migration

On The Constant State of Motion Through Imperfect Cities

Via Wikimedia Commons

There’s no perfect city. We also can’t expect people to fix cities and not bear the brunt of what it means to be the only person in a city who seems to have all the answers.

And I am not that savior. I love helping you fix them, but I can’t do this all alone.

Aaron Renn and I may not see eye to eye on everything, even with urbanism, but we always seem to come back to the same place when it comes to needing to move to find the right place.

In Governing recently, he asked cities to again reconsider making everyone fit into it and being upset when people, namely people who are seen as promising leaders, movers and shakers, leave. I wanted to drop these two paragraphs in because they really spoke to me:

I travel around to cities across the country and always come into contact with highly talented and motivated people. But there is often a huge divide between those who get traction and find success in a particular place and those who do not. I’ve been puzzled as to why some people who seem to be skilled and sharp are frustrated in these places while others seem to be thriving. Many of the frustrated people leave and find great success elsewhere. This is then cited as evidence of “brain drain.”

The truth is, sometimes there just isn’t a cultural fit between a person and a city. That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with either of them, just that they have incompatible styles. It’s the same as with companies, where a great person might not succeed at a great company simply because there’s not a cultural fit.

First of all, Aaron, thank you for reminding cities that one they have and two, they need to kill their inferiority complex.

Secondly, sometimes you need that reminder that you’re not doing anything wrong.

As much as I know I shouldn’t be seeking approval in others and that it’s a nice side effect over the years that this blog and my later ventures have garnered attention, I still struggle.

I’ve been solving my own city living/occupation-making/relationship-building puzzle for years.

This puzzlement, this feeling of being wrong, and the greater struggle, some of which I wrote about trying to overcome earlier this year, has kept me from being my best self. However, I’d like to first speak to the roots of my discomfort, the simple of act of having to move from home to home over the years.

A Life of Movement

Moving has always been a traumatic experience for me. For the first nine years of my life, I was fortunate that I was able to live with both parents in the same house with my own room and a big backyard that several of the neighborhood kids and grandkids could come and play in. This was 1940s-era suburbia in Greensboro, so imagine a 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom ranch with a picture window in the living room a sizable eat-in-kitchen and a generous front porch with curly awning.  Also, because this is the south, we’ve been inside of the principal city for years, almost since the time the neighborhood was built.

I had a nice swing set, trees, a sandbox and enough room for pick up softball and other major playground games like hide-and-go seek.

However, my parents needed to separate and  divorce. My dad kept our old house and I moved with my mom to a garden apartment a little further out but still part of the city. Five years later mom and I moved to our own house just inside the city limits. 

The apartment had a playground and our unit faced it. Unlike our old yard, my mom couldn’t control and approve who got to play there, so I didn’t play there often and I began to stop going outside to play. Even at my dad’s, where he got me the camping tent I wanted, in addition to all my other old backyard toys, and I spent every other weekend and Tuesday and Thursday nights and a week in the summer. At my mom’s I’d just watch the playground kids from my window, some of whom were my new classmates at my new school, and then turn back to a The Babysitter’s Club book or my Macintosh desktop computer.

This alone, along with my bookishness, caused me a lot of teasing at my new elementary school. Not that I wasn’t teased at my kindergarten and the other elementary school I spent my first through third grade years at, but at least I had a refuge at home.

My parents did do a good job of making sure they spent time with me both inside and outside the house. When it was time to go off to college, my dad was with me every year I needed to move, to load the moving van that I managed to accumulate over the years, and then move me into my first apartment, out of that apartment, and then into my beloved downtown Greensboro second apartment.

I lost him before the move back out of my second apartment and I’ve been at the mercy of moving companies and folks who happened to have a bit of spare time ever since.

While I’ve adjusted to not being able to have conversations with my dad, I’ve not adjusted to the deferred dreams of working on a fixer-upper in my dream city that we had. Nor have I adjusted to having to do so much literal heavy lifting myself, when I’ve wanted to make a strategic move, like I did when I came to D.C.

Meanwhile,  my mom really wanted me to have a home to come back to, and I’ve been extremely grateful for my two trips back home as a resident, as well as summers during college and most of my post nine-year-old life.

Additionally, when she went back to full-time work as a teacher, she was often forced to move classrooms each school year. I used to loathe the end and the beginning of school, because of the time and the emotional weight of having to help her with all those moves.

As I’ve gotten older and had to make moves for my professional success, both with a mixture of trepidation and excitement, I’ve come to understand just why it took so long for us to pack up and rebuild her classroom each year.

As of this writing, I’m looking at having to move again. The basement I’ve been living in has flooded a multitude of times over the summer and I can’t take living in the moldy goo anymore. Plus, to add insult to injury, the temp job I was working has ended and I’m now scrambling to figure out what’s next.

