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Why I’m Grateful for Cities

Why I'm Grateful for Cities

Just in time for the United States Thanksgiving celebration this week, I want to positively but honestly, give thanks to cities for what they do well and right. So why am I thankful for cities?

Public Libraries

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Big Books by Flickr user Tim Samoff

You may have seen the above picture on some social media site. It’s actually the parking garage of the central branch of the Kansas City (MO) library. There are many other branches. Some of them are open daily. Some aren’t. Some are open late, some aren’t. However, that doesn’t always matter because there are plenty of books, events and even a coffee-house at one branch for me to use. Books have always been a refuge for me. I have fond memories of my mom taking me to our nearest branch, as well as doing summer reading programs. I’ll talk more about my actual education later, but the school library has always been a good friend and in this time of transition in my life, I can’t help but thank my new public library for helping me adjust. And having great architecture, which adds to the greater placemaking value of the city.

Public transit that comes on its own rails 

Looking back at San Francisco from the Rockridge Station in Oakland. Image by Malcolm Kenton

Looking back at San Francisco from the Rockridge Station in Oakland. Image by Malcolm Kenton

I’m aware of every recent DC Metro problem. Really, I am. But I can still plan around most of the lines being on time. They ride on their own rails, therefore other traffic doesn’t hold them up. In the industry, we call this kind of transit fixed-guideway. The idea is that it’s fixed to one clear path and therefore you can plan its movements and know exactly where it is at a certain point. There are buses that simulate this, but often they don’t ride in their own lanes and they move at the speed of the driver. Streetcars are also technically fixed to the ground, but they are in mixed traffic and driven, so they also have this issue. Anyway, transit in theory comes on a schedule, you plan around that schedule and you can propel yourself with your two legs or a bike in combination or in lieu of transit. Still, I don’t have to worry about car maintenance or parking it. Well, I do, but one day I could give it up and lean on public transit, because cities provide that.

Unique cultural experiences 

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Spinning Mothers sign in front of the Contemporary Art Museum in Chicago in November of 2012. Photo by the author.

Someone recently changed the sign on the front of Greensboro’s Elsewhere to whereelse. That’s how I’ve always felt about that place. So much so I made it a key part of my going-away celebration and I looked longingly at pictures from this year’s fundraiser for the arts space. Every city needs to have a quirky space, whether it’s explicitly art or explicitly about bringing together marginalized people or if it’s just fun but unique like that flying pig I saw in Cincy a few weeks ago or this swinging banner that says Mothers in front of Chicago’s Contemporary Art Museum that I saw three years ago this month! Also, Elsewhere has worked really hard thanks to grant monies to improve several vacant lots near its Downtown Greensboro building, many of which despite downtown’s renaissance have not seen their property values rise. Now, they’ve risen in a more organic and people-focused way.

My education 

Image from the 2015 Homecoming on the Free Expression Tunnel on the Campus of N.C. State University. Image via the N..C. State Alumni Association Facebook Page

Image from the 2015 Homecoming on the Free Expression Tunnel on the Campus of N.C. State University. Image via the N..C. State Alumni Association Facebook Page

I’ve said it before that I learned my urbanism in college. This is because both my campuses provided such a great community. There were social issues, much like  many campuses are having now. But I’m proud to say that we have leadership and even fellow students who want our actual campus to be a safe space, a learning space, a growing space. However, I’m thankful the most that I finished school before the mass gentrification around both campuses. I feel like the neighborhoods surrounding our schools are just as important and because it is college after all, let it be a little grungy or at the very least middle-class so professors and service workers can also live nearby like students.  I’m also thankful for my K-12 education in the Guilford County School system. That it was just one system was the cause of concern of many parents over the years, but making the two major city systems and the county system one has created a better funding environment and a sense of unity that all students in the county are worthy. Also, the graduation rates have been climbing for the past six years.

So that’s my gratitude practice for cities for this year. Do you have any things you want to thank cities for? Tag them #thankmycity and I’ll be on the lookout to share them. Also, subscribe to my email list to keep up with me and where I’m at both on an off line.

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The Life and Death of City Cool

The Life and Death of City Cool

Should we even worry about residential gentrification, when in a few years, the very people who make certain blocks hot, don’t even care about those blocks anymore? Is that something that only those of means and of the right color have to worry about? Do people rebuild the cultures that die in new places or do they just hang up their guitars and stop singing along to songs?

As I prepare to spend the holidays back in Greensboro, I want to think about what that means. At the beginning of November, it started to dawn on me that only had a few more weeks to endure Kansas City, at least for 2015.

In the midst of that thought, the Royals won the World Series. People started running through the streets (ok, about a handful of drunk guys jogged down my sidewalk) and the mood that had already been heightened by buildings turning blue at night, became even more electric.

I got a chance to express how I felt about Kansas City and some of the other issues I encountered here on the local NPR last week. On the other hand, I’d written a few months ago  about how I was happy to be here in Kansas City.

Even he knows when to hit the road. Image by Flickr user Caren Pilgrim

Even he knows when to hit the road. Image by Flickr user Caren Pilgrim

I can relate to the fickleness of a city being cool.

Especially after Allen Johnson, the head of the editorial page over at the Greensboro News and Record (who so graciously allowed me to write this about a time when I felt like Greensboro was dying and needed to come back to life), wrote his own reflection about what it used to mean to go Uptown.

