covered and not too far from the front entrance and I hopped out.

Found it. And yes, I've got a post brewing about it…

A post shared by Kristen Jeffers (@blackurbanist) on

Fast forward to about 7:45 p.m. I had no faith in The Bus still running. After all, I had to drive to my last IKEA because the buses didn’t run after 6 p.m and that was inbound from downtown to Merriam, KS. (Of course, Kansas got the IKEA, not Missouri, but I digress) Plus, I had a few items. They were safely enclosed in yet another big blue bag, though. I reluctantly queued the Uber I’d priced out while eating chicken fingers at the restaurant an hour earlier. I’d elected to play a bit of Janelle Monae’s Dance or Die while waiting because I was feeling very dreamy after walking through the store, despite having a bad day before making the trip to the store and I wanted to add my spin to the upbeat and funky music playing throughout the store. The day got even better when I saw The Bus sitting exactly where I left it. I quickly canceled the Uber, which was already in the parking lot and ran down to the bus. Ten minutes later I grabbed this shot and bragged about my haul. I was home 30 minutes later after a little help from my usual #70 Metrobus.

Taking it home too! With a rug, fake orchid and a cardboard lampshade. #transit. #igdc #ikeahaul

A post shared by Kristen Jeffers (@blackurbanist) on


So let’s get back to why I still love IKEA. First and foremost, in this case, it’s transit accessible. However, that’s not a guarantee for every area (even though Charlotte’s about to run light rail just outside of the building). What I like is that no matter what size home you have or even if you’re home is a tent, there’s an IKEA product for you and it looks nice to boot.

But what about the assembly? What if I must have it delivered or if I have to take it back? The Yelp for the store you’ve praised so much for being so close to transit has all kinds of negative reviews on it for customer service and for parts not being delivered. Also, YOU TOOK TRANSIT TO AN IKEA. YOU CAN’T GET ONE OF THE FLAT FURNITURE PACKS ON A BUS. Not true actually, but to be honest, I wouldn’t want to own that couch that you can get on the bus.

Let’s not even go into the carbon footprint piece or the extra space, although the Emeryville, CA IKEA has almost no surface parking and is in an old warehouse area, so there wasn’t any wildlife to replace and it was already in an industrial zone.

What I love about the store, that’s universal to all stores is, that it’s universal.

No matter what store you go in, no matter how they structure the maze, it’s still the same maze, the same meatballs, the same LACK table no matter what country you or the store is in. Again, I went in the store still nervous about my underemployment and our incoming presidential administration. I came out with a beautiful forever blooming orchid and a new idea to balance life in my awkwardly shaped bedroom.

Yes, I really do have that many doors and one of them is not necessary, as I keep it open to my other room most of the time.
Also, what furniture/housewares store shows you how to live like a queen in 270 square feet of space? On top of that, now they’ve made this room a young black woman’s room.

And it even had sewing supplies.

My whole apartment is about   650 square feet, but again I have doors in odd places and I have one tiny window, that only gets sunlight a few hours a day and when it’s cloudy, never gets any decent natural light. Yes, it’s a dungeon, but for what I pay and who lives upstairs and the location, it’s not a bad deal. And now, thanks to IKEA, I’m considering turning my walls blue.

Eventually, my TV will go on that southeast wall (the picture shown is from the east side of the room, looking west), but for now, it’s sitting on a chair that’s against the door I don’t need, where the black bookcase is in the model image. Oh and instead of having my bed made and sleeping on that side of the wall, I’m sleeping on the opposite end, feet facing southward. I have room for my KNUBBIG lamp on my nightstand and I finally have some mood lighting. That and the TV had been in storage up until Sunday, but still, my trip helped me know where to put things old and new.

And finally, it’s hit me, that I want to do more with interior decorating and design in my professional life. I want to bring that IKEA ethos to my practice, especially since many people can’t live in that perfect urban (or suburban) home. Some people want tiny homes or homes on wheels or the ability to unpack a few suitcases and boxes and make any home a home. Or as this year’s IKEA catalog mentioned, sometimes people don’t get to choose when they have to move, but they have to move in order to survive and they still deserve to be able to pick a few things out and make it their own.

