Cityreads

[Weekly Email] Blacksonian, Podcasts for Holiday Listening and More –This Week with The Black Urbanist

It’s time for my weekly email! A few weeks ago, I decided to move my email over to a new provider, InfusionSoft. In addition, I decided that since I’m doing this blog and other parts of Kristen Jeffers Media full-time right now, there’s no reason why I can’t send you guys a letter every week. Want it in your actual email? You can use the top bar, but that won’t give me your name and city. Instead, use the link on the sidebar. (RSS subscribers, you’re probably reading in email or a special reader anyway, so this isn’t so much for you).  And now, the email! Oh and a real post is coming soon, I promise.


 

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I finally went to the #Blacksonian. (Seriously, they should consider changing the name to that, it’s a bit more catchy and hashtagable).

Considering the mood I was in, and that I live right down the street from it, I really only focused on the cultural parts of the space, as well as the building itself. I ate at the cafe, took pictures of the architectural model and I stood in the middle of the cultural gallery and let the circle embrace me and show me that my work matters and that I matter.

The collage above is only a fraction of what I saw and because I got such a late-in-the-day ticket and had a phone call to attend to, Yet, I do plan on returning and letting the entire experience of the struggle and triumph envelop me and make me even prouder of my heritage and culture.

And now, all the other things I’ve been up to and reading this week…

THIS WEEK ON THE PODCAST

Third Wave Urbanism podcast logo

Before the election, Katrina and I recorded an episode on autonomous cars, and we just dropped it out into the universe. Come hear us talk about the near future!

And we lost last Monday’s audio :(. However, we did re-record a version of that episode as it had a lot of great advice on how to move forward. with our work in the very near future of a new presidential administration.

Listen to the entire podcast archive here or on your favorite podcast network. Also bonus podcast episode from me, as I was on the Parkify podcast discussing the election this week. And yes, there’s a Bike Nerds episode with me also floating around. And thanks to the firm EnSite for spotlighting this classic post on my Thanksgiving ritual.

WHAT I’M WORKING ON AND HOW YOU CAN HELP ME

Earthly Mechanical Movement by KristPattern available on Spoonflower.com

PlantoSpeak Office Hours, Private Coaching and the Big Event on January 6th in DC!

As I was planning the big gathering that I proposed last week, I realized that what I want to do should have some smaller elements, like me coaching folks on their presentations and proposals one-on-one. We all know about that weird RFP or the special member of the planning board who holds all the sway. You can plan for those things, but sometimes it’s better to discuss them and your strategy to combat them, one-on-one.

Join me virtually every Tuesday from 12 noon to 1 p.m. Eastern, starting on November 29th, for a live webinar on Facebook Live, to discuss anything relating to public speaking or proposal writing. My first webinar will be on my Six Things to Do When You Present Your Work post that birthed this master class. You can send questions in advance and I will download the video so that it can be seen on another platform. I may also move this class to another platform, so watch this space and others for information of where the office hours will be.

Additionally, in addition to doing one big class, I’ll be offering one-on-one coaching on an hourly basis, virtually or in-person if you live in the DC Metro area. The fees include my Six Things to Do When You Present Your Work coursebook (either digital or in print. Schedule your first round of coaching now.

And don’t forget the big half-day course in DC on January 6th! Register now and the course will only be $250. I’m only offering that rate until December 31st, so hurry up and register! I’m also available to come to your workplace to do a similar full or half day training at a special rate. Please fill out the order form and I look forward to seeing you either in my private class, on my weekly Q&A or at the big event!

A few consulting projects from my network: I can be your public engagement team member. Or I can help your office revise, revamp, renew or even just kick off a new media campaign. Take a look at my portfolio page and let me know how I can be of service.

And if you like what I’m already doing and just want to buy me a coffee once a month, click here to contribute to my tip jar . I can slide goodies back in there for you and will start doing so in January. (Because getting presents in January is even more awesome than doing so in December).