That brought back my parents’ relayed memories of what it meant when Greensboro was Uptown and all the major department and other stores thrived there. Both Johnson and my parents echoed that there were still some remnants of people not being treated well or served well, but the atmosphere was festive. All three mention a shift in activity, when it happened and how they lived through the transformation.

My own memories of the fun of going through abandoned storefronts, seeing eveyrone in the city on various festival days as a child, teen and young adult and finally, living in downtown and all the happy moments that came from it, along with the trying times of feeling like others didn’t want me around or my income bracket didn’t really belong there.

Then I read this note, from a writer in the New York Times, who reminds us that cool is subjective, even if we don’t always like to admit it. This paragraph stuck out so much to me, I had to think about it even stronger.

I can sympathize. But I think there’s more to these “the city is dead now” complaints than money. People have pronounced St. Marks Place dead many times over the past centuries — when it became poor, and then again when it became rich, and then again when it returned to being poor, and so on. My theory is that the neighborhood hasn’t stopped being cool because it’s too expensive now; it stops being cool for each generation the second we stop feeling cool there. Any claim to objectivity is clouded by one’s former glory.

She goes on to admonish someone who claims that people don’t brunch anymore, by telling her in so many words that she only hates brunch because brunch doesn’t work for her anymore. Not that it’s not making money for businesses and defining New York City for other people in a positive way.

I will say, her piece has a degree of privilege baked in. It assumes that people find a new place to live and they re-sew all those cool things that used to be somewhere else. It assumes that the government or a landlord didn’t want you out. (Speaking of which, ProPublica wants to know about you New Yorkers with unfair rents).

However, when it comes to certain areas, areas like New York that still continue to attract tourists, propel businesses and even house people, I wonder if some of our concerns, the ones not attached to pure gentrification, are valid.

I only got to eat here once in DC and it was excellent. It's gone now. Does that make DC less cool? Won't somebody step up in a city that has that kind of wealth and create something new and similar and better?

I only ate here once in DC and it was excellent. It’s gone now. Does that make DC less cool? Won’t somebody step up in a city that has that kind of wealth and create something new and similar and better?

As much as we like certain restaurants, no matter where they are, many close down. We outgrow certain activities because we are no longer of a certain size or age. Some of those cool activities were destructive and moving away from them makes sense.

Again, as I’ve said before, subjective measures like this do not excuse city governments from providing basic services like transit, trash collection, medical, fire and even policing. City coolness is at the top of the Mazlow hierarchy, primarily because those other things I just mentioned are at the bottom.

But if you are at the top of the hierarchy and complaining about something not feeling right. By all means, do, as I encouraged you in this previous post. Do remember though, that “cool” is very subjective and it’s one of many valid feelings one can have about a space.

Only time will tell if your block, your city routine, where you need to live, will stand the test of your time.

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Why Feelings Matter Most with Citizens and Their Cities

Why Feelings Matter Most When It Comes to Cities and their Citizens

Design can’t be everything. Ask your kid who goes to Disney World and doesn’t like Mickey or Cinderella Castle. All they want to do is ride Space Mountain a bunch of times. That’s right. They’d rather go on a ride that strips away your sense of knowing where you are going and makes you trust your other four senses. Now this ride’s mechanics and even some of the cool spacey stuff are designed well, but it’s really about the feeling.

Your kid throws away their Goofy hat when you get home, but he starts figuring out how to create that feeling that he had in Space Mountain. Which probably means they are playing in their room in the dark. But they are still  happy about their trip to Disney World. And it is more about what they could feel than the actual design of the thing.

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Magic Kingdom’s Space Mountain via Wikimedia

We can apply the same idea to our cities.

But before we get deep into that conversation, let’s talk about that time Disney made an actual city. Celebration, Florida was conceived as the second effort (EPCOT was the first) to create the ideal 21st Century city. Borrowing some from the new urbanism movement, which had just been chartered, a small town was created on some Disney-owned land. I’ve written about the town before, namely the book written by a family who moved there as one of the first families in the new town. Another book, with a darker, more pedantic tone was written by a single man who moved into an apartment near the town square.

While both sets of people had praise for the community at first, the single man found that he was isolated and that the community didn’t have much to offer for singles. The family and families like them, had issues with the school. It prided itself on being very progressive from grades K-12. One of those progressive tenants was a non-traditional grading system, that didn’t even consider conversions of said grades into the A-F scale sought by most, if not all colleges. This ultimately caused some parents to leave the school. Also dead was the idea of a neighborhood school. The school split into a lower and upper school, with the upper school on a totally different side of the community.

Eventually the family in the book moved back to their New England home and to a traditional school. The other guy moved on too. Others stayed in the community, but not without encountering other struggles. Many moved there hoping that the Disney magical feeling would fall over them. Yet, this was a town, not a theme park. You can’t always create the feeling you want in a place.

Or can you? How do you find a place that has the right feel? How do I determine that feel? This is what I do.

