Family and Place

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

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

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

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

My Childhood Vision of A City

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But This Is Not How Others Define Cities

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

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

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

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

[Greensboro] Location in Guilford County and the state of North Carolina By Rcsprinter123 — Own work, CC BY 3.0,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why This Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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,

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.

Why Feelings Matter Most with Citizens and Their Cities

Why Feelings Matter Most When It Comes to Cities and their Citizens

Design can’t be everything. Ask your kid who goes to Disney World and doesn’t like Mickey or Cinderella Castle. All they want to do is ride Space Mountain a bunch of times. That’s right. They’d rather go on a ride that strips away your sense of knowing where you are going and makes you trust your other four senses. Now this ride’s mechanics and even some of the cool spacey stuff are designed well, but it’s really about the feeling.

Your kid throws away their Goofy hat when you get home, but he starts figuring out how to create that feeling that he had in Space Mountain. Which probably means they are playing in their room in the dark. But they are still  happy about their trip to Disney World. And it is more about what they could feel than the actual design of the thing.


Magic Kingdom’s Space Mountain via Wikimedia

We can apply the same idea to our cities.

But before we get deep into that conversation, let’s talk about that time Disney made an actual city. Celebration, Florida was conceived as the second effort (EPCOT was the first) to create the ideal 21st Century city. Borrowing some from the new urbanism movement, which had just been chartered, a small town was created on some Disney-owned land. I’ve written about the town before, namely the book written by a family who moved there as one of the first families in the new town. Another book, with a darker, more pedantic tone was written by a single man who moved into an apartment near the town square.

While both sets of people had praise for the community at first, the single man found that he was isolated and that the community didn’t have much to offer for singles. The family and families like them, had issues with the school. It prided itself on being very progressive from grades K-12. One of those progressive tenants was a non-traditional grading system, that didn’t even consider conversions of said grades into the A-F scale sought by most, if not all colleges. This ultimately caused some parents to leave the school. Also dead was the idea of a neighborhood school. The school split into a lower and upper school, with the upper school on a totally different side of the community.

Eventually the family in the book moved back to their New England home and to a traditional school. The other guy moved on too. Others stayed in the community, but not without encountering other struggles. Many moved there hoping that the Disney magical feeling would fall over them. Yet, this was a town, not a theme park. You can’t always create the feeling you want in a place.

Or can you? How do you find a place that has the right feel? How do I determine that feel? This is what I do.

First, I assess the variety of activities, living situations, transportation situations and other tangible places and experiences. Am I forced to live in a house or can I get an apartment. Do I have to drive all the time or can I take the bus, walk or ride a bike? Do people tend to cluster in diverse groups of friends or do people tend to only have friends who look like them? Does the music scene have more than one genre that’s predominant or at least have my favorite style of music? What kinds of things can I eat? Are their cool third places like libraries, parks, arcades and other places where I can go and not just go to work or home or eat? Who can fix my hair the way I like? This also ties into another metric i use, mobility. How easy can I get in, out and around town?


Kansas City’s Historic City Market. One of the great urban markets and examples of variety in cities. Image by Kristen Jeffers

Second, I look at level of respect people have for each other and their differences. Do actual criminals get punished? Do people assume others are automatically criminals because of their skin color, their body type and size or some other arbitrary type? Do people have to join certain groups or churches or have attended certain schools to be able to affect change in the city? Is there a voice for the poor, the downtrodden, the powerless? Could I walk safely without the worry of a person yelling at me, thinking this is the only way he could get my attention? Even in a room of “professional” people, will those guys carry on a conversation with me that doesn’t reek of “I need to take her home with me”? Will the women see me not as a threat, but a potential friend? Will they all have stupid, and in some cases completely offensive ideas about me as a black woman? I’m doing my best to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, will they do that for me?

Third, how resilient is the city? Does it mope and moan when major companies don’t pick it or when those companies shut down?Does it recognize why its young college students are leaving? Does it get stuck in its old ways or think things can only happen one way? When natural disasters show up, is it ready to evacuate or properly house people on better ground? Is it constantly complaining about how much it has to clean up? Is it doing all that it can to help people come back to where they were or is it sitting, ready to gentrify the land that those devastated homes sit on?

As our Disney examples earlier illustrated, you could have the perfectly designed city, both real like Celebration or more fake like EPCOT and the rest of the theme park. Yet, if someone doesn’t feel comfortable there, then all of your efforts are wasted. Or, sometimes people just want a feeling, and don’t need special designs or programs or events. They just want to be put in the right environment and be allowed to fend for themselves.

