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Good morning Detroit! I’m live from my family bunker up in the Northwest side of the city to give you my take on my experience here at CNU 24. I’m already regretting missing the first two days, plus time here early, considering I have a base here. Even though I’ve been here twice, being here as an adult, fully ensconced in the planning/placemaking world, is a world of difference.

Prior to my arrival, I was marveling at how all my colleagues were absorbing the different vistas and buildings and such. I also thought all the pictures of the inside of the Opera Hall were a bit gratuitous.

They were not. Seriously, this was a building well worth preserving and saving and the perfect home to have us all gather together. (And just imagine what it looks like in color. You’ll have to come see that for yourself).


Another honorable mention to the Gem Theater for providing us a lovely exhibit hall, registration table and plaza, the parking lot plaza in front of Opera House (Including the lovely fashion truck that provided me my second pair of sunglasses this trip) and Greektown! Lots of folks out, a security perimeter, but a vibrant environment. Plus, I love how there were so many places, like Five Guys, a bowling alley and of course lots of restaurants and bars open late.

Presentation wise, most of my time was spent yesterday at #janeday, supporting my mentor and colleague and friend Mitchell Silver in his first stage appearance at CNU! If that wasn’t enough, his New York colleagues Jannette Sadik-Khan and Jonathan Rose and Erin Barnes of ioby along with a handful of others, successfully brought the spirit of Jane up in the building and encouraged me to this (you know, write and speak) a bit more.

Speaking of speaking…


First of all, it was a pleasure to talk gentrification and debate it publicly with my colleague Eric Kronberg of Kronberg Wall in Atlanta. They are working to clean up true blight (fallen in homes, moldy homes, old school live works that are just waiting to be your next exposed brick masterpiece) and it was great having dinner with him and preparing for our debate. Oh and we won! Thanks friendly judges ;)!

If you missed it last night, you weren’t the only one, we had a technical issue. If I understand correctly, we will have audio of the debate and once I get that link, it will be here.

Here’s a summary of what I said last night and why, based on the statement and position on the screen above on the debate and my position. While displacement is part of ONE definition of gentrification, you know how I deal with words. And unfortunately, not only have we added and maintained forced displacement in the common, crowdsourced, definition, we’ve added pretty much every social ill. Gentrification is (sometimes) forced displacement of housing. Gentrification is sometimes physical and structural improvement of housing and commercial properties. Gentrification is assuming that people of higher luxury and class are going to buy and use your stuff. But class crosses race, gender and orientation. And class can change overnight. If we are going to attack social ills, then attach social ills by name. Income inequality. Racism. Sexism. Homophobia. Lack of transit and active mobility options. Lack of jobs and occupations of value. Lack of food. Bad food. Insularity of ideas.

And finally, always great to talk to my good friend and colleague Chuck Marohn and thankful for how much Strong Towns has grown and become a core group of colleagues and friends well outside the CNU fold. Likewise to all my APA, NARP and other internet and urbanist friends that are converged here this weekend.

Lastly, Your hugs have been awesome and a key reminder, that we start our placemaking with connection with the soul.

And actually lastly, I’m monitoring this morning’s  Lean Urbanism talk via social, as I also really enjoying my mom (here for a visit and still holding down Greensboro) and aunt (the local Detroiter, 35 years now and counting via NC). I’ll then either be in one of the common areas or at the 11:15 session at the upstairs of the Detroit Beer Co. I have also tried to talk to as many of you as are here. The best thing to do is if you see me, walk up and say hi. Drop me your card if you have it. If I missed you, have no fear, I’m going to be doing a lot more traveling and conference attending this year, so I hope to catch you, maybe in your own place. And if you’re still here til the end of the day, there’s always the closing party!

I am @blackurbanist on Twitter and Instagram, responding most quickly on Twitter and doing most of my stream of consciousness and retweeting on Twitter on the #CNU24 hashtag.





Name any professional conference where a relative newcomer can come in, either invited or uninvited, state that at a certain time and certain place, they are going to put out an idea, record said idea and have a parent of a movement show up and give you props on what you said, even though you’ve never met before?

That’s how the Congress for New Urbanism has been for me, for the past 5 years. It’s a conference that has changed my life and career in many ways.I’ve since written a lot about the Congress gathering itself, most of which you can find here.

And now, as I look to my fifth congress in five years, this is what I’m looking ahead to the most:

  • Seeing people who have led me to so many articles, charrette opportunities (including my recent stint in Birmingham!), and lasting friendships.

