What is urban planning?

Voting with Your Feet: The Cure for the Civic Inferiority Complex?

Many times we second guess who we are, what we do, and why we do it. This is known in the field of psychology as an inferiority complex. Collins English Dictionary defines it as “a disorder arising from the conflict between the desire to be noticed and the fear of being humiliated, characterized by aggressiveness or withdrawal into oneself.”

I took this concept one step further last year and applied it to the civic sphere. My enhanced definition of the civic inferiority complex is when one person or a major leadership or civic organization sees something in another city or place and feels immediately inadequate. They then overcompensate for that loss by building or starting whatever that place has, even if it’s not a good fit for them. A good example of this would be when cities build convention centers, entertainment districts, science parks, or some other major “economic eggs in one basket” initiative.

The other side of the traditional definition speaks of a withdrawal unto oneself. I think for municipalities, this can be positive if it includes a greater self-reflection, with all the diverse voices of a municipality gathering at the table and coming to consensus on what is next and what is best. Yet, if a municipality shuns outside constructive voices of change, or creates similar, but poor policy decisions, then it is just as destructive. For a person, it may mean that they feel powerless in their own hometown and begin accepting the status quo, because they believe they are not capable of doing anything better.

When I wrote my original presentation, it was very much of the time it was written and also contained a lot of my own personal frustration. It underscores just how much an inferiority complex is personal and public. In addition, I left out something that appears to be the “cure” for the civic inferiority complex: voting with your feet.

A concept recently revisited in a 2012 research paper by Professor Ilya Somin of the George Mason School of Law, voting by one’s feet is the concept of moving to a place where your political needs are met. Somin takes it even further and states that feet voting is more powerful than basic ballot-box voting. He cities several other political scholars in his reasoning that ballot-box voting is only guaranteed by an elite. That elite may or may not have the best interests of the populace in mind. This idea is even further enhanced and enabled by the loss of the pre-clearance provision of the Voting Rights Act. However, this paper alerts us to prior laws, regulations, and procedures that allow forces other than the general populace to determine who runs for office, who votes, who is appointed to public office, and what the laws are.

As we have seen in recent years, the political climate in a particular place can vary greatly. With these changes, I have been compiled to revisit my options to become an American expat in America. However, I realize that may not be so practical right now. And for many living in poverty or tied to a job that prevents poverty, moving to a more favorable political climate is not possible. Therefore, they may be stuck with their personal and civic inferiority complexes.

So what can one do in the meantime? Maintain a spirit of self-analysis. If one has the means, then yes, move on to a place where you can be more fruitful. However, I urge that person to be mindful of those less fortunate and contribute as much as you can to bettering your new community and relaying resources back to your old one. Having lived somewhere besides my hometown before has helped me have a clearer and more diverse sense of how one can live. Travel also helps. Walking around DC and New York have helped me see how much different life is for those citizens, but also allowed me to think of ways to help Greensboro.

Above all, shun the appearance of civic inferiority. Vote with your feet, inside or outside your current community.

GUEST POST–Rethinking Community Development Efforts: Creating Incentive to Stay or Building Reason to Flee?

When Allison Guess reached out to me about guest posting, I noticed she was from Pittsburgh and I asked her to tell me about what’s really going on in East Liberty, an area lauded for its new development lifeblood. However, as I expected and even more, she has taken us back to the roots of gentrification (colonialization) and illustrated how the current changes are right in line with previous patterns. Her post raises questions and intensifies my hope that one day, we as Americans can come to terms with land ownership, cultivation, and value in an ethical and honorable manner.

A few years ago, I began doing some preliminary research on land based historical trauma. I was specifically interested in land theft and the effects gentrification on Black communities. In a 21st century effort to expand my bibliography, I did a basic Google search of “land theft.” Although not specific enough, my search request did birth a critical evaluation of the stories of land theft that our country has told.