This doesn’t excuse efforts to help people feel better about needed changes, i.e. our friends who feel bike lanes, while open to everyone, are part of the residential gentrification going on in DC and other places. This again underscores why we need to ask open-ended questions.

Finally, quantitative measures are great, especially when they help us keep our streets clean and our buses coming on time. But if they don’t feel right, then they are doomed to fail too, just like our cities as a whole.

Interested in my thoughts about Kansas City and how I feel about it so far? I’m talking about that live on KCUR’s Central Standard at 1o a.m. Central/11 a.m. Eastern Tuesday November 10 (which is today if you are reading this post within its first 24 hours). You can always catch a replay of it as well. Both can be found at this link. Also, catch me on Twitter and Facebook.

From an Ambassador to Kansas City (Excerpt from Triad City Beat Fresh Eyes Column)

From an Ambassador to Kansas City


Roughly six weeks ago, after loading almost all of my worldly possessions into a moving truck, relatives helped me pack the rest into two cars and we departed our southwest Greensboro home at about 5 a.m., navigating the freeways past my father’s gravesite at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, on a hill created due to the cutting in of new highway.

Within an hour, I’d left the Triad. In roughly 48 more, I’d have wound my way in the caravan through six states and the entire length of Missouri, where I would disembark Interstate 70 into my new home: Kansas City…

How could I leave a city that supplied me endless Biscuitville, cupcakes worth standing in line for at Maxie B’s and food served at establishments owned by families of folks I considered friends, colleagues and classmates? Where not just one, but two fellow young black professionals are sitting on its city council? That, along with Winston-Salem, does festivals like no other (seriously, if you’re coming into town for the National Folk Festival, you will learn).

It’s simple. One must see that the grass they sometimes think is brown is really always green.

Head over to read the rest on the Triad City Beat website.

Thanks again guys for another chance to help you guys “sell” papers. If you are in the Triad area, or close enough to drive, pick up a print copy. They are free. If you have a business, they could use your advertising as well.

Cruising Down a Curved Road

Tail of the Dragon near Deals Gap, NC./ Wikipedia

For the holiday, I went to my grandmother’s house in rural Alamance County for dinner and family time. I’ve written about making the drive before, but this time I want to focus on the areas of curved roads that I encounter on the route. I’ve driven on mountainous curved roads that make you slow down and clutch your wheel. Yet, these curves, once one is skilled, can be taken at multiple speeds.

When I was younger, and still played video games, I loved playing games like Gran Turismo which featured road races. Many times I’d fall off the cliffs on the curved roads, but once I mastered them, they became my favorite parts of the game (that and the rally races, since they always allowed me to drive in the dirt).

Like many things, curved roads serve as a metaphor for life. The road is a defined path, but in those areas, they aren’t straight lines and they aren’t always on a level plain. That’s the purpose of the curves, to navigate hills and mountains and streams that get in the way of a straight path. It reminds me of how in my life, after seeing the challenges and facing the minor panic, I in turn navigate well through curves and come out one the stronger.

One would note, in many urban plans, curves are evil. We marvel at things like Lombard Street in San Francisco, but no one is rushing out to re-create curves or build hills to add to the urban landscape. In the Transect code, hills and valleys are in the T1-T2 place, natural wonders, but not places where people live who have a choice. But some people do make those choices to live there. Others don’t. Regardless, there are lessons for all in the curving of a road.

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Are Historically-Black Towns History?

Photo credit: Drew Grimes/Wikimedia

Recently, I came across two sets of articles about Historically Black towns in Oklahoma and in Missouri. Part as a means of segregation and part as a means of dignity, self-respect and control of the civic space, African-Americans established or had help establishing their own towns after slavery. Unfortunately, the promises of economic growth and civic engagement were short-lived in many of these towns. Some were burned down. Others were disenfranchised or had other restrictions placed on them. Others died thanks to integration and increased opportunities for Blacks. In North Carolina, the town of Princeville, the first incorporated Black town in the United States. was nearly washed out by Hurricane Floyd in 1999. It has recovered, but as recently as 2012 had its town accounting taken over by the State of North Carolina.

