Why I’m Raising Money for The Black Urbanist and Why I’m Doing it On Patreon

Kristen Jeffers writing at Union Station in Kansas City, MO, Spring 2016

I am raising money to make this the online home I’ve always dreamed it could be and needs to become. I’m doing it through Patreon because Patreon makes it easier for me to see what I have to work with each month and it’s optimized for people who write and make audio and video to promote their work. You know, like a patron of the arts.

Getting to this Point on a Personal Level

Twenty-four hours ago I woke up on a sunny Saturday in a sour mood. I knew I needed help, I knew I didn’t have to stay grumpy and I knew there was a way I could shake myself out of my funk. I started tweeting.

For those of you who’ve been listening faithfully to Third Wave Urbanism, in our recent episode, we talked about the many changes we have going on in our lives. Katrina just returned from Sweden and Amsterdam and is currently raising money for a return trip to Sweden help build the Women-Led Cities initiative. She’s been able to secure a fiscal sponsor and Knight Foundation funding. While she’d had the seeds of this idea in her head for a minute, it was being at the big Women’s March in January, that prompted her to come up with a tangible idea for change and way to channel the energy of surviving our new political reality in the United States.

Meanwhile, I, on that march day, spent it with a long-time fan and now newly minted online friend in Harlem, reflecting on what the world could seriously look like for women of color and taking at least one good day to celebrate and enjoy ourselves, if things got really bad immediately. Later that night, I logged on my computer and saw all the women’s march pictures and I posted to Facebook how excited I was and how down I had been prior to the march and I was ready to take this energy and move forward.

I then launched my Patreon account and my friend, Zia, was both the nudge to do it and one of my first Patreons.

On that original night, I’d been working on three projects: this site, which I honestly just saw as continuing to be more of an archive and a personal blog; Plan to Speak, a webinar/event series I’d developed to try and have a less controversial, but still related to planning and placemaking way of generating income; and Kristpattern, my dabbling in crafts and making a few crafty things to sell and again, have a less controversial way of generating income.

The first push worked and I hovered at around $40-$60 a month in Patreon income. Yet also at the same time, I’d been experiencing early bouts of not gaining and keeping contracts and being able to completely sustain myself. I had rent to pay in D.C. and no one I knew that I could just crash with (as I’m doing now in Baltimore). I was adamant about staying in D.C. Then I did get a full time, well-paying contract in the District in March and I was able to start making headways on bills. I did an extra push of the Patreon around the same time and I narrowed focus back on writing this site.

However, when I went back to work, I was working for a somewhat conservative agency and I didn’t want to draw attention to myself or the more radicalized portions of my work. I really needed the money and finally, I’d found a way to make money in D.C. and enjoy being a Washingtonian and doing things like eating out and going to concerts.

Deep down though, my heart yearned to be writing more here and writing in the vein I’d started to crank up and go in into just before I started at that organization. Also, while I was on one floor doing one thing when, my original contract ran out in May and I was moved to another floor, where the work I was doing and the team I was doing it with wasn’t as interesting. I began to start planting the seeds for a full reboot of the site.

If you’ve paid attention since May, we one, relaunched Third Wave Urbanism after our election-induced hiatus. (This was also part of our channeling our Women’s March day energy into something positive). Two, I started to tweet more. Three, I’d already reshaped the weekly newsletter from being a place where I try to sell all the things I’m doing (like the courses and Kristpattern things), after having learned to do that and switching to a bigger email platform at a business event last fall. I went back to Mailchimp and I started doing what I do best– writing about urbanism straight from my heart.

When my job ended on July 28th, I had a week’s notice and I’d already started to put money away, as well as ramp up activities and I was confident that I’d be able to start doing more of my work and I’d find somewhere else to do it. The seeds of a move to Baltimore had also been planted in the spring. In fact, one of the first things I did with my new check at that agency was hop on MARC and come up and visit for a weekend, at the prompting of a friend who’s basically why I’m still in Baltimore now.

Then the floor flooded at my D.C. apartment on the night of August 4th.

I still didn’t panic. Well, I did that first night and texted a couple of people, but I was able to get the puddles under control and go back to bed and think about how I could continue to make my dark and imperfect basement apartment work. I went to see a few places in D.C.. However, I sent another text to another friend and colleague in Baltimore. One Facebook post later, I had a housesitting gig.