2016 The Black Urbanist Holiday Gift Guide. Next week in my email and on the blog, you’ll be getting my 2016 gift guide. You’ll want to send this to any of your family and friends who need help buying things for you that are sufficiently plannery and bikey.

Also, if If you need wrapping paper, or you want quirky fabric or gift wrap I can help! You have until December 9th to order anything on my Spoonflower site to guarantee shipping before Christmas.

Also, if you click that link above (tweet at me and ask specifically for a sample), I’ll send you a free copy of the Spoonflower sample book or a swatch of your favorite fabric. Also, Earthly Mechanical Movement, pictured above, is a great choice for wrapping paper that lets the world know how proud of a planner you are.

WHAT YOU SHOULD BE READING

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Still (largely) on Facebook sabbatical, but I’m definitely alive and reading things on other sites and tweeting them if you want more real-time daily commentary.

MY TRAVEL AND EVENT SCHEDULE

I am on the train headed home for Thanksgiving in Greensboro (Well, I will be from 11ish to 7ish on Tuesday the 22nd). I will not have my own transportation, but I would love to see you if I can. Please reach out to me and put something on the schedule for Wednesday-Sunday. Note you will probably have to pick me up from my Mom’s house.

HOW TO REACH ME

@blackurbanist on Twitter and Instagram. kristen@theblackurbanist.com (this goes to my Gmail account) and if you already have my cell number, text me or message me. Otherwise, dial 1-888-207-9391.

See you next week,

Kristen


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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 One Key Reason Those Scary Housing Discrimination Maps Are Still True

The night before I wrote this post, I got a present. The present was that the National Geographic website dropped some of the HELOC  residential security maps, commonly known in the profession as the redlining maps,  into an article, highlighting the amazing work done by the Mapping Inequality Project.

If you haven’t already, go to that site and play with their maps. I was able to grab Kansas City.

Kansas City's 1930-1940s Real Estate Maps

And Greensboro.

Greensboro Real Estate Maps from the 1930s and 1940s

They left out Durham on this version of their maps, but here it is 

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And my current place of residence, which I happened to snap a shot of here, when I was at another event where another group of folks pulled together a wonderful exhibition of why this happened and where.

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This is why I talk about “redlining” when I talk about the creation of the hood.

The “hood”. The “barrio”, the “Whitetopia”, the “ghetto”…

…are real and they are real on maps and sadly, we are nowhere near getting away from these barriers. Yes, even in areas that are gentrifying and moving from red to yellow and blue.

The one key reason that those maps haven’t changed that much.

Education, namely education of our children.

But you say, we have so many choices and there are so many educational providers and I really just want my kids to get their best shot. Oh and my neighborhood didn’t exist back then. And we have black and brown neighbors and they are so nice. We let their kids play in our sunroom and on our wooden swing set.

Your kids, but what about all kids. What about that abandoned school down the block. The one they said was “low-performing” and had “low-enrollment”? And can we mention the mere fact that you have a sunroom and one of those wooden swing sets from Home Depot puts you in a different class level than quite a few Americans? Where did the remaining 5 kids go? You would hate to have a rotting building sitting in your neighborhood waiting for development, so why let that other neighborhood have one too. Or not turn it into the condo building that the “hipster” neighborhood did.

Ok, it’s “Kristen’s Personal Story Time”.

Today, I’m going to tell you about how I came out alright, despite starting my schooling in what were legally the “inner-city” schools when I started kindergarten in 1991.

My first caveat is that in North Carolina, we actually go to public schools under one county district, but many different zones. When I started school, I was still in the Greensboro City Schools District. My parents worked in the Guilford County Schools District and there was a High Point City Schools District. That all changed in 1993 when all the schools merged into one county district under the Guilford County Schools banner.

