How to Keep Your Citizenry From Going Crazy

The abandoned Henryton State Hospital in Carroll County, Maryland by Flickr user Forsaken Fotos under a CC-by-2.0 license.

One of the things I forgot to write in my post on the individual mental health things one should do to endure a city is to embrace its warts and try to heal them.

However, some warts are so bad, they might as well be cancerous. This is where you come in civic or business leader. It’s in your hands to cure these malignant lumps on your city and make them better. Here’s how:

Stop chasing after companies from other places, especially if that company is already in your metro region but not your jurisdiction.

We always complain that we don’t have millions to spend on another school, but millions magically appear to help companies move offices, sometimes just across the city, district or state line. If you want to support businesses, how about setting up a small business fund or providing low or no interest loans to local makerspaces and business incubators?

Create and recalibrate a law enforcement system geared to rehabilitation.

So many people in jails and prisons really should be in mental health facilities or even just job training programs. Yes, punishment for certain crimes is worthwhile, but think about all the new customers, scholars and homeowners we could have if we made sure this system didn’t hold people back for an unreasonable period of time. Or, if we provided the meals, shelter and sense of belonging on the outside such that people don’t look to these facilities and doing crimes just to have that community.

Stop the infighting between other departments, grantees and other nonprofit or corporate partners.

I know this often comes from limited amounts of capital and budget battles, but we’re all in this together. The people who need these services the most don’t want to hear about whose turn it is to get the extra $500,000 surplus or who’s turn it is to lose it. They don’t worry as much as you do about overhead vs. programming, especially if there’s no evidence of that battle on the service provision level. Going back to Mazlow’s triangle, they are trying to get to the top, starting at the base. You as civic and business leaders help them do that.

Everything doesn’t need to be developed, re-developed or revitalized for it to be successful.

I know this is down to making money or just having a dream of seeing something revamped. At its most purest motivations that is. However, what do we really gain from replacing one neighborhood with another, sometimes on top of the neighborhood that was already there? We are in a time where people want Art Deco, Craftsman, Federal, Mansard, Victorian and other types of architecture that pays a lot of attention to details. They might be ok with well-done mid-century modern, brutalist or “Starchitect” type structures, if it serves a good purpose and doesn’t take away from street life and it’s connected to many transportation modes. Also, we want our homes to be affordable, but not cheap. I shouldn’t worry that my brand new house will burn down because it’s made of wood that’s only a few sheets stronger than paper. Also, we can’t forsake neighborhood service businesses, especially corner stores. I won’t get into details of food production and provision here, but we have to keep looking into how affordable, healthy food can come back to our street corners.

Stop undermining our educational system.

You either get public funding for your school or you don’t. Also, some metro areas have way too many school options. The last I checked 2×2=4 and E=MC^2. Why do we need so many buildings that offer that lesson, especially ones funded with public money. I’m of the idea and I’ve said it before right here, that you can have public schools and private schools. Public schools provide a basic educational service, as well as service all kids regardless of background. Private schools provide supplemental education, especially of the religious variety. Why we can’t get that equation together is beyond me.

Strengthen the services of our safety net.

This gets back to affordable housing, healthcare, food, schooling, transportation and everything else. We all have good times and bad times. Not everyone needs luxury and everyone deserves a bare minimum of life to live. We shouldn’t have teachers and others who work for a living, just barely able to afford homes or living on couches not by choice.

Be ready for change from the ground up, while yet making sure everyone has a seat and a consideration of ideas.

You might be thinking, how can I do this? This isn’t possible. I have to make money. People like shiny new things. Also, you have no right to say all this. You’re barely old enough to be in the field. Wait until you have to balance a limited budget. Wait until you’ve had some family crisis.

Well, to answer that: one, I’m here to provoke new thought. Two, I have had financial and familial challenges. Three, when it comes to writing and planning things, I’ve been doing both professionally since 2005. Yes, as a teen. And I’ll admit I have more to learn, but I’d also like to fix and grow around both the individual and the corporate principles I’ve outlined.

With that said, we can all do better. And yes, there are sacrifices. However, if I can sacrifice, we all can too. I can say my sacrifices are starting to pay off. What can you say to your city when yours do too?

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

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.

To Create a Perfect City

All it took in many cities for development in the old days was one man who bought up bunches of land and started building houses on it, which he turned around and put up for sale.

One man. Probably white and already wealthy. 

