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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, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18756953

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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:

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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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