First, I assess the variety of activities, living situations, transportation situations and other tangible places and experiences. Am I forced to live in a house or can I get an apartment. Do I have to drive all the time or can I take the bus, walk or ride a bike? Do people tend to cluster in diverse groups of friends or do people tend to only have friends who look like them? Does the music scene have more than one genre that’s predominant or at least have my favorite style of music? What kinds of things can I eat? Are their cool third places like libraries, parks, arcades and other places where I can go and not just go to work or home or eat? Who can fix my hair the way I like? This also ties into another metric i use, mobility. How easy can I get in, out and around town?

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Kansas City’s Historic City Market. One of the great urban markets and examples of variety in cities. Image by Kristen Jeffers

Second, I look at level of respect people have for each other and their differences. Do actual criminals get punished? Do people assume others are automatically criminals because of their skin color, their body type and size or some other arbitrary type? Do people have to join certain groups or churches or have attended certain schools to be able to affect change in the city? Is there a voice for the poor, the downtrodden, the powerless? Could I walk safely without the worry of a person yelling at me, thinking this is the only way he could get my attention? Even in a room of “professional” people, will those guys carry on a conversation with me that doesn’t reek of “I need to take her home with me”? Will the women see me not as a threat, but a potential friend? Will they all have stupid, and in some cases completely offensive ideas about me as a black woman? I’m doing my best to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, will they do that for me?

Third, how resilient is the city? Does it mope and moan when major companies don’t pick it or when those companies shut down?Does it recognize why its young college students are leaving? Does it get stuck in its old ways or think things can only happen one way? When natural disasters show up, is it ready to evacuate or properly house people on better ground? Is it constantly complaining about how much it has to clean up? Is it doing all that it can to help people come back to where they were or is it sitting, ready to gentrify the land that those devastated homes sit on?

As our Disney examples earlier illustrated, you could have the perfectly designed city, both real like Celebration or more fake like EPCOT and the rest of the theme park. Yet, if someone doesn’t feel comfortable there, then all of your efforts are wasted. Or, sometimes people just want a feeling, and don’t need special designs or programs or events. They just want to be put in the right environment and be allowed to fend for themselves.

This doesn’t excuse efforts to help people feel better about needed changes, i.e. our friends who feel bike lanes, while open to everyone, are part of the residential gentrification going on in DC and other places. This again underscores why we need to ask open-ended questions.

Finally, quantitative measures are great, especially when they help us keep our streets clean and our buses coming on time. But if they don’t feel right, then they are doomed to fail too, just like our cities as a whole.

Interested in my thoughts about Kansas City and how I feel about it so far? I’m talking about that live on KCUR’s Central Standard at 1o a.m. Central/11 a.m. Eastern Tuesday November 10 (which is today if you are reading this post within its first 24 hours). You can always catch a replay of it as well. Both can be found at this link. Also, catch me on Twitter and Facebook.

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Sportsball as Community Ball as My Ball

Sportsball as Community Ball as My Ball

We are all Royal. At least we are in Kansas City right now. In both the spirit of the World Series win, me being nostalgic over different pieces of my writing and the fact that IT IS NOW BASKETBALL SEASON, I’m re-working this piece and adding a bit more context around what I’ve seen happen in KC this year and what I already know about my own sportsball fandom. Let’s play ball!

Sports build community. From pride-of-their-suburb Little League teams to pulse-of-their-city World Series pennant holders to that proud handful of farmhouses who raised that NASCAR driver, sports makes a community.

I grew up in a pre-Carolina Panthers, original Charlotte Hornets, retiring Richard Petty, saying hello to Stormy, but never to a Major League Baseball team of it’s own, Greensboro, NC (also known as Tournament Town).

There were these two mystery Coke (and yes, they were actually Coca-Cola) cans in the hall closet next to my bedroom door. One of them looked normal enough, it was bright red and had white lettering. It did have a wolf-head, and the words National Champions 1983 on them. Clearly, that wasn’t so normal. The other one was bright blue and nobody’s soda came in a bright blue can. The ram’s head and the 1982 national championship it honored wasn’t that weird.

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Food cans to support your basketball team aren’t that weird where I’m from. Photo by the author.

I tried being a NASCAR fan for five seconds. No lasting interest in watching cars go around a track. Baseball’s just so much better in person, plus, our beloved Grasshoppers are really the benchwarmers for the Miami Marlins. Too many degrees of separation[Hold this thought, we’ll get back to it soon, in this version].

The Charlotte professional men’s basketball team should have never stopped being the Hornets. Major League Soccer shouldn’t give up on us. Having your football team see the inside of a Super Bowl isn’t too shabby though and hockey’s decent. The Canes do have a Stanley Cup, so I’ve felt what it’s like to have your team be national champions. However, I much rather be at the PNC Arena when the normal HVAC system is operating and I can yell out Wolf and be met with a resounding Pack.

And when your arch rivals are only a few miles away, but still get major airplay on ESPN, this is how you choose your favorite sport. I’m a proud alumna of N.C. State University. That is how I chose my team.

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The only court that matters in my world.  Photo by the author.

And so bracket time is like my Super Bowl. In the weeks leading up to the Big Dance, I’m dancing around my TV at home, watching all the conference tournaments. I’m paying more attention to games when I’m out at networking socials at bars. I’m wearing red, lots of red. And I’m more than ready to make more than one bracket and explain to you why I did.

———–

But that’s March. Now it’s November. If you’ve been following me on Facebook and Twitter these past few weeks, there haven’t been a lot of posts about N.C. State anything, besides a brief one about homecoming. I am proud of the football team doing so well, but they did just lose said homecoming. Business as usual.