Several plots of farmland. Land which used to be fields and served that purpose, is now a whole neighborhood. In the early years, these neighborhoods were connected throughout with sidewalks, with access to streetcars, with plots designated for community retail, such as a market. Many of these older style neighborhoods were still bedroom communities, but they were connected. In the case of J.C. Nichols here in KC and others, there was emphasis placed on who could and couldn’t purchase those homes, which unfortunately was codified in the federal mortgage-making code. Oh and the official history of his Country Club Plaza flat out states that he was just one man that changed the city

So to say that other developers and even you milling around and buying (and being sold) properties can’t change the city (or, at least a chunk of it) with your money, ideas and landownings is crazy. It really comes down to money and respect of who holds said money. Eventually, you can change your city with ideas and small investments. Eventually.

This still keeps me up at night, because unfortunately, I feel the only way to enact wholesale change on cities overnight, is to purchase wide swaths of empty land or existing properties and create my own fiefdom. Let’s chat about that fiefdom shall we?

Let’s first assume that I’m in KC and I bought up a chunk of abandoned or less-loved area East of Troost, but still in KCMO.

Restricitve covenants are illegal these days, but often rent and asking prices are such that certain people are excluded. I’d put up a for-sale sign on the residential properties and tell people the amenities and then invite them to propose a price for it. I would take millions from some and I’d hand out some for free. I’d do it lottery style, so the goal would be to get a diverse amount of people, but let Providence handle who was picked and wasn’t picked. No credit checks. Some people would get jobs handling transportation, doing landscaping, teaching at the educational campus or working at the marketplace and they would get homes that I’ll set aside for workers and families. The lottery will be for folks who don’t live in the neighborhood. 

For the transportation, Transportation to and from my fiefdom would be free and would include all types, appropriate to the context.  I’d give the money to get the Linwood streetcar built, and restore older ones. Troost and Prospect would get streetcars too. Remaining bus lines and the streetcars would have every-15-minutes bus service. There would be free car-share vehicles for trips to stores and other neighborhoods (fiefdoms). There would be bikes. And the sidewalks would be clear. If you still insist on bringing a car after I told you all this, you would have a place to park. But only if you make a compelling case to need one (you use it for your business, you are disabled and use it to cover long distances, you’re an Uber driver, you drive to a far-flung place that doesn’t have rail or bus or air service enough for you to go there as often as you need). While not directly in my KC fiefdom, I’d also donate money to get a streetcar or true light-rail (our existing vehicles can actualy do both!) to the airport. You’d start at the River Market stop, then wind your way through the Northland (possibly tunneled, possibly in the highway median), such that it’s only a 30 minute trip each way. Yes, it would go that fast too. Our  existing vehicles can safely run at 35 miles an hour.

There will be one central marketplace, which the community owns and staffs. There will be all kinds of healthy food options, with an eye to conscious omnivores on down to complete vegans. Subtracting staff salaries and real food costs, care will be made to make sure that people eat. You’d be able to get other things there too, either shipped directly to the store, to your home or inside the building. Yes, this is sounding like Walmart, but my Walmart would look like Target and pay like Costco. Actually, it would look like the City Market, because there would be room for both basic needs stores and also some fun stores. Just like homes, there will be different sizes for all. Also, services like doctors, yoga studios, and credit unions will be in this space too. 

There will be many open parks, with playgrounds and racket courts and basketball courts and even a fountain. This is KC. It seems that I must have a fountain to be a legit fiefdom.

There will also be one school, a campus if need be, that provides all that a kid would need as they grow. That includes any kid with a special need. If we can’t provide it, we will make arrangements free-of-charge for the kid to get the education they need, right by their own home. Or, if the kid was game, we’d bus them across town to another campus, which has mastered something we don’t quite have yet and gives them an opportunity to meet people who don’t live and work in their neighborhood.

But there’s a problem here. It should not take people buying up land and creating fiefdoms to provide education, food, education for all ages and all other needed and wanted services. Also, this could turn into separate-but-equal really quick, especially here in KC and in other places that still have very defined lines of where people of certain races and cultures live, exclusive of their actual income. My economics are probably way off, but I wanted to err on the side of providing homes and jobs and basic needs. I’m assuimg that I’m crazy rich already and can make up the difference.

But that’s what we have, fiefdoms, in an alliance under one city. Or in most cases, we have multiple cities, of multiple fiefdoms, doing whatever they feel like doing to provide basic services. Essentially, separate, but unequal, with a wee bit of separate-but-equal.