So two  questions before I start this journey into urbanism nerd camp this year:

Why am I not on the convention floor?

First of all, in a decision that CNU has been debating for years,there’s not a convention floor! In order to integrate ourselves into the life of Detroit, namely downtown, we are doing our big presentations at big theaters and doing a lot of cool stuff at bars, parking lots and at local businesses. We are also crossing the border into Windsor, Canada and hanging out with some of our Canadian friends. You’ll still get your certification trainings and your big bold speeches, but not in a convention center. Also, because this idea, pioneered in our NextGen project management is actually mainstream now, there are more opportunities for you to try out parts of the congress, like my debate on Friday, for free.

When will you actually be able to see me at CNU 24?

This question speaks to my arrival on Friday morning and not last night or this morning. I’ve got a few work obligations to take care of, but I’ll be around just in time for these things:

  • Small Developer Meetup (tail-end) on Friday morning
  • Jane Day presentations, namely the morning ones.
  • The Debates– again, come hear me talk about gentrification and why there’s more to it than just that one word.
  • A portion of the dance party
  • The Civic Tech Forum
  • The Chapter Party
  • The Pecha Kutcha
  • The Closing Party
  • Other events as determined by my time and schedule. As always, the best way to find me is to tweet at me @blackurbanist and also check my Instagram and Facebook feeds for pictures of where I’m at. Some of you also have other ways to contact me. Use those as well. My phone number is still the same. And none of the events are in their proper order, so again, check the official schedule for dates, times and locations.

I have no doubts that this won’t be another awesome gathering of all kinds of place-related and practicing people. If you cannot be there in person, either in whole or part, the #CNU24 hashtag is a great place to start, to get photos, thoughts and maybe video from the festivities, along with links to pages like this with conference commentary.

Photo above from Wikimedia Commons


The Quest for a Forever Home in the Era of Mass Gentrification

I’m on the quest to purchase my dream house, my forever home.

Right now, that house is in Washington, DC and it’s one of the many row houses. It’s on a bus line or a flat street on which I can bike easily. Metro proximity is a bonus, but I’m ok with it taking me 30-45 minutes to get to outer suburbs or closer to the monument core. Uber and Lyft and my own two feet and the bus and my bike will be my friends. Or, it will be one of those far north or eastern or western houses with room for a car.

But for now, we are talking about the house.

There will be three bedrooms and two bathrooms. There will be a bathroom and bedroom on one level, so that my mom can visit and not have to go up or downstairs. There will be a porch or a turret or both. There will be a drugstore or a farmers market or a quirky neighborhood café or all three. I will play soul music mixed with gospel, mixed with the blues, with a shot of go-go out of its windows. There will be parties there, and political strategy and resting and relaxation. It will be a shelter. It will be blue in part or whole. It will be home.

I’m well aware that this kind of home is a dream for a lot of people, especially sadly the people who’ve lived near or even in one of these homes as a child or even an adult. Somebody might not like my music or they might not like the food smells or the political signs out front or even the sound of laughter through the screen door.

But if it’s my home base, then it’s exactly where I’m supposed to be. The recent numbers on the black creative class are a nod to that. And this recent study of redlined homes in DC peel back a layer of vanilla underpinning even the Chocolate City. Well, that is if you weren’t aware of Georgetown’s history.

In short, our place in this country may shift around, but I still believe there’s a place somewhere for me.

And of course, we know homes these days take thousands of dollars to obtain and maintain, thousands that I don’t quite have yet. But however long it takes, I want to get those thousands and stake my claim into a space on the world.

Since birth, I’ve known the benefits of being in a black body and having a solid, maybe detached, maybe attached, but 100% yours, home to come to. I’ve been a renter and I’ve been a dorm mate and I’ve been a child in their bedroom, plotting the revolution or at the very least recovering from hurt feelings and a bruised ego.

I miss my dad’s old house, my first home from 0-9,  but even he was ready to move on from that particular space. And partly because that’s the space in which he left this world in, I’m ok with it, like him, having returned to ashes and dust. I do hope that one day, the land it sits on can be a home for a happy person. Doesn’t have to be a family, but a person, who uses that space to be the human garden the world means for them to be.