I got to Baltimore, started spreading the word about wanting to set up camp here more permanently and I’m now in what I’d like to call phase two, where I’m still crashing with friends, but I’m also excited to be starting not just a new job that allows me to do work I think is worthy (and pays me about the same as I was in D.C.), but also I have access to a car (thanks Lyft rental program!), things are a hair cheaper up here (and the food and cultural opportunities are better) and I also see and interact with people more often. Partly because I can drive or take the train into D.C. specifically for special events and otherwise for being included in things here in Baltimore. Which gets me to phase three– getting back to having one anchor client, which is my paid position at the Baltimore Community Foundation, paying all my bills, getting my own place, and taking this site to the next level. Plus, don’t forget, Baltimore is every city I’ve ever lived in and more.

Now, What I Want for this Site–a Managing Editor and More (Paid) Voices

I thought about what I needed the most for the site and going forward in life. Increasingly, that was my own managing editor. I’ve had some pushback with other editors and sites and I’ve also noticed that I don’t write nearly as much as I would like to, simply because I’ve been at the point where I know I can get paid for it, and potentially syndicate it, for a while now. While not everything I write is truly meant for publication, I’ve also thought about how folks like Seth Godin (and Michael Doyle a little closer to the planning world), are writing either daily or almost daily. They pump out good content and it still makes sense. Plus,I know for myself, I feel better and I start writing things that have even more power and punch.

With an editor, I can make sure one, my writing is clear and error-proof; two, it gets posted on the site; and three, they will be able to point out things that I can’t see and pinpoint places and spaces I could be pitching to, with hopefully writing that doesn’t need too much more editing to fit into their space.

Additionally, this person would help me make sure I’m not over scheduling myself, that I’m managing the funds we generate  well and yes that I eat and rest. Oh, and we hope that this person might also be able to pitch in and help some with editing and managing Third Wave Urbanism, but we are also hoping to raise money through that Patreon or foundation support to get it its own editor/producer.

The second piece of why I’m raising money is that I want this to be the premier space for black urbanist writings and thought. I want to be able to sustain myself writing explicitly and honestly about my experience loving cities, understanding suburbs, respecting farms and preserving natural areas as a black woman, with Southern roots and radical leanings.

I want to be able to call my other black urbanist and black city writer friends, hand them a few dollars and tell them to write with their heart and write directly to their people. Similar to what happens at VSB and Blavity, but with the frame of our urbanist news sphere. I also want folks to be able to write things here that they can’t get placed elsewhere.

I also want to tell city stories without having to explain the blackness or rely on frames that don’t really make sense and keep pushing stereotypes of all kinds that just don’t work. Lastly, I do want my black friends and family to understand our role in the sense of place and continue to create and share a black urbanist ethic, much like I wrote about right after the election.

And again, Patreon is great with writers and podcast makers. Also, Patreon will pay me once a month and I will be able to set a standard day of payment for all staff and vendors. I also would like to experiment with doing a print magazine, using Blurb and also doing a general call for articles quarterly and work to make sure that all content is placed and paid. In the beginning, we will still have more stringent standards, because we won’t have as much money,but if we can raise more money sustainably, we will expand our content.

And yes, I realize Patreon may not be your jam. For that, I’ll be introducing a media kit, or you can just talk to me about me working on a paid project of your own or ask me a question on the app Campfire. I also have a Square Cash setup for one time donations and I still use PayPal (it’s how I process my Patreon donations).

I want to go ahead and thank everyone who’s already donated, in money, time, stuff and a listening ear. Also, in the last 24 hours, I’ve recalculated all the math and we are already almost 50% to the first goal, which I’ve lowered to $250. Read on for more details about how all this works and what’s in it for you.

So What’s In This For You?

In addition to the content, here are the rewards spelled out. Note that if you’re an existing Patreon, these are changing to reflect the new focus on The Black Urbanist.

  • $1/month puts you on my holiday card list. Make sure you include your shipping address and I’ll be sending you a card. And yes, because there’s a lot of you out there (at least 7600+ on Twitter), $1 a month goes a long way.
  • $5/month currently gets you a The Black Urbanist sticker. It will be in your holiday card.
  • $10/month gets you three stickers. Originally it was a sticker reflecting all three brands, now you get three The Black Urbanist stickers. Want a Third Wave Urbanism sticker, donate directly to that Patreon. Look out for an additional reward at this level to be announced. And yes, the holiday card.
  • $20/month gets you all my books signed in perpetuity. If you don’t have a copy of The Black Urbanist yet, hold off, if you’re at this level, you’ll be one of the first to get the revised second edition. Also, this will be for sale. I’m going to be pulling the first edition off of Gumroad and all other online stores over the next few days in anticipation of the second edition coming out at the end of the year. And of course, the holiday card and the stickers.
  • $50/month will get you a custom-designed city related gift. I.e. I’ll be making one of my Kristpatterns and I’ll put it on one of a handful of items that I’ll order using Zazzle, Print All Over Me or a similar design-on-demand site. And everything else.
  • $100/month will get you a customized city map from Point Two/Design. I bought one of their city maps for D.C. back when I was in Vancouver for Placemaking Week and it was great. Sadly, it got lost in the moving shuffle, so in addition to reordering one for D.C., I’m ordering every city I’ve ever lived in for my future portrait wall eventually. And that’s why I’m offering to buy you one too. They will make whatever city you want, in whatever colors you want. I’ll contact you to get the specs. And you’ll get everything else.
  • And you are welcome to go above and beyond my campaign by donating $500, $1000, $2000 or more per month. But the rewards stop at the $100 level.
  • And you can opt out of rewards and just let my work be your reward, as several folks have already done.

