Cities

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

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

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

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

My Childhood Vision of A City

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But This Is Not How Others Define Cities

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

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

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

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

 
[Greensboro] Location in Guilford County and the state of North Carolina By Rcsprinter123 — Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34937437

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why This Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I WILL ALWAYS CARE ABOUT ALL THOSE PLACES.

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

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

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

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

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

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:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m Kristen. Six years ago, I started blogging here to make sense of the built environment around me. You can find me on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. You can find out more about me at my main website, www.kristenejeffers.com. Support me on Patreon.

How I Get Around the DC Metro Without A Car (And You Can Too!)

I mentioned in a prior post that I do a fair amount of walking and I no longer have my car now that I’m in DC. I wanted to break that down and help folks getting started here without a car to understand how car-free life works. This is very D.C. specific, but I used the same logic in a more modified form in Kansas City and in Raleigh in undergrad.

There are nine steps. Think of them as a Mazlow’s Hierarchy of Needs for transportation.

Step 1–Go on a map and get adjusted to where you actually live, not where you think you live in your head.

Especially if your only experience in DC is the area between the Capitol Building and the Lincoln Memorial, which by the way is 2.6 miles long and takes 56 minutes to walk in its entirety. I learned the hard way back in 2009 how large of a walk this is. We went to the Lincoln Memorial at night on our first day of our visit. I continued to have pain throughout the remainder of my trip that was only fixed when I started wearing hosiery. Thankfully this was during November and they also helped keep me warm.  These days, I’m still adjusting my schedule and my backpack weight so I don’t end up with back aches from carrying my whole life around to too many places across the city daily.

This is also a plea to learn your neighborhood name (or names in my case, as I technically overlap and depending on who I’m talking to, this can be a cause for consternation and write me off as being a trustworthy individual). Please also learn how to say neighborhoods like Glover Park and that it’s Malcolm X Park and National Airport and Anacostia is just the area around the Frederick Douglass House. Try not to truncate neighborhood names other than NoMa./rant

Use Google Maps and overlay the Metro on the actual map. You will thank me, when you realize that Shady Grove is not that close at all. In fact, I’ll give you a bone, here’s the D.C. Metro map to proper scale.

D.C. Metro Map at the Actual Scale of the System by Peter Dvorak. Click on the image to see all of his pictures and to purchase his work as a print.

D.C. Metro Map at the Actual Scale of the System by Peter Dvorak. Click on the image to see all of his pictures and to purchase his work as a print.

Step 2–Understand that while this city moves at a faster pace, you travel at a slightly slower pace over less land, especially if you live inside the District or close in.

Actually, even if you live pretty far out, don’t expect ease of travel during rush hours on weekdays. Also, if you are commuting and you find that you would be better served living close to your office, in one of the suburban areas, go live there and be closer to not just your work, but a handful of quality happy hour places and suburban big box stores and trails and 20-60 minute trains into downtown and back out. Or if you’re like me and like being in the middle of everything, as I’ve managed to do as a stroke of luck, by all means, stay where you are future (or present) neighbor. Or, you may find family is close by, but work may change. Or work may just change. Or you start dating someone.

As good chefs know, keeping a well-stocked pantry with your staples helps maintain some consistency in cooking. The same goes for your commute. With so many choices, you could travel so many ways. However, time and money are still finite and you want to maximize them both as you choose how to get around the region.

Step 3 –See how far you can walk to get to your destination.

Every day for me is a walking architecture tour. You may find that for yourself as well, so definitely start exploring on the sidewalks.

Every day for me is a walking architecture tour. You may find that for yourself as well, so definitely start exploring on the sidewalks.

You may find that even if you walk slow, you’ll get to your destination cheaper, faster and with some physical activity built in. From my position on Georgia Avenue, I walk to Petworth station, to the Shaw/Howard station, to U Street and to the Columbia Heights station. If I wanted to get more exercise in, Adams Morgan and Chinatown and Dupont and Metro Center become part of my walkshed.

If the only things I needed to do were in walking distance every day, I would stop here and I’d have a perfect budget and I’d be living in a perfect village. But we can’t all live in Clarendon. And because we all don’t just live in Clarendon and sometimes we want to go to a Smithsonian museum or a Nats game, we have to use more than our two feet. Also, what If I can’t walk?

Step 4–See how far you can bike, both with your personal bike and Capital Bikeshare.

I am still proud of myself for making this journey, even if I had to space over two days and use the hotel storage where I was attending the event.

I am still proud of myself for making this journey with Lina, even if I had to space over two days and use the hotel storage where I was attending the event. At this moment I’m just across the Potomac from the monument core on the Mt. Vernon Trail.

 

First of all, if you haven’t ridden a bike in years, and you already know your balance isn’t the greatest, I would reach out to my friends at the Washington Area Bicyclist Association(WABA) and see when their next learn-to -ide class is. Then, I would go on Craigslist or to one of the local thrift stores and see where you can get a nice used bike. Folks at WABA can help you with that as well. I would not buy a bike from Walmart or Target. They may be cheap, but they are so heavy, you might as well be riding a Capital Bikeshare (CaBi). Once you pay your $85 a year for a CaBi membership, you get 30 minutes free per bike and there are stations all over. I suggest you get a fob, even if you don’t plan on using it much.