As grade school children, we as United States citizens learn about how the Pilgrims came to the “New World” on the Mayflower and later had a blissful Thanksgiving meal with the Natives. Educators are not honest when describing this situation of overt land theft, the rapping of communities and extreme injustice those Native American communities experienced and continue to face. History books ignore the past and presently lingering notion of Manifest Destiny that lead to the colonization of the African continent (before and after the Pilgrims came to the “New World”) and the seizure of off-continental U.S. territories. Only as adults and when entering college do a few of us hear or care to learn of this bitter truth.

Ironically, past and present conversations about land theft, more often than none seem to tell a drastically biased tale. In the post-slavery Jim Crow Era, one can clearly evaluate the thoughts and fears of urbanization that took place during in Industrial Revolution. Many whites during the time made their concern of the African American Great Migration, also described as the “Negro invasion” known in large public spheres. In that era it was Blacks that were being accused of taking all the jobs and displacing white Americans, sound familiar? On the other hand, major history sources fail to mention that Blacks participating in this massive move, were responding to the terrorism of the south by fleeing for their lives in hopes of salvaging their communities and living out the promised American Dream.

To speak to today’s biased tale of land theft, we can simply encounter present day conversations about immigration and “Mexicans” “stealing” land, resources and jobs from “Americans.” Paradoxically, most of the inhabited lands that some U.S. citizens see as the biggest “threat” of immigrant occupancy (southern and southwestern states such as Texas, Arizona, California, Alabama etc.) are the lands that were not only once occupied by Native Americans but more resounding the country of Mexico, alike. It is interesting to me that advocates of border control and harsh immigration policies, continue to seek ways to police and keep out the descendants of the original inhabitants of these lands.

My point in creating this past and present parallel is to highlight the deeply imbedded fears, bias, and racism in the white psyche. Understanding (not judging) these feelings while having an open and honest “immigration” conversation can help many of us to understand the “memories” that Black Americans have of land theft and land based historical trauma. They can help community organizers, community planners, and investors understand that all people, regardless of skin color, develop relationships, memories, and some level of fondness to their communities regardless of how blighted these spaces may be or have become. We should be reminded that a simple change in community design that ultimately leads to the attraction of a different demographic group other than the already present residents is in and of itself a model of invasion as well as a type of land theft.

Courtesy Allison Guess

East Liberty redevelopments. Courtesy Allison Guess.

An example of not taking the above into consideration and the possible damaging ramifications of community development includes that of East Liberty. East Liberty was once a predominately African American occupied neighborhood in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. As a child, I grew up just minutes away from East Liberty. Like many urban Black neighborhoods in the U.S., there was certainly violence, drugs and crime; I will not negate that. However, there was also a strong community that sought to overcome the effects of systematic poverty and disenfranchisement and thus give back to the community.

East Liberty seemed to change overnight. I went away to college and then returned to a new neighborhood. There were fancy restaurants, Target, $400,000+ homes being built and parking meters lined major streets. Soon these streets would become a nightlife and fine dinning Mecca. Commercial for sale signs were everywhere and one could see the future plans of those particular spaces in their windows and on their lots. A majority Black middle school ended this past school year early so it could be demolished and turned into costly lofts.

One of the more sincere objectives of investors is to create incentive for those dwelling in certain areas coined slums to stay. Adversely, in East Liberty (and some other gentrified neighborhoods in United States) the incentive that was created was one that encouraged former residents to leave. Although beneficial to get the “blight” out of neighborhoods, it is very clear that the “original” residents of East Liberty had no or a very small voice in the changes. The documentary East of Liberty highlights this struggle between original residents, new residents, and developers.

Now I know many on the defense will say that supportive, mixed-income housing was built. One could argue that this was established with the community impute. However, I believe this housing is a monument of negativity: a symbol of the undermining of a people due to an enduring history of racism, disenfranchisement, and historical trauma. While support is needed for the abused and addicted, the best support comes from true policy change, the critique and modification of systems, and the desire to see competitive groups excel and take pride in recreating their own community. This support does not include takeover, theft, capture, poverty, forced socialization, or community defeat.