Yes, people fought. But fast forward 23 years and the Guilford County Schools district has an 86% graduation rate and we now have a program to ensure college gets funded for all kids. Oh and some schools, the ones we consider our high performing ones, graduate 100% of their students. And they pull students, by their personal choice and test scores, from across the entire county. And some of those schools are housed with students deemed troubled by their home schools. Others are your typical extremely “gifted” student holes. Others, the directionals, one which I’ll talk about going to in a bit, are what have become the “suburban” districts through migration, both of locals and of transplants used to a more segregated and suburbanized school environment.

However, that’s at the high school level. What about the elementary level?  When I went to kindergarten, my school was up the street and around the corner. I could have walked and sometimes we did but my mom was waiting for me most days in the car rider line. I wanted to ride the school bus, but we lived to close to the school.

However, my mom, who had taken a break from her own classroom teaching of middle schoolers and was raising and pre-schooling me at home while my dad continued to go work for the school system as an electrical maintenance man and wire homes and do other residential and small commercial electrical contracting jobs on the side, didn’t like my school.

I know I was getting teased a bit and I was also easily distracted, to the point I had to start going to school earlier, so I could adjust to my surroundings. My mom also tells me my classmates bothered me a whole lot more than I remembered. Plus, my teachers wanted me in “gifted” classes and my mom wanted me to be in a regular classroom, where everyone had a fair shot at learning the same things and I wouldn’t feel like I was so “gifted” I couldn’t learn anything any more and that I was too perfect to learn.

Rather than ship me out to the suburbs, which in reality, were just the 1990s subdivisions being built on old farmland around the existing farm towns and their respective “county” schools, I got moved to the school zone right next door. School became a 15 minute walk instead of a five-minute walk, but my mom was right there with me in the car rider line. Mom also made cookie bags for my classmates at Christmas, became friends with my teachers and was on the PTA, with a handful of other working class parents, some of color, some with English as a second language, all upwardly mobile in their own way.

In fact, many of those parents moved on, much like my mom and I did, but we moved on for a different reason and we now live in a similar, but further out neighborhood. Ok, she lives there, but that house in the neighborhood I went to my final elementary school in, is still there. Had we lived there and not the apartment we lived in when I was in the fourth and fifth grades, I could have walked to school, because the school is behind the houses on the next block. Or I could have stayed in our old house with dad and stayed in my same school. Gone to middle and high school not too far away.

However, for middle and high school, I got a special exception to join my mom in the county “suburban” school zone where she was teaching middle school. My own mortification and fear of failing in front of my classmates, many who my mom taught their seventh grade year, and in front of my mom’s teaching colleagues, kept me in line. At the time I attended my high school, it shared one of its buildings with my middle school and I went to my high school classes upstairs and came back to my mom’s classroom in the evenings to wait to go home. On 9/11/2001, I ran to my mom in the covered walkway between the high school and the shared building after school relieved that she and I was still alive. There was not a cloud in the sky that day…and as you see, I’ve digressed greatly.

However, a few things to wrap up my personal story. I had involved parents, who didn’t let their financial means keep them from trying to be engaged parents. But, both parents weren’t working and my mom had an education degree and still commanded even her PTA meetings much like she did her various classrooms over the years. There was funding for the special program at my second elementary school. By the time I got to my third elementary school, my mom was working again due to my parents’ divorce and my dad was servicing the schools in my zone of the district. People knew my parents and they knew me and they knew our struggles and they wanted to see me succeed.

However, there are other classmates of mine, especially at the second elementary school whose parents weren’t as involved, yet they still managed to find a way to success. I attribute it to the values set by the administrators and teachers at that school, to love us all equally. Plus, that neighborhood is one of the unique neighborhoods in Greensboro, in that it houses so many people of all races, income levels and education levels, it has resources and it has a people committed to political unity. If we want to put it in DC terms, I was in Takoma Park. And if that neighborhood (which will remain nameless, because things have changed a bit and I want this to be a universal story) and Takoma Park could do it, there are others that can too.