I will admit though that uphill rides can be a bit rough and anything north of U Street and Florida Avenue starts the uphill climb, at least in the Northwest quadrant. Also, CaBi stations get sparse the further north you go. And if you’re in one the main dense suburbs, you may have slightly better comfort and markings to go where you need to go or you may have nothing at all. Also, learn how to lock your own bike down, so all of it is there when you get back. If you want comfort maps at your fingertips here are ones for:

  • D.C.–http://ddot.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/ddot/publication/attachments/dc_bike_map_2012_full_version.pdf
  • Arlington–http://www.bikearlington.com/pages/maps-rides/ …
  • Montgomery County–http://mcatlas.org/bikestress/#

(If your part of the metro has one, let me know. I crowdsourced this list via Twitter after exclaiming that I knew about Arlington’s map, but where were the other major regional maps).

Step 5–Mix in Metrobus and Circulator and your county bus system (ART, DASH, RideOn, The Bus)

Don’t look down on the bus. Especially when the bus helps your wallet and actually saves you time. I live off of Georgia Ave. I like doing a few things and visiting people who live in Silver Spring. I also like being downtown quickly. The 70s buses help me do that quick and easy. I just know it’s 20 minutes in either direction and I’m thankful I don’t have to walk. One day there will be no delays and I’ll get a good seat, but I can’t beat the $1.75 in each direction. The 79’s especially great for taking an express route to where I need to go. The Washington Post has a great primer on how to use the bus for the first time. Also, ask if your destination has a free or direct or both shuttle. This is what makes Potomac Mills Mall even possible, as well as the National Harbor, although both now have public transit routes. I doubt they will ever be in the Metrorail system and VRE, the Virginia side commuter rail, just scratches the surface of the Potomac Mills area and not at a high frequency.

Step 6– Now take Metrorail. Or VRE or MARC, depending on which state your suburb is in.

Two #newtrains, passing in the wind...

Two #newtrains, passing in the wind…

Speaking of Metrorail. As of this writing, you may have not heard the best things about Metrorail, the thing you probably think about when you hear the word Metro used in reference to the train or any transit around D.C. However, it’s hands down the best way to cross the rivers, especially with your own bike. Also, I’m using it to go to Capitol Hill (Eastern Market to be exact) and down to the Waterfront/Nats Park areas. It’s also become most convenient to cross town this way, instead of try and do it on bus (being underground is warmer). My storage unit is adjacent to West Hyattsville. Thankfully, because I have a life that’s more than just using the train to go places in the metro (but all about grabbing Amtrak at Union Station to go up and down the eastern seaboard and the yellow line for further flights out at National Airport), I don’t have to worry too much about this thing called SafeTrack.

However, if you live in any suburb, it’s either express bus to one of the major suburban junctions or it’s the stop in your suburb that you live close to. Unless you add the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) or the MARC train, depending on which state you live in or are communing to and from. Honestly, doing this to Baltimore or BWI Airport will save you some sanity and money. Please again look at the Metro map above, the one with the real distances , and decide if it’s really worth the extra money to ride down F/G street versus walk or bus those four blocks inside the District.

Also, I keep my SmarTrip Card around my neck and I load it with a cash amount as needed. If I was doing more riding both the bus and the rail system, I’d invest in a pass. If you know you’re primarily using one or the other or both as transportation, and doing it at least 3 times a week, then I’d go with one of the passes at the WMATA site. Also, the speciality ones do make great jewelry or bragging rights. You do need a different set of tickets for VRE and MARC, but you can go here and get tickets for everything transit and train related in the region.

Step 7–Uber and Lyft, too.

I’m trying to reduce my dependence on these two, by dressing properly for the weather and being less afraid of walking home alone before 9 p.m. However, for late nights, tight timelines when I think I’m walking or biking or busing the right direction, but I’m really just lost, and carting stuff home from the grocery (although I’m looking into one of those carts for my Giant/Target trips), Lyft and Uber have been my lifeline. Oh and when you have really good friends who live way out past Metro stops. This also applies when Metro is shut down and your bus drops frequency or stops running.

I’ve not done it yet, but I’ve heard you can buy trips in bulk as well.

Step 8–Car to Go, ZipCar or Enterprise Car Share.

I’ve only done one of these and that was so I could drive around a city that didn’t have as much transit on the opposite end of my trip. I have ridden in all but a Car to Go with people who are members of these services. Again, this is what you do when you need to go somewhere that’s not as car-free friendly like Rehoboth Beach, you need to haul a ton of things from a storage unit or boxes from IKEA (although I know someone who has carted a vacuum cleaner on Metro from Target) or there are really no other good options to get where you need to go.

Step 9– Reconsider Car-Ownership.