Thus in in moving forward, I have some normative suggestions to community planners and investors. We should seek to make sure all residents are included when making decisions about neighborhood change and development. We ought to be critical of who is or who is not at the conversation table. This means we do not just include the more vocal or affluent voices in the community that are still deemed different in some ways to us, but we should also seek representation of those community members who barely have a whisper. It is not anybody’s responsibility to make decisions or decide the fates of others. When creating incentive to stay, we should make sure it is just that. The primary intention in development should always be to have people stay and the secondary focus should be to attract others into the community and thus naturally foster a more diverse community over time. In doing all of this, the memories and experiences of land theft, invasion, and immigration should inform our discussion as all racial and regional groups have experienced their own story of settling and seizure from an “outsider” group.

Allison Guess is a resident of Pittsburgh, PA. Allison graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with two Bachelors degrees in Political Science and Hispanic Languages and Literature (Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese). Currently, Allison is a consultant and the Academic Liaison for the Black/Land Project. Allison is interested in land based historical trauma, gentrification, redlining, gerrymandering, policy histories, displacement, ethnography and storytelling, just to name a few. Allison hopes to pursue a PhD in African American/Africana Studies in order to further research Black peoples’ relationships to land and place.

Reconciling Design and Social Justice in the Place

I’m not naive to my role straddling the middle of design and social justice in the Place. What is the Place? I define the Place as the entity that comes up for discussion, dissection, or manipulation by policymakers, planners, residents, and developers. In essence, this concept is summed up in one word: Placemaking.

Place is more than the apartment block, the two-story house, the town center, the farm. If we don’t have people who can use the objects of Place, then we are useless. Even worse are people who can build Place but only for profit.

However, place should be where social justice and design meet.

Witness what’s going on here in Greensboro with public art and creative placemaking. The Greensboro Mural Project has revitalized a parking deck…

stairwell mural

…and brought homeless individuals into creating public art.

IRC mural 2

They chose murals because:

  • “[They build] bridges by painting walls.” This theory believes that beautiful, shared space helps breaks down social/cultural/political/etc. barriers for people to connect. Murals help beautify surroundings of any city.

  • Anyone can be involved in the process who wants to be, regardless of talent, skill or experience.

  • The process engages the community and forms a sense of commitment, creating community ownership.

  • Murals have proven to assist in raising property values without gentrification.

  • Quality murals make art available and free for the community.

  • Murals become landmarks in the community.

  • Murals define the cultural identity of a neighborhood or an entire city.

  • Murals attract more artists, visitors and media coverage for the area.

So you say, hey, that’s just murals and of course murals won’t gentrify, they’re just a painted wall. Well, in Cleveland, a developer is starting to put small amounts of money into flipping homes, yet maintaining both a quality standard and a low price point for rentals.

We must take away all the barriers for people to build, yet give barriers that provide for easy access, basic safety, shared prosperity, and easy growth. When our places die, we need to be able to pick up the pieces ASAP and make something new. We need to let whomever wants to come in do so, but it needs to be a WE effort, not a ME or THEY effort. It’s great that some culture has been preserved in some areas, but what about current events and life. Can we make sure people can continue to live in these new “prettified” areas.

Design is not just for the developer. Social justice is not just for the downtrodden. Place needs both to be.

Images Courtesy: Alyzza May

The Case for a Lazy Urbanism

I need to be honest. Sometimes I don’t want to write this blog anymore. Yes, I’m in love with the city and the greater sense of place found in all forms of natural and unnatural terrain. However, we all know that just because we love something, doesn’t mean we want to be with it or them all the time. Sometimes they might even drive us crazy and make us want to either throw it away or cut off the relationship for good.

Honestly though, sometimes we are just lazy. That’s not a bad thing, especially with urbanism. Yes, the urban environment is largely an object of creation and reinvention, but eventually, you want to get to the point where all you NEED to do with it is to provide maintenance. If you want to make something new, great! Here’s to you great urban pioneer!

However, some people just aren’t the pioneering and creative type. They like that there’s sidewalk cafes, but they don’t want to build them. Or maybe they are the lounge singer, but not the painter that owns the art gallery. Just because someone is creative doesn’t mean they can create and engineer everything about a city. Some things are meant to be felt, not made.