However, we need neighborhood schools, run by a central district over a reasonable geographic area, and we need diverse neighborhoods. Also, the other caveat, in the map above, some of our Takoma-style neighborhood was blue and some of it was green and yellow. It was never hazardous. Why Takoma was hazardous baffles me, but so do a lot of the maps.

I’d like to think that my parents beat the odds. I’d like to think my neighborhood was special. But it isn’t.

NPR recently reminded us of that when it talked about how much our school choice is dependent on the old redlining maps and is solidified by the loss of schools or the lack of investment or completely homogeneous by both race and class and language skill schools. And many of you have heard the This American Life episode series about the Chicago schools.

Many of you, who otherwise support walkable communities, transit improvements, diverse types of housing and other things seen as urbanist, get stuck when it comes to the schools. Even those of us of color get stuck, much like in this well known New York Times article.

I do think we can start chipping away at the education paradox of urbanism. But we have to start somewhere. Otherwise, those maps will forever be rainbow-colored and not in a good way.

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 Blog at its Sixth Birthday: Reflections on Its Purpose and My Growing Business and Passions

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Hey folks!

I’ve just gotten in from a conference day where I’ve been encouraged to make a leap  into another step in my business and it just so happens on another Friday night like this in October, six years ago, I made another major leap and put The Black Urbanist out into the world.

Quite simply, I wanted to answer the question how can we make our cities and places better?

Recently, I made a huge physical leap, moving cross-country for the second time in 18 months. I did this because I wanted to start combating my own civic-inferiority complex.

I wanted to be proud and happy with where I lived. I wanted to be somewhere that is vibrant and energetic. I wanted to find people who care a lot about the world we live in and are in positions to make things happen in the world. I wanted to sell my car and walk and bike and take public transit everywhere. And I wanted to be a little bit closer to my home state of North Carolina but with enough distance to have my own space to grow and change. (But I still wanted to get Bojangles when I felt like it). I loved Kansas City, but at the end of the day, I didn’t have all of these elements at the same time. Likewise with remaining in Greensboro or going back to Raleigh.

And this is why I’m now a resident of Washington, DC. I’ve got more thoughts coming on this, but I wanted to take a moment and pause since we are talking a lot about leaps today and it’s the blog’s birthday and I like celebrating things.

I’ve also developed more passions over the past few years. The first is making sure your story is heard, especially if you’re a colleague in the planning, architecture, development and community space.

That’s the mission of Plan to Speak.

I also love patterns, especially on surfaces such as fabric, gift wrap, wallpaper and other products. I also wanted something that no matter what, when it’s seen, it brings people joy.

That’s why I created Kristpattern.

I’ve gone back and forth over the years over whether or not my online space is divisive or healing. It’s been both and either for the past six years, but it is necessary.

It is necessary to point out ways that development harms existing communities.

It is necessary to be unique and highlight that all kinds of people work in the planning and development industry and create some of the most healing and loving spaces in the world.

It is necessary to call for more diversity, equity and inclusion in our workspaces and on our job sites. Because all three are not the same thing.

It is necessary to call out systems of oppression, especially those in our education, law enforcement, financial and other government and social service systems.

It is necessary to get the language and history right when it comes to talking about how we created the environment we live in and how many of us have had no chance but to respond to the environment we live in.

At least until we make a wholesale commitment to building homes, completing streets and ensuring spaces are safe, ethical and efficient for everyone.

Please come visit me over at  www.kristenejeffers.com and learn more about all the things I love to do and celebrate with me as I continue to grow and celebrate this milestone. Also, if you want to help me continue this conversation, or want advice about how to create a conversation of your own, there are many ways there for you to plug in and help.

Also, plan on joining me and others at The Untokening in Atlanta on November 13th, especially if you are interested in centering the narratives of people of color in mobility advocacy.

Thank you everyone who continues to read, share and work with me!

And if you aren’t already follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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

The Quest for a Forever Home in an Era of Mass Gentrification

The Quest for a Forever Home in the Era of Mass Gentrification

I’m on the quest to purchase my dream house, my forever home.