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I only miss her at night, and when I’m tired and don’t want to put in the work all these other modes require. But then I think about the hurting I put on her on the streets and parking downtown…and the fact that I was already down to driving her only every other day or every two days even in Kansas City. I think she’s in a happier place with her new owner.

You can only get your friends to drive you so much. You may want to become an Uber or Lyft driver yourself or have a business that requires you to haul things or a job that requires you to spot funds for site visits. You might get on a Home Depot/Apartment Therapy kick and it becomes a self-care activity. Your kids may just cause you more trouble on the bus and Metro than its worth, if they even come close enough to your house.

Also, if you don’t live in the District proper or you’re somewhere that’s still not well served by transit or you have a social or work life largely outside of the District, and you can park easily, as many folks not in what’s considered the Old City do, then by all means, do get a vehicle of your own (or figure out how to get your vehicle here).

Yes, this statement may throw out everything I just mentioned. However, I’m an advocate at the end of the day for a multi-modal future, not necessarily a car-free future. Also, some of you like driving in the demolition derby known as driving in the core of the District of Columbia (and to be honest, certain parts of close-in suburbs that will remain nameless). And some of you should volunteer yourselves as tributes, I mean Uber, Lyft, Postmates, Instacart, Door Dash or a litany of other delivery service drivers so those of us who wreck our vehicles every other year, who get anxiety behind the wheel (or sometimes traveling period), don’t have to drive.

The extra money  you make using an app could potentially pay off any expenses that come with having the vehicle. Do know again, that your vehicle can become more trouble than it’s worth. Maintenance, parking and fines are all higher here. That’s what ultimately tipped me to sell my car and not bring it to the District.

Finally, we are at the top of the pyramid! Your commuting and traveling equation may look different, but if you’re looking to go car-free for the first time or in a long time and you also want to save money and be efficient on how you get around, consider my method or create a sustainable one of your own!

Other Resources

  • GoDCGo (The official transportation demand management site of the D.C. Government)–http://www.godcgo.com
  • RometoRio (Great resource that predicts how much a particular mode or combination of modes costs)–https://www.rome2rio.com/
  • Transit app (You will want this or Moovit or something to supplement Google and Apple Maps sometimes paltry route tracking and directional skills and mode combining on your phone)–https://transitapp.com

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

Why All the Development in the World Doesn’t Matter if You Don’t Know Your Soul

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Politico has written some great longreads recently on cities in the Piedmont region of North Carolina and Southern Virginia. So good, they have helped me refine and shape my urban theory. Namely, they’ve helped me be at peace with just being an urban theorist and influencing the world in that way.

Before I went to Roanoke, one of my good friends sent me this one, on Roanoke. Having been at the first CityWorksXPO, I knew some of the story, however I didn’t know all the story of how Roanoke brought itself back to light. And again, I am thankful for how this community has taken the bold step of allowing both young people and black folks to take on prominent roles, in government, in art and on the street corners. I’m also thankful it helped me dig back into one of my premier urban theories—the civic inferiority complex in time to present it at this year’s XPO.

I came up with this theory back when I was watching and trying to make sense of why cities like my hometown of Greensboro, seemed to be chasing after the next big thing. Why they felt like they weren’t good enough by themselves to create economic opportunities? Why only certain people owned and built buildings?  Why only certain people were allowed to assume greater leadership? Or, if you are allowed to assume greater leadership, why does it have to be done in a certain way? Or why do you have to be allowed, why not let people do and then co-sign?

This battle has taken me a merry chase (as my mom would say), in the past ten years, since I put on my radar that I wanted to return home to Greensboro and get active in local politics. In my younger years, I always believed that cities that had smaller footprints and leaders that you could get to know, would be perfect for young folks with drive, much like myself, could come in and do a lot of good. I could create my destiny. I could manifest it.

Honestly, for a lot folks, that turns out to be true. But the nitty-gritty of how that happens is not often portrayed well. People don’t always explain from the outside that you have to nurse the egos of the big funders and developers in town. If you don’t go that route, then you have to be in good standing with the academic institutions and they have to be completely in tune to the concept of academic freedom and not trying to stoke the egos of the big developers. You need to have rich parents, or their rich siblings or a rich spouse or be savvy at getting and paying back loans and credit cards. Finally, being connected with a wealthy religious institution and their congregation of wealthy folks doesn’t hurt either. And sadly, it’s easier if you’re a white straight male, and a white straight male native to the region you are coming into.

I don’t regret learning this the hard way. However, knowing and really believing this going in would have saved me some tears. Those of you who missed my writing and wondered why there were periods of censorship and just lack of output should know, at times I was struggling under not having a lot of these resources. Or having these resources and not liking the terms that I had these resources under.

I’m at the point now though where I see my role in life as being exactly where I need to be. And also not all of my fault. It’s kind of hard to be something you aren’t and also hard to try to be who you are in a community that only wants you to be a certain thing or go about things in a certain way. Especially when there are exceptions to the rule and you’re not one of them.

