Live from CityWorks(X)po

Well, I’ve been home in Greensboro for a few hours now and really, just marinating on what I learned. From the power of seeing Nikki Giovanni in the flesh and feeling a kindred spirit. Also, getting the question answered on how she drives inspiration from being in a place like the Roanoke Valley. From watching Theaster Gates keep it real and make a few folks squirm, yet remembering having a chance to have drinks and pick his brain a little the night before. And of course, scaring Jim Kuntsler a bit by snapping a now missing photo and really praying that we find something to at least keep the Internet going, when the other non-renewable resources die.

I am thankful for Ed Walker and Co. for allowing me to see the value of the small city. My mind begins to forget some of the afternoon speakers, because I was too busy cooking up my own big idea. Plus, some of the best presentations will be on YouTube and I was ready to go out and create. I also want to give a shout out to all the folks I had intimate conversations with, who were not officially on the conference program. I wish I could have had a few more dinners, another sleepover party and another concert to hang out with you at. Good thing is, most of you are local to Roanoke and the rest of you give me an excuse to visit other areas of the county.

I’ve written down my big ideas in my most private journal, because I’m not ready to launch them quite yet. I’m not sure I’m in the right phase of my life, or have enough local support. I’m also creating some of the plotlines in my head as I speak.

Nevertheless, every city should do this, take time and convene all it’s change agents, historians, placemakers and the like and talk about how we can make a difference. I may submit my ideas here, but in the meantime, I’ll be coming back here more often to keep these conversations of diversity in placemaking going.

Welcome again from Roanoke this Saturday morning. 24 hours from now, I expect to be somewhat sad because I will no longer be in the company of such wonderful people and ideas. Then I remember that for many of you, this blog and the press coverage and the Facebook and the various other media outlets are your only door into the action in the convention hall. Well in light of that, here are some of yesterday’s highlights

  • Toni Blackmon opened us up with thoughts, dance and a wonderful video of her Sisters of the Circle art collective for young girls. Another program housed under the umbrella of the Jefferson Center, this program helps refugee and immigrant girls, as well as a few local girls, become more confident. Also, Toni spit out some freestyle and got the crowd going with a few fun volunteers
  • Kennedy Smith! Amazing how a cute idea to start a downtown soap opera has turned into a career of presenting great ideas for downtowns, many of which she showcased for over an hour yesterday afternoon, keeping us riveted and inspired to do more.
  • Then after Kennedy’s morning presentation, we had the queen of biking in America, Mia Birk. She’s a great example of how someone who did not have the benefit of growing up in a big city, took something a simple as biking(which she began as a gift from her brother) and turned it into a national model, beginning in Portland and now in DC, Boston and other areas considering bikeshare systems. I was especially moved when she talked about her stepfather coming over to the bike crowd.
  • Katherine Walker’s account of “civil disobedience” or “performance art” made me think of the recent articles on criminalizing the homeless and how the bad economy and the Occupy movement are helping folks see how dumb it is to limit the impact of public space.
  • Ben Hewitt has become the darling of agriculture. He may not know much about urban ag, but he knows a thing or two about making the land pay like it used to and it’s reaching all of the foodies and new ag acolytes through his books. According to him, local food shall:
    • Feed the locals
    • Be circular
    • Be based on sunshine
    • And offer viability to producers

The rest of the afternoon ran long, but was full of great ideas, from Ken Farmer’s dispatch from the Project for Public Spaces on the power of 10, Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper and the notion that no movement can do it alone and Danielle Morrison with the play deficit and Stewart Mease with his unserviced workforce(that would be me square in that demographic), we had a boatload of inspiration.

The party then moved out and across the streets. I took in a great exhibit at the Taubmann Center, of Nick Cave’s work. this man creates these amazing neo-tribal costumes in Chicago, then has people dance in them and be photographed in them. You can take pics in the exhibit, but just Google him and see what I’m talking about.

We then all ended up at the Walker’s beautiful apartment, after a few stops at Freeze, a cool vintage clothing store/coffee shop and Lucky, a swanky soul food joint that lights up and extracts the citrus oil in its cocktails. Apparently, Ed thought up the conference sitting right there at that bar, so it was cool that we went to the nucleus of the party.

I’ve also gotten network with great leaders, past, present and future and look forward to another day of fun. I’m going to include the pictures tomorrow in one big swoop. Also, if you are concerned about me in the snow, there is none here, just a nice cold rain :(. I’m still tweeting here and there @blackurbanist. Check that out for my in the room thoughts. Also, Roanoke Valley locals, check out


Good morning from Roanoke. Internet was spotty in places, so I’m just now getting back to recaping the first day. We heard a lot of great inspiring ideas, some of which I’m including below (in paraphrase)

Ed Walker- People are doing sophisticated things in big cities, but no more sophisticated than what’s going on in Roanoke

Bob Lambert- Some of this information may change the course of your career. Less and less the size of the city makes a difference. If you can’t be a leader, make sure you are the first follower and one of the best supporters

Nicco Mele- I think we are near the end of big. I herald the return of craft in America.

Also, we heard from Ruth Milligan, who showed a great video of how TEDx is creating ideashare around the world and opening up communities. I hope to bring either at TEDx or PechaKucha to Greensboro soon and this inspired me. We also heard music from 13-year old guitar prodigy Gabe Moralis, were treated to a private show by blues/jazz/justdarngoodmusic singer Megan McCormick, and great local gormet barbeque from a local vendor who’s name escapes me right now. I’m about to rush off to breakfast, but stay tuned to pictures from yesterday shortly.



Got to Roanoke safely and found a nice place I’ll term “mountain urbanism”. With all these peaks, even the box stores have to behave better. Hotels a bit too far of a walk to the exhibit hall, and there are no sidewalks, but looking forward to parking downtown and exploring. Pictures to come…
I’m honored to dust off the pixels of this site to file some live blog and coverage of the inaugural CityWorks(X)po, beginning today and running through Saturday in Roanoke, VA.

I’m looking forward to a weekend of collaboration, good food and good ideas on cities. Come here to this post over the weekend as I update it with notes, pictures, and maybe interviews of conference participants.