I’ll be using my KristPattern site to bring that vision to life, but I’ll be sure to keep you folks who primarily come here updated.

In the meantime, what are your best #ikeahacks? Do you get lots of #inspo going there? Or do you want to scream your head off before the maze is done or beat the creator of the Lack table with the leg you still couldn’t get to attach right? Ok, I’d not do that last one even if you are frustrated.

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, www.kristenejeffers.com. Keep with me via email here.

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My Placemaking Wishes for 2017

my-placemaking-wishes-for-2017

Happy New Year folks! We did it! It’s 2017. It could be bad or worse and it can be good or better. And in that spirit, I am coming to you with my 7th annual set of wishes. Depending on my mood and the mood of the industry, sometimes I do more personal wishes and sometimes I do wishes that are more general. 2017 is going to blend both. Take a look at wishes from 2011, 2012, 2013, 20142015 and 2016. And now, for 2017, I wish:

That I wasn’t so afraid of the future and neither were so many other people

This is the linchpin to me of the most recent round of elections in the United States, as well as the last few election cycles. We’re afraid to die. We’re afraid of losing control. We’re afraid of never being in control. This is just a portion of the phenomenon that allows evil to raise up through our civic spaces, but it’s worth looking at by itself.

On a more personal level, I’ve been more afraid since the election. Mostly because I was afraid long before the election. I feel safe to say that I left both my hometown and the one I adopted from June 2015-September 2016 because I was afraid of being myself in the spaces I conducted myself in. I feared that I wasn’t square enough to be in elected and appointed politics. I felt super black, and not in a good, fists up, I matter kind of way. I felt smaller and smaller. I felt like I had to be involved in small town nitpicky things. I felt like I was running out of people. And energy. And time. So I’m in the D.C. Metro finally. I can’t say that it’s for good, only because life happens and life happens outside of me.

For our greater populace, we may not like each other. We may feel like people are invading our personal space and messing with our ego, but the world needs some of that. We need all kinds of spaces, safe, and unsafe. We need dense and open spaces. May we continue headfirst to the transect and may we look at everyone first and foremost as worthy of love and worthy of the best. Then stop building bad things, taking away good social programs that work and condemning folks to judgment places that probably don’t look like what you think they do in your head.

That we could shift more of our economy to community ownership and bartering

I like having options just like the next person. I don’t think we need to start wearing uniforms or burlap sacks in the name of unity. We can have different kinds of living situations. Yet, we can improve on our market. Last year brought the opening of the Renaissance Community Co-op in Greensboro and the return of full-service grocery to a side of town that really needed it. Plus, instead of being a profit center, it’s a community center. I do hope they can continue to be successful and that we can continue to share these models, farmers markets, craft fairs, community clinics, community schools and the like so that nice things don’t have to be tied to having lots of income and wealth. Speaking of income and wealth…

That we can become a people who aren’t jealous or greedy

This is the other piece that I feel explains politics in the United States. Those of you reading from other nations who seem to be doing a bit better in this, please share. I think we need to all look in the mirror, be at peace with who we are now and then make decisions based on things we want. I think we also as leaders, need to not hoard resources for ourselves and realize that not everyone has the privilege to navel-gaze. Build things, sell things, but not at the expense of others and not because you need to do it better or bigger. And I want to get to the point where I stop making comparisons to others and how popular they appear and how wealthy they appear. I want to do things because they are good and they are good for me.

That I can buy a house by the end of the year

I live in a metro area where this may continue to be a wish into 2018. However, I know that I’m probably wrong. I’ll keep y’all posted on this one. Revisit my thoughts on buying my dream house in a world of mass gentrification.

That I can cut my consumer debt in half by next year

Same as the prior wish. I feel good about this too. I wrote about the fact that I struggle with not being good money, while I’m yet good with making connections and writing things people like back in the fall.

As usual, tweet, Facebook or just comment about your wishes for this year. And yes, I do believe that many of us will see 2018. And if we don’t, this time on earth has mattered and we will call up your spirit in many ways over the coming years. Likewise, this will live on somewhere even if I’m gone.