Reading the recent Politico article on tt-Salem pulled all this together for me, as well as a lot of self-reflection as I continue (at this writing) to adjust to being a resident and not just a frequent visitor of D.C. Even though I went to school to be a community and economic developer, it’s not something that you get trained to do and then you go out and you do it. It’s not residential and small commercial electrical contracting and wiring like my dad did and it’s not grade school teaching like my mom did.

There’s no set career path and it depends on being in cahoots with lots of the big wigs. The old-school capitalists and their heirs who have money to throw around will either create their own alliances or they will handpick people they’d like to work with. People can pitch to these guys (and they are still mostly guys) good ideas, but they have to be things that the big wigs ultimately like and think would be ok.

Also, this assumes that the big wigs weren’t about destroying your community in the first place. In the Winston-Salem example, a brief mention is made to a church, which I have had some family members attend, that purchased a lot of downtown land and decided to become their own developers. Sadly though, even though this is black-owned and black-controlled land, it’s not quite a 40-acres-and-a-mule model. The power elite could have decided these folks have no value (and some have, check this article out from a few years ago were black properties were openly valued less by local banks in Winston-Salem). They could have completely taken their land.

If you don’t believe me, read the article and then also look of the history of forced sterilization that happened at the hands of employees of one of Winston-Salem’s power elite companies.

Also, I like how the Politico article, both of them, mentions that the power elite was afraid of losing their livelihoods. Even though rich people lose fortunes all the time, we don’t often think of that happening, especially not to our employers, some of whom we can see living lavish lifestyles. However, it does happen. You can have flush years and you can have fallow years no matter who you are. You can be blacklisted from contracts. Your industry loans could dry up while you are in the middle of the paying back your debts. You could get cancer or some other major illness or be in an accident and die. Your family and friends and your colleagues and business partners could turn their back on you. A tornado or hurricane could flood or flatten all of your possessions.

When it comes time to asses our ultimate purpose and we look ahead to the ending of this current life individually, we are all destined for the same fate.

So, I say this all for two reasons, one, having a civic-inferiority complex is normal and curable and two, learning how to ask and be courageous and press on and create your own tribe is vital.

I am learning that having a building and things around them, can be great community builders. And of course show off some awesome creativity. I think modern architecture has a place in the neo-traditionallist model, in moderation.

But as I mentioned in this post, what happens when all the buildings and spaces are gone and it’s just you and your soul?  Do you cease to be a person without a body?  Or do you live on,as a spirit, doing what you can to tell your story and encourage others?

After all, it doesn’t take a body to make a community. But it does take a soul and a mind to tell a story.

May we all always be telling our stories, sharing our stories and banding together as communities in that manner to make sure we don’t all float away, never to be heard of again.

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.  Photo of Cincinnati above by the author.

The Real Answer to Why I Moved, for the Second Time in 18 Months, to DC.

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People have been asking me why I moved. I’ve given them answers and sometimes they’ve not been as foolproof as I’d liked for them to be. And now a month out from the move, I feel like I can answer the question a bit better.

“But you can buy a cheaper house here. Food’s really expensive out there. You know, there’s racism everywhere. No, we didn’t call all the time and it may have seemed we weren’t there for you, but we were.”

I’d like to remind everyone that I’m from North Carolina. I heard all these things when I left for Kansas City and then some.

This is not to lay shade on any one factor of why I ultimately decided that Kansas City wasn’t going to be end game. In fact I’m going to start with a pretty easy one.

I can walk here. And when I walk, I find myself at a reasonable destination. And when I can’t walk, there’s a bus within 10 minutes and maybe even a bike too. It sometimes takes me 30 minutes to an hour to get somewhere across DC. It used to take the same to do so in KC.

What’s the difference? It’s been both necessary and fulfilling to have to propel myself. Granted, the weather here hasn’t been horrible, besides being wet, yet. But I now own real winter clothing, I can get through the winter just fine. I thought saying goodbye to my beloved Betsy (and yes I did love my car a lot), was going to be more shocking than it has been. In fact, even as folks consider getting cars with all the turmoil with Metrorail and suburbanizing jobs, the stress of calling an Uber after a missed bus pales to being faced with hundreds of dollars in fines and maintenance.

Secondly, DC, if we go with how the Great Migration went, is my natural second homeland. If I was going to leave for a greener pasture, this is the one that my ancestors had chosen over and over again, with the help of rail lines and even horse and buggy. Plus, if I need to travel in and out of DC, I don’t feel like I’m constantly making a mini Great Migration of my own. I constantly felt like I was living in two worlds and I needed to be cultivating both.

Speaking of those two worlds, it was really three. I’d already moved my heart to DC, long before I moved my body and my body was forever punishing me for being without its soul. It wasn’t as bad when I lived in North Carolina, because my body always knew its soul was only a 5.5 hour drive away (and yes only five and a half because I drive efficiently up I-95 or U.S. 29). And now that I’m in DC, and have both parts of my being connected, I feel less like I’m fighting.

And at the end of the day, a new cut of barbecue couldn’t make up for the absence of the community and my soul I was desperately seeking in the metro.

