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, www.kristenejeffers.com. 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, www.kristenejeffers.com. Support me on Patreon.

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

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



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

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

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

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


Third Wave Urbanism podcast logo

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

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

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


Earthly Mechanical Movement by KristPattern available on Spoonflower.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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


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


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

See you next week,


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Open Thoughts on the U.S. Election Results

Looking back at San Francisco from the Rockridge Station in Oakland. I wanted to note one of last night's victories, more money for the BART system.  Image by Malcolm Kenton

Looking back at San Francisco from the Rockridge Station in Oakland. I wanted to note one of last night’s victories, more money for the BART system. Image by Malcolm Kenton

I assume most of you are probably in a state of either shock or fear or a combination of the two. I wanted to write a note here, so you’ll know that someone is listening one and two, that you’re not alone and three, so I can process these things. The platform is here for a reason and I’m using it for this today.

First of all, at the local and state levels, some strong advocates and leaders were elected for the first time or re-elected. Some strong leaders were very close to winning. And the presidential election itself on a county-by-county level was very close. While there were some places that flipped, others stayed the same or were stable.

Additionally, I’m so proud of all the cities that voted for transit or other infrastructure bonds. There’s also been an idea that in the new presidential administration, that an infrastructure measure of great consequence may actually happen. I can see that, as many of the transit referenda went forth in places that went red last night.

Going forward, I do think we need to tackle that civic-inferiority complex, along with our own inferiority complexes. We need to listen to all people. We need to make sure they are all fed and have the opportunity for healthcare without the extreme financial burdens. We need to make sure they all have a place to live. We need to stay out of bedrooms and church houses and other places that if we don’t have to go, we don’t have to go. If someone isn’t attacking you, don’t be a bully. Believe what you believe, but don’t attack people or be a bully in the pursuit of your own feelings of needing a person to be a certain way for you to feel some kind of self-worth. Sometimes we deal with this in our own families or colleagues or classmates and even longtime friends. I think our first step is to accept who they are, discuss things tactfully and then when it’s clear that mindset change is not happening on a particular day, move on and focus back on ourselves and self-worth and self-love and our improvements that we’ve been told we should do, through various means.

I know that many times in the past six years, I’ve written people off, people who have no intention of being violent or who really just want answers to questions, because I don’t like how they say it or what they say. I think we have done this a lot over the past few years and really over the past 50 years since we decided collectively that all people should have rights, but on the flip side they only have rights if they do things our way and in our moralities. Do realize that this country is not unified under one moral code. Other than life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all. Also realize that we have built this country under systems that have always privileged a select few. However, because we had language in our constitution that stated otherwise, we as people in the United States have felt like we can have a fair shot at challenging those norms.

On the flip side, we need to redefine the American Dream such that it doesn’t require extreme wealth and the appearance of success to succeed. We need to stop making it about what we own as so much as to what we can offer in our own creativity and grit and love.

Our cities must continue to fix and maintain and build better transportation systems. We need to wipe the terms market-rate and affordable out of our housing conversation and just talk about housing. We need to commit to a common, free, lifelong education system. We need clean water and air. We need free or low-cost healthcare. Our first responders and protectors that seek to protect and serve, need do that not just fear and bully and kill. Our regions and cities should  their citizens before investing in corporations that may or may not stay around long enough to build the economy. We should respect the rural areas and the breadbasket of our nation and instead of shaming suburban people, looking at it for what it is and doing our best to create real, functional towns and villages out of the various sprigs of development that we have.

Additionally, I ask that you respect those of us, who may have chosen third parties and who may take this opportunity to choose another country of residence. We live on a globe, not just a flat piece of land and there are many more issues and places and ideas that we need to address. Many of us look to Copenhagen and Amsterdam for bike/ped infrastructure, and to South Korea for rail infrastructure. We need to be looking outside the box, especially if all that changes is that all of the new laws of the last eight years are repealed. If we are allowed to continue to exist as a democracy, if we aren’t at risk of deportation, or extreme public shunning or shaming, or being killed, we can start the conversations we need to have at the local and state level on new leadership. We can be more innovative with whom we choose as leaders. Or, much as I’m an American expat in America, we can visit and live and work in other places, build up income and experience and come back home and shift our country.