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, www.kristenejeffers.com. Also, if you want to follow my playlist for 2017, here it is!

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Four Lessons I Learned About Place in 2016

four-lessons-i-learned-about-place-in-2016

My original lead into this post was that I learned nothing. Then I wrote that I learned nothing that I wanted to share. Then I remembered the power of the pen (or type in this case). And I realized that I have learned things. No, I’ve haven’t mastered anything, but yes, I’ve learned things. And in that spirit, I’m going to relate those things to placemaking and also be very honest and a bit stream of consciousness about where my head is during this last week of 2016.

Things are happening, but they won’t necessarily happen on the schedule you want them too. 

I’m squeezing out every penny I have. Money is really funny. However, I finally live in Washington, DC. I finally have become car-free. I walk daily. I’m starting to see shoots growing off my many business ventures. However, I’d like to see a steady shoot that would keep me from having to budget as much and be creative with payments. The benefit of this is that I’ve learned to be happy and live with less. As my income increases, there are a lot of things I’m going to keep doing. After all, not all wealth is tied into money.

If I wanted to put a universal placemaking spin on this, the more money you have, the faster things can get built (or not get built if that’s what needs to happen). However, lots of things can be done, if you live lean and find abundance in other ways. Also, we need more than two classes, really poor and really rich and a shadow of a middle class. We have to be as patient as we are active. And finally, we have to believe that things will still get better. Even with what our election looks like, I’m determined to keep pushing back and be hopeful that things will get better and people will just be better humans.

I want to make things. And I need to not let the politics of the industry and the world keep me from doing so.

I have learned that my ideal life would include me writing this blog, designing my surface patterns and other crafty things, teaching people things and doing some community planning projects. Yes, all four. Not necessarily simultaneously, but collectively as one piece of a whole.

Yet, I’ve had to really push against the politics of the industry and the politics of our society, to make myself keep creating. Coupled with lesson one of learning that things take a while,  I’ve felt like I should hang up the towel many times. I’ve tried new things on the business side and I have yet to see the profits and I’ve also felt I’ve pushed people away. I’ve had people openly doubt me, laugh in my face or suggest doing something different. Or not acknowledge the work at all. On the other hand, I can’t see when those of you with me 100% are actually supporting me. I am working on making sure I tie up any loose ends, but I often get discouraged. I was uplifted by this quote, by architect Paul Revere Williams on his own place in the design world:

I was encouraged though, by this quote, by architect Paul Revere Williams on his own place in the design world:

I came to realize that I was being condemned, not by lack of ability, but by my color. I passed through successive stages of bewilderment, inarticulate protest, resentment, and, finally, reconciliation to the status of my race. Eventually, however, as I grew older and thought more clearly, I found in my condition an incentive to personal accomplishment, and inspiring challenge. Without having the wish to “show them,” I developed a fierce desire to “show myself.” I wanted to vindicate every ability I had. I wanted to acquire new abilities.

I wanted to prove that I, as an individual, deserved a place in the world.

He wrote those words in a 1937 essay called “I Am a Negro” in American Magazine. He wrote those words in the midst of another economic downturn and far worse race and class relations than now. Yes, we have some bad times and could be facing more. Yes, our industry is still behind in dealing with its racial and class politics. And yes, sometimes I really feel like I don’t belong in this space and that my work has no economic value.

But even if all I do for steady income next year is wait tables, I’m still going to draw patterns, write essays, and suggest ways we can build better houses. I love buildings. I love transit. I love developing communities. One day, my previous work or personality or even things I can’t change like my skin won’t get in the way of that.

However, as I’ve said before, this doesn’t excuse misbehavior both inside and outside our sector. We need to do better. Here’s how we can start to do better, especially as we center our practice on who we are as people.

There are places I feel more at home at and I need to be in those places. But I can have friends in many wonderful places.

Earlier this year,  I backed up on my “urban hierarchy is dead” theory. There’s really no place like home and that home for me is not Kansas.

I always knew I wouldn’t be in Kansas City forever. I just wished it could have been a little longer. I miss a lot of you who I did manage to become friends with. I miss burnt ends.  I just hate that all the things that were exploding around me, exploded all at once. I hate that North Carolina’s politics are crazy. I hate that our national politics are crazy.