I’ve been in a city for almost five months now, that has a handful of college teams of prominence, but none that tickle my fancy the way my Wolfpack do. I hear the Big 12 tournament turns KC into tournament town, we shall see about that.

But this is November. In November, one of those professional teams that plays hundreds of games from April through October with a bat and a ball has beat all the other teams like that that use a bat and a ball. This year, that team is the Kansas City Royals.

When it comes to the National League, because of my affinity for DC, I’m pretty settled on the Washington Nationals as my primary team. If I have to pick a New York team, it’s the Mets. Chicago, the Cubs for the sake of the underdogs. My family members that do follow MLB tend to be Braves fans.

But the reality is, outside of that, prior to this year, as I said above, I was more a fan of the ballpark experience. My first Royals game this year was just that. I was moving to Kansas City, I like going to ballparks, they did go to the World Series last year, let’s check it out.

Now mind you, I have a significant other who can spit out stats and knows all the rules. That also helps.

At this point, let’s get back to that idea that sports build community. When I was thinking about that World Series pennant holder in the first paragraph, I was thinking about the Royals, not the Nats. I’d seen all the #beroyal tweets last year, seemingly from everyone I knew in KC at the time, which was only a handful of folks, and they didn’t seem especially sports crazy.

But I was wrong and now I understand. I’m also going to go ahead and say it: as far as the feelings they invoke and the frenzy they cause, the Royals are Duke and Carolina basketball rolled up into one pretty bow.

The Royals even use both blues, which makes my dressing to support them so much easier. Despite my status as a proud Ms. Wolfpacker, blue, in any shade, is my favorite color and color to wear.

Again, what makes the Royals fandom and playing style like Tobacco Road, despite the fact that there’s a difference in sport, region and level of competition, is that people care so much. I Facebooked this article out Sunday night, just before the game started.

The article shows where the two World Series teams gained new fans this year. The Mets fandom reads like the NYC diaspora. The Royals fandom is centered on a huge blue blob in the dead center of the country. If it weren’t for these Royals, it seems, some of these states out here would have no major national attention, at least the sports world.

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The map itself. Image by 

Again, outside of the Kansas, Wichita State, Kansas State and Missouri dominance in various sports in their respective leagues there would be nothing that excites the nation about Kansas City sports. The Chiefs don’t consistently dominate enough, at least not in this era. And neither did the Royals, until last year. In fact, they’ve not won a World Series in my lifetime. Until now.

And when your city turns blue at night and you like blue and everybody, from either side of Troost, the state line, the River, the Plaza, inside 435, outside 435, even back home tell you they want to see the Royals win and then celebrate when they do?

Yeah, I might have to be #foreveroyal. Meanwhile, it’s time to #surviveandadvance. Maybe if the Royals can come back from the 80s, the Wolfpack can too.

Also, as a P.S., check out this New York Times article by an Overland Park native, on what it feels like on the ground to have this win here. I’ll also try to Periscope from the parade, but at the very least check me out on there on Wednesday at 5:30 Central for a recap of what I saw, I’ll be tweeting pictures and finally, I’m going to be on Open Source with Christopher Lydon this week talking about Boston, as well. Check your iTunes and your local listings for that.

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Why Road Gentrification Is Good Gentrification

Why Road Gentrification is Good Gentrifcation

I’m a firm believer that transportation is one place where equity can and should be had. At the end of the day, a street is a street, we all have to use them and their presence should not be the signal of gentrification you worry about. It should be the one you champion to get you to where you need to go. Hence why I’m here advocating for what some call complete streets, others call road diets and yet others call road gentrification.

Why All Three Names Matter

Why three names for this kind of road construction and maintenance? Well, because each name covers three key benefits of such changes.

First, you are completing what should already be standard on all roads, the ability for any mode of transportation to thrive.

Second, when you go on a food diet, if you want to be successful, it becomes a lifestyle change. It also is tailored to what you actually eat and how your body is actually made. Hence a good road diet, like form-based codes in architecture, works best when it takes into account what’s already there, and how others use the road.

Food diets also insist on being the most lean and green version of one’s self. Same with road diets, they insist that roads be the most efficient, but not just for one use, but for all users.

My last food analogy: it introduces more than one food (transport) group to the roads, more like the old four group pattern where all groups were somewhat equal.

And finally, gentrification at its purest, takes something that needs a touch of class and makes it better for everyone. Unfortunately, making it better for everyone doesn’t always come out of gentrification of housing and commercial buildings. Instead of making it so everyone can be part of a neighborhood, residential and commercial gentrification often privileges one group, namely the wealthy, of any cultural background.

But road gentrification is different. In adding more than one mode to the road, it allows everyone to use the roads, at whatever place they are in life.

What Institutions Can, Are and Should Be Doing

As we see with much of housing and commercial gentrification, it is government policy which really seals the deal in terms of how housing and commercial markets are allowed to work. Governments at all levels regularly get flack for not implementing community and economic development programs in the right way.

However, there’s really no wrong way to do a complete street/road diet/road improvement. Unless you decide to continue to privilege one mode at the expense of others.

