DC

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.

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

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

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.

From the Census: The Actual Numbers of Educated Black Young Folks

So you may have heard that there are more black men in prison than in school. You may also wonder after Tuesday’s post exactly how many young black professionals are we actually marketing to? And while the numbers are small, a significant number of people still have some form of college degree or are familiar with a campus. The numbers below represent the highest level each person has REACHED, not how many of each degree is held by an African-American person. After the jump, we’ll let the numbers stand for themselves.

This is Potatoes and it’s the Wednesday series on The Black Urbanist. It’s when I take Tuesday’s current event and add a stat or a deeper commentary through images. It’s  also the holiday season and I’m sure you are either hosting all your family or you are getting ready to be one of those poor souls invading the airports and train stations and roads that the news always talks about on holidays. Take some stress out of your trip by using Expedia to book a good deal on your flight, rental car, hotel or all three. Click here  for more information and know that your purchase will support The Black Urbanist and help me keep writing these meaty posts! 

 

Educated Young Black Folks infographic

This post is part of my participation in #NaBloPoMo, the time of the year when bloggers come together to pump out daily content and connect. Find out more about that project and how I’m participating, here and here.

Letting Ourselves Go

Of late I’ve been reading a lot of articles on how people don’t vote or don’t engage with their neighbors. There’s also been a sprinkling of how gentrification really happens and how it breaks down the neighborhood fabric. A few of those articles are right here (leaving the links inline so you can copy the source links if you need to):

One key piece in those articles is the sense of abandonment. In the case of the black folks mentioned, there were several elected leaders and home and business owners who took financial incentives in lieu of staying behind and strengthening their communities. Now unfortunately, the people who have the control and the money have made massive amounts of income and they are creating a gentrification situation of which it’s impossible for the average person to buy themselves into or stay behind. After all, these corporations are people now and they have rights too. There’s always been white flight abandonment and regular housing racism on top of all these stories. And then there’s the general abandonment of the idea of neighborliness. If kids are loud, don’t go talk to them, abandon them and call the cops. If the price is right, abandon the neighborhood and go out to supposedly greener pastures. And then there’s the general ignorance, of the need to take maybe an hour or two and vote. Or get someone who wants to vote, but just can’t get there, an absentee ballot or a ride to the polls.

I’ve written before on the content of character, as it comes to our places. I’ve asked the question about who owns the corner store and found that it doesn’t matter who owns the stores, it matters what the people do with said stores. And yes, because I do subscribe to some new urbanism, I do believe design is a factor. But it comes in with cleanliness of stores, safety of infrastructure (can you cross that street without being mowed down, on foot?), and commitment to know and trust your neighbors. Oh and even though I wish that we could have a lazy urbanism that doesn’t require voting, it’s just not possible, because we thrive on democracy.

At the recent Strong Towns National Gathering, I facilitated a late Saturday afternoon session on what it means to be a Strong Citizen. I started the crowd up pretty easy, with asking them what they would do with $100 of funds in their neighborhoods. However, I wanted the crowd to get deeper and think about what it would take to shake up their community as it is, much as Ferguson has been shaken, much as harsh gentrification and segregation have shaken communities in the past.

While I was able to get the crowd thinking, we benefited from an older Native American elder who stepped out and said the needed things about race and also whose land was it anyway. Yet, what I’m most proud of is this group was able to circle up, stay civil, right down some great answers to my questions (some of which will show up here or on the Strong Towns blog) and really think about how they can do better.

It’s going to take us waking up and deciding how to treat our neighbors, how to see our cities and neighborhoods in a better light, and also when necessary, getting dirty and getting out the tools to plow the garden, knock on the doors and nail the wood for the bus shelter. Because we cannot continue to let ourselves go.

Yes, this means bookcation is over. Pre-order now and get the brand new e-book, A Black Urbanist–Essays Vol. 1, when it releases on December 1 for only $10. I won’t charge your cards until December 1, so go ahead and set aside some holiday money for an awesome book, with some of your favorite essays and a few new ones.

 

Down from the Mountain, A Dispatch from Bookcation

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It’s been about a week since I came down from the mountain and like any mountaintop experience, it changes you. Of course this was good for me. (Having company, good company is always good too ;)).

Meanwhile, just wanted to bullet out some stuff that’s been going on and point you to some cool stuff that I’ve done in just the last week.

  • First of all, for those of you IRL that knew, mom is home and doing well. She will be walking faster than me again pretty soon.
  • Thanks again to Earl and the entire APA Virginia crew for your hospitality, laughs and all around good vibes. (And making sure we made our trips up and down the mountain safely). I didn’t make up all that Virginia stuff I said. I seriously did wish I lived in Chesapeake as a kid and this Silver Line stuff and a guided tour of Staunton are working on me. Special thanks to Abbey for the note on sitting for the exam.
  • Speaking of Staunton, thanks Katie for all of your wonderful hospitality in Staunton. I will be back and I’m still thinking about that blue house.
  • All my DC rail nerds/fans, lovely pictures and commentary of the Silver Line opening. I’m so stoked to get up there and ride with you and because of your pictures, plus the Washington Post’s great live blog, I felt like I was there anyway. But you better know that I’m grabbing one of you to come with me out there and take my Greensboro station sign selfie.
  • Walked through Center City Park yesterday and felt like I was somewhere else. Ran into a number of folks and felt pretty good. Pocket city parks work people!
  • Speaking of parks and playgrounds, I dropped a very special essay via our brand new email list. Click that link to get subscribed to the new one (Placebook is technically a separate thing now, so if you are on that list, you need to get on the new one so you don’t miss essays and emails.) You’ll get an email within the hour confirming your subscription, another with a primer on me and then the next day bright and early depending on your time zone, you’ll get The Playground, my first essay written specifically for the book. I do go deep and share something really close to the chest.
  • I spoke to some urbanists down in Orlando last night via Google Hangout. Thanks Jullian for the chance to chat with you guys and all of my video from my talking in the past week will be online very soon. Look for links via social channels and my next dispatch.
  • Prior to me going up the mountain, my 95-year old great aunt spent some time with us here at the house. I can’t say enough about the value of nurturing your older generations! Wisdom! History! And a special bonus that she doesn’t look a day over 65 and gets along pretty well too.
  • And finally, I’m about to get serious about biking again. I have my sights set on the DC Tweed Ride this fall, among other events and the need for me to get exercise. Plus,  I stopped riding because of fear and I want to shake that fear and get back to one of the most rewarding things I used to do in my life. Oh and because several of you ride too and I want to be able to do that with you guys.