You guys know I’m all about full disclosure at this page. So I’m going to bring something up that the Kansas Citians don’t always like for folks to know about. That thing is the one-year freeze. I get it, if you only expect people to come and go. If a person starts showing signs early that they are plotting an exit, why engage?

If I had been honest to myself in the early days, it probably wouldn’t have bothered me so much that I didn’t make as deep of connections as I wanted to in Kansas City. Now as I said before, folks made it clear that if I was dying, they would know about it or they would make sure I didn’t die. But what about making sure I don’t cry? What about making sure I don’t have to beg and plead for what I need?

I’m going to pause the post for a minute to lighten the mood and  put in my musical interlude of my new D.C. centric Spotify playlist:

And if you want a nice movie to watch that shows non-political Washington and has a nice indie love story vibe and you’re an Amazon Prime member, check out Last Night.

I left town for the first time since I moved when I went to Roanoke for CityWorksXPO the other week. I cancelled the rest of my trip home to Greensboro, for two reasons. One, I don’t like driving in the rain. And two, I worried that I wouldn’t be able to go home on I-95.

Let’s take a moment and notice what I did there.

Now no shade to Greensboro. It taught me the sheer joy of popping out of the Dupont Circle metro and meeting Krispy Kreme’s hot light. I recognize that bit of Texas Pete-drenched breader in the Bojangles smell I smell faintly at the Union Station metro stop. When I carry my Harris Teeter reusable bag with the big N.C. State block S on it, even the Carolina fans stop and say hello. We then ask each other where we got our best Nats and D.C. United gear. One day we’ll get pro baseball and soccer in our home state, but until then, we can borrow DC’s.

And of course, had people before me not taken that migration up I-95, I wouldn’t know the joy of Busting Loose in the Chocolate City.

 

Speaking of Nats. Can I get the right Natty’s on a tap? We’re regional. And seriously Cookout and Biscuitville, it’s time, come on up the road. Lots of hungry Carolinian Washingtonians are waiting for you.

In the meantime, I’m off to the corner cafe with the croaker fish and that hot dog spot that carries slaw along with its chili, mambo sauce and those half-smoke things people keep telling me about, that in all my visiting, I’ve never had chance to eat. I’ll be riding there on Capital Bikeshare and I’ll be trusting Metrorail to get me home, as long as it still continues to run late in the evening.

I’ll still use Kansas City in my banner. You guys possess one of the coolest things in the world and that’s being in the center of it all. And the better streetcar. And a can-do spirit that rivals so many.  Plus, DC really doesn’t have a skyline and you guys do and I like dramatic illustrations of my love for all things urban and cities.

Plus,  I won’t be a stranger. But when I come back to visit, I’ll come back with my soul in tact.

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

On the Second Presidential Debate of 2016 and Knowing Your Truth About Where You Live

I wanted to discuss a comment about cities that came up in the debate/ town hall last night. Note, this is not a post endorsing one or the other, although I’ll say that I’m with her. But the issue brought up is one that trips up a lot of people when it comes to talking about metropolitan policy and how black folks have been allowed to move about and take part in the environments that have been built and paved and provided for us.

First of all, the debate’s mention of urban policy and where black folks tend to live assumes a concentric city model, which looks like those diagrams of the earth where you cut it open and you have a ball in the center and rings around until you get to the crust, which is where we actually live.

This is the Burgess Concentric City Model. He applied it to Chicago first. However, maybe it should have been a rainbow instead…

The actual model goes into even more detail about human pathways, but I’m going to simplify it to three rings: the core, the suburban rings and the crust which is rural farm and natural areas. The core in this globe is the inner city. You have a business district, a city hall, maybe a county hall, the largest school, possibly the high school, a college or university and then you have either old money wealthy whites (or others of color who were able to maintain wealth since the city was first built). You also have the regional sports stadiums and other institutions marketed and intended for the entire region to use. If you have a major public transit system, all the routes lead to this area. When people come to visit your town, this is what they think of and this is where the things geared to them are located. Also, the name of this  inner core city, is often the name the entire region uses to define itself, when defining itself to people from the outside.

However, after World War II, when we had the second wave of suburban development, the department stores started to leave, along with others that catered directly to white folks, who were moving into the suburban areas. A few years later, black folks were allowed to  move out and onward, so essentially, all the people left in the “inner city” were the poor people of color, LGBTQA+ people and others deemed less American and undesirable.

This is where the bulk of the logic of that particular candidate comes from. Also, that candidate has participated in the development of cities for many years and from what I’ve been able to observe, subscribes to a inner core, then suburban rings that just have houses and a few services, and are restricted to certain types of people, then rural crust where all the farms and the things that sustain us (or the corporations that make all of our food, textiles and the like) are. This is probably the idea they have when they want to make the country great again. Basically make us all perfect round balls of metro areas. (Among other things…)

However, this was never quite the case anywhere. Why?