Right now, that house is in Washington, DC and it’s one of the many row houses. It’s on a bus line or a flat street on which I can bike easily. Metro proximity is a bonus, but I’m ok with it taking me 30-45 minutes to get to outer suburbs or closer to the monument core. Uber and Lyft and my own two feet and the bus and my bike will be my friends. Or, it will be one of those far north or eastern or western houses with room for a car.

But for now, we are talking about the house.

There will be three bedrooms and two bathrooms. There will be a bathroom and bedroom on one level, so that my mom can visit and not have to go up or downstairs. There will be a porch or a turret or both. There will be a drugstore or a farmers market or a quirky neighborhood café or all three. I will play soul music mixed with gospel, mixed with the blues, with a shot of go-go out of its windows. There will be parties there, and political strategy and resting and relaxation. It will be a shelter. It will be blue in part or whole. It will be home.

I’m well aware that this kind of home is a dream for a lot of people, especially sadly the people who’ve lived near or even in one of these homes as a child or even an adult. Somebody might not like my music or they might not like the food smells or the political signs out front or even the sound of laughter through the screen door.

But if it’s my home base, then it’s exactly where I’m supposed to be. The recent numbers on the black creative class are a nod to that. And this recent study of redlined homes in DC peel back a layer of vanilla underpinning even the Chocolate City. Well, that is if you weren’t aware of Georgetown’s history.

In short, our place in this country may shift around, but I still believe there’s a place somewhere for me.

And of course, we know homes these days take thousands of dollars to obtain and maintain, thousands that I don’t quite have yet. But however long it takes, I want to get those thousands and stake my claim into a space on the world.

Since birth, I’ve known the benefits of being in a black body and having a solid, maybe detached, maybe attached, but 100% yours, home to come to. I’ve been a renter and I’ve been a dorm mate and I’ve been a child in their bedroom, plotting the revolution or at the very least recovering from hurt feelings and a bruised ego.

I miss my dad’s old house, my first home from 0-9,  but even he was ready to move on from that particular space. And partly because that’s the space in which he left this world in, I’m ok with it, like him, having returned to ashes and dust. I do hope that one day, the land it sits on can be a home for a happy person. Doesn’t have to be a family, but a person, who uses that space to be the human garden the world means for them to be.

And I’m grateful as I’ve said in my book to my mom’s house, the one she saved and worked hard for and purchased at a great rate with equity in 2000. In my early years of this blog, I railed against the concept of that 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom house, in a low-density development, that had once been farmland, then un-annexed suburbia, and now a clear part of a growing city, reflecting the diversity of thought and race. It’s all on one level. It has a kitchen window above the sink. It has a fireplace and a garage. And there’s room for her garden, her bed and a couple of others so she can have myself and others home to visit. And when we bought it, so I could have enough room to continue my teenage blossoming.

But, its closest bus stop is a half mile away now, having been taken away from an 1/8 of a mile because of budget cuts. Other houses around us have been foreclosed on and have had hard times being filled with renters. But, there are plenty of others that are fine, family homes.

Most of my other family members, and a handful of friends now that I’m 30, are homeowners. Some are detached. Some are in friendly long-term leases. Some are supplemented. Either way, there’s a place they call home and they’ll call that place home or have called that place home for at least the next year or two.

I’d like to go ahead and grab what the realtors call the “forever home”. I might keep changing my city and address some, but one day, there’s going to be a Victorian, Federal or Wardman row house with my name on it. Or, it may be another home style or address, but it’s going to be my permanent address and it’s going to be my home base.

A postscript: I wrote the bulk of this draft before the news broke on Ta-Nahesi Coates home purchase. I’m going to let him tell us about his house buying decision. A decision that may or may not have a happy ending. It may take me getting super famous before I am able to get my forever home. Please don’t tell anybody exactly where it is before I can!