With that, I would now like to make my case for a “lazy” urbanism. What does your city need for people who like or have to just “be” in a city and not build a city?

Connected transit with 5-15 minute headways

In plan English, this means that the bus or train is there when I get there, no matter when I decide to walk out my front door, leave my job, or leave the club. I don’t have to worry about downloading the latest transit app. Heck, I don’t even have a cell phone. I’m old and I don’t like them, but I need the bus to be on time. Oh and please don’t break down train. Ain’t nobody got time for that. (Seriously, it fit and it’s true.)

A 50-50 mix of chain and local establishments in the urban core

Sometimes I want my Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate. Sometimes I want my hand-mixed Sprite substitute with the lemon and line syrups and club soda. The coffee shops don’t have to sit side-by-side, but they need to be close by. If we expect people to live a more urban lifestyle, then we need to start building the chains they love back into the central business district.

Everything I need in walking distance

Some folks measure this in a concentric circle, with the inner layer being 5 minutes away and the outermost layer being 15 minutes. Yet, some people walk everywhere  and it’s not because it’s fun and cute. Those folks are walking to the doctors office, the unemployment bureau, maybe even the homeless shelter. The fun and cute folks don’t want to be more than five minutes from your car if you decided to drive to downtown (or the “town center”). Either way, people who are lazy urbanists expect to have things on their doorstep. Or, they can’t help themselves unless the help is only a few doors down.

The right housing at the right mix and price

Housing is bankrupting people across social and economic classes. Much of it built in the last 30-35 years has also been made cheaply. Despite this, many people are paying far more than its worth because the first three principles above are in full effect in some areas, but not all areas. Or, you need more space for kids or you need room for accessibility. It’s really sad that both housing (and food for that matter) are our two largest expenses (if you exclude health care and education, two other major necessities).

No logos, no slogans, no special “make the city better” organizations

The city is just because it is. Having a brand is ok, but at the end of the day, you don’t live in your city because it has a logo that looks suspiciously like Walmart’s. You live there because it provides everything you need (or a job that lets you get to everything you need, there’s a difference). I like having special programs, but if that’s the only thing driving folks to the city, then there’s a deeper problem. Cities work when all forms of economic development, as well as sensible architecture, are employed, not one or two, with haphazard plans.

I need urbanism to mature to a point where I can have a conversation with my family about what I write about and not have to dumb down the language. Where sprawl repair, tactical urbanism, and good governance are just simply

PLACE.

Mixed-Use Ain’t Always Pretty

Over the last couple of weeks I was made aware of the attempts by a community in Raleigh to determine once again, what they think looks right in a community. As far as I know, the accessory dwelling battle continues to happen in Raleigh and it’s cranked up again in DC. This latest situation is a bit different.

A woman wanted to take advantage of state funding for those who are willing to take care of developmentally disabled people. She built a staircase onto the exterior of her home in order to comply with state-mandated safety regulations for people who operate state-funded homes for disabled people.

Yet, her neighborhood association has slapped her with fines and demanded she tear down the staircase. All the usual arguments are there: property values, appearances, etc. Yet, to me, it speaks again to how housing and building codes, as well as incentives for a certain style of neighborhood, are pushing communities backward.

Communities are more than their buildings. If people can’t learn, make a living, raise a family, worship, or entertain themselves in a neighborhood, then there’s a problem. Even if one of the above is missing, one should still be able to have a link, that they don’t have to drive themselves or fill up with expensive fuel, to get there.

Furthermore, if we want to bring back the element of freedom to the American Dream, why are homeowners so worried about structural elements or even the appearance of more traffic or people than a house normally holds? Why do areas such as this one in Brooklyn get taken out by developers even though they are wildly successful? This is even more problematic in New York, as there are more connections to areas that have a different mix of retail. If urban planning at it’s core was began to deal with sanitation issues, then why has it evolved into or maintained elements that declare situations such as an abundance of working class occupations, housing, and businesses a nuisance? Let’s not even get started with the racial inequities built into what’s known as urban planning.