If I were to pull a quote here that’s motivating me in this lesson, I am leaning more and more on Maya Angelou’s quote on accepting that no place is really my place and in that acceptance, everywhere becomes my place. I’ve made moves and made friends I never thought I’d make. I know I need people around me lifting me up and pushing me in newer and better directions. I could live in a shack, with one outfit and eat the same thing, but if I got to travel and see my best friends and afford to do things with them all the time, I’d be totally ok.

In that spirit, I’m proud of the moves I’ve made and the friends I never thought I’d make. I know I need people around me lifting me up and pushing me in newer and better directions. However, I could live in a shack, with one outfit and eat the same thing, but if I got to travel and see my best friends and afford to do things with them all the time, I’d be totally ok.

Consistency matters. And so does being true to yourself

I know I bounce around the weeks I email. I misspell words. I’m silent during times that I probably speak up. Yet, I’m still writing on this blog after six years. When I do write here and when I do send out emails, people do listen. However, I’m also learning consistency helps me. It helps me to write out my feelings. It helps me to journal privately. I don’t necessarily have to write everything or draw everything for the public. All I have to do is show up and do my best.

If I had a quote for this, it would be what Grace Bonney of Design Sponge said her father said about business, that you have to believe in your business more than anyone. She said that at a book talk for her latest book, In the Company of Women, which was full of other women doing creative and crafty projects, all at various levels of success. All of them mentioned consistency and perseverance. Thankfully, both of those things, plus courage, are free.

And with that, next post, I have wishes. See you in 2017 with those wishes.

I’m Kristen. Six 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, www.kristenejeffers.com

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Interior view of the basket-like casing of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The museum was lead by an African-American and British-Ghanian architects.

Interior view of the basket-like casing of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The museum was lead by an African-American and British-Ghanian architects.

I have always owed a great debt to the work of Sara Zewde, especially the usage of the term black urbanist and talking about black urbanism. Zewde is currently a principal at Asakura Robinson a designer at the Seattle-based firm GGN and in 2010, published her MIT graduate thesis, Theory, place, and opportunity: black urbanism as a design strategy for the potential removal of the Claiborne Expressway in New Orleans.

When I started this page, she had the only reference I could find online to the concept of black urbanism, especially as an architectural vernacular (style). Later on, fellow planner and blogger Pete Saunders addressed the term here and here. These authors have provided an African continent-centered focus on black or African urbanism. The most compelling chapter I’ve found in a recent Google search to see if other writers had used the term in recent years. Somehow I missed this chapter in Adam J. Bank’s  2006 book Race, Rhetoric, and Technology: Searching for Higher Ground.

I especially want to draw attention to Melvin Mitchell’s theories which are highlighted in the chapter, which I’ve taken a snapshot of below:

screenshot-2016-12-12-12-58-54

With this being said, and with the new political environment that we are facing, what’s next for black urbanism? I’d like to take a stab at naming a few things that need to happen:

Insist Black buildings and Black neighborhoods (and other ethnic and poor and marginalized neighborhoods) are just as deserving of historic preservation as others. While it saddens me that so many of the historic Victorian and Warder row-homes here in DC are so expensive, at least they are still standing in their present form. Additionally, the modern homes in the wealthier Black areas of Chicago are just as worthy as anything Frank Lloyd Wright has built. If we can keep the D.C Chinatown and even enhance it by building the archway, we can also prioritize historic structures even as we densify. Likewise, being mindful  (again)that black urbanism is also an architectural vernacular. This gets back to Mitchell’s ideas. I will say that strategically placed public buildings like the new National Museum of African-American History and Culture can be culturally sensitive and still help the black community, even though they were built for primarily white institutions.

Create and honor homeownership or long-term leases, as well as create shopping centers and service plazas that service all income levels. As much as I’d love a certain bullseye-clad big box store to be a bit closer to my home, I’d like it even better if we had neighborhood businesses that are smaller, more focused sections of the department store, such as a stationary store, or grocery or clothing. Neighborhood businesses that are co-ops or otherwise under less pressure for profit and more pressure to create livelihoods and provide good service. Likewise, continuing to promote and provide home purchasing and renovation services, as well as a wide variety of rental options for multiple budgets.