Periodically, I’m going to share how I’m eliminating debt, saving money, making more money, learning more things and tie that back into how we approach city life and life decisions that have to do with proximity to a city, such as home buying and renting. This is the first of this kind of post.

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.

 

 

Why Are Black Folks Moving?

Why Are Black Folks Moving?

Movement and migration is constantly on my mind. And whenever I hear someone claim to know where black people are moving to and why, my ears really perk up. Especially when they do what USA Today did recently and crunch some U.S. Census numbers and make the kind of maps they did in their recent story on what’s been called the reverse migration.

Some background. The Great Migration is the term given to the movement of 6 million African-Americans from southeastern cities to northeastern, midwestern and far western U.S.  cities from 1910 to 1970. The Wiki on is comprehensive and legit, especially for our purposes today of getting into why this movement is actually going into reverse.

More background. This panel I served on back in 2012 and this amazing book by Isabel Wilkerson called The Warmth of Other Suns. Wilkerson’s book, which we discuss in the panel, talks to people who actually did the moving and asks them why they moved and what they learned. For three unique people, each who left different corners of the Southeast and each went to the Northeast (Harlem, Manhattan); Midwest (South Side of Chicago); and California (Los Angeles), it gets into their backstories of several years of their lives in the South.

That included: educations and running in high society in the Atlanta black community, then a solo car trip that was much longer than it should have been due to racism; an abusive marriage and fleeing a sharecropping Mississippi experience via the train; and organizing fellow orange grove workers, then needing to flee from the fear of lynching via train. It also gets into their regrets, as their new spouses and children, as well as working conditions and homes often did not meet their dreams and expectations.

Wilkerson recently posted on her very informative Facebook page , that her subjects learned that you unfortunately can’t escape discrimination, outright racism and even bad family trauma, by moving to a different region of the U.S. She encouraged all her followers and their families to find the warmth of the sun in their backyard and combat those issues wherever they are.

Back to our panel. I,myself,  warned panelists that moving South doesn’t mean you escape the racism and discrimination that we as black folks often experience. It doesn’t guarantee a home, a good education and that police and other public service officials and fellow neighbors of other backgrounds will see you as human. And I also, having not made my move to Kansas City, was intrigued about why people would want to move back to a place that still had so many issues with how people are seen and treated.

Having now made that move, I now understand better. It really comes down to property, affordability and proximity to services, even if political and social power is not as realized.

Places Journal’s recent article on Memphis and how its black community was developed and treated is a really telling story of how cities can do right and wrong by its black community, such that certain communities develop better reputations for black success and leadership than others. It contrasts Memphis with Atlanta, where black people were encouraged to buy property and to become leaders.

Atlanta still has had issues with housing its poor black populations and there’s still the MARTA issue, but compared to Memphis, it looks like a global city. Whole swaths of Memphis were destroyed and white families continued to move further and further out of the city and the city continued to follow them with annexations.

Yet, at a certain point, much like here in Kansas City, communities annexed themselves and became autonomous suburbs. Recently some of those Memphis suburbs broke their school systems out of the very recently merged county-city system, claiming that they were being asked to fund schools they didn’t want to fund, which sadly is often coded language for racism. Some Charlotte parents are threatening to do the same in the Mecklenburg County system. Kansas City has an extremely high number of municipal school districts, religious schools, traditional independent schools and charter schools. Of course, Kansas City proper also covers three counties, which is another bit of inefficiency, that goes beyond this conversation of migration patterns.

Meanwhile, back in my home county of Guilford, in North Carolina,  all public school students, save the ones at the handful of charters and independent schools, go to school in the same municipal district. While there are calls for Title 1 schools, as schools with high percentages of disadvantaged schools are termed throughout the U.S., there aren’t whole, very small, municipal school districts of Title 1 schools. That wasn’t always the case in Guilford County, but since 1993, my second grade year, our district has been merged, and we are now boasting an 85% graduation rate and we now have Say Yes to Education, which will fill in funding gaps for all forms of public or private post-secondary education in the county.