You don’t have to do that. In the image leading this post, I was participating in a demonstration led by students at the University of Oklahoma ‘s Urban Design Studio at the 2015 American Planning Association’s Quad State Conference in Kansas City. They brought us model pieces giving us multiple options to create a complete street from a scale model of a portion of 11th Street in Tulsa, also known as part of the historic Route 66.

Our group came up with what is pictured above. This was after I (and others) insisted that we have both bike lanes, trolley/car lanes, sidewalks and at least one lane where cars can pass the trolleys safely without endangering the cyclists and walkers other than to turn into the businesses with parking lots.

Another group came up with something completely different. Both were solid complete streets. Both even had low-density, suburban retail. And when someone suggested that my sidewalk was too narrow, I reminded them that some shop fronts could still roll up their windows and make the outside come in.

Yet, their concerns about how the buildings would work were valid. So are those of these folks in DC, who are concerned about a new road diet plan, even though they can be annoying. What it tells us is that we still need to work on making sure people understand, that when it comes to having all modes of transit on a street, that means everyone has a right to the street, a right that can’t be questioned. A right that allows people to advance their lives in other ways.

Imagine the college student from the housing project who has to walk to school. They continue to walk and may even bike to school, then to their next job and then maybe with a baby carriage attached. America Walks has a great fact sheet on how complete streets help low-income and other underprivileged families.

So many other organizations around the country, such as Changing Gears in Greensboro and The 816 Bike Collective and RevolveKC in Kansas City exist just to get poor, homeless, black, Latino, refugee and any other underserved or under-resourced population to bicycling.

Then there are the Major Taylor Clubs, the Black Women Bike clubs, traditional cycling clubs with membership fees and jerseys, that do long distance rides and sometimes compete in races, which also tend to attract African-Americans and other people of color with means.

Finally, many schools are adding bike education to their main curriculums. My office is in school districts across the KC metro doing just that and soon DC will teach every second grader in the traditional  public school system bike safety, with actual bikes and making sure every kid who comes through the program can ride.

With these programs children biking won’t be a thing of the past. They will then grow to commute and maybe even race by bike. More adults will be able to take advantage of having a mode of transport that they control and pay little, if nothing at all besides sweat equity to use.

Also, completing streets is something that municipalities can adopt and put money to at the same time. By training the staff who make improvements to the roads and sidewalks, by absorbing more of the costs to make road and sidewalk improvements and by being creative as to what makes each street in a city complete, then they can turn around their reputations for creating bad gentrification and unsafe streets.

So there you have it. A gentrification method, that when done right, makes a community whole and connected, no matter the economic class, counters the obesity epidemic and creates more equal opportunity for jobs, education and cultural engagement.

Chat with me about this live on Periscope Thursday evening (October 29 at 5:30 Central). Also, be sure to get on my email list to never miss a post! 

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On Mobility and American Expats in America

On Mobility and American Expats in America

I believe that a city lives or dies by how much people can move in and out. About four years ago, I reflected on the idea of being an American Expat in America. That idea is that despite the fact I was no longer an active member of my hometown or any town, I could still move somewhere else, become just as active, make a difference with my diversity of opinion and actions and promote my hometown and the awesome things it has and of course, do this in another one of the 49 states of America or a different city or even just down the street. Aaron Renn of the Urbanophile inspired this idea and I think it’s still very valid today. I even wrote home about it, for the Triad City Beat a couple of months back.

And as I sit back and reflect on five years of being an urban planning and development blogger, I want to talk about the keys to being a great American Expat. Then, at the end of this post, a moment on what it feels like to finally be a true American Expat, much like I predicted I could be back in 2011.

So what does it take to be a good American Expat in America?

Openness

Your new home, even if it’s right down the street, is going to be different from your old home. As you change even more of your surroundings, that fact will become boldfaced, underlined and even be struck through because something you thought would work for you, may not work for you after all. But that’s ok. I’m learning that it’s key to keep going to different meetings, gatherings, restaurants, grocery stores, libraries, Targets and such until you find the ones that allow you to create a routine. You also need to be ok with not going to certain things if they no longer work.

Another key adjustment is that the food and climate and even the time zone may be entirely different. You have an accent (or not). Your car may need a front plate and a back plate. You may find yourself walking more or less, driving more or less, riding transit more or less. You may have the company of people, lots of new vibrant people. You might be at home with a library book from your very robust new public library.

Either way, you need to be open to different experiences and also have a coping mechanism for when things get weird, hurtful, sad or some other form of negative. And then gratitude, but we’ll get to that later.

Finding Local Things You Can Support

 

Yes, I’m a Royals fan now. Who doesn’t like a winner? Ok, at the time of this writing they aren’t, but they have been and could still be! I think burnt ends from Joe’s Kansas City, along with their regular ribs are delectable. Yet, according to my mom, the line procedure there is not that much different from the NC State Fair’s lines for places to sit and consume fair food, next to the actual vendors.

You see what I did there, I managed to find something local I could pull behind, but I was able to tie it into something from back home. Then, I can go back to whining about the lack of Calabash seafood, namely Calabash seafood fried in House-Autry seafood breader. Or Biscuitville. Or I could drive 30 minutes to the Krispy Kreme on Shawnee Mission Parkway, and instead of eating the half-baked original glazed that’s apparently the modus operandi of the non-North Carolinian KK’s and eat that new seasonal salted caramel doughnut instead.