And I’m grateful as I’ve said in my book to my mom’s house, the one she saved and worked hard for and purchased at a great rate with equity in 2000. In my early years of this blog, I railed against the concept of that 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom house, in a low-density development, that had once been farmland, then un-annexed suburbia, and now a clear part of a growing city, reflecting the diversity of thought and race. It’s all on one level. It has a kitchen window above the sink. It has a fireplace and a garage. And there’s room for her garden, her bed and a couple of others so she can have myself and others home to visit. And when we bought it, so I could have enough room to continue my teenage blossoming.

But, its closest bus stop is a half mile away now, having been taken away from an 1/8 of a mile because of budget cuts. Other houses around us have been foreclosed on and have had hard times being filled with renters. But, there are plenty of others that are fine, family homes.

Most of my other family members, and a handful of friends now that I’m 30, are homeowners. Some are detached. Some are in friendly long-term leases. Some are supplemented. Either way, there’s a place they call home and they’ll call that place home or have called that place home for at least the next year or two.

I’d like to go ahead and grab what the realtors call the “forever home”. I might keep changing my city and address some, but one day, there’s going to be a Victorian, Federal or Wardman row house with my name on it. Or, it may be another home style or address, but it’s going to be my permanent address and it’s going to be my home base.

A postscript: I wrote the bulk of this draft before the news broke on Ta-Nahesi Coates home purchase. I’m going to let him tell us about his house buying decision. A decision that may or may not have a happy ending. It may take me getting super famous before I am able to get my forever home. Please don’t tell anybody exactly where it is before I can!

Periodically, I’m going to share how I’m eliminating debt, saving money, making more money, learning more things and tie that back into how we approach city life and life decisions that have to do with proximity to a city, such as home buying and renting. This is the first of this kind of post.


On a Woman and Her Bikes

On a Woman and Her Bikes

Anyone who’s owned at least one bike, even if it was just a tri-cycle, has a story. As I’ve added to my fleet recently, here’s my story.

It was Christmas of 1988. I can’t spell out any other details, but there’s photographic evidence,  snapped by a parent of mine really being geeked out by my third Christmas. In the photo below, you can see it and you can also see in the foreground, the handlebars and basket of a lavender trike. I suspect my mom had a role in choosing the color, but it was dad making sure it was recorded for posterity. Oh and it was also his idea that I stuff myself into the empty Kid Sister box that you can just see in the corner.


Yet, this wasn’t even my first trike. I had this big hot wheel sucker, that I really don’t remember riding around very much outside the house. What you see here in this picture, of me riding in the living room, is pretty much what you get.


By age 6, I was starting to get creative. I’d moved up to my first set of training wheels. However, not to leave my old trike behind, I decided to go out back and hitch the old gal up to my new bike. My motivations for this twine-fueled activity are dusty now, but it did make for another fun picture.


The next Christmas brought me my next bike, this time, without training wheels. There’s photographic evidence of it in all its pink and green glory, next to a pile of other things, including roller skates (my other favorite wheeled activity).

Yet, that evidence did not make it to the digital cannon. I will note that this was the bike that started me riding regularly with my dad. I rode by myself in a nearby traffic circle, that was only occupied by elderly folks in city-sponsored senior housing and practically empty of cars. I rode with my dad up the mild Piedmonty hills and across stroady roads (when in doubt, ride into the turn lane, look both ways again, then cross the street) and through more calmer neighborhood streets to a few of my favorite playgrounds and a slightly longer route (maybe about 2-4 miles each way) to the home of a cousin).

By bike number 4, there were plans for us to make longer treks. It was a 15-speed junior mountain bike, which I begged my dad for. Not that I understood mountain biking as it is today. If I’d understood the concept of the commuter/hybrid bike, then this is what I would have asked for, because all I wanted to do was get over some of our bigger hills in town. If I could only take little me here to Kansas City and show her that nothing Greensboro offered in hills could compare to some of what’s available here. Then maybe I would have truly understood mountain biking. ;). I digress. There she is, just as I’m ready to say goodbye to her to move away from Greensboro to Kansas City.


But wait, why was she your only bike from age 10–29? Well, the short story of that was that I lost interest in biking. Not because I hated the feeling of riding or thought the distances were too long, but after my parents separating and divorcing and moving to different houses, biking just didn’t feel the same. My dad had a handful of adult sized bikes at his house, and I would borrow them. Technically, I still have one of his old bikes, living in storage with a few of my other things in Greensboro.