Couple that consistency in school funding and curriculum county-wide with the ability to purchase 3 bedroom/2 bathroom basic starter homes in good condition for less than $200,000 and 4 bed/2.5 bathroom homes for less than $300,000, even in the good school “zones.” In addition, because our county and metro doesn’t sprawl out of control, no services or major national chain stores or restaurants are more than 20 minutes away from any home in the county. Actually, if you live in the Greensboro city limits or any city limits in the metro, you are no more than 15 minutes away from at least a Walmart. We also have seven colleges and universities, including two historically black ones and a very robust community college system.

In my youth, we still had the textile, tobacco and other mill jobs that paid more than average across the South. Office jobs were stable and before all metros began to have stagnant wages and high rents, anyone who had a regular job, even at a department store or as a restaurant manager or regular shift worker could afford a home of the sort I just listed above. Our housing projects were built for both races. Neighborhoods were mostly victims of white flight and not of extreme redlining and complete denial. And the neighborhoods left were still high quality housing stock, and builders cared about making sure that places were up to code. We have slumlords, but they still have a minimum housing standard that has to be met or the home will be seized by the city and torn down, with the bill as the responsibility of the property owner.

Similar situations exist in the Research Triangle region counties and in the North Carolina counties around Charlotte. Politically we’re considered a purple state. All three downtowns are vibrant, so there’s a dense option and a more suburban/rural option in all three cities. Those downtowns have at least a green/organic grocer, a slew or bars and restaurants, and an open space to gather.

All three are connected by 3, soon  5, daily roundtrips on Amtrak, which take just about 3.5 hours now and will take 2.5 when recent track work and expansion along the route is done. The drive between the three is about 3.5 hours now, so soon, there will be a time savings. Already, professors and such who live in Cary, just west of Raleigh ( one of the fastest and wealthiest areas of growth in the state period, not just with Black Americans looking to return to the south) and Carolina Panthers fans who live both there and Greensboro, take the train to their classes and games in Greensboro and Charlotte and points in between. In the meantime I-40 and I-85 are clean, well-lit and well-marked guideways to a trip that if you start in the middle at Greensboro only take you an hour and half tops each way. All three cities have airports and the Charlotte one is a major international and domestic hub, Raleigh can take you to Toronto, Paris and London, plus Atlanta and Washington, without headache. Greensboro has these nice seasonal flights direct to and from Denver and Detroit, which outside of me in KC, house the outer reaches of my black family who have done some form of the classic migration.

Granted, on the USA Today maps, the census shows a net loss of people to Greensboro. To Charlotte and Raleigh though, it’s as if they’ve become the New York and Chicago of today. Atlanta is the poster child for the return migration, and DC, which has always been a source of black migration and wealth generation, even when it’s center city was in decline, is still a magnet for black migration. And then there are the Texas cities, which also offer cheap property, high salaries and in some areas, strong school districts.

I’m often asked this post’s title as a question. It’s been four years since I sat on that panel. I got on that panel because I wanted to challenge cities and also families to consider the benefits of light density on their lives. I want people to have the choice of apartment vs. house with yard. I don’t want them in their cars for 20 minutes just to go to the grocery store or the bank. I don’t want them in their cars at all really, save to go on long road trips or to pick up things that can’t be delivered or to ride with their friend as a groups to fun activities.

And above all, I want them to live in a place that sees them as 100% human and capable of contributing to civic society. I want us to have our own things and have the freedom to come and go as we please. This is why we move. We move for freedom and peace.

NOTE: This piece is very focused on the migration of African-Americans who were slaves or are slave descendant. We also need to discuss and include African immigrants of recent times, a handful who are doing their own return migration to countries that are much more stable and even competitive with some cities in the U.S. as far as housing, jobs and civic power. Also, I don’t see the data properly covering millennial movement, except of those who moved back South to attend colleges, namely historically black serving colleges. Also, the maps U.S. Today created don’t use Census data from the last five years. Oh and KC does have high outmigration. But you can call me an outlier. Sometimes, even “bad” cities can be beacons of opportunity.