In 2020, I will be old enough to run for president. Not saying that I’ll exercise my right then and that it will be available, but I want us to think about what the world could look like as soon as next year, when there will be more elections and maybe local ones you can plug into and start building the seeds to help us get back to a better place.

And finally, let us be courageous and keep living our normal lives. The oppressor wins when we bow down and we change our lives. Let’s be our best selves until the end.

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


Hey folks!

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s the mission of Plan to Speak.

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

That’s why I created Kristpattern.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the Second Presidential Debate of 2016 and Knowing Your Truth About Where You Live

I wanted to discuss a comment about cities that came up in the debate/ town hall last night. Note, this is not a post endorsing one or the other, although I’ll say that I’m with her. But the issue brought up is one that trips up a lot of people when it comes to talking about metropolitan policy and how black folks have been allowed to move about and take part in the environments that have been built and paved and provided for us.

First of all, the debate’s mention of urban policy and where black folks tend to live assumes a concentric city model, which looks like those diagrams of the earth where you cut it open and you have a ball in the center and rings around until you get to the crust, which is where we actually live.

This is the Burgess Concentric City Model. He applied it to Chicago first. However, maybe it should have been a rainbow instead…

The actual model goes into even more detail about human pathways, but I’m going to simplify it to three rings: the core, the suburban rings and the crust which is rural farm and natural areas. The core in this globe is the inner city. You have a business district, a city hall, maybe a county hall, the largest school, possibly the high school, a college or university and then you have either old money wealthy whites (or others of color who were able to maintain wealth since the city was first built). You also have the regional sports stadiums and other institutions marketed and intended for the entire region to use. If you have a major public transit system, all the routes lead to this area. When people come to visit your town, this is what they think of and this is where the things geared to them are located. Also, the name of this  inner core city, is often the name the entire region uses to define itself, when defining itself to people from the outside.

However, after World War II, when we had the second wave of suburban development, the department stores started to leave, along with others that catered directly to white folks, who were moving into the suburban areas. A few years later, black folks were allowed to  move out and onward, so essentially, all the people left in the “inner city” were the poor people of color, LGBTQA+ people and others deemed less American and undesirable.

This is where the bulk of the logic of that particular candidate comes from. Also, that candidate has participated in the development of cities for many years and from what I’ve been able to observe, subscribes to a inner core, then suburban rings that just have houses and a few services, and are restricted to certain types of people, then rural crust where all the farms and the things that sustain us (or the corporations that make all of our food, textiles and the like) are. This is probably the idea they have when they want to make the country great again. Basically make us all perfect round balls of metro areas. (Among other things…)

However, this was never quite the case anywhere. Why?