Yet, at the end of the day, we have to remember that mixed-use, which I’m going to define here simply as a community with multiple activities and types of activities, isn’t always pretty. The successful shopping district may not look like Michigan Avenue in Chicago. A home-based business may require an oddly placed staircase instead of an extra cell phone line. A granny pod in your backyard may be your only solution to age in place and next to your children and grandchildren.

Time is up for us to privilege looks over function. Especially if we expect everyone to buy into the “back to the city” placemaking movement and stop harassing those who don’t fit the mold of what neighborhoods should look like.

Image by Flickr user Shards of Blue.

What If The City Doesn’t Want You Anymore?

A study of urban political systems is a study in the history of cities spitting out or sectioning off their least desirables, namely lower class and people of color of any class. First, it was the gentry of the streetcar era that found they could move further away from their servant class. Then it was housing covenants that kept out non-whites from post-war suburbs. The 1960s brought urban rewewal and slum clearance. Today, we have people who are underwater in shoddy built suburban houses because the city was such a bad place, we needed to get everyone out. Meanwhile, shiny new condos and apartments are filling cities. Sadly, or should I say ironically, some of these places are failing to sell units. A great primer on this history is the textbook City Politics: The Political Economy of Urban America by Dennis R. Judd and Todd Swanstrom.

One major example of failed “urban renewal,” which I was not familiar with until recently, is the World Trade Center complex. The area was a vibrant neighborhood until the Port Authority decided to start being a real estate developer instead of a promoter and operator of decent ports and commuter subways. City Journal has more details on how the taxpayers of New York are dealing with a potential white elephant, which now has not just one, but two tragic events attached to it.

Another example of modern urban renewal is the “entertainment district” that many downtowns have become, including my own. As a woman, I can do all of my shopping downtown, and there are a couple of affordable boutiques. Yet, men are out of luck. Outside of thrift stores, there are no suit shops for men. The restaurants have a new allure, yet, we don’t have shiny new stores downtown at all. I love the local consignment shops and the old theater that plays classic movies. Yet, what about the chain stores that fill our shopping malls and power centers that attract the mass majority of the population?

Once upon a time, downtown was the shopping mall. Department stores were locally owned and did not pay workers inhumane wages. Another concept that’s now foreign downtown is the supermarket. The farmers market we had was great, but it only operates in the summer. What am I supposed to do about fresh food during the winter months if I want to be true to my walkable, urbanist principles? What if I had no car because I was broke, but I was trying to live in a place where everything was close by? Downtown looks cute architecturally, but it far underperforms for the style of real estate it contains.

Those are the surface problems with cities pushing folks out. The real problems come when the suburbs they come into are suburbs in the truest since of the word. They were only subdivisions to begin with and there are no centralized services, shops, or even schools. People complain about parents not coming to schools in low-income areas. The suburbs make it worse by forcing these people to go even further to their schools, possibly via a non-existent bus. What does one make of the dead Kmarts and dead Borders that were so hot when the demographics of the neighborhood were different? Granted, Borders was part of an overstreched business model, but the one in the “inner-ring” suburb I grew up in, up the street from the dying mall, died first.

So hence why I fault those that want to willingly be part of a failing system that traps people. Many suburbs are truly towns and offer people services in walking distance, as well as concern for all it’s citizenry. Yet, too many suburbs are housing subdivisions with nothing to offer. With cities that practice covert forms of urban renewal and suburbs that don’t want to recognize their role as small cities or big towns, we are left with not only suburbs of self-hate, but hateful, hostile cites as well.

One last note before I close out this post. Posts like this and my previous post expose how different governments consider one place a town, a city, or a suburb. I see Greensboro as one big suburb with two to four walkable urban areas, some with all the necessary services such as Lindley Park and others without such as Downtown proper. In other states, a suburb may be an actual city such Alexandria, VA, but thanks to the media, overshadowed by it’s neighbor across the Potomac River.

