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Four Lessons I Learned About Place in 2016

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My original lead into this post was that I learned nothing. Then I wrote that I learned nothing that I wanted to share. Then I remembered the power of the pen (or type in this case). And I realized that I have learned things. No, I’ve haven’t mastered anything, but yes, I’ve learned things. And in that spirit, I’m going to relate those things to placemaking and also be very honest and a bit stream of consciousness about where my head is during this last week of 2016.

Things are happening, but they won’t necessarily happen on the schedule you want them too. 

I’m squeezing out every penny I have. Money is really funny. However, I finally live in Washington, DC. I finally have become car-free. I walk daily. I’m starting to see shoots growing off my many business ventures. However, I’d like to see a steady shoot that would keep me from having to budget as much and be creative with payments. The benefit of this is that I’ve learned to be happy and live with less. As my income increases, there are a lot of things I’m going to keep doing. After all, not all wealth is tied into money.

If I wanted to put a universal placemaking spin on this, the more money you have, the faster things can get built (or not get built if that’s what needs to happen). However, lots of things can be done, if you live lean and find abundance in other ways. Also, we need more than two classes, really poor and really rich and a shadow of a middle class. We have to be as patient as we are active. And finally, we have to believe that things will still get better. Even with what our election looks like, I’m determined to keep pushing back and be hopeful that things will get better and people will just be better humans.

I want to make things. And I need to not let the politics of the industry and the world keep me from doing so.

I have learned that my ideal life would include me writing this blog, designing my surface patterns and other crafty things, teaching people things and doing some community planning projects. Yes, all four. Not necessarily simultaneously, but collectively as one piece of a whole.

Yet, I’ve had to really push against the politics of the industry and the politics of our society, to make myself keep creating. Coupled with lesson one of learning that things take a while,  I’ve felt like I should hang up the towel many times. I’ve tried new things on the business side and I have yet to see the profits and I’ve also felt I’ve pushed people away. I’ve had people openly doubt me, laugh in my face or suggest doing something different. Or not acknowledge the work at all. On the other hand, I can’t see when those of you with me 100% are actually supporting me. I am working on making sure I tie up any loose ends, but I often get discouraged. I was uplifted by this quote, by architect Paul Revere Williams on his own place in the design world:

I was encouraged though, by this quote, by architect Paul Revere Williams on his own place in the design world:

I came to realize that I was being condemned, not by lack of ability, but by my color. I passed through successive stages of bewilderment, inarticulate protest, resentment, and, finally, reconciliation to the status of my race. Eventually, however, as I grew older and thought more clearly, I found in my condition an incentive to personal accomplishment, and inspiring challenge. Without having the wish to “show them,” I developed a fierce desire to “show myself.” I wanted to vindicate every ability I had. I wanted to acquire new abilities.

I wanted to prove that I, as an individual, deserved a place in the world.

He wrote those words in a 1937 essay called “I Am a Negro” in American Magazine. He wrote those words in the midst of another economic downturn and far worse race and class relations than now. Yes, we have some bad times and could be facing more. Yes, our industry is still behind in dealing with its racial and class politics. And yes, sometimes I really feel like I don’t belong in this space and that my work has no economic value.

But even if all I do for steady income next year is wait tables, I’m still going to draw patterns, write essays, and suggest ways we can build better houses. I love buildings. I love transit. I love developing communities. One day, my previous work or personality or even things I can’t change like my skin won’t get in the way of that.

However, as I’ve said before, this doesn’t excuse misbehavior both inside and outside our sector. We need to do better. Here’s how we can start to do better, especially as we center our practice on who we are as people.

There are places I feel more at home at and I need to be in those places. But I can have friends in many wonderful places.

Earlier this year,  I backed up on my “urban hierarchy is dead” theory. There’s really no place like home and that home for me is not Kansas.

I always knew I wouldn’t be in Kansas City forever. I just wished it could have been a little longer. I miss a lot of you who I did manage to become friends with. I miss burnt ends.  I just hate that all the things that were exploding around me, exploded all at once. I hate that North Carolina’s politics are crazy. I hate that our national politics are crazy.

If I were to pull a quote here that’s motivating me in this lesson, I am leaning more and more on Maya Angelou’s quote on accepting that no place is really my place and in that acceptance, everywhere becomes my place. I’ve made moves and made friends I never thought I’d make. I know I need people around me lifting me up and pushing me in newer and better directions. I could live in a shack, with one outfit and eat the same thing, but if I got to travel and see my best friends and afford to do things with them all the time, I’d be totally ok.

In that spirit, I’m proud of the moves I’ve made and the friends I never thought I’d make. I know I need people around me lifting me up and pushing me in newer and better directions. However, I could live in a shack, with one outfit and eat the same thing, but if I got to travel and see my best friends and afford to do things with them all the time, I’d be totally ok.

Consistency matters. And so does being true to yourself

I know I bounce around the weeks I email. I misspell words. I’m silent during times that I probably speak up. Yet, I’m still writing on this blog after six years. When I do write here and when I do send out emails, people do listen. However, I’m also learning consistency helps me. It helps me to write out my feelings. It helps me to journal privately. I don’t necessarily have to write everything or draw everything for the public. All I have to do is show up and do my best.

If I had a quote for this, it would be what Grace Bonney of Design Sponge said her father said about business, that you have to believe in your business more than anyone. She said that at a book talk for her latest book, In the Company of Women, which was full of other women doing creative and crafty projects, all at various levels of success. All of them mentioned consistency and perseverance. Thankfully, both of those things, plus courage, are free.

And with that, next post, I have wishes. See you in 2017 with those wishes.

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

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