The main reason biking didn’t feel the same was that I was getting teased a lot by my neighbors. I was already a somewhat nerdy and quiet child, and by my teen years that was amplified. And then on top of me not riding the bike, some meaner neighbors stole my bike out of our garage (which was open just enough to get inside and out). A nicer adult neighbor saw the thieves and helped me get it back, though. I knew one of the thieves casually from school and I’ve always speculated that it was a stunt for that person to get cool points, not that they actually didn’t like me.

Still college came and I was warned that taking a bike there might result in a theft and that I’d do better walking. And then younger adulthood came and I was too busy driving to and from work and other activities. Plus, I’d honestly outgrown the thing by this time.

Which prompted me to go to REI and get one of those nice, shiny new Novara women’s hybrids. However, it wasn’t really in the budget and it went into storage and then eventually back to the store. Yes, even after I’d driven to Raleigh, and made all the effort to test ride it, get the right size and secure it to the back of my car so it wouldn’t fall off at 65 miles an hour for the hour and a half back to Greensboro. I still dreamed of having one though, this is from last spring, dreaming of what I could get. Still not in the budget though and so it stayed at REI.


I think a bit of this story was also driven by my desire to ride like I did at CNU 19 in Madison, WS. I’d had a Trek hybrid rental (I’m not sure of it’s specs, but it feels a lot like my newest acquisition, one of the women’s FXs) and I had no trouble zipping around town on all the different paths and boulevards and in the lanes. I locked it wrong and it still felt ok. I also got to try this newfangled thing called B-cycle, a kiosk rental service, where you could take bikes between the kiosks and then return them. We had free codes and they stopped giving them out to attendees after a while, because people wanted to keep them overnight. I had no idea that B-cycle would come back in my life in a big way in the future, but it did. Here’s a foreshadowing, testing out B-cycle in Greensboro in 2013 as part of my role in the bikeshare task force that Action Greensboro has convened off and on since 2013:


And just a few weeks ago testing out bike loading on the KC Streetcar (image by David Johnson)


Meanwhile, the purple mountain bike still collected dust in my mom’s garage. Its size didn’t stop my dad from attempting to ride it the day I moved to my downtown Greensboro apartment (and having some success on it, despite him being just a few inches taller and wider). After seeing that, I took it for one more spin. As you see here.


But it was obvious the frame was too small and I’m sure the inner tubes were dead. Upon my migration to Kansas City, it left my mom’s garage and my life for good and went to Goodwill.

With me working for a bike advocacy group and my lifelong love for bikes, not having one wasn’t acceptable. I just wish I’d taken a bit of time before I bought Lulu.


You know her. She looks great in pictures. Also, there’s something kind of cool about riding a pink bike. Yet, what’s not cool is that as a cruiser, she’s way too heavy. As a bike from Target, that’s not just because of all the extra components, it’s because those bikes are made of heavier metal, than the ones that come from Trek, REI and other companies that only make bikes and make them for racers, as well as casual riders. And with the hills and just the inability to push the bike long distances, Lulu really only went from my apartment to the office ( a flat, quarter-mile distance).

But I couldn’t be satisfied. Meet Lina, short for the Spanish language pronunciation of Carolina.


She’s bright. She’s a 7.3 Trek FX. She will need some comfort modifications (namely fenders and panniers ), but right now, she and I have already been on a number of trips, including several that Lulu and I made, with a bit less success. And Lulu never went to the grounds of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, as seen above. She’s been a big hit so far and brought lots of joy to my bike-loving office and to me.

And there you have it. The story of a woman and her bikes.

I’m Kristen, by the way. I started writing this site to tell my story of being a black urbanist and a lover of all things place and community. Learn more about me. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Subscribe to my email list. Learn more about my work with BikeWalkKC , namely our Women Bike KC initiative to get more women on bikes confidently and safely.




Why Are Black Folks Moving?

Why Are Black Folks Moving?

Movement and migration is constantly on my mind. And whenever I hear someone claim to know where black people are moving to and why, my ears really perk up. Especially when they do what USA Today did recently and crunch some U.S. Census numbers and make the kind of maps they did in their recent story on what’s been called the reverse migration.

Some background. The Great Migration is the term given to the movement of 6 million African-Americans from southeastern cities to northeastern, midwestern and far western U.S.  cities from 1910 to 1970. The Wiki on is comprehensive and legit, especially for our purposes today of getting into why this movement is actually going into reverse.