Either way, there is no excuse for governments of any type to contribute to the demise or the migration of their citizenry. Putting a subdivision next to a landfill, selling out downtowns to one developer, and continuing to pursue loop roads that are known contributors to sprawl are not good. Governments, as well as residents, need to come to terms with being good citizens. Stop stealing, whether it’s your neighbor’s car or “prime land” that’s already a small-scale, but thriving community.

Photo of Downtown Greensboro by Flickr user dmattphotography.

Chicago,is the home of the Burnham Plan (one of the first urban plans in the country) and the 1893 World’s Fair. Chicago also invented the skyscraper. Chicago is an example of what you should and shouldn’t do in city government. There are suburban parking lots incorporated into an urban street grid. Yes, that means that in some parts of the city, you can walk to Super Target.

I saw this first hand this past week as I took to the streets of Chicago (well, really just Michigan Avenue) as I attended the big annual conference we do at work for all of our sister humanities councils.I think this post would best be illustrated in photos, as there was so much visual stimulation, from start to finish.

What you have here is what you will see if you fly out of Raleigh-Durham International Airport. I like flying out of Piedmont Triad International for the convenience (and there was a direct flight), but the price was too good to beat. Plus, the new Terminal 2 does a great job of integrating North Carolina culture into the seemingly standard construction of the airport. There is local art like that in front of the elevator, murals and even the wood beams themselves are of a tree that is native to our state.

So I get on the ground and I am met by a PVC pipe masking itself as an airport terminal.
It did get festive. But the dark baggage claim floor reminded me of being at PTI at night. We arrived at 12:30 PM local time.

We stayed and had our conference at the Intercontinental Hotel. It was right on the Magnificent Mile, just a half block north of the river. The room had a wonderful design and a very nice view on both sides. We had a first row seat to the Christmas parade as well.

When I wasn’t in a session, I could find my way around easily. I got down to the Chicago Cultural Center(for our opening reception), The Chicago History Museum (to see the wonderful Isabelle Wilkerson again).

The Navy Pier on Sunday morning

And most of all, the Contemporary Art Museum. I really enjoyed seeing how people work in multiple mediums, in abstract art forms and in the case of the Mothers sign, on the street level.

The hotel itself had some wonderful architectural elements and has a great history behind it, especially it’s pool.

I was not able to utilize the L train, nor the bus system, but I liked these two elements of this bus stop.

Lastly, I feel like, outside of issues with the schools, and some of the neighborhood segregation, Chicago has a lot of to offer to the world. Other issues, such as the private parking meter deal, not reading contracts of all types and the cold(it was unseasonably warm this week) can be overcome as well.

I hate that there were folks I wanted to meet up with and couldn’t. I will make sure that next time, I host a meetup, so I can hear directly from you locals.

My Own Letter to the Nation, In Terms of the State and the City

Do you know where you’re going to?
Do you like the things that life is showing you?
Where are you going to?
Do you know?- “Theme From Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To)”

On Election Night, President Barrack Obama earned a second term. Pot and gay marriage are legal in more states. The governor’s mansion and the General Assembly in North Carolina are all Republican, save one good friend of mine and a few others sprinkled here and there. We elected other local folks to our school board, our executive cabinet and our county commission.

We are also still dealing with the aftermath of another storm that shifts the political climate, along with does major, possibly irreparable damage to communities. This tests local governments and shows how much a community really needs a backbone.

My friend Kaid Benfield has laid out a good set of mandates for the federal and state governments as far as planning goes.

I want to take it further, as we are now back into the city council cycle in Greensboro and we are dealing with a new regime in the state government. Don’t believe me? I had a front row seat to the last campaign and I am already hearing chatter about who is going to run next and how. Also, with the election of Trudy Wade in our fifth district to the state house, we have a wide open seat that represents one of our wealthiest areas. This area is also an attractive area for our newcomers and this person, whomever it is, needs to be focused on the future.