  1. Some cities are built along a riverfront. This automatically rules out having a round ring of neighborhoods in many cities. This is what you see in Chicago, Detroit and St. Louis. The irony is that the model I just mentioned in its original form was applied to Chicago. Maybe it should have been a rainbow instead of a full circle.
  2. Some cities grew in pairs or clusters. So there are multiple metro cores and farmland that became suburban rings and then all grew together to become one mega region. New York is really this, but with water separating the various cores and rings. Also, I grew up in the Piedmont Triad region of North Carolina. Not to be confused with the Research Triangle Region of North Carolina where I went to undergrad. Both started as triangles and are now adjacent amorphous blobs. Trying to make this a circle will only make your head hurt and you sound stupid.
  3. Economics and family structures have always determined where people choose to live. People need to be close to the things that help them survive, like jobs and food. Wealthier  people get to have more of what they like nearby. Some wealthy people wanted farmland, others wanted cultural institutions. Those others, who are at the mercy of working a job, go wherever the job is. And then those who have chosen to raise children often build and move where they feel their family will get the most of the values they want to institute into their children.
  4. Black families and sometimes Latinx and Asian families, basically anyone who was not considered white when it comes to schooling, real estate and access to public spaces and services, has always had to reckon with where slavery, then Jim (and Juan) Crow, then redlining, then urban renewal and now, mass incarceration and the aftermath of being incarcerated,  affordability or upward mobility allow them to go. For myself, my upward mobility and personal preferences dictate that I want to be near the cultural centers and also in areas where retail is clustered, which is becoming the inner cities again. But I’m a business owner just starting out, so I am on a budget. I’m also car-free, partly because of economics. Other friends, of all races and nationalities, are having children and want them to have their own safe yards, that they can manage and not have to worry about police or even neighbors shooting at their children. Because so many inner core areas closed schools or don’t provide similar public options, smaller towns in the metro regions, that are often written off as suburbs, are a more attractive option. Oh, and Target. It all really boils down to who’s good enough for Target. And who Walmart hasn’t left yet.

So what’s really going on and what should I make of this?

What I invite folks to do in the light of this particular comment and the work here, is to research the history of how your specific metro area was built, governed and developed since its inception. Each metro area, while it shares a few common elements, applies those elements differently. We need to know how our metros are made, because it’s going to take a ground-up effort to make things better. Also, you’ll sleep better knowing that living in the suburbs or inner city or on a farm or even in a shack (tiny house!) may not be a bad or shameful thing.

How Do You Start that Research?

  1. Wikipedia. Seriously, the entries on your metro area will help you find basic information and also help you find primary sources and places to go to learn why your city has its shape and how people have made it have that shape over the years.
  2. Historians and librarians in your metro area, as well as urban planners and others working in community design and governance— Basically anyone working to make sure everyone who lives in an area is accounted for and is part of the story of your city. They will help you make sure what you read is right and give you even more books to read and places to go to find information. They will also be able to point you to other people like…
  3. Long-time community residents, suggested by the professionals above. This is where you get the real stories and the more nuanced stories of why people do what they do. Or, even better, you can talk to your older family members. Record those chats, as they are history. I love what the new podcast Historically Black is doing around black oral histories. StoryCorps, and even shows like This American Life and Stuff Your Mom Never Told You are also doing a great job of uncovering local and social histories as well. (I’m going to shamelessly plug my podcast with Katrina Johnston-Zimmerman here, Third Wave Urbanism as well, where we also talk about how metro areas are really made and average people).

Above all, let those of us who are professionals stress about where people actually live. No matter where you live and what your story is, you have value. Developers and builders and city leaders, remember that the next time you decide what needs to be built or torn down in your city.

Also, please make a wise decision about voting on November 8, 2016  and during other times when elections are called in your city. Especially when other elections are called in your metro area. These folks have the direct keys to your success as a city.

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

We May Be Gentrified, But Our Culture Doesn’t Have to Die.

Gentrification by Flickr user Abbey Hambright

We are at peak gentrification. What’s next?

Namely, what’s next for cultures and communities of color who are left in the wake of the racism and greed that drives many gentrification conversations in our cities. How do we overcome the drama of losing our homes and stores and schools and jobs and bus stops and our friends to better pastures. Are there better pastures? Do we have life after so much of it seems to be taken away?

If we lived in an equal society, one where we truly celebrated and embraced differences, instead of using them as tools of inequity, gentrification wouldn’t be bad. For one thing, it might not even exist. Why would we need to value one piece of land over another? Why would land have the kinds of value it does? Why not band together and share what we have?

I won’t dig that deep into history, but we know that some folks see land as communal and others see it as something to be had at any cost, even if it means destroying the psychological and the physical beauty and benefits it bestows. Generally land possession has been in the hands of the most powerful or seized from those who did not see power the same way as the conquerors. Our human species has always been in the business of trying to overtake, overwhelm or intimidate others into either being property (slavery) or having property (land, objects, ideas, cultures).