Seriously, folks need to go crazy over salted caramel and not pumpkin spice. And that sentence alone reminds us that while we are different, there are things that are the same and new things we can eat, see, root for and enjoy.

Savings and Travel Hack Savvy

You need to be a member of every travel club possible. You need to be a member of every shopping coupon site possible. You need to meal plan for the nights you don’t go out to eat. Mend your clothes. Do something on the side. Unless you are already one of those people who has a second full residence in your new town of origin or a division of your company in more than one place or you are location-independent, then all these things are vital.

Actually, they are always vital, in that’s how many people become successful expats and travelers and business people. I read somewhere that millionaires have an average of seven pockets of income.

Sometimes one of those pockets is penny-saving stuff like couponing apps and travel rewards. Seriously, the Marriott Rewards is how many a family vacation happened in my youth and also what helped me stay connected via wi-fi during my recent move. I’m racking up Southwest points and I’m using my knowledge of their routes and how trains work (and my friends and boyfriend who are geniuses at this), to learn how, when and where to travel to save the most money.

Also, not just how I travel, but also being at peace with what’s in your suitcase and what makes it to the moving truck. You cannot bring everything with you. You should not bring everything with you. You’ll bring things back, get new things, better things.

Gratitude

And finally, for the tips section, I say be thankful. There are so many research studies that state the benefits of having the ability to move wherever you need to for economic, health, spiritual and educational reasons. But if you’ve ever done it, you know that now your brain and mind is stretched because you’ve experienced life in another metro. So many people want to be you, but never get the chance. Some folks don’t even get vacations.

Historically, the Great Migration of African-Americans, along with the migrations of many other ethnic and cultural groups to and from this country, has created freedom, enhanced creativity, cultivated wealth and strengthened our ability to be diverse. No, the process isn’t perfect. But I do find that people who are thankful for the opportunity to move around, for new kinds of neighbors, for new experiences, make this country stronger and wiser.

And now, a more personal reflection.

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So that moment happened. When I, who’d been in bed alone, but with my new stuffed toy Southwest Airlines plane beside me for the third night in a row, had that nightmare. The nightmare where you wake up and you miss your flight, even though you’d made sure you Passbooked (or I guess it’s just simply Wallet now on the iPhone) your boarding pass and you went to bed early and all your stuff was packed the night before.

You get to the airport and you find that it’s an incomprehensible maze, made even worse by the fact that you are not carrying your nice purple carry-on, rolling suitcase, but a black purse you picked up because you forgot your tiny black backpack, and your real backpack and they are all heavy. And of course, since this is a dream, you try to move forward and you end up partially waking yourself up, especially when you realize that you’re really floating through your dream and not actually walking. But then you feel weighted down.

You wake up after this dream and you’re really sad. Your fridge is still making that noise that sounds like a jack hammer that you told maintenance to fix and they even showed up to fix, but isn’t really fixed.

You get on Zillow, just like you were the night before, scouting out houses in all different metros, including the one to which you just moved. You remember that conversation with that colleague where you were both reminiscing about various things you did when you lived in or visited that other city and how your current city just doesn’t fit the bill today.

But then it’s later that Sunday afternoon and you are sitting in a branch library, against a wall of windows, over a part of town that mimics parts of California or Florida (take your pick of inspired Spanish mission architecture, mixed up with buildings of all kinds of modern vintage and even a canal with a Venice-style boat cruise that passes through at least a couple of times).

You realize that in that spot, you’re honestly ten minutes from everything you have come to do in your new town, in all directions. You’re walkable to things to which are actually fun to walk. You can hop on the bus and be up the hill with your bike, which will pedal you to your workplace in no time. Or, if it’s a day you don’t really need to come into the office, you can just fire up your laptop and knock out your InDesign flyers and social media postings there, at a home not too far from that wall of windows and that branch library.

You realize that even though it’s not the city you dreamed you’d be living in for the past ten-twelve years, it’s still a different place, with different lessons and a different perspective. It helps you to see even more of the world than what you saw before. And who knows, you might be in another city, maybe that dream city, in a few more years. But for now, you are happy here. You are an American Expat in America and you are ok.

Join me at my Facebook page, on Twitter, on Instagram and on Periscope Wednesday, October 21 at 7 p.m. Central Time (That’s 8 p.m. Eastern, 5 p.m. Pacific) for a live conversation around mobility and being an American Expat in America.

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Reflections on the 5th Anni of the Black Urbanist from Kristen

I am Kristen Jeffers. I call myself the Black Urbanist.

I started doing so five years ago today (October 16, 2010), because I felt like not enough conversations on the built environment, on civic spaces, on transportation, were actually including people like me (Black, young, woman, cisgender, straight, U.S. Southeastern, Christian) in conversations as a participant in the process of creating and building infrastructure. If you hear about me, it’s because I’m the main person using your Section 8 housing or because of my college degree and birth year. Or, I’m your gentrifier and your cash cow to make your development legacy different from your father’s.