And here’s the goals/plans of the site at a glance:

  • Amounts up to $250/month will go to site fees, i.e. Bluehost, Mailchimp, Soundcloud and Adobe. Also, this site needs some fixing and it will cover that too because I can do some of that work myself.
  • Pledges above and beyond $500/month will allow me to add an editor at a pay rate of $250 a month. The editor will help me get my newsletter out and look at adding more newsletters and other daily newsy content. They would also proofread any regular posts of mine and contribute posts as they saw fit.
  • Pledges above and beyond $750/month will allow me to raise the salary of my editor to $500 a month and we’d both be writing more stuff for the site. Also, they would be doing more office managerial things.
  • Amounts above and beyond $1000/month will allow me to start paying writers. Both I and my editor will write in the beginning, but then we hope to add two commissioned pieces a month at $125 per piece. These will be personal essays, i.e. what a traditional guest post would look like.
  • Amounts above and beyond $1500/month would allow us to commission an investigative piece at $750 a month.
  • And amounts above and beyond $2000 would increase my travel budget and increase the amounts of personal essays and investigative pieces we could do, but those would be the rates. Also, I’d like to get my editor to the $1500/month level eventually, possibly more. I’d also like to do special events and introduce a print magazine to highlight all this new digital work.

Whew, you’re at the end. But thanks to your support, I won’t have to end this project and it can grow even bigger.

I’m Kristen. Seven 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, Support this project on Patreon for as little as one dollar a month.

Interior view of the basket-like casing of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The museum was lead by an African-American and British-Ghanian architects.

Building on Theories and Practice of Black Urbanism in Our New World

Interior view of the basket-like casing of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The museum was lead by an African-American and British-Ghanian architects.

I have always owed a great debt to the work of Sara Zewde, especially the usage of the term black urbanist and talking about black urbanism. Zewde is currently a principal at Asakura Robinson a designer at the Seattle-based firm GGN and in 2010, published her MIT graduate thesis, Theory, place, and opportunity: black urbanism as a design strategy for the potential removal of the Claiborne Expressway in New Orleans.

When I started this page, she had the only reference I could find online to the concept of black urbanism, especially as an architectural vernacular (style). Later on, fellow planner and blogger Pete Saunders addressed the term here and here. These authors have provided an African continent-centered focus on black or African urbanism. The most compelling chapter I’ve found in a recent Google search to see if other writers had used the term in recent years. Somehow I missed this chapter in Adam J. Bank’s  2006 book Race, Rhetoric, and Technology: Searching for Higher Ground.

I especially want to draw attention to Melvin Mitchell’s theories which are highlighted in the chapter, which I’ve taken a snapshot of below:


With this being said, and with the new political environment that we are facing, what’s next for black urbanism? I’d like to take a stab at naming a few things that need to happen:

Insist Black buildings and Black neighborhoods (and other ethnic and poor and marginalized neighborhoods) are just as deserving of historic preservation as others. While it saddens me that so many of the historic Victorian and Warder row-homes here in DC are so expensive, at least they are still standing in their present form. Additionally, the modern homes in the wealthier Black areas of Chicago are just as worthy as anything Frank Lloyd Wright has built. If we can keep the D.C Chinatown and even enhance it by building the archway, we can also prioritize historic structures even as we densify. Likewise, being mindful  (again)that black urbanism is also an architectural vernacular. This gets back to Mitchell’s ideas. I will say that strategically placed public buildings like the new National Museum of African-American History and Culture can be culturally sensitive and still help the black community, even though they were built for primarily white institutions.