So what can we do?

I believe that as an alliance of cities and fiefdoms, we can set a goal to provide co-op grocery and markets, centralized and fulfilling K-12 and secondary education, and free and prompt transportation options. We can continue to provide places to gather, for various schools of thought, pending no one emerges from these meetings with the attempt to do real harm.

I think we could do this today, because these are our things that we can drop money on right now and shift the conversation and how we live.

I believe we can start looking at each other as human beings worthy of mutual respect and sympathy. I think we could switch to a system of true rehabilitation and re-training, to help those who truly have criminal minds (and not just those we THINK) do.

And housing. If we are going to spend money to build something, let us ensure our water and sewer systems are clean. Always. That there’s always a place to go when we are sick and going there doesn’t automatically bankrupt us and won’t bankrupt us down the line. We provide basic shelter, maybe communal at first, then small dwellings to people on a sliding scale. Then, because we’ve stopped servicing some of our other social welfare issues as hard or as inadequately as we were doing, we can zero in on the problems with costs and making sure people have adequate roofs, at the privacy level they so desire.

No city is perfect. Yet, we cannot keep going with the inadequate ones we are fielding today. And we cannot end with separate but equal.

Each week, I send out an email with these kinds of posts, things that I’m working on and other articles you should read. Leave me your information below and you’ll start to see it on Tuesdays.

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Wait, That’s Really a House?

Via Wikimedia

My dad and I used to talk about how he was going to make himself an office in his backyard shed. He’d made a good amount of money putting electricity in other people’s dutch barns and other iterations of storage sheds/backyard workshops. It was only a matter of time that he would slow down enough and put wires in his. Meanwhile, I’d use the shed as my play kitchen, with the nice wooden kindergarten furniture that we’d picked up at the local public school surplus auction.

Unfortunately, the shed never made it past my mud pie emporium to being dad’s full office. In fact, I’m sure he’d be tickled to see just how many people have decided to not only wire and keep some sort of office in backyard sheds, but actually live in the things and call them so nicely, tiny homes.

While the movement has origins as far back as 1960’s counterculture, the movement picked up steam during the recent major economic recession, as well as in the aftermath of several major devastating storms, namely Hurricane Katrina and the Katrina cottage. They’ve been touted as a solution to chronic homelessness. Many others are propelled by the ability to live life somewhat off the grid, somewhat simply and in some cases tax and mortgage free. It’s also a slightly more stable alternative than just living in a sedan or a van, but many van dwellers consider themselves members of the tiny home movement too.

So what makes a home “tiny” versus “small”? The common nomenclature (as listed by Wikipedia in their article on the movement), states that a tiny home is any house or non-self-propelled vehicular structure that is less than 1,000 square feet. As stated above, some van and RV dwellers count themselves in too, as well as those in traditional trailers. Yet, what makes these tiny homes different, at least in my opinion, is their resemblance to a normal, stick-built, bungalow or ranch home. If one took the wheels off of some of these homes, they could be confused for our friend above, the storage shed. They could also be right at home on Apartment Therapy.

Another question one may ask is that is this really new? No, not at all. What has happened is that much of the stigma of living in such a small quarter has dulled, seeing that many of these homes have many modern accouterments, and are remarkably space efficient, for far less money than some rental apartments.

Lastly, this has major implications for sprawl repair and even traditional new urbanism. Traditional new urbanism has always been a proponent of the accessory dwelling unit (ADU or more colloquially, the granny flat). Yet, with more and more people moving into already dense and raptly gentrifying metro areas, as well as fleeing to cheaper suburban areas, allowing for more units per acre and in a way that is aesthetically pleasing and financially prudent is vital. Plus, these have become showcases for homes in the 1,000-2,000 square foot range of how these homes can appear to be mansion-like, thanks to efficient uses of space. Especially in the case of the Katrina cottage, people can rebuild something that looks and may even be the same size as what they lost, in a short period and without incurring newer, higher expenses.

I can’t lie, the idea of a tiny house is very appealing for me for my next move. However, I have yet to see a community of them anchor what’s already in denser housing communities, at least in my area. I’m better to stick to a traditional sized ranch, bungalow or a townhome.

What about you? Would a “tiny” house be too tiny? Could you get over the feeling that you really live in a  glorified shack?

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Could You Really Survive In Your Car By Choice?

An iconic image of van living. Could this be sustainable over the long-term? Image credit.