So again, what do we do? Especially if we put it like this, even if we were all living in the same kind of tent, somebody would find a way to discriminate or be greedy or even steal and murder to get more.

We just stop.

Stop and be grateful for what we already have. Be grateful for neighbors of all kinds. Be grateful for the ability to learn and grow naturally, but not at the expense of others. Stop feeling like we are losing ground or losing whatever we had. The only thing that will forever be truly ours is our soul.

Ok, but you say, that’s all nice and flowery, but what can I do RIGHT NOW, to stop all the injustice. How do I close down the prisons? How do we lower costs, without causing crazy amounts of poverty? How do we get kids interested in learning? How do I make enough to eat tonight?

It’s still internal. There are a lot of formerly impoverished  and underprivileged folks out here who the minute they win the lottery or get a helping hand or strike gold, literally or figuratively, start acting like their oppressors. Instead of getting ahead to give back, the goal was to get ahead and become the oppressor.

Plus, we all should enjoy the beauty this world offers us. We should all be focusing on becoming our best selves. We should not be out here trying to eat others in the pursuit of doing it.

And so this gets us back to gentrification. Why do we need to pay such high rents or why do we have to throw money away at that ONE PERFECT HOUSE when all we really need is a place with running water, a clean bed, free of pests, free of noise or full of noise, a roof, and in my case, an in unit washer/dryer or cheap drop off laundry near by.

But as you may have noticed in that sentence, we do have diversity in what we value and what we think is important. Hence why we love having a marketplace that allows us choice. But we do have to respect the choices of others. The choice to dig down in their souls and play their drums and instruments. To eat food of which we don’t like the smell. To have purple hair. Or to not have purple hair.

And to push people who do have the keys to the homes and the charters for the schools and means to put in the bus stops, to stop feeding our worst natures and make it easier to come back together as a people. No, we’ve never been 100% together, but now would be a good time to start trying.

Before I end this, let me remind you–if you’re a developer, politico, or someone else who is in a position of power or influence, this doesn’t excuse your behavior when it comes to creating the environment that’s allowed for gentrification (and for all other social ills before that. Read this post. This is not your excuse to continue to gentrify.

And if you’re like me and you long for the day you can enjoy all the shiny things without guilt, and finally pay off all those bills or buy a house or whatever your personal gentrification killer is, this is for you. We gon be alright.

I usually embed the links to my favorite reference articles, but I wanted to leave them here so you could go to them directly. They all address various aspects of gentrification, including the fact that this is now a world-wide phenomenon. I also included links to areas where people of color are making class-based decisions and inventing new things, despite the barriers.

  • http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/apr/19/los-angeles-la-gentrification-resistance-boyle-heights
  • http://triad-city-beat.com/barstool-downtowns-forgotten-saloon/
  • http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/artsdesk/general/2016/04/19/the-chateau-nightclub-has-closed-leaving-d-c-s-hand-dance-community-without-a-formal-home/
  • http://www.theestablishment.co/2016/08/10/the-pain-of-gentrification-knows-no-borders-nyc-dominican-republic/


  • http://www.thenation.com/article/trusting-baltimore-communities/
  • http://www.wnyc.org/story/its-complicated-culture-clash-brooklyn-neighborhood-gentrification/
  • http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/brooklyn/corners-myrtle-broadway-evolves-horror-show-hips-article-1.2697226

I’m Kristen. I’ve written here (and a few other places) about cities and places and how we can make them better for almost 6 years. You can learn more about me here. And you can follow me on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. Oh, and don’t miss any episodes of my podcast with Katrina Johnston-Zimmerman Third Wave Urbanism.

To Create a Perfect City

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

One man. Probably white and already wealthy. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what can we do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.