Create and honor homeownership or long-term leases, as well as create shopping centers and service plazas that service all income levels. As much as I’d love a certain bullseye-clad big box store to be a bit closer to my home, I’d like it even better if we had neighborhood businesses that are smaller, more focused sections of the department store, such as a stationary store, or grocery or clothing. Neighborhood businesses that are co-ops or otherwise under less pressure for profit and more pressure to create livelihoods and provide good service. Likewise, continuing to promote and provide home purchasing and renovation services, as well as a wide variety of rental options for multiple budgets.

Push for the restoration of the traditional public school system, and turn the charter system into an alternative educational mechanism. I get it, charters promise parents more control and you can do things in charters that the regular public instruction doesn’t allow (like boarding schools, religious instruction, etc.). However, nothing is stopping a group of parents from creating extracurricular education groups for their children, even in marginalized areas. This is where the new charter apparatus would come in, by providing supplemental funding for programming outside of the classic school day, as well as forming a coalition with other adult and child social service providers. I think we need to push for a strong public education system and we need to focus our own extracurricular activities into ensuring that all children have opportunities for after school art, sports, and extra career and trade education. We need our youth to know they can be creative and they can create a new future out of the ashes.

Acknowledge climate change, especially the kind done by fracking,  regular oil pipelines. mining and even landfills near residential areas. I feel like this will be the one thing that the administration has pushed that will affect everyone and potentially exterminate us. So many black communities have battled living near factories, landfills, and other toxic waste for years and many lives have been lost silently to cancers and other diseases. 

File civil suits for every constitutional amendment or social issue violation that happens. I’ve been kicking money back to the ACLU for years and I’m going to increase that donation to them and the Southern Policy Law Center. Also, not just court cases, but standing up for all kinds of marginalized people and recognizing that there are many successful kinds of lifestyles for adults, children and families and creating communities that allow for diverse lifestyles and cultures, without pushing the supremacy or harm of one or the other.

Being careful that we make it clear online when we are speaking our opinion, being satirical or using facts. Yes, facts still exist, and so does opinion. I want to do my best to only spread ideas as ideas that I think better society and make it clear where facts come from.

Recognizing that activism for black folks and other marginalized people does not disqualify a person from professional or political practice or office. Activism is also a form of tactical urbanism. Recognizing that people of color and marginalized folks are going to be even angrier and oppressed and the microaggressions and outright neoliberalism and the systemic classism, racism, and homophobia are going to be worse. Don’t be that person in your planning or architectural practice, your pursuit for good governance or internally with your friends and colleagues.  Understand fully or try to understand the righteous anger and/or the burden of practice, especially against oppressive systems.  Constantly check yourself. Also, there’s fine line between a practice that is rooted in cultural vernaculars and only being the voice for that culture. Let’s be mindful if and when we choose to token and know that while it can be necessary, it can also be just as harmful. Also, having a culturally-sensitive urbanism doesn’t exclude or excuse anyone, if practiced properly. 

And if you are marginalized, rail against the system, but also tap into your creative side. If we had better, more sustainable systems, we could abandon the old ones causing us harm. I know for many of us, we just want to survive or get a piece of the pie. But what if we knew how to bake our own pies and could share? Forgive yourself and forgive those who are evil. You don’t have to forget, but you will need all that energy for the new creations and new worlds we are walking into. Let go of the shame of the words of the oppressor and remember they are wrong and you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t have a purpose.  Don’t do things that turn you into the oppressor. Teach or find someone willing to teach others how to respect cultural tradition and vernacular. Oh, and this is the part where I type SELF-CARE, SELF-CARE, SELF-CARE, SELF CARE…in all caps and repeatedly.

Finally, don’t give up. We will survive someway and somehow, as we always have as a people. Even if that means we are a people in exile.

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, Support me on Patreon.

Six Things to Do When You Present Your Work

Six Things to Do When You Present Your Work

Conference season is upon us. Or it’s not a conference you have to present at, you need to get something built and you need city approval to do so. Unlike in years past, you’ve been asked by someone (your office, your vision board, your professor), to make a presentation. Don’t worry, you can do it. I’m going to help you rock this out.

If you haven’t already noticed, I’ve done this at least once or twice. And that’s just the two that have full video recordings.

Again, as I mentioned in a prior post, one of my wishes is for people to learn and understand why and what we do. And since I’ve got a spare moment while I’m attending the TRB Annual Meeting in DC, I’m going to share the top six things that I do that help me as well as others that I’ve learned by making presentations over the last five years (and even beforehand that helped me ace my undergraduate public speaking course).

Before we dig in further, for the sake of this post, I’m addressing presentations of work done for architecture, planning, placemaking, engineering, and policy along with advocacy and research of those works.