When one thinks of living in a car, it’s usually because they have gone broke or they are trying to build up something and housing is not a reasonable expense. Think of the laid off corporate worker, the family who has lost their home to foreclosure or the  wannabe Holywood actor or music artist who is making do wherever they can.

However, this post is about something different. This is taking the ethos built by those who are creating tiny houses or even living in tents to be more minimalist and applying it to cars. In a previous post, I highlighted an organization that I serve on the board of, that allows people who are homeless at any level ( homes but no other income; income, but no house to receive mail at, etc.), to have basic services such as showers, mailboxes, phone service and haircuts. Our facility is geared towards the “traditionally” homeless, i.e. those that don’t have other choices or have major issues that made them homeless. What if though, a Sheetz or Wawa functioned like a combination between those travel plazas on I-95 in Maryland and a traditional truck stop. People could rent parking spaces similar to the way they rent hotel rooms or campground plots. In making rest areas or “vehicle-dweller” service areas more prominent and clean, could we offer a viable option to those who want to simplify their lives, starting with using their vehicle as both transportation and shelter?

In researching this post, I also wanted to make sure that there weren’t any major safety hazards living in a car long-term. According to this site, from someone who started out living in a smaller car and now lives in a van, the main concerns are disposing of human waste, proper ventilation and heating (with and without using the gas or keeping the car cranked) and proper storage and preparation of food. While the site is somewhat geared to those who are in their cars on a temporary basis, there are a lot of good tips that could come in handy on a coast-to-coast road trip or if people were forced to deal with something like the sudden snowstorms that hit several southern states randomly and at in opportune times. This site, written in March, is geared to someone who chose to live in their sedan and the things they did to survive to continue to do more outdoorsy stuff. Even they eventually moved into someone’s garage, because of both the expense and practicality of having enough room for stuff and a place to go in weird weather.

If I had a choice, I’d prefer to not live in my car. But this is only because of creäture comforts. If I did live in my car, this is what I would do:

Invest in a gym membership: for exercise, showering and socialization

Set all of my bills to auto-pay and find a friend who has an address I can use for other items: Making sure bills get paid and that I can still get Christmas and birthday cards. And yes, tax notices and any other legal notices that may come through.

Budget funds for eating out, printing documents and campground fees: Knowing how I eat already, I would not actually cook in my car. With having a web business, plus also working a normal job, I’d occasionally need to sign documents, so I’d budget for that. In addition, I’d want to know I had a legal place to park, so I’d use a campground.

However, all three of these tips above include expenses that can add up to far more than the cost of a basic studio apartment in my area. Yet, in another big area, I’d strongly consider living in my vehicle, since I already own it and all I would need to do is to continue paying its taxes and fees. Yet, not being able to park safely, finding a decent gym and finding a place for mail would all be deal breakers.

So what about you, could you casually or purposefully live in a car?

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MORE: My 2014 Wishes for Good Places

Last year, my wish/new years resolution was to maintain.

Overall, I think we succeeded in that. Downtown continues to grow. Even as beloved spaces elsewhere close, new ones spring right back up in their place, like a sushi bar right across the street from the bar I mentioned above. I’ve maintained employment. I’ve reconnected with family as family has passed on.

Therefore, as we look ahead into 2014, the word that stands out for me this year is simply:


How does more relate to good places? Here’s how:

More tiny houses

I was delighted to hear this story of how the Occupy Madison group managed to build a tiny house for a homeless couple. Far too many offshoots of Occupy have been blamed for being delinquent, whiny, and entitled. However, this group of folks actually did something about the problems facing our cities. They hope to build a whole village of these homes for people.

I also like tiny houses because they recognize that sometimes people can’t afford a certain amount of square footage, but that doesn’t make them incapable of owning their own home. We laugh at trailer parks, but honestly, at least those people have a roof over their heads. We used to laugh at apartments too, but I’m sitting in a luxury one.

More opportunities for youth to learn good citizenship

I’ve bled a lot of ink and blurred a lot of pixels about the cost of not engaging all of our youth and our citizens. The issue is near and dear to my heart, because I became engaged in placemaking and civic governance as a young child. My parents made sure I went to the library and they encouraged me to learn. So many people don’t have parents that do that, but there’s plenty of people in our community who can serve in that role for our youth. I want to find a way to do more of this myself, in a more productive and proactive way. I also think that if we don’t engage our youth, we will never be able to realize our placemaking dreams.