Push for the restoration of the traditional public school system, and turn the charter system into an alternative educational mechanism. I get it, charters promise parents more control and you can do things in charters that the regular public instruction doesn’t allow (like boarding schools, religious instruction, etc.). However, nothing is stopping a group of parents from creating extracurricular education groups for their children, even in marginalized areas. This is where the new charter apparatus would come in, by providing supplemental funding for programming outside of the classic school day, as well as forming a coalition with other adult and child social service providers. I think we need to push for a strong public education system and we need to focus our own extracurricular activities into ensuring that all children have opportunities for after school art, sports, and extra career and trade education. We need our youth to know they can be creative and they can create a new future out of the ashes.

Acknowledge climate change, especially the kind done by fracking,  regular oil pipelines. mining and even landfills near residential areas. I feel like this will be the one thing that the administration has pushed that will affect everyone and potentially exterminate us. So many black communities have battled living near factories, landfills, and other toxic waste for years and many lives have been lost silently to cancers and other diseases. 

File civil suits for every constitutional amendment or social issue violation that happens. I’ve been kicking money back to the ACLU for years and I’m going to increase that donation to them and the Southern Policy Law Center. Also, not just court cases, but standing up for all kinds of marginalized people and recognizing that there are many successful kinds of lifestyles for adults, children and families and creating communities that allow for diverse lifestyles and cultures, without pushing the supremacy or harm of one or the other.

Being careful that we make it clear online when we are speaking our opinion, being satirical or using facts. Yes, facts still exist, and so does opinion. I want to do my best to only spread ideas as ideas that I think better society and make it clear where facts come from.

Recognizing that activism for black folks and other marginalized people does not disqualify a person from professional or political practice or office. Activism is also a form of tactical urbanism. Recognizing that people of color and marginalized folks are going to be even angrier and oppressed and the microaggressions and outright neoliberalism and the systemic classism, racism, and homophobia are going to be worse. Don’t be that person in your planning or architectural practice, your pursuit for good governance or internally with your friends and colleagues.  Understand fully or try to understand the righteous anger and/or the burden of practice, especially against oppressive systems.  Constantly check yourself. Also, there’s fine line between a practice that is rooted in cultural vernaculars and only being the voice for that culture. Let’s be mindful if and when we choose to token and know that while it can be necessary, it can also be just as harmful. Also, having a culturally-sensitive urbanism doesn’t exclude or excuse anyone, if practiced properly. 

And if you are marginalized, rail against the system, but also tap into your creative side. If we had better, more sustainable systems, we could abandon the old ones causing us harm. I know for many of us, we just want to survive or get a piece of the pie. But what if we knew how to bake our own pies and could share? Forgive yourself and forgive those who are evil. You don’t have to forget, but you will need all that energy for the new creations and new worlds we are walking into. Let go of the shame of the words of the oppressor and remember they are wrong and you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t have a purpose.  Don’t do things that turn you into the oppressor. Teach or find someone willing to teach others how to respect cultural tradition and vernacular. Oh, and this is the part where I type SELF-CARE, SELF-CARE, SELF-CARE, SELF CARE…in all caps and repeatedly.

Finally, don’t give up. We will survive someway and somehow, as we always have as a people. Even if that means we are a people in exile.

I’m Kristen. Six 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, www.kristenejeffers.com. Support me on Patreon.

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Mid-Day Piedmont train in route to Charlotte from Raleigh, as seen from the balcony of CityView Apartments in Greensboro. Photo by Kristen Jeffers, the author.

Mid-Day Piedmont train in route to Charlotte from Raleigh, as seen from the balcony of CityView Apartments in Greensboro. Photo by Kristen Jeffers, the author.

I’m finally getting around to doing a fantasy transit map.

My inspiration? My trip home from D.C. to Greensboro via the train.

It takes approximately 8 hours to do it in the daylight and 5.5 hours to do it in the middle of the night. And those are the only choices, just the two trains a day.