Read over the guidelines.

Just like that building or street or vehicle you want to build, you need to build the thing that tells the story by the specs that the manufacturer has given you. If you only have 20 minutes, you only have 20 minutes. If you need a scale model, bring a scale model. Creativity in these things comes after you’ve combed over what’s been asked of you and you know exactly what’s NEEDED in your presentation.

If you don’t have clear guidance or it’s not written out, try calling or emailing the event organizer, the project manager or whoever has released the guidelines. Do remember, that if you’ve been told to not call or email, then you have to go with what’s on the paper and work through that challenge.

Sketch out your main points

If you use the scientific method to present your findings, distil them down to the key points. You can always answer questions during and after your presentation. Especially when you go to public meetings. Conciseness and brevity may actually get you the votes you need for your project to proceed to build out. Again, use your main points to frame your presentation and keep you in line with guidelines such as time, content or materials needed for presentation.

Design it well. Or before you start designing, learn how to design it well

Study best practices in graphic design. Your posters, slide shows, photos, websites and models need to be to scale, at the proper resolution and engaging. Google best practices in graphic design. Google how to install or find free fonts. Use sites like Canva to create infographics and quote boxes to stick into your presentations. Hack Microsoft Word and make it look like you did it in Illustrator or InDesign. In our sector, we are all designers of some kind or at the very least we can be creative and learn new skills. Flex that muscle and put it into your presentations. If you have a good grasp of these tools already, this is your time to show out. You are putting on a show. Make sure your set looks great.

Tell a good story

Now that you have your set pieces ready, it’s time for dialogue. Storytelling is vital for presenters who are trying to convince a neighborhood or government body to build something new or revamp something old. Even if you are just presenting theories and findings, seek to inspire. Storytelling puts your work in the context of the community it will serve. Yes, you may want your project to make money, but the ethical high ground here is to make sure people understand why something needs to be done and why you need to be the one to do it.

Consider a handout

When you go to a performance, you generally get a program or playbill, that helps you remember who’s on stage and what the main plot is. Same with your work. For you, a one page handout with the names of your design team, your research questions, a rendering of your building or street and why you want to build, research or present your work is sufficient to help people remember what you want to do. They can also write their own notes and questions on that handout and start the process of learning what you are doing for themselves.

Answer and don’t fear questions

The point of presentation is education, then action. People cannot take action on what you say or show them if you don’t help them understand what you are saying and displaying. While you may feel interrogated, at the end of the session, your thoughts and maybe even your designs will be better formed. Do honor a sense of decorum and don’t let others completely disrupt or discredit your work, especially if they don’t offer real solutions. Also, know that your project may be growing and be ok with letting people know that this is a phase and you’ll be presenting more later or after another revision.

Finally, even if the project isn’t approved or only one person understands your theory, you still look awesome representing your venture. I have written off certain audiences as not worthy or at least not understanding of what I do. Don’t do that in your presentation. Be the person that people want to hear or work with on this and other projects or research.

Good luck and happy presenting! Be sure to keep up with me via email and on social media and feel free to ask me any questions and offer your presentation tips. Watch me present and book me to help you prepare your next presentation

Three Lessons I Learned About Place in 2015

Three Lessons I Learned About Place in 2015

I learned a lot about place this year. Yet, those many lessons coalesced into these three big lessons: a progressive, inclusive, tactical charrette process, people over money and the need to legally live in more than one place, to help you guys out there learn more about your own towns and cities. Let’s dig into those lessons.

You Can Have a Progressive, Inclusive, Tactical Charrette Process

I was invited to come to Chattanooga back in April to participate in the Next Big Thing, a design charrette centered on the Glass Street area of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Having grown up and really come up politically in Greensboro, cities like Chattanooga and Greenville, SC are aspirational places to the governments and stakeholders of other smaller cities like Greensboro. In fact, a delegation of Greensboro folks was in town doing a comparison shopping tour, while I was there working on a lesser-loved area of town.

Despite its status as lesser loved and its lack of waterfront view and mountain height, the Glass Street area doesn’t lack for good people and good infrastructure. The group that brought us all together, The Glass House Collective, is embedded and dedicated to the betterment of this community.

On the surface, the Glass Street area seems like your typical predominately black community, that as a result of redlining and legal integration, has a double whammy of having good housing stock, but not being a place that even Blacks of means want to invest in. Well, besides liquor stores, clubs, and various houses of worship, that, unfortunately, don’t work together and have even been the sites of murders and thefts.