  1. Some cities are built along a riverfront. This automatically rules out having a round ring of neighborhoods in many cities. This is what you see in Chicago, Detroit and St. Louis. The irony is that the model I just mentioned in its original form was applied to Chicago. Maybe it should have been a rainbow instead of a full circle.
  2. Some cities grew in pairs or clusters. So there are multiple metro cores and farmland that became suburban rings and then all grew together to become one mega region. New York is really this, but with water separating the various cores and rings. Also, I grew up in the Piedmont Triad region of North Carolina. Not to be confused with the Research Triangle Region of North Carolina where I went to undergrad. Both started as triangles and are now adjacent amorphous blobs. Trying to make this a circle will only make your head hurt and you sound stupid.
  3. Economics and family structures have always determined where people choose to live. People need to be close to the things that help them survive, like jobs and food. Wealthier  people get to have more of what they like nearby. Some wealthy people wanted farmland, others wanted cultural institutions. Those others, who are at the mercy of working a job, go wherever the job is. And then those who have chosen to raise children often build and move where they feel their family will get the most of the values they want to institute into their children.
  4. Black families and sometimes Latinx and Asian families, basically anyone who was not considered white when it comes to schooling, real estate and access to public spaces and services, has always had to reckon with where slavery, then Jim (and Juan) Crow, then redlining, then urban renewal and now, mass incarceration and the aftermath of being incarcerated,  affordability or upward mobility allow them to go. For myself, my upward mobility and personal preferences dictate that I want to be near the cultural centers and also in areas where retail is clustered, which is becoming the inner cities again. But I’m a business owner just starting out, so I am on a budget. I’m also car-free, partly because of economics. Other friends, of all races and nationalities, are having children and want them to have their own safe yards, that they can manage and not have to worry about police or even neighbors shooting at their children. Because so many inner core areas closed schools or don’t provide similar public options, smaller towns in the metro regions, that are often written off as suburbs, are a more attractive option. Oh, and Target. It all really boils down to who’s good enough for Target. And who Walmart hasn’t left yet.

So what’s really going on and what should I make of this?

What I invite folks to do in the light of this particular comment and the work here, is to research the history of how your specific metro area was built, governed and developed since its inception. Each metro area, while it shares a few common elements, applies those elements differently. We need to know how our metros are made, because it’s going to take a ground-up effort to make things better. Also, you’ll sleep better knowing that living in the suburbs or inner city or on a farm or even in a shack (tiny house!) may not be a bad or shameful thing.

How Do You Start that Research?

  1. Wikipedia. Seriously, the entries on your metro area will help you find basic information and also help you find primary sources and places to go to learn why your city has its shape and how people have made it have that shape over the years.
  2. Historians and librarians in your metro area, as well as urban planners and others working in community design and governance— Basically anyone working to make sure everyone who lives in an area is accounted for and is part of the story of your city. They will help you make sure what you read is right and give you even more books to read and places to go to find information. They will also be able to point you to other people like…
  3. Long-time community residents, suggested by the professionals above. This is where you get the real stories and the more nuanced stories of why people do what they do. Or, even better, you can talk to your older family members. Record those chats, as they are history. I love what the new podcast Historically Black is doing around black oral histories. StoryCorps, and even shows like This American Life and Stuff Your Mom Never Told You are also doing a great job of uncovering local and social histories as well. (I’m going to shamelessly plug my podcast with Katrina Johnston-Zimmerman here, Third Wave Urbanism as well, where we also talk about how metro areas are really made and average people).

Above all, let those of us who are professionals stress about where people actually live. No matter where you live and what your story is, you have value. Developers and builders and city leaders, remember that the next time you decide what needs to be built or torn down in your city.

Also, please make a wise decision about voting on November 8, 2016  and during other times when elections are called in your city. Especially when other elections are called in your metro area. These folks have the direct keys to your success as a city.

I’m Kristen! Six years ago, I started blogging here to make sense of the built environment around me. You can find me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. You can find out more about me at my main website, www.kristenejeffers.com

What We Need Is More, Not Less, Transit In Our Major Cities

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The keys to my commute. Yes, that includes my headphones and my library card.

There’s a reason I walk around with my DC SmartTrip card hanging around my neck. And I post time-lapse Instagrams and such of the KC Streetcar working well. Why I wish I could park my car for good and why I relish walking in even 90 degree heat, if it means I’m able to propel myself to my destination. Or in the old days, walking just an 1/8 of a mile to a bus stop near my parents homes, that would take me straight downtown and open up the rest of Greensboro.

And it’s definitely why the root of this blog is my musings on wanting a train in Greensboro. Why I spent a year working in an official capacity for bike and pedestrian infrastructure improvements. Why I still will write these kinds of posts pushing for transportation options and most certainly equity. My parents used public transportation. They had cars too, but they also supported me taking Amtrak (including of course my first memorable trip from Greensboro to DC with my mom) and they supported my solo trips, which sometimes included cars and which sometimes did not.

This is what personally makes me disappointed with this call recently, even after all this maintenance is done, for DC’s WMATA (the umbrella that the rail and bus sit under) to shut down Metrorail even earlier at night and to not open it early. I’ve noticed that even in supportive forums online, people have noted that the system wasn’t meant to be a subway, a modern city enterprise.

