Black Experience

Specific thoughts on Black urbaninsm, culture, life and experience.

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

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

A Summary of the Struggle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s Next for Me?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making peace with my alone time

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

Finding my own personal hobbies and entertainment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Being realistic about finances, along with being more resourceful

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

Loving myself and setting the right kinds of boundaries.

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

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

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

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

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

Image by Jay’s Fine Art Photography

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

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

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

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

…and keep surviving and resisting.

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

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.

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, Keep with me via email here.

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, Also, if you want to follow my playlist for 2017, here it is!

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,

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.

Building on Theories and Practice of Black Urbanism in Our New World

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:


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, Support me on Patreon.

Everything I Learned about Place, I Learned on Campus

During my time on campus, placemaking became more than a fantasy. It was ingrained. Let’s be honest here; if we think about how much we walked, shared things, and did all of our major business within a small set of buildings and blocks, we should all have at least some good nostalgia. In fact, I’ll go ahead and share the major lessons I learned about place being on campus:

I lived in a building with 50 other people and didn’t pull my hair out: If anybody has any complaint about communal living, it’s that the bathroom stinks, their roommate stinks, and the place just flat out stinks. Well, in my dorms, we didn’t have as much of a stench due to housekeeping staff who took pride in their work and RA’s who put wet wipes, air fresheners and other light cleaning supplies in the dorms to fill in the gaps. We also had a maintenance staff that made sure our windows, air conditioners, steps and the like were in good working order at all times. There were individual roommate problems, but some of the troublemakers either got kicked off of campus or had somewhere else to go. I loved being able to go downstairs and have something going on at all times. Even if it was random or not quite my thing, it was still something to do that saved money on entertainment.

I ate at the dining hall, and we had a world-class chef: Well, for the first two years of undergrad at least. The lesson here is that you can run a cheap restaurant. Hire a chef who appreciates the challenge of cooking for diverse college students and sees the place as a nice sit-down restaurant, not a mess hall for students who will eat everything under the sun. However, the challenge we did run into was keeping the good chef (he was promoted) and finding people who could cook all kinds of things. In grad school, I added tasty takeout joints to the mix. Yet, my one visit to the general dining hall was my last visit to the general dining hall, as it clearly began to resemble a mess and not the best.

We shut down for 3.5 months and we still got stuff done: People complain or sympathize with the college student break, but in light of the recent economic troubles of many companies, besides paying their employees, they have no reason to really operate over the Christmas and in some cases any national holiday.  Having so many days off rejuvenated me and helped me to come back ready to work twice as hard. Also, this helps with building energy costs and motivating even the lowest paid employees. (Think of our chef or housekeepers).

I walked everywhere(undergrad): Granted walking from the grocery store was a bit cumbersome.(Reusable bags had not hit the mainstream yet), but I appreciated the fresh air. Also, there were businesses that were close by and students patronized them, especially if they had something students really wanted (not just alcohol). When I didn’t walk, I rode the on campus bus, the Wolfline, which had connections to two grocery stores, a drug store and all the main points of campus I couldn’t easily walk to. The bus even ran a special route to the athletic complex for basketball and football games.

I barely drove (grad school): Having a car and commuting from my mom’s house made me a bit lazy. I complained dearly and daily about parking at the park-and-ride. I scarfed down fast food just so I could run and grab my precious Betsy and park her right outside the door of our building, which was free after five. Yet, in the grand scheme of things, even when I received a better parking permit the following year (all day, every day parking on main campus), all it did was make me rethink my car trips. Could I just be more focused and do my homework at home, then make the trip to campus for classes and serious library time only? Is it worth me swinging around the block for the perfect spot, when I could just park in “the sticks” and get some much needed exercise? I used to love walking in the rain? What happened? I appreciate even more the times in undergrad when I had no choice but to walk, for the sheer fact that my waistline (and my bank account) loved me better.

These lessons are not news to the many college-educated young professionals who chose to make dense, traditionally urban style areas their home. These lessons are also not lost on some who were forced into urban-style development as children, left for the suburbs, but come back for work, or to play on the evenings and weekends. Service workers, namely spa and salon owners, make their business in dense areas and know about the hip cachet. Those without homes know that the best place to be when all you have are the clothes on your back and your two feet is where all the public services are, which tend to still concentrate in the central business district.

At the end of the day, a sense of place is the greatest lesson of all, no matter what level of schooling you have.

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