Yet, there was this diner, The Glass Street Breakfast and Lunch House, on the corner of Glass and Dodson, across the street from the building where we set up shop. The woman who owns it wasn’t on my team, but I could see and feel her energy and excitement throughout the process. All of our teams had community members, mostly Black property owners and other stakeholders local to the area. What was also key, was that there were a number of other Black American planners and group facilitators. There were white Chattanoogans from the other sides of town, who wanted to see a sustainable development (more on this dynamic later in the post). Yet, it was seeing this Black woman, believe in the power of her building, which outside of the fresh paint job, with the mural of the yummy-looking bowl of something on the outside, was nothing more than an old gas station, which in another context could look like a shack, that inspired me myself to look into the power of taking buildings and spaces, no matter their shape, and infuse value into them.

Even if her venture ultimately fails (as more ventures do, despite the race and energy level of their owners), it’s the intent, the ability to try. Oh and I hear her food was awesome. I was, unfortunately, battling the need to drive back down I-75 to make my flight and return my rental car at the Atlanta airport because flying into Chattanooga’s airport was nothing short of impractical, so I couldn’t try her food out. (Another problem for another day, like the need for someone to help her out with a website).

More on people-power later, on the big scale. At the root of this lesson is that you can have energy in the room and people, especially the people of color and low-wealth that may be in your charrette room, are just as powerful and can add just as much to your charrette process, as you. Even if you have a foot in both the elite, mostly white and wealthy, architecture, planning and development world and another in the mostly black neighborhoods, labeled as slums and ghettos even if there were at one point rich cultural assets, you can be valued and you can be heard in the charrette room. Charrettes, public workshops and other community listening processes have to have this going forward and they have to have a means of action.

In the meantime, I needed to not just see places, but immerse myself in places for longer than just a week…

You Can’t Really Be a Global, or Even Just a National Urbanist, If You’ve Only Lived in One State

Ultimately, I can come into a city and tell people what to do 365 days a year. I could do it on this blog 24 hours a day. It, however, doesn’t compare to actually being a resident and investing in two metro areas, if not three, simultaneously.

This is the first year that I’ve ever lived in two cities. Even when I was younger and going back and forth between the Piedmont Triad and the Research Triangle (they are different, if you click on their names you’ll know why they are different), I was still in the same state. I could get most of the same food (although Biscuitville is a uniquely Greensboro thing and Bojangles only hands out free sweet tea at their Triangle-area locations). I knew the names of the local politicos. I knew my sales tax rate. My license plates were the same (and there was only need for one of them). School districts tend to cover counties, not just a pod of a couple of elementary schools that feed into one middle and high school. Cities tend to only extend to county lines and if they do jump a line, it’s only a few blocks or a few neighborhoods.

Kansas City takes up pieces of four different counties. That’s just on the Missouri side. On the Kansas side, what we refer to as KCK, is also the entirety, save a place called Bonner Springs, of the county of Wyandotte. And then there’s everything wrapped up in Johnson County and the areas around the University of Kansas and the military operations. Having been East Coast-centered my whole life, I only knew of DC’s interesting position of being a bi-state metro area. Likewise with the New York City region. Charlotte’s also rapidly becoming as much a South Carolina major metro, much like Western Kansas propels that state’s entire economy.

To me, being a bi-state, bi-county area isn’t so bad, if you have a completely connected public transit system, so everyone has equal access to jobs. Likewise, when your school curriculums and calendars and resources are in sync. When you have the same tax rates and the same mix of national stores. Your local institutions are empowered and service the area equally. I have yet to see that in many regions and I feel like the communities I know and love back east do this better than the KC metro. It’s one thing to have a frontier/pioneer spirit. It’s another to have it so bad that you can’t be interdependent, much like the folks who were native to the land you built on.

Having lived in a totally different region, I feel like I have more fodder for writing this blog and my planning and development practice than ever before. I can properly compare the effects of how public policy, especially housing, tax and education policy, shape a city’s development. It’s deeper than those city trips where they show you all the pretty things. I was doing a radio pre-show interview and the producers asked me to describe Kansas City for a person hopping off at the airport and going to the convention hall. I think we can all do that, even if our only relationship to a city is going to its airport and convention hall. (Bonus aside, read my case for a new Kansas City Airport). But you have to go deeper than that if you are like me and you are involved in the development and maintenance of your city.

I also re-introduced and fortified the concept this year of the American Expat. Before, it was something I knew about in abstraction, having had several aunts and uncles who’d moved away for work and only came home at major holidays. There are parts of both metros that they love and embrace, so much so that I think my aunt may never move back to North Carolina.