Really? So the Nation’s Capital isn’t a modern global metro region. Yeah, the one with the three working airports, one with so many international air carriers, it makes my head spin. There are many people who have had at least one late night out and about where they lost track of your imbibing, and I’m sure they are VERY thankful that all they had to do is stumble and giggle onto a train, in lieu of stumbling and giggling into jail or worse. (I do want to remind folks that drinking responsibly is the best way to combat this, but still…)

And what about those fine bartenders, waiters, hosts and such. Maybe that was you 20 years ago, but you moved up in the world. Really, moved up, huh? Should we not be happy to be employed at anything, especially considering the kind of world we’ve been living in, for dare say my lifetime of 30 years. Or even better, the people who’ve always worked the overnight shift, the ones who make sure you can get your fresh kale smoothie you reluctantly drink because now you need to fix your health.

Sometimes when I go to see my friend Screech and the game runs late, hopping on the Green Line is my best bet. Well…it was.

I’ll stop stereotyping when you do. I’ll stop criticism when we do the right thing and start recognizing that our cities, not just DC, but all of them, can’t call themselves cities or even members of a metro region, where commuting is vital and necessary to prop up all these extra houses and Walmarts, empty or not, if we don’t have comprehensive transportation.

And comprehensive transportation includes either 24-hour trains, or 24-hour buses or 24-hour bikeshares. Or all three at once! And no car-sharing is not the same. Rates on even the cheapest option can easily surge. Having worked with a GPS sharing economy app, I often have to rely on GPS to get me to even the most familiar places for the first time, due to the pressure of getting a route and order right. But not a transit operator, who’s been drilled on the proper way of going and even better, has the benefit of a fixed route. Hardwired in the ground or painted on the side.

Don’t you like knowing exactly where you’re going when you travel?

Also, these things don’t go unnoticed by higher powers. In Boston, which already has seen service drops and even fare increases as it faces up to  maintenance issues, the Federal Transit Administration took them to task back in March for these actions, and failing to finish a report that would have highlighted impacts to poor communities and communities of color (which while not always the same, tend to be the same thanks to all the redlining we’ve done over the years and continue to do).

Does Metro, in the FTA’s backyard, in a city famous for its diversity coupled with its regal nature as our seat of government, think they’ll escape these kinds of criticism? Do they think that private cars, either as taxis, app-based services and possibly drunk drivers is a real solution? Unfortunately, thanks to the lack of grid in some areas and the flat-out lack of sidewalk in others, plus, speed levels that are much too high for a core city, biking and walking don’t always make sense.

We need all parts to work together.

I care so much now because as a handful of you know, I’ll be making the move from KC back to the DC Metro area in a few weeks. With my budget and with where I may be working, Metrorail may be a lifeline. I, like many, are choosing where to live due to proximity of transit service. Yes, you friend up there might drive downtown, but having sat in car traffic downtown, I can tell you that’s not always the solution either.

Plus, when I was in Toronto last year, I seamlessly switched between the night bus and the day train. Even if the solution is night buses, on express routes, at least that’s dedicated routes. And I know that many buses in the DC Metro are already running close to all night. But at what frequency? I could be ok with higher frequencies and official bus bridges if I knew that I would still get to my destination promptly.

No matter what, the core of my writing on communities has always hinged on strong transportation options. Let’s get back to doing that. And if you live in DC or the Metro region already, read this and submit your name to the petition at the end.

I’m Kristen. I’ve written here about cities and places and how we can make them better for almost 6 years. You can learn more about me here. And you can follow me herehere and here.

On a Woman and Her Bikes

On a Woman and Her Bikes

Anyone who’s owned at least one bike, even if it was just a tri-cycle, has a story. As I’ve added to my fleet recently, here’s my story.

It was Christmas of 1988. I can’t spell out any other details, but there’s photographic evidence,  snapped by a parent of mine really being geeked out by my third Christmas. In the photo below, you can see it and you can also see in the foreground, the handlebars and basket of a lavender trike. I suspect my mom had a role in choosing the color, but it was dad making sure it was recorded for posterity. Oh and it was also his idea that I stuff myself into the empty Kid Sister box that you can just see in the corner.

 

Yet, this wasn’t even my first trike. I had this big hot wheel sucker, that I really don’t remember riding around very much outside the house. What you see here in this picture, of me riding in the living room, is pretty much what you get.

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By age 6, I was starting to get creative. I’d moved up to my first set of training wheels. However, not to leave my old trike behind, I decided to go out back and hitch the old gal up to my new bike. My motivations for this twine-fueled activity are dusty now, but it did make for another fun picture.

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The next Christmas brought me my next bike, this time, without training wheels. There’s photographic evidence of it in all its pink and green glory, next to a pile of other things, including roller skates (my other favorite wheeled activity).