So what are my mandates for the next four years? Here’s a start

Real talk around commuter rail and light rail in all of our major cities and connecting our major cities. Governor-Elect McCrory opened the Blue Lynx line in Charlotte, working with city leaders of all stripes to get that done. I want him to keep the efforts going by Governor Perdue and others to maintain federal high-speed rail funding. I also want funding to go to adding a third train from Charlotte to Raleigh that leaves at midnight and arrives in Greensboro at approximately 1:30 AM. The Piedmont train is almost always on time. The Carolinian has issues due to it’s leaving the state and going all the way to New York. Get this train to an on-time schedule, and use this to build on an already established commuter rail system that’s gaining ridership at a rate higher than any line in the country.

Keep our university system affordable. Do not let the passing of Bill Friday give you permission to completely dismantle what is already a great system and a revenue generating system even with the lack of income from students. Don’t build up physical campuses at the expense of having good research faculty, good and caring teaching faculty and students, and students who finish in a timely manner without debt. We will fail in North Carolina without proper higher education, that doesn’t choke students with debt.

Continue to increase pedestrian, bike and other inner-city infrastructure– We have a lot of good bones here in Greensboro and in other towns and cities across the state and the nation. The General Assembly needs to revoke the privilege to allow cities NOT to demand that landlords be accountable for their houses. Far too many renters, many who have already suffered from foreclosures, are struggling with being able to stay in homes that have toxic issues. Also, we need a decent water and sewer system on the east side. Part of the excuse for not investing in this area is this issue of water/sewer and we need that covered, so that we can deal with the very reall inequity that still exists in East Greensboro. Similar areas in Raleigh and Charlotte, with lower-incomes and browner people, still have lots of mainstream business and retail opportunities. We need to do what we can (save adding the road into NC A&T’s farm), to get the East side at parity. Also, we can support another performing arts center, concentrated in the downtown area, if we work to make sure our transportation and also the groups who need to use it for their own personal economies and wellbeing (dancers, actors, singers, other local artists),know it’s theirs.

-Finally, lets keep grassroots efforts moving. I’m looking forward to this film and discussion on next Wednesday on the film Fixing the Future. A lot of people organizing this event I consider friends, colleagues and fellow foot soliders into what makes Greensboro great. I know of two active Better Block projects run by friends in Memphis and Durham. The folks here in Greensboro represent co-op businesses, environmental groups and others concerned with giving back to their own community. Oh, and we’ve done very well with having food trucks here in Greensboro, thanks to grassroots and mainstream support. As my friend Rosetta Thurman has stated, we cannot afford four more years of leadership by proxy.

Let’s do this people! What are some other things on your wishlist for this next election cycle and the next four years.

Becoming A Placeist-The Black Urbanist on its Second Anniversary

After two years of writing this blog, it has come to my attention that I am simply a placeist. Not in the Urban Dictionary manner that sort of has undertones of being a racist or any other -ist that is negative. It’s in the sense that I see benefits in all types of land use (as well as drawbacks). I love buildings. I love people. I love cars, trains, planes and buses. All in equal measure. It’s hard for me to continue to keep just being an urbanist. I will keep the name of the blog as is, because there’s still cognitive dissonance with it and the word Black when it refers to my ethnic background. They are separate and I will advocate continually for their separation. The largest forum I have is my blog and Twitter handle.

However, in practice, I’ve seen that we do better when we recognize there are benefits to all land use, in moderation and in reason. So what exactly makes me a placeist? Here are a few things:

Some days I just need my car. I have a bad back and lifting groceries is hurtful and becomes expensive due to chiropractic adjustments. Also, my job is a statewide job. I need to be able to get to city to city in a timely manner. Now if we had a full blown, New Jersey Transit-esque train system in North Carolina, I could think about selling my car. That and full grocery delivery.

Some people with yards actually use them. They plant food and sell it to folks. They hold block parties. They build accessory dwellings when they are legal. They have backyard concerts. They use it to enjoy a piece of nature and then get back to solving problems of the world. However, the problem comes when those yards don’t have sidewalks or even roads that make it easy to get all over the city on foot or even just down to the corner drug store.