For me, I’m still in the city audition process. Ultimately, I know that wherever I choose to plant my home base, it will have 75% of the values and things I recommend out of the gate. Or, it will have a solid group of people, committed to sustaining it and making it better. I will always come back to North Carolina and rejuvenate, due to this being my homeland and that of so many people I love and who helped me grow in my formative years.  Speaking of the content and concept of people sustaining a place, though…

Money is Magic, People are Sustaining

If we had millions of dollars, everything we want to happen on Glass Street (and your street) could happen tomorrow. However, a lot of the things that were proposed for Glass Street, like the street and sidewalk improvements, as well as the façade improvements and the addition of more than just tax preparers, liquor stores and some solid restaurants, require PEOPLE to patronize the store and bring the money to them.

The Glass Street area was labeled as a food desert, due to the loss of a grocery store, ironically right behind the Glass Street Breakfast and Lunch House. In my group in Chattanooga, I introduced the idea of a co-op grocery, something that’s happening twice in Greensboro, in two very different contexts. Many people are  familiar with our downtown natural food co-op market and deli/bakery, as a natural extension of a community supported agriculture delivery membership and provider of a downtown option, which is still not where developers want it to be to do a traditional supermarket concept. You may also be familiar with our other co-op, founded due to the lack of a major supermarket company, wanting to locate where it had no problems operating 30 years ago, a mostly Black, middle-class community. With some financial help from a local Black church and our city and the usual major foundation nonprofits with mostly white leadership, that community has funded a supermarket that will look more like Harris Teeter or at the very least, restore some of the character that the Winn-Dixie left.

While they are still waiting on the magic of money to come through, they are a determined group of people, a lesson that as we also honor the Kwanzaa week, is relevant in placemaking and all year.

Right now, city leaders and stakeholders are waiting on money to turn a once vibrant, but now vacant lot into our next Broadway-caliber performing arts center. Much money was pledged for this effort and they’ve unfortunately come up short. In turn, they are calling on people and their money, to help get this spot to the end. In the meantime, there were lots of people doing business on this big lot. There were a gas station and hospital and hotel here once upon a time. Then, just before demolition, there was a jazz club and doctors offices and hair salons and the chamber of commerce. I feel those things could have remained on that lot until the last dollar needed was in hand and then the demolition could start and within just a few short months, the new arts building would appear. (Edit on 12/31/15: The chamber is in fact still standing. But just barely. The building almost has no parking lot. Again, an institution that helps us to be capitalist can stand, but some aspects of capital can’t stand and we still don’t have the art we were promised. Hopefully, the money will be raised, but until then, I use caution in talking about this particular project as an economic driver and a value-add to Downtown Greensboro).

This gets me to a major lesson I want us all to learn this year and in coming years, to get back to a simple economy, where we can start paying things in full. Granted, the credit economy is what allowed us to grow as even things we take for granted, such as our rail system and certain shopping malls needed mortgages and loans to get started. Yet, what if even back then, people valued things at whatever could be given at the time? What if we made all houses less than $5,000? There could be variation in the market, but the idea is that things like houses, modes of transportation and education have a basic cost, that is keeping in mind that people need these things to get started as adults. Then, over time, other things could be valued more. While I don’t think we need to eliminate capitalism or financing systems like loans and mortgages, I think we need to become more people-centered with how we spend and loan money and less about creating magic tricks with our money.
Next week, we are in 2016 and I’ll be dropping my wishes for the year and evaluating how some of my 2015 wishes did. Let me know what some of your placemaking lessons were on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn on my pages or at least, share this article with your own commentary on those social networks. Keep up with me on a regular basis through my Tuesday emails.

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.

The Game of Life Plans (and City Planning)

Lately I’ve been playing a ton of board games and doing puzzles. Granted, who hasn’t received a note from a friend asking them to play some sort of online puzzle game on Facebook. And yes, you can politely say no. Unless you see some benefit, like I did back a few years ago when I played Cityville to examine its merits for urban planning.

Yet, what’s really changed my game (pun intended), has been playing board games in real life. I’ve gone to board game socials with friends.

Bertucci’s hot coco at the DC Scrabble Meetup on January 14, 2015. Photo by the author.

I’ve helped my mom put a puzzle together in our living room.

Yes, we eventually found “Nemo”. Photo by the author.

I’ve also downloaded a word search app that’s not that much different than doing word searches in paper books.

These activities, along with my running Scrabble and Words with Friends virtual games have helped me to see how game theory affects the world of planning and development.