Yet the opportunity exists for some of these towns to improve. Some can restore what architecture is left. Others can launch efforts to lure entrepreneurs and others interested in the slow food, do-it-yourself, and community placemaking movements. Plus, for those seeking refuge from higher rents in the city, but still wanting a walkable and vibrant neighborhood, they could become a newer version of whatever inner city neighborhood has died. For those who have outlived their usefulness or are too damaged for repair, care should be taken to preserve history through monuments and exhibits and folk festivals. Fellow planner and author Sheryse N. Dubose has called upon those, namely fellow Black Americans, who see themselves as being victims of gentrification, to gentrify their own selves, i.e. return to older towns and neighborhoods, purchase these homes that have value to other cultures and maintain unique characteristics such as eateries, music venues and corner stores that sell specific foods.

Something else that’s interesting, is how the struggles of black towns compare to struggles of black neighborhoods in bigger, integrated on paper, cities. It appears that in the times of segregation, that black towns were able to avoid issues of redlining, urban renewal and gentrification by enacting their own self governance. Their main threat, if the surrounding white towns did not care that they succeeded, appeared to be loss of commerce, no different than those predominately white small towns and rural townships. Other questions that arise are their ability to accept people of other cultures, such as Mexican farm workers or Asian refugees to regrow their population; if some major cities are defacto black towns now (i.e. Detroit) ;and can we continue our quest for integration, while preserving history and unique cultural businesses?

It is ultimately the question that has been the center of my blogging for the past 3 years: is black urbanism still a thing?

And with that, I invite you over to North Carolina Placebook for something that’s quite living, the latest news on governance and placemaking throughout North Carolina.

The Greensboro I Know Now

Amtrak's Piedmont Arrives from Raleigh
After writing Friday’s post, I have a few bullets I want to add about the Greensboro I’ve come to know since my return just over five years ago. The Greensboro that I know now:

–Has a real downtown. I can go dancing, hear jazz music on Friday nights, play pool, get an authentic Irish pub experience, get fresh veggies, craft beer, veggie lasagna, veggie pizza that doesn’t make me miss the meat, gourmet soul food and good brand new books on my own two feet, without risking life and limb (except sometimes at the Davie/McGee/MLK train bridge convergence).

–Has three times the number of  apartments downtown. The one I occupy has been a great place to live for almost two years. Having more housing downtown and housing similar to what’s offered in other cities also brings people from all over the world together, as they come here for jobs and school. I love getting to meet new people with different cultures in the frame of the culture of which I was raised.

–Has world-class, top-notch universities here, that are producing leaders in their fields and making sure we aren’t as far behind on the job numbers as we could be. Also, this site and all my subsequent ventures, would not exist had I not pursued higher education right here in town.

–Has generational and cultural issues. I could call them something else, but it really boils down to the generational tides. If we can get those straightened out and realize that everyone working doesn’t want to be corporate, no corporate suit can keep you from being your creative self after hours and there is wisdom on both sides of the fence, then we will get better. And yes, the problem is still a problem, but how much of that is really fear of irrelevance and impoverishment? No person can keep you from doing exactly what you need them to do in this world.If they are and they do, then the problem is on them and yes, we sometimes have to keep working just a little bit harder to get ahead. Shouldn’t have to, but we do.

And with that, I’m going to end the bullets. I could go on for days about this, but I’m going to leave with this letter, that I wrote a few weeks back about how much I love, but sometimes loathe, my hometown.

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Placebook: For Every Sunset, A Sunrise

Sunset at the Elm and MLK Drive rail crossing looking westbound

What do we say when we are on the cusp of change, but not quite there yet? When we wonder if we’ve really messed our city or town up for good with a decision we made, either on the large-scale as an elected official or on the small-scale when that family member or friend decides to excommunicate you for something you did. Do you pack up your bags and move on, thinking that you’ll never get elected again or your dad won’t forgive you and turn the family back around for you? Are you forever doomed to be the black sheep? Not smart enough? Not in the target demographic or shopper profile?

Over the past 48 hours, I’ve been in rooms and had conversations with people over what their neighborhoods should look like, what their organizations are really doing in the community and for the community, what our transportation should or could look like and even whether or not we are a good enough city to come back home to and recommend to our friends.

And at the end of all of this, it all comes back to one thing: resilience. Resilience encompasses an open mind for change, despite the fact that there may be more failures than successes. Your neighbors will want different things, but you find something that you all like and makes the neighborhood attractive for both new and old residents. Poor have chances to become rich and have the homes the want, even if it takes a few false starts after a long period of unemployment or incarceration.Your company may not make money in its first few quarters here and same store sales might look puny at first.  Those companies come to realize that growth is not just financial, but social and cultural too. Organizations and elected officials that were at odds decide to partner on big civic projects, risk their election years and sometimes realize that all that might be needed is a little vision and hope in their own minds and hearts. People fall in love with people, as friends, not as pawns or trophies or after they’ve decided that they need to settle down. The friendship is not a power struggle or an ego trip, but an honest exchange between two friends, who happen to be in love, either romantically or like father or daughter, sister and brother. Families love each other for who they are and what they can be, even though they may continue to fail a bit.