However, years ago, there were at least 5 trains a day, if not more. I think we could get back to that point and do so quite cheaply. Also, I think there’s no real excuse why we can’t have trains going to every major city, at at least 60 miles, if not 90 miles an hour.

This idea actually was planted in me years before I decided to do planning work, but not long after my first ever train trip just before I started kindergarten.

North Carolinian fourth and eighth graders study their home state in social studies classes.  Being the social studies and history nerd I still am and was very much so then, I read my textbook from cover to cover.

My fourth grade social studies textbook. This was the only image I could find.

My fourth grade social studies textbook. This was the only image I could find.

There was a section in it that talked about life in North Carolina in 2032. Part of that life was being able to have lunch on the coast and dinner in the mountains (And I’m sure breakfast in one of the three regions and other meals on other coasts, but still, you can wake up one place, lunch in another and dinner in yet another).

As it stands right now, thanks to the routing of the Carolinian and the Piedmont, you can have an early breakfast in NoDA in Charlotte, a high noon lunch at Natty Greene’s in Greensboro and a dinner at one of Ashley Christensen’s fabulous James Beard Award-winning joints in Raleigh. You could do all of this in reverse. (probably need a different breakfast spot though…)

However, what if you could have dinner at the Chef and the Farmer in Kinston instead of that dinner in Raleigh and still get back to Greensboro before midnight?

That’s the fantasy I’m creating with my North Carolina Passenger Rail Map.

Before I reveal the map, a few rules that I worked with:

1.This assumes that we can start putting commuter rail stops and tracks down the interstates and state highway medians immediately.

2. This is not by any means parallel or inspired by the existing maps for the High Speed Rail corridor or any strategic plans. Please do dig up the strategic plans, especially for the Durham-Orange Corridor, the Wake County Corridor. The regional transit authority sites are good places to start for this and I may be back here to add those links in.

3. In the interest of still keeping some realistic planning in place, I’m using those highway medians with the assumption that the lanes lost in the process would be absorbed by people taking the train more often, especially in the Charlotte Raleigh corridor. Also, the costs would be lower, as basically this can be rolled into the existing plan to add second rail from Charlotte to Raleigh and also highway resurfacing and widening.

4.I decided to overlay a Google Map, because all the work is done for me. The map is blurry, yes, but it’s really just there for perspective and once I started drawing the lines and circles over top, I didn’t want to re-center it. I will revisit this later as well.

So, all aboard (couldn’t resist)! In my fantasy world, you can get to just about any city in the state in less than 5 hours, many within 2-3 hours.

My trunk line is the existing Piedmont routing. I’m assuming that almost everyone, save the folks on Asheville to Wilmington line, will come through Greensboro, Raleigh or Charlotte at some point.

(Here are the raw distance calculations, using Google Maps and following existing interstate, U.S. or state highway routes where possible).

I imagine these stations will be massive park and rides, utilizing space right next to highway interchanges for cars and regional buses to areas that still can’t be served by rail efficiently. These buses will still sync up directly with arrivals and departures and will leave the cities they originate in promptly. Also, there will be transit to major commercial areas in the cities represented.

Or, I could go even more fantastical and make all these stations downtown stations, much like all the existing ones are. A lot of these places will need new track anyway, why not go downtown to downtown and save money on parking and buses.

Now, what you’ve been waiting for, the map!

North Carolina Fantasy Amtrak Map

Existing Amtrak service is represented by blue lines. Fantasy service is represented, with slight approximations, by the green lines. In the Google Drive, distance is calculated using state highways, of which many do have a passenger or freight railroad paralleling or hugging anyway.

Also, if you’ve not seen the infrastructure maps, especially the railroad maps, the Washington Post recently published, you should. It will also point out that a lot of my fantasy map, could become very real and very viable–if only we reinstated some of the old railroads or allowed more passenger traffic on the ones we have.

Finally, there’s some great information on the N.C. By Rail website, including this awesome video of the progress and modifications to the primary state-owned and operated route that the Piedmont travels.

I expect you to critique the mess out of this. Can’t wait to hear your thoughts!

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 portfolio website, www.kristenejeffers.com. Or get an email from me weekly on Tuesday’s with links, other posts and job/fellowship opportunities.

 

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