Anyone who remembers LIFE and Monopoly, knows that your fate is centered on the roll of dice or spin of a wheel. This is what a lot of people feel in real life, especially those who hope to win charter school lotteries, get a job they applied for to start making a paycheck, or rent or own a home. That their lives are really up to chance.

That’s especially pointed on the LIFE board. Even if your opponent skipped college and got a lesser job card, they could make up for it by picking the highest salary card. Even if you got the highest salary, you could hit the midlife crisis space and end up losing that card. Essentially, you could be a doctor that makes $25,000 playing with an entertainer that skipped college, with the required $40,000 debt, making $70,000. Even if you retired at Millionaire Estates, the entertainer could retire at Countrywide Acres and still do better than you, winning the game.

Meanwhile on the Monopoly board, you could roll the dice and buy all the utilities and everything on the third side of the board. You know, those properties that aren’t worth as much, but they collect a lot in rent as people tend to land on them more than they land on the fourth side high-end properties. More fair right? You’re a mini developer mogul with lots of hotels! But that could again be your opponent instead of you. You could go to jail after only purchasing Mediterranean Avenue. Yes, you still get your money and you get out eventually, but in the meantime, your opponent is buying up more properties and making much more money.

In real life we used to think this was just a poor people (and people of color) problem, but for anyone trying to buy homes and get jobs in New York, San Fransisco or Washington D.C. and their surrounding areas, it again may feel like you are at the mercy of the wheel you spin, even if you have the “right” amount of money or cultural background.

Yet, just like life, there are more board games and paths than Monopoly and LIFE when it comes to modeling how to make a living. In fact, maybe your life is more like Scrabble and Words with Friends. Then you might really feel like the tiles are stacked against you. You might have a wonderful, high scoring word, but nowhere to connect it. Your friends in these games might have the X, J or Z (or all three) and can then control the board. You get stuck with all consonants and no vowels. You are left to make the best of what you do have. Oh and we can’t forget placement. Who hasn’t screamed at the 40 point three-letter word, strategically placed on both a double letter and a triple word (that also happens to have a Z).

Or, your life could just be a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle waiting to be put together. All the pieces are already there for you, you just have to be patient as as they all fall into place.

Again, this is still about planning and development. The primer above was just so you, as the planner or developer, could remember how people actually make the decision to buy your house, ride your train or go to the school you placed near their house.

And when it comes to planning and development, we want people to feel like their lives are jigsaw puzzles. Figureoutable. Pieceable. Assembled. Yet, the worst feel their world is a Scrabble board or maybe a Monopoly board, with the wrong letters or properties.

Having homes at multiple income levels, multiple forms of transportation, schools that provide connectivity to different subjects and occupations, stores and restaurants with a variety of food, clothing and other accessories of life, and variety period in all things, makes a community real. Then it feels less like a game of winners and losers and more like a life that allows for growth, change and learning.

Consider what kind of community you are planning for and make sure your citizens aren’t pawns in an impossible game.

This post is also up on Medium. Recommend it there and share with your friends.

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And Now, My Book, A Black Urbanist, Essays Vol. 1

Cover Image

After several years of writing, two months of editing and final writing and several bouts of fear and confidence, my first blog-related, adult book, A Black Urbanist, is now available for your purchase.

It is available in the following formats:

Print you want me to sign it and hold it in your hand. That privilege will cost more, so keep that in mind. The current link will take you to Blurb to order a non-signed copy. If you would like to order a signed copy, click here.

iBooks–The best of the digital editions, outside of the PDF, will be perfect for my fellow Apple heads, who may be reading on iPads and iPhones.

Kindle— for my folks who are stuck on their Kindles and like the mimicry of the book experience. However, I spent hours trying to get it just so and it still looks a bit wonky. Also, depending on the country, I get less royalties. However, for my international folks, this might be your best bet.

Gumroad—this is a nice protected PDF, with some color, and in a nice 8×10 paper size. You could print this if you wanted. I also get all the proceeds from these sales. Clicking on the photo of the book on my sidebar will always take you here first. Also, Gumroad has an app for iPhone and Android, that allows you to read it there. Search for it, it’s free.

The book is $10 on all digital formats and is $12.83 plus shipping in print and $25 pre-signed. All print prices include shipping and handling.

Once again, you can click here and get it instantly for $10 in a PDF format.

Also, if you are a fellow blogger, member of the traditional press, podcaster, TV person or anybody who is willing to either review or let me come on your blog/podcast/program to talk about the book, please fill out the form below  email me here and I’ll be back to you with a review copy in PDF format.

Thanks to all my family and friends and happy reading!

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