Have a great day!

Placebook: What Is the State of Greensboro in 2014?

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This week, the annual State of Our City Report is out and it’s no surprise to anyone who pays attention and tries to change any of these things. In light of this information, I have a few questions. First, how do we bring jobs and money back on a consistent basis? How do we nurture what we have? And finally how do we keep from being discouraged, resentful, bitter or inadequate in our quest and in light of other cities and industries? Check out the News and Record article here. The full report is here and look for a longer analysis from me in the coming days.

Speaking of city leaders, here’s a really great long form article from Eric Ginsburg in Yes! Weekly on our departing city manager and a nice article from the News and Record on what’s next for Action Greensboro.

And with that, here are a few more news links to get your weekend started:

New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio launching VisionZero plan to eliminate all pedestrian fatalities, which could set a national standard in how we handle this issue.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx addresses the Transportation Review Board this week with a pledge to make bike/ped safety a priority.

Yes, most of the fried chicken restaurant signs in Britain are made by the same man and yes, they all want to look somewhat alike.

Pre-summit thoughts on sustainable cities from the Transforming Transportation Institute, held this week in DC along with the TRB and Transportation Camp.

The Durham Police, in their own words.

Another instance of free speech/congregating turned into trespassing and loitering.

The 11 dollar DC minimum wage is real.

The African American Atllier, one of the city supported art galleries here in Greensboro, celebrates itself in its new exhibit. Uptown Artworks, another emerging gallery, hosts its first major show.Or jet off to this island, which boasts 100 museums.

Next Wednesday: Community Forum on the future of the Renaissance Community Co-op.

If you are running in the city, run in a city park.

I understand why parking isn’t really free, but still, can we not give a break to disabled drivers.

So yeah, this house isn’t real, but what is inside is vital to Raleigh. Meanwhile, Brad Pitt’s “Make It Right” homes in New Orleans need to be made right.

The case for a Chicago-based Obama Presidential Library and the end of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

And finally, take a virtual tour of the new DC Metro Silver Line and get ready for the Capital Wheel.

Placebook: A Few Good Books

This boat gets it right, at least for what's outside my window. Image Credit: Flickr user ChoudHound under Creative Commons.

This boat gets it right, at least for what’s outside my window. Image Credit: Flickr user ChoudHound under Creative Commons.

As the rain trickles down and the fog forms on another Greensboro day, I realized that yesterday I forgot a major shoutout. My friend Dr. Rodney Harrell, who is a senior policy analyst at AARP was quoted in that Washington Post story about rising condo association fees. Thankfully, he’s dug a bit deeper with his analysis at his own site. Be sure to subscribe to him as well, always good insights and keep up with AARP’s policy arm, especially if you are of a certain age.

A couple other nods are in order too. First, for Aaron Renn. Renn was one of the first city bloggers and continues to show why he’s one of the best. Here, he presents a solid analysis on why states should consider their metro areas in their economic development strategies. Governing also has thoughts on how cities can use institutions as drivers of economic development. Oh and Aaron’s snuck a book out on us.

Speaking of books, Kaid Benfield, another titan of city blogging (and Asheville native) has dropped his new book, People Habitat. People Habitat is more than just a new way of referring to the built and un built environment, its bringing our discipline back down to common sense. Catch a teaser here and be sure to purchase the book, namely at an independent bookstore.

And please, stay dry, and read more links:

If you are in Greensboro, take the recycling survey; Winston-Salem, consider entering this year’s small business contest.

When a streetcar is for and not for transit.

On the rails today: What it’s like to be an Amtrak conductor; Amtrak is coming back to Roanoke,VA by 2017 and automated operations are on their way back to the DC Metro.

My friends at Placemakers present a Q&A that tells you all you need to know about boutique hotels and how they fit into a new urban environment. Another good Q&A comes from the New York Times and its Ask Real Estate column.

Detroit’s all ready for its annual auto show(and hoping that it can save some morale), it’s art museum is getting at least 300 million dollars to stay afloat.

Proof that sometimes things on the African continent work just like things here at home, what happens when some factories leave and others stay in Webuye, Kenya.

Not enough bikes in Texas and books at this NYC public school.

More mixed-use development is coming to Atlanta, this time at an old railyard.

It’s truly the best and the worst of times in this tale of two Midwestern cities, both sharing a port and at odds with politics.

And finally, let’s do what we can to prevent street harassment and manage change better in cities.