It’s still a necessary conversation. Every day I read articles that highlight the disparities of different groups of people, that argue for and against actual integration and common community development. House prices are rising. People are dying on their own blocks and stoops because the police (and some neighbors) don’t think they belong there. Jobs are disappearing. Even among our own ranks of development professionals, we don’t always come together and when we do, those rooms aren’t always diverse in thought and body. Plus, there’s the idea that unless you are plopping money down or employed by a government or nonprofit entity that helps the neighborhood, you don’t matter when it comes to what you think about the neighborhoods and your metro (or rural) region.

I will admit that I don’t write as much as I could or speak as much as I could about these things. I’ll also admit that I don’t like my car and I need better sidewalks and bike lanes and heck, places to go in a 5 minute radius so I don’t feel compelled to jump in my car to go everywhere. I am starting to do my part in the resources/affordability/community-making exchange, though. I’m learning how to cook more and save money. I walk to work many days. I walk to the stores and restaurants we do have in our community. When I travel, I use transit, other people’s bikeshares and I walk there as well.

Yet, when I started this page, I did it to not become the absolute authority on urbanism. I did it not to slam rural life or actual small cities and towns that aren’t just appendages created on bigger cities to make people feel  better about themselves by choosing their perfect neighbors and schools and allowing them room to flaunt their relative wealth, admittedly in the early days courtesy of government grants and provisions. (I know that was a long one, let me breathe for a second).

I did this so I could make sense of the things I observe on a daily basis. I did this as my way of helping people, to extend out my life calling of making communities stronger and better.

I don’t have all the answers. I don’t have all the right answers. I certainly don’t have all the “token _________” answers and ONLY those answers. I have so many more questions.

In that spirit of five years of writing, speaking and talking to people about these ideas casually and formally, plus the fact that this is what you do on milestone anniversaries, I’m going to spend the next few weeks drilling down on my philosophies on various areas of development and life of which I think we need to pay attention.

Many of you have been reading for years. Others of you are new to the site. I, as this is my life’s work, and as I’ve gone through various transitions and examinations of who I am as a person, want to clarify how I practice community and economic development.

I also want to talk to you more, in different channels. On Tuesdays, you’ll get what I call the classic TBU experience. I drop a post or email and I share that information throughout the day (and you share it too!) On Wednesdays, I’ll be coming to you in an audio format, at the very least live on Periscope or Google Hangout or both and in a few weeks, recorded or live podcasts with various other planning and development leaders.

There will be breaks for holidays. There will be a season, like I’m producing a media program (which this is) and hopefully, you’ll be inviting me out or I’ll be attending the various conferences and gatherings that go on throughout the year.

Oh and my first book is still for sale and I’m working on a second! Details forthcoming about what that’s about and how to get it. I can sincerely promise that it will be easier to get you hands on book 2. But for now, here’s book 1.

I’m so excited to get back to blogging and writing, which is the core of my planning and development practice. I’m looking forward to talking to all of you and enjoy your Friday!

(Also for those of you who have sent guest posts in the past, I’m not doing any right now and I apologize for not making that clearer on my blog or in any correspondence).

And finally, if you don’t get my emails, make sure you do so right here.

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From an Ambassador to Kansas City

 

Roughly six weeks ago, after loading almost all of my worldly possessions into a moving truck, relatives helped me pack the rest into two cars and we departed our southwest Greensboro home at about 5 a.m., navigating the freeways past my father’s gravesite at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, on a hill created due to the cutting in of new highway.

Within an hour, I’d left the Triad. In roughly 48 more, I’d have wound my way in the caravan through six states and the entire length of Missouri, where I would disembark Interstate 70 into my new home: Kansas City…

How could I leave a city that supplied me endless Biscuitville, cupcakes worth standing in line for at Maxie B’s and food served at establishments owned by families of folks I considered friends, colleagues and classmates? Where not just one, but two fellow young black professionals are sitting on its city council? That, along with Winston-Salem, does festivals like no other (seriously, if you’re coming into town for the National Folk Festival, you will learn).

It’s simple. One must see that the grass they sometimes think is brown is really always green.

Head over to read the rest on the Triad City Beat website.

Thanks again guys for another chance to help you guys “sell” papers. If you are in the Triad area, or close enough to drive, pick up a print copy. They are free. If you have a business, they could use your advertising as well.

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You Need a New Airport Kansas City, Get Over It.

You Need A New Airport Kansas City. Get Over It.

I’ve been in Kansas City for just over a month. While I didn’t arrive by plane this time, all the other times I’ve come and gone from KC, have been through the Kansas City International Airport.

Only once have I driven myself to said airport. I’ve parked at the B-11 post, the one that gives props to the Jazz Museum, in the economy lot. I’ve looked out at the airport on I-29 a mile before I could reach it and wondered why I couldn’t just drive up from that first vantage point. I’ve told myself that I’d rather pay $27 for four days of travel instead of just one.

I like to get to the airport early. I tend to carry a lot of things, but I’ve reduced them down. Even with the reduction, I sometimes forget to charge my phone or I don’t have time to eat or I have something that just doesn’t fit well into my purse.

Or, maybe I did everything right and I got to the airport on time. Because I spent 45 minutes getting there from Midtown, by car, I didn’t have time to check and see that my plane was delayed by an hour. Thankfully, I checked the screen before I hit security, but how would I know that the Pig and Pickle would have fed me ok? And that’s only for that one gate in Terminal B going to DC. The gate I use to fly to Charlotte is even less inviting and just as restricting.