I already felt confined at that job and I’m coming to the realization that often doing the professional work one loves means living in a city that may have less to offer in amenities.

Maybe I’ve not found the right group of folks and funding, but I do increasingly feel like I can’t do what I would like to do in D.C., at least not creatively. In the interim, I’m spending more time in Baltimore and have tested out living there these past few weeks. Also, leaving the United States was already an option pre-presidential election and has become even more of one post-presidential election.

Whose Brain’s Being Drained?

This gets me back to Aaron and his article and a lot of his own work over the years. He mentioned the words “brain drain”, often used by city boosters to mock those who leave despite having characteristics on the surface that they want.

Or do they really want those brains? Sometimes I feel they only want the money and the appearances that come from our thoughts and the jobs and art we create with them.

Oh and sometimes even the jobs and art aren’t enough if you come in the wrong hue, orientation or income bracket.

Even just today at this writing, another issue of the right to public space and provision of social services has come up in my hometown and it just saddens and drains me that most of the power élite, who are on the one hand celebrating innovation, can’t understand that cites thrive from the mixture of folks. Even the folks who have made mistakes have something of value and they definitely don’t thrive when we don’t give them a hand-up!

Granted, I know my hometown isn’t the only one having this problem, but it’s the most personal and hurtful example.

It also hearkens back to why I believe there’s no perfect city. I’m shifting my focus on being a connoisseur of cities. I believe all of them can grow and work, but there are some that don’t nurture me at all and I’m done with naming one or the other as the next best thing for me.

Check back in with me though and I may have found a more permanent spot.

In the meantime, I’ll be on the move, with hesitation, but at least I know my brain isn’t getting siphoned off.

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. Get job listings, interesting articles, links to future posts and more from me via my weekly email. Support my work on Patreon.

Yes, I Borrowed Some Style, Urbanism and Career Cues from The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Image by Jay’s Fine Art Photography

Mary Tyler Moore died last week, making her probably one of the first Ugg 2017 things not related to our current government malaise. And to be honest, having this excuse to tap into a major part of her legacy, her self-titled 1970s series she owned, produced and starred in, was a huge relief. Plus, she was 80 and had been unable to communicate and seemingly in lots of pain.
There are so many things from the show I never realized were from the show, that we take for granted when we see women in the city on-screen or even how we city women live in real life. I knew that Oprah idolized her. I knew about the hat toss and the hat wearing. I also had a mom who came of age in the 1970s and wore versions of those outfits and instilled in me a love of 1970s working girl fashion.
Lately, though, it’s been the growing list of things I seem to have in common with the character, that I’d like to highlight this week, both in the spirit of escapism and because I don’t know when I’ll have another chance to highlight the show and the character. Here’s your bulleted list:
  • The white car (you remember my old car Betsy right)
  • The studio apartment in a room in an old house in the center of town (English Basement dwellers of D.C. stand-up!)
  • The deluxe apartment in the sky(I know, wrong show, but that’s what my dad always called my old Greensboro apartment).
  • The hats and scarves (wearing a hat as I type this post and in both of the pictures that lead and end this post).
  • The going away party (I had a bar crawl when I left Greensboro and a Taco Tuesday surprise when I left Kansas City)
  • Striking out at age 30 after being in a long-term serious relationship. (Yes folks, I’m single. Don’t all line up now).
  • The accidental journalism career (Just a few of my clippings to date, oh and the podcast and this site. Remember this all started to help me make sense of the world, but I do like writing)
  • Maybe I’ll make it? (Bank account…)
  • You’re gonna make it. (Thanks, friends)
  • Changing the world with a smile. (Always ;), even waiting for Metro. )

The CityLab article about Moore’s death and the legacy of the show did mention how the show created the trend of showing urban yuppies and strivers getting ahead on TV. However, it was my friend Evette Dionne over at Revelist that really honed in on what the character meant for women and feminism along with a whole slew of articles on the New York Times website and in print. Plus, Oprah’s many tributes.

And yes, some of the episode’s writing, especially in the early years, could be corny and cliché, but the images and the lifestyle still resonate today. Also, outside of a couple major exceptions, it’s a white world, but I’m not surprised at the lack of representation in the 1970s, despite just coming out of the first waves of the civil rights movement. And outside of Living Single, The Best Man, Martin, and Being Mary Jane, film and TV have not shown us an equivalent black woman character. Glad we got Oprah and a handful of other folks in real life.

And now, to make it (on Metro) after all…

…and keep surviving and resisting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two #newtrains, passing in the wind...

Two #newtrains, passing in the wind…

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

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

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

Step 7–Uber and Lyft, too.

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

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

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

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

Step 9– Reconsider Car-Ownership.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Resources

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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.