The Urban Hierarchy Was Never Dead

Urban Hiearchy Not Dead

Nearly four years ago I declared that the urban hierarchy is dead. I was already refuting The Urbanophile, Aaron Renn, but I thought I had a good case.

After all, this was before I graduated from my MPA  program, before I rented an apartment that almost bankrupted me, before I moved halfway across the country to improve my job prospects, before police brutalities, school failures, high rents and student debts, and finally bad local and state leadership could come in and cloud my view of the ability for all cities to be equal.

Like Renn, I’ve now lived in two regions of the country, namely the Midwest, which I’m finding has less flexibility and more hidden issues, which are now coming to light.

And at this writing, we are going knee deep into the season in the States where we put things (used to be just sports teams, now it can be anything) on a bracket and determine how good it is with arbitrary guesses.

So it shouldn’t surprise you that just like all other things, all cities were never created equal. Some were port towns. Some were railroad towns. Some were sundown towns. Others still aren’t really towns and therefore use that to fail to provide proper protection of all its citizens.

This is an assessment of US towns and cities, but globally, you find this on every continent, places that are restricted, places built on one industry, places that have died and will never come back, unless they get connected to the current economy. 

In addition, the financial system we often need to help us build or rebuild our cities and towns, may not even want to work with you. Homes in certain areas are still risky investments. Some people still don’t see favorable loan options. And again, why do we even need loans to purchase homes? Why can’t we go back pre New Deal and lower home prices so that like cars, more people with moderate incomes (but incomes!) can pay for them outright. Why can’t more people own things. Same goes with small business loans and other personal loans. Some can get them, some can’t. And it’s not always judged by credit scores and what people can pay.

Then we get to cities who have public transit and cities who don’t and cities who have it, but it doesn’t work well. We have airports, but not all cities have direct connections. We have trains, but likewise, not every MAJOR city is directly connected. Even when it comes to cars, parking is always expensive, some more expensive than others. Roads are subsidized today, but when you stop subsidizing them, are they turning into gravel? Can vehicles besides automobiles and trucks share the road? Can you even walk beside the road, in something besides a muddy ditch. Must we always monitor the door zone and make sure we don’t get crushed and our helmets split into two.

Why aren’t all our K-12 schools the same, at least in the US? Why do people feel like they have to pick the perfect school? Why aren’t all our schools being funded and striving to be the same. Why aren’t all kids brains the same?

No city has ever had the same foods available, at least not without modern transport and logistics networks? And then on top of that, does every neighborhood have the same supermarkets or supermarkets at all? Are the restaurants hip or are they just making ends meet for the cooks and the owners?

Are a good majority of its citizens healthy? Can the medical facilities be trusted? Are there a variety of them? Are the practitioners concerned about health or how they are getting paid? When people do bad things (and even when we suspect them of doing bad things), do they stay locked up without rehabilitation or do we just throw them away and forget they ever existed?

You can have cities that look the same and appear to have all the same things, but if they aren’t equal in service, then yes, you have a hierarchy of cities. Agglomeration economies still make a difference. Even with the Internet and phones, people still need the same speeds.

And on a personal level, one thing that will probably never change, is personal relationships. Each person is unique and sometimes, you need to be near the people who make you stronger and wiser and help you overcome all these inequities. Even in a perfect world, we all have something different to contribute.

However, we are not above being able to equalize a lot of the conditions in our towns and cities. Now some building types make that harder than others, but a mixture of financing and re-thinking how to govern places is a good start to fixing the hierarchy. Also, cheaper passenger transport, with fully integrated modes (fly across country, train up seaboard, Uber or bus to specific home), will make it easier for all citizens of cities, regardless of income, to collaborate, not just online, but in person.

The urban hierarchy will die one day. Unfortunately, that day has not come yet.

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