Resilience is the heart of what makes a city attractive, malleable, lovable and eternal. It’s not easy to forgive, forget and push forward. However, it ensures that for every sunset, there’s a sunrise to follow.

Chew on that this weekend, along with this news:

These three stories from the SynerG panel on rezoning and how it affected the Greensboro Trader Joe’s decision.

What Action Greensboro does have planned right now.

Don’t expect Greensboro’s Dixie apartments to survive the redevelopment of their block. What some of those tenants feel about losing their home. Also not surviving, the Zenke House, which will be demolished on Monday.

Business are concerned about the changes on Lee Street and High Point Road in Greensboro.

The City of Greensboro says it’s not picking on the civil rights museum.

While Greensboro debates restrictions on panhandlers, a couple street corner vendors in Winston-Salem are holding dance offs.

The Guilford County courts now accept credit cards.

The General Assembly is taking another look at its teacher tenure law.

There is a 6.5 millon dollar funding gap for Raleigh’s new Union Station.

A consultant hired by High Point business and tourism leaders has recommended against a downtown road diet.

Triad City Beat wants to know what downtown Greensboro project is the most important and the Triad Business Journal asks what North Carolina brands are the most important nationally.

The Bobcats and the Charlotte tourism authority want 41 million dollars of improvement monies from the city of Charlotte.

The Charlotte-Douglass Airport commissioners toured all the new facilities at the airport yesterday, even though they can’t yet run the airport.

Asheville-based Tupelo Honey Cafe is expanding into Atlanta.

Fayetteville and Cumberland County are considering reviving their youth council as a more political board that addresses concerns of students and teens. Cumberland County municipalities are also petitioning the Pentagon to not remove the 440th Airlift Wing from Fort Bragg.

Oak Island officials are considering limits to house sizes.

Pender County’s consolidation of its health and human service departments continues to be tenuous.

New Hanover County has boosted its transit funding.

The Wake County District Attorney is going back into private practice.

And finally, the Durham community is rallying around North Carolina Central’s first men’s NCAA basketball tournament appearance.

Placebook: Places My Dad Loved Part 1-Power Lines

Bucket-truck Image by Flickr user Aaron Bonnell-Kangas

Bucket-truck Image by Flickr user Aaron Bonnell-Kangas

I think my dad would have been tickled to know that his birthday weekend this year had one of the largest ice storms we’ve had in years. As a licensed electrician for the Guilford County Schools and for lots of other regular folks on the weekends, He greatly admired the work of the electricians of Duke Energy and others did on the major above ground and underground lines. Yet, he didn’t just sit on the sidelines when power was out, he was always on duty, supervising and sometimes re-wiring the school buildings on the spot. Some of those regular people who had trees on lines and boxes fall off would also call him, allowing him to go fix a few extra electrical issues once the big stuff had been cleaned up. One of his late in life dreams was to purchase a bucket truck just like the one above and go work on “high voltage.” Of course, he’s at a far higher voltage than many of us now. And with that, here’s your daily news:

Guilford County Schools also had structural problems prohibiting them from opening before today after the weekend ice storm.

Prospect Brands will be moving their corporate headquarters from Stoneville into the old North State Milling Company building on South Elm Street in Greensboro.

An artist in Winston-Salem applies Jacob Lawrence’s world-renowned documentation of the Great Migration to Winston-Salem Black History.

It’s time to nominate your town for the American Planning Association-North Carolina’s Great Places to Live in North Carolina.

Take a look at the lot where Publix will establish it’s first Triangle-area store.

You can already shop at the new High Point Belk.

A new rest area on I-77 will be built in the median.

Rockingham County’s new poling places have been approved.

These are the wealthiest zip codes in the Triangle.

New apartments in Asheville are mostly welcome.

It’s expected to cost 1.4 million dollars to clean up storm damage in Wilmington.

Cumberland County has begun a parking lot clean-up crusade.

The state is cranking up a new anti-littering campaign.

Around the Nation and World: New York City still debating on ending stop-and-frisk; a university in Peru has created a water purifying billboard;  how Jimmy Fallon illustrates the notion that place matters; and what Paris looked like before gentrification.