Love Outside the City (or at Least the City Block)


If you read this on the Sunday morning upon which it made its appearance on the internet, I’m about to sit down next to my mom and my grandmother and my great-aunt, with a multitude of family in the midst and praise the Lord in the only way we can in an old country AME church about 30 miles southeast of my apartment.

It is here, at this expression of love, where I want to drop the mic on my love of place, at least for the month of February, as this is the last Sunday in February and the last chance I’ll have to drop an essay on love in this month.

Anyway, back to the country.  I used to hate it. It’s a running joke in my family how much I just “had to get back to Greensboro.” The knowledge that the skyline is nearby is so ingrained in my psyche, so meaningful, so centering for me, even now and especially as a young child. Also, in my mind, bugs only existed in our backyard and they were insane in the country. Oh, and no Nickelodeon and Sesame Street came in fuzzy sometimes. Yet, one night, after an impulse decision, I woke up for the first time to CBS This Morning and my grandmother’s southern breakfast, by choice. My dad came and got me not long after breakfast, but I survived and it was a good night.

The irony that presents when the last time I willingly spent the night at my MeMe’s was two days before I would get life changing news. Originally, my dad was going to drive me to the big adventure that awaited me on the other side of RDU Airport and the terminals of  LaGuardia. Yet, I decided to drive myself directly from MeMe’s, since the flight was early, we were all gathering for a pre-Memorial Day cookout and her house is just a bit closer to RDU.

I returned home from New York into another cocoon of family and to the bedroom I spent ages 14-18 and 23-26 in. That bedroom, while possessing a Greensboro address, is in a neighborhood laid out like the best of car-dependent suburbia. I needed that, as the next few days would be a blur of funeral arrangements and family members I hadn’t seen and church members I hadn’t seen and just a feeling of wondering what I would do without the person who first taught me the value of place. Yet, I remembered, I still had the parent that gave me the places we had to live in the first place.

Those of us who are professionals or semi-professionals or armchair quarterbacks at this urban and regional planning thing, whether we make million dollar lifestyle centers or we buy new paint for our cookie-cutter house at Home Depot, or we make a park out of a parking space and a few old small shipping crates, can sometimes get self-righteous about what form is the best.

I believe the best place form begins with love.  If I’d become completely anti-country or anti-suburbia, I’d miss out on the love of my own family. Yeah, I’d probably found new people who only hang out at the bars and art galleries of the central business district and its blocks, but would they have my roots? Would they always be there to wipe my tears and clean up my scrapes? And are these new people even worthy enough to bring home? Some are,  some aren’t.

As I bring this to a close, the only thing I can really say about what makes a place great, is the presence of love. May you find that in whatever shape your primary habitation is.

About Kristen Jeffers

I'm Kristen. Almost five years ago, I got tired of not seeing black women as nerded out about trains, better streets, riding bikes, walking not just out of necessity, tall buildings, old buildings and honestly a lot of other things. I was in grad school for community and economic development (ok, it’s actually an MPA), and I wanted to make sure people knew I existed and that I could help them do this thing called placemaking better. Five years later, I’m still doing that, although not from my hometown of Greensboro, NC, but from Kansas City, MO. I spend most of my time in Kansas City promoting better biking and walking infrastructure metro-wide with BikeWalk KC and the Kansas City B-cycle. But I also wrote a book A Black Urbanist (you can grab that over on the right) and sometimes I give speeches and help other communities tell their stories at design charrettes and public meetings. I’ve also written or appeared in all of the major “urbanist” publications, either as a subject or as a writer, as well as most of my hometown papers as subject or writer as well.