Oh the horror if I’d ridden the bus out and learned I’d still have to find a way to pass two more hours of time.

You may think this is whiny. That I don’t get it. After all, I’m new. I shouldn’t expect shiny newfangled things in Kansas City. That’s what other cities do, even though we want to be other cities sometimes.

People. The Piedmont Triad International Airport, my home airport in Greensboro, is small. It doesn’t have a lot past security. But we have managed to lower the lights, put in at least a reasonably priced bar, newsstand and clean, normal sized bathroom past our security gate. And before security, a nice small mall of sorts, representing our proud North Carolinianess, our Natty Greens beer (They’re our Boulevard) and some nice rocking chairs. You know I love my airport rocking chairs.

When I go to Charlotte and Raleigh, I appreciate their toys. But 9 times out of 10 I’m going out of the same gate and that gate only has limited things. But I only hang out at the gate if I think my flight is coming soon. Except at MCI. There, I’d rather have the security chore done.

However, to avoid being one of those people, who complain without actions, this is what I think a new MCI should do:

Be a masterpiece of what this city is. Make it look like the Plaza or Union Station on the outside. If we are going to spend the money, create a modern/classic airport blend that will get people and the airlines to want to be based here.  (and their favorite airline will want to come here)

One security line. Or maybe four like Charlotte, but easy access to all gates no matter what line.

Clean, spacious restrooms. Remember, it’s me and my carry-on and we need room. I’d also like to only have to deal with my own human waste, thank you very much.

A food option, a shopping option and maybe even a spa option with easy access to each gate. If you travel often, you know the spa option’s not so luxurious. Get on a plane after you’ve been massaged and imbibed and you don’t hate air travel as much.

A plane train. Ok, maybe not so much, but ATL is not half the crazy airport it could be thanks to its train and good wayfinding signs.

So that’s it KC. We need a new airport. I hope the city doesn’t mess it up too, but let’s just pray hard that they don’t and we can all be both proud of our airport and know that we won’t lose money in the process.

And remember, people like me, the transplants and frequent travelers, will pay it off by using it over time.

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Place in A Time of Terror and Inequality

Place in A Time of Terror and Inequality by Kristen Jeffers, The Black Urbanist

This post took so long to write. I wrote about two versions of it. Maybe you’ll see them in the next volume of essays. Maybe they’ll be here. Ultimately, it gets down to how place and motion matter in a time of heightened instances of tragedy, terror and oppressive power driven by fear.

How can we say that design is our savior, when in one of the most perfectly designed cities in America, a man who was born in the 1990’s, one of the most progressive time periods in our history for race relations, decided to go to a church and even though he was moved by the friendliness and fellowship of the people. shot them anyway because they were Black and they were a threat to “his” women?

I just took a cross-country road trip to start a great new job, at an organization that’s committed to asking questions and getting answers everyday for design and use equity when it comes to everyday transportation. I brought my family with me mainly because I didn’t want to be alone. What if they couldn’t have come with me? What if I had made an error that was easily correctable in my car, got pulled over and after a series of events, I ended up dead in my cell, seemingly of my own devices?

And for the record, I can’t say what I would do if I went to jail. I am fearful at times and who knows what the shock of the experience would lead me to do if I feel like I’ll never get out alive anyway. But I will try to get out and stay alive as long as I can. Think of me as Olivia Pope in [spoiler alert] the jail last season, the first time she went to jail that is. [/spoiler].

As I look around and take in the sights, sounds and climate of my new metro area, I do find it sad the effects of sprawl very present in the area. Some sprawl has been useful or unavoidable. Bluffs aren’t always your friend. Major stockyards, wartime facilities and even farms need space. However, the huge legacy of Native removal and assimilation, as well as the redlining that kept many Blacks in certain areas, areas that are still underfunded and even abandoned is always a present thing.

The fact that so many of the box stores that used to only be ten minutes away, are now 20-30. Myself and Amazon are about to become friends, because in reality, none of these major chain stores or warehouses have the best records on wages, product quality and treatment of customers. I do have a Costco and Home Depot in walking distance and they’re some of the better ones, for being willing to pay well and have a presence in the inner city.

In spite of all of this that’s weighed heavy on my mind in the past few weeks between posts and moving and such, I still see hope. I love my colleagues and their commitment to making sure everybody can get where they need to go, car or not. “Right” side or “Wrong” side of town. I’m thankful for the many times I’ve been able to board planes, trains or ferries alone and without question. The ability to cross international borders and be seen as role model in my time in the other country. To be able to drive my car long distances, both alone and with company and have been able to escape the worst reaches of the law. And of course, all of my loved ones, friends and fellow foot soldiers in planning and development that I’ve been able to meet and work with over the years.

Even if that all were to change tomorrow, I am grateful for the life that’s been granted to me, the few privileges I have. I will dwell in those and I will continue to work to make sure everyone has the opportunities to be well and live well, no matter how they get where they are going, where they live and what stores are available to them to supply their lives. And of course, no matter skin color or who they choose to make a life with or how they present themselves.

And a postscript: Check out how real estate is done in this Chicagoland town. What if this was a wholesale solution to the problem of real estate segregation, which has undertones in the struggles in many areas to stop both failing schools and police brutality.
Another postscript, this book I was gifted about growth in Kansas City.

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