Some cities and their dwellers are too expensive, too status quo and too conservative– Although I love the newer hipster businesses, I love the old greasy fish, burger and pizza joints too. My purse does too and since I’m walking home daily, I need all the protein I can get. Also, good design, good working appliances and fixtures and good location should be just guaranteed, not an “urban amenity”. And what of people who stay in their own neighborhoods and never branch out? Who want to do something new, but never stop talking about it. Creativity is not all due to osmosis; you have to be doing something on your computer at the Starbucks, not just reading someone else’s punditry.

Some suburbs are dead– I’m watching the one I grew up in, which in reality was the annexed outskirts of a city, die. The businesses are vacant, dirty or predatory. People do harm there because they can. I hate going out there because it feels dead. It’s one thing to have vibrant businesses that aren’t as shiny and slick. It’s another thing to have businesses that are beat-down looking and beat down their people through predatory lending, high prices or rotten food. On top of that, the good stuff is going even further out or coming back into the core of the city. The bus can take folks into the core, but that’s given the bus even comes close by at all. Suburbia was not made for the poor, yet it’s gradually becoming the domain of the poor in many areas.

We need our farms– How else will we eat? Corporate farming has been good and bad for feeding America. Yes, less of America goes hungry, but they also have diseases and conditions that were not evident before corporate farming. Also, there’s the whole food market that’s been turned upside down by Walmart, the government and other major food companies. Yet, at the end of the day, the ability to be partially or fully self-sufficient through your farm is noble and should continue to be honored by society and the market.

There are more bold points and I’ll be writing about those in the coming weeks online and offline. Yet, what really made me change my mind about this whole urbanist-suburbanist-ruralist dichotomy is that thing we call the mountain town. It and its cousins the beach town, and the college town throw everything we know about placemaking out the door. It’s equal parts resort for the rich and occupation for the working poor. There is unmatched beauty and intense knowledge exchange. There are quirky haunts like the soul teahouse and the gourmet Mexican restaurant.

Big cities used to hold a monopoly on these types of things. However, with the internet and other technology, once remote places aren’t so remote anymore. What I love especially about the towns defined by the geography, is that the restriction of either beach or mountain peak force towns to be built compactly. Especially in the mountains. Eventually, Walmart runs out of room because it’s competing with a mound of granite that is way too expensive and impractical to blow up.

Nowadays, I’m about good places, period. Therefore I go forth as the Black Urbanist, Placeist at Large.

What Happens To A Mall Deferred?

Brother Langston’s classic poem “Dream Deferred” is heavy on my mind today. I woke up this morning after dreaming once again that my beloved enclosed mall, the Four Seasons Town Centre, is dying, along with our surrounding neighborhood. The mall had many glory days from the time it opened in the 1970’s, but starting in the 1990’s, I started having these odd dreams about it’s death.

Sometimes the mall would succumb to an earthquake. The concourses on the bottom floor would have perfect fault lines and the stores would be havens for displaced neighbors, with boxes of care packages instead of designer clothes. Other times, I would be on a boat, sailing past the third floor at ground level, knowing fearfully that my house was completely under the water.

These would just be regular dreams and not allegory if not for the rumors that the mall would be moving about five miles further out from the city. The mall was already on the outskirts, with this new revelation, the mall will be over 10 miles outside of the core of Greensboro. Granted, now that High Point’s mall is pretty much on life support, it makes sense to put it where it’s going, halfway between the two, adjacent to what will be a new suburban freeway.

I understand all the logic that real estate companies use when building shopping centers. Yet, in a a new era of localized retail, from all economic demographics, I question the logic. Why take away what’s a useful town center? Is it really the money or is it the color of the people providing the money? Yes, there have been a few violent incidents, yet, we live in a troubled metropolis, a trouble that is not exclusive to the low-income areas. There are foreclosures, lost jobs, ne’er do wells all over. If you build it, they will all come. ALL. Plus, if this is really a town center, then who are we to restrict the access?

Or is it really? Unfortunately, for many, there is no difference. Date nights, back-to-school shopping, morning walks, graduation dinners, lunch breaks. Maybe I chose the wrong place to go all these years.

I don’t get out there like I used to. I live in a different place. Yet, I know how much this place is needed. I don’t think I’d keep dreaming about it if I didn’t.