More parks

Thanks to where I work, I’m able to see a lot of new, cool things that are being built. I also have had a chance to see what’s planned for our new LeBauer Park, along with what’s been dreamed up thus far for the Union Square Park. I hope that these new parks, despite being public-private partnerships, hold true to the spirit of the public piece of the  partnership that is propelling them forward.

More books and reading and writing

I never imagined that by the end of 2013, I’d be walking to my very own local indie bookstore which stocks brand new books, smart magazines and used classics. I never imagined I’d be front page news and make news and have the bylines that I’ve had. In that spirit, I hope that Scuppernong revitalizes its block, not just with libations, but budding librarians. You’re seeing more posts from me here and who knows, I might whip up another book.

More microeconomies

As I talked about above with the support of tiny houses, some of our Occupiers have evolved into a group spearheading a new grocery co-op on the traditionally black east side of Greensboro. Meanwhile, opposition is growing for a Trader Joes (again) on a particular plot near the more wealthy communities of Greensboro. However, if it weren’t for Trader Joes offering some of the foods that make me stick my pinkies out while holding food, at a price that doesn’t make me feel like I’m breaking my pinkies, I wouldn’t be as proactive about healthy food. You already know the mind games I play when thinking about groceries. The more niches a market has, the better the market actually serves people and actually holds true to the notion of being free.

More transportation

I’m now part of a group called the Transit Alliance of the Piedmont, a group formed because of the need for real, not just realistic, regional transit. I hope to channel some of my dreams for transportation (more bus shelters, shorter headways, a serious rail plan, business support) into action in the coming year. We will have a website and some information up soon on how those of you in the Triad area can help. I’m also on the Bike Share Task Force led by Action Greensboro, another group working to bring new transit options to Greensboro.

2013 was one of the hardest years, from losing my father, to feeling alienated, to a major case of writers block. My hope is that my 2014 will be full of abundance, and that abundance starts with doing what I can to cultivate good places.

Placebook: Housing Standards, Art Coming Back to NYC and Economies of Fear

Good morning folks!

I want to thank everyone again for the support, the shares and the opportunities of 2013. I wish you the best and look forward to us sharing more in 2014 . Look out for my 2014 wishes for good places this weekend and a very special surprise in this space tomorrow morning.

Thanks to those of you who are sharing links using #placebook and #makeyourcity; keep sharing and I’ll include a few here.

And now today’s links.

  • People complain about The New York Times being completely out of focus with the rest of the world, but Paul Krugman is one of those who proves that wrong.  Here he talks about the fear economy, one I know all too well, as quitting is never an option for the middle class and below, even with a savings.
  • Gene Nicol in the [Raleigh] The News and Observer breaks down poverty in North Carolina. Yes, it’s bad.
  • Despite the economic crunch, some artists, are still making it in New York City. How the mayor-elect has supported these small  galleries and lesser-known producers in the past.
  • Finally, if you have a beat down house in Greensboro, either give it up or get it fixed up. Code enforcements are starting again.
  • Michael Benami Doyle (@chicagocarless) on how LA (and cities that have a similar relationship with their bus systems), can do better with their buses.

See you in 2014!

Why Homeless and Homeless-Ally Suppression Has to Stop if We Want Good Places

Prior to my father’s passing, he was in a state that I have come to term “functional homelessness.” He was often a fixture at the local soup kitchens and occasionally popped into the Interactive Resource Center (IRC), our local day center for those who are either homeless or in transition. He still had his home, intermittent work, and a working car.

A similar situation had befallen the young man who was also featured with me in the Sunday News & Record two weeks ago. Once gainfully employed and able to keep himself and his mother under a more stable roof, he’d been forced into a tent city after a stint of unemployment and losing his apartment. His mom eventually found more permanent shelter, but he continues to live in his tent, getting by on a temporary minimum wage job. People have reached out for help as a result of the publicity the article garnered and I hope that will mean that he’s free from living in a tent and intermittent employment.

But there’s no shame if he actually wants to live in a tent. There’s no shame if he wants to participate in an untraditional, but legal, economy such as bartering his skills and services. Why do we create these kinds of spaces and places of shame? Why do we not support simple economies, economies that allow for simple dwellings, bartering, and sharing food, tools, skills and other things in a marketplace as a major economic development strategy? Why must cities chase after luxury apartments, performing arts centers, multinational corporations and “young professionals” to feel successful? Why are we not concerned enough, at least in Greensboro, with the loss of a major health clinic, so much so that we’d pledge money to make sure it stays open, like the sudden pledging of money to ensure we have a major performing arts center and a brand new partially private park?