Yet, that evidence did not make it to the digital cannon. I will note that this was the bike that started me riding regularly with my dad. I rode by myself in a nearby traffic circle, that was only occupied by elderly folks in city-sponsored senior housing and practically empty of cars. I rode with my dad up the mild Piedmonty hills and across stroady roads (when in doubt, ride into the turn lane, look both ways again, then cross the street) and through more calmer neighborhood streets to a few of my favorite playgrounds and a slightly longer route (maybe about 2-4 miles each way) to the home of a cousin).

By bike number 4, there were plans for us to make longer treks. It was a 15-speed junior mountain bike, which I begged my dad for. Not that I understood mountain biking as it is today. If I’d understood the concept of the commuter/hybrid bike, then this is what I would have asked for, because all I wanted to do was get over some of our bigger hills in town. If I could only take little me here to Kansas City and show her that nothing Greensboro offered in hills could compare to some of what’s available here. Then maybe I would have truly understood mountain biking. ;). I digress. There she is, just as I’m ready to say goodbye to her to move away from Greensboro to Kansas City.

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But wait, why was she your only bike from age 10–29? Well, the short story of that was that I lost interest in biking. Not because I hated the feeling of riding or thought the distances were too long, but after my parents separating and divorcing and moving to different houses, biking just didn’t feel the same. My dad had a handful of adult sized bikes at his house, and I would borrow them. Technically, I still have one of his old bikes, living in storage with a few of my other things in Greensboro.

The main reason biking didn’t feel the same was that I was getting teased a lot by my neighbors. I was already a somewhat nerdy and quiet child, and by my teen years that was amplified. And then on top of me not riding the bike, some meaner neighbors stole my bike out of our garage (which was open just enough to get inside and out). A nicer adult neighbor saw the thieves and helped me get it back, though. I knew one of the thieves casually from school and I’ve always speculated that it was a stunt for that person to get cool points, not that they actually didn’t like me.

Still college came and I was warned that taking a bike there might result in a theft and that I’d do better walking. And then younger adulthood came and I was too busy driving to and from work and other activities. Plus, I’d honestly outgrown the thing by this time.

Which prompted me to go to REI and get one of those nice, shiny new Novara women’s hybrids. However, it wasn’t really in the budget and it went into storage and then eventually back to the store. Yes, even after I’d driven to Raleigh, and made all the effort to test ride it, get the right size and secure it to the back of my car so it wouldn’t fall off at 65 miles an hour for the hour and a half back to Greensboro. I still dreamed of having one though, this is from last spring, dreaming of what I could get. Still not in the budget though and so it stayed at REI.

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I think a bit of this story was also driven by my desire to ride like I did at CNU 19 in Madison, WS. I’d had a Trek hybrid rental (I’m not sure of it’s specs, but it feels a lot like my newest acquisition, one of the women’s FXs) and I had no trouble zipping around town on all the different paths and boulevards and in the lanes. I locked it wrong and it still felt ok. I also got to try this newfangled thing called B-cycle, a kiosk rental service, where you could take bikes between the kiosks and then return them. We had free codes and they stopped giving them out to attendees after a while, because people wanted to keep them overnight. I had no idea that B-cycle would come back in my life in a big way in the future, but it did. Here’s a foreshadowing, testing out B-cycle in Greensboro in 2013 as part of my role in the bikeshare task force that Action Greensboro has convened off and on since 2013:

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And just a few weeks ago testing out bike loading on the KC Streetcar (image by David Johnson)

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Meanwhile, the purple mountain bike still collected dust in my mom’s garage. Its size didn’t stop my dad from attempting to ride it the day I moved to my downtown Greensboro apartment (and having some success on it, despite him being just a few inches taller and wider). After seeing that, I took it for one more spin. As you see here.

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But it was obvious the frame was too small and I’m sure the inner tubes were dead. Upon my migration to Kansas City, it left my mom’s garage and my life for good and went to Goodwill.

With me working for a bike advocacy group and my lifelong love for bikes, not having one wasn’t acceptable. I just wish I’d taken a bit of time before I bought Lulu.

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You know her. She looks great in pictures. Also, there’s something kind of cool about riding a pink bike. Yet, what’s not cool is that as a cruiser, she’s way too heavy. As a bike from Target, that’s not just because of all the extra components, it’s because those bikes are made of heavier metal, than the ones that come from Trek, REI and other companies that only make bikes and make them for racers, as well as casual riders. And with the hills and just the inability to push the bike long distances, Lulu really only went from my apartment to the office ( a flat, quarter-mile distance).

But I couldn’t be satisfied. Meet Lina, short for the Spanish language pronunciation of Carolina.

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She’s bright. She’s a 7.3 Trek FX. She will need some comfort modifications (namely fenders and panniers ), but right now, she and I have already been on a number of trips, including several that Lulu and I made, with a bit less success. And Lulu never went to the grounds of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, as seen above. She’s been a big hit so far and brought lots of joy to my bike-loving office and to me.

And there you have it. The story of a woman and her bikes.

I’m Kristen, by the way. I started writing this site to tell my story of being a black urbanist and a lover of all things place and community. Learn more about me. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Subscribe to my email list. Learn more about my work with BikeWalkKC , namely our Women Bike KC initiative to get more women on bikes confidently and safely.