I do want to commend Greensboro for continuing to support initiatives around providing people with stable homes, jobs, and food such as the IRC, the Urban Ministry and Bicycling in Greensboro. Another shout out to the churches, including my home church, who support the homeless and those on the fringes of the traditional economy and middle and working class. Why can’t we be proud of those measures and make sure we support them  as an economic development strategy?

The Corner of Lee and Eugene Streets. A central point for homeless services and a congregation point for those in transition, outside of the IRC, here in Greensboro.

The Corner of Lee and Eugene Streets. A central point for homeless services and a congregation point for those in transition, outside of the IRC, here in Greensboro. Photo Credit: Kristen E. Jeffers

This is especially relevant after this weekend, where in my other hometown of Raleigh, the basic act of feeding the homeless out in the open became illegal. This is on top of Columbia, SC banning their homeless from their downtown and other cities enacting similar restrictions either downtown or in the city limits.

I don’t fault the minister in Raleigh for not wanting a criminal record of his own, since that’s problematic in itself. However, this man was forced to choose between feeding people and giving himself a record that could keep him from employment, therefore, putting himself in the same situation as many he was hoping to help. It makes those who have been arrested at the Moral Mondays even more courageous as many of them are risking respectability on one front to protest injustice on another front. There’s also the other issue of the high cost of obtaining a legal permit to serve food or hold an event in the park in Raleigh. If the park is for the public use, why such high user fees for an official assembly? What constitutes an “official assembly”? I understand helping pay for clean-up and security, but is there not a way to reduce the costs to use our open, completely public in this case, space?

Ultimately, the City of Raleigh has stepped up to apologize and work on a real solution to allow Moore Square to continue to be a place where those on the margins, whether by choice or by necessity, can come together and at least break bread. After all, we encourage those of greater means to eat in the parks during lunch and dinner hours, what’s so different about what this ministry and other ministries are doing for those of lesser means?

There are two major issues here that we need to address if we want to move forward in an inclusive manner. First, we need to continue to find ways to incorporate services and opportunities in centralized areas, namely our traditional main streets, downtowns, uptowns, CBD’s, lifestyle centers or whatever your city chooses to call these areas. Second, the criminalization of those who LOOK undesirable and of those who choose to help those who are “undesirable” has to stop.

The loss of public services like health clinics in centralized areas will push our most vulnerable further and further to the margins. The reason why areas of urban poverty were able to sustain some form of a civil society was due to their proximity to social services. When we shut down or push further out these services, then we create larger and more vast pockets of metro-area poverty. Areas that were built for people of decent to massive means to take care of themselves are now areas where the rent may be cheaper, but the other costs are far higher. If we re-centralize and continue to support centralization of all of our social services, much like we want our entertainment and luxury centralized, it brings up all the members of society, regardless of the level at which they choose to engage the greater economy.

The criminalization of people who LOOK threatening adds to the prison-industrial complex and lowers the morale of those who are on the margins of the city. The greater issue I’ve had with our youth curfew here in Greensboro has not been safety and positive activity of our youth, but of the idea that one bad apple spoils the whole lot. So you may have had one or two panhandlers that harass. What about the others that quietly beg or even better, are singing on the streets? So the singers can stay, as we have made provision for here in Greensboro with our new street busker program, but the person whose need we really can’t determine can’t? I’ve been victimized by people claiming to need help on the streets, but does that mean all people living on the streets are bad? I feel like my own black peers, from my teen years until now, don’t always respect or understand who I am, but does that mean I write them completely off, to the point where they could go to jail just because I THINK they are a threat? Absolutely not.

Cities really need to check their privilege and methods of advancing their cities, if they think criminalization of certain populations or the inhibition of servicing certain populations is going to aid in the continued economic growth or re-start economic growth in their cities.

I know we can all do better. Let’s keep doing better and keep making sure that just like I said in my last post, placemaking remains democratic and not a privilege. And even though there is evidence that homelessness has decreased, it doesn’t mean that it’s over or that a tent is less valuable than a house.

UPDATE 8/27 9:35 a.m.: Some community officials and advocates are speaking out against the closing of the Healthserve clinics here in Greensboro. H/T to the News and Record. Missed this before I went live this morning.