More background. This panel I served on back in 2012 and this amazing book by Isabel Wilkerson called The Warmth of Other Suns. Wilkerson’s book, which we discuss in the panel, talks to people who actually did the moving and asks them why they moved and what they learned. For three unique people, each who left different corners of the Southeast and each went to the Northeast (Harlem, Manhattan); Midwest (South Side of Chicago); and California (Los Angeles), it gets into their backstories of several years of their lives in the South.

That included: educations and running in high society in the Atlanta black community, then a solo car trip that was much longer than it should have been due to racism; an abusive marriage and fleeing a sharecropping Mississippi experience via the train; and organizing fellow orange grove workers, then needing to flee from the fear of lynching via train. It also gets into their regrets, as their new spouses and children, as well as working conditions and homes often did not meet their dreams and expectations.

Wilkerson recently posted on her very informative Facebook page , that her subjects learned that you unfortunately can’t escape discrimination, outright racism and even bad family trauma, by moving to a different region of the U.S. She encouraged all her followers and their families to find the warmth of the sun in their backyard and combat those issues wherever they are.

Back to our panel. I,myself,  warned panelists that moving South doesn’t mean you escape the racism and discrimination that we as black folks often experience. It doesn’t guarantee a home, a good education and that police and other public service officials and fellow neighbors of other backgrounds will see you as human. And I also, having not made my move to Kansas City, was intrigued about why people would want to move back to a place that still had so many issues with how people are seen and treated.

Having now made that move, I now understand better. It really comes down to property, affordability and proximity to services, even if political and social power is not as realized.

Places Journal’s recent article on Memphis and how its black community was developed and treated is a really telling story of how cities can do right and wrong by its black community, such that certain communities develop better reputations for black success and leadership than others. It contrasts Memphis with Atlanta, where black people were encouraged to buy property and to become leaders.

Atlanta still has had issues with housing its poor black populations and there’s still the MARTA issue, but compared to Memphis, it looks like a global city. Whole swaths of Memphis were destroyed and white families continued to move further and further out of the city and the city continued to follow them with annexations.

Yet, at a certain point, much like here in Kansas City, communities annexed themselves and became autonomous suburbs. Recently some of those Memphis suburbs broke their school systems out of the very recently merged county-city system, claiming that they were being asked to fund schools they didn’t want to fund, which sadly is often coded language for racism. Some Charlotte parents are threatening to do the same in the Mecklenburg County system. Kansas City has an extremely high number of municipal school districts, religious schools, traditional independent schools and charter schools. Of course, Kansas City proper also covers three counties, which is another bit of inefficiency, that goes beyond this conversation of migration patterns.

Meanwhile, back in my home county of Guilford, in North Carolina,  all public school students, save the ones at the handful of charters and independent schools, go to school in the same municipal district. While there are calls for Title 1 schools, as schools with high percentages of disadvantaged schools are termed throughout the U.S., there aren’t whole, very small, municipal school districts of Title 1 schools. That wasn’t always the case in Guilford County, but since 1993, my second grade year, our district has been merged, and we are now boasting an 85% graduation rate and we now have Say Yes to Education, which will fill in funding gaps for all forms of public or private post-secondary education in the county.

Couple that consistency in school funding and curriculum county-wide with the ability to purchase 3 bedroom/2 bathroom basic starter homes in good condition for less than $200,000 and 4 bed/2.5 bathroom homes for less than $300,000, even in the good school “zones.” In addition, because our county and metro doesn’t sprawl out of control, no services or major national chain stores or restaurants are more than 20 minutes away from any home in the county. Actually, if you live in the Greensboro city limits or any city limits in the metro, you are no more than 15 minutes away from at least a Walmart. We also have seven colleges and universities, including two historically black ones and a very robust community college system.

In my youth, we still had the textile, tobacco and other mill jobs that paid more than average across the South. Office jobs were stable and before all metros began to have stagnant wages and high rents, anyone who had a regular job, even at a department store or as a restaurant manager or regular shift worker could afford a home of the sort I just listed above. Our housing projects were built for both races. Neighborhoods were mostly victims of white flight and not of extreme redlining and complete denial. And the neighborhoods left were still high quality housing stock, and builders cared about making sure that places were up to code. We have slumlords, but they still have a minimum housing standard that has to be met or the home will be seized by the city and torn down, with the bill as the responsibility of the property owner.

Similar situations exist in the Research Triangle region counties and in the North Carolina counties around Charlotte. Politically we’re considered a purple state. All three downtowns are vibrant, so there’s a dense option and a more suburban/rural option in all three cities. Those downtowns have at least a green/organic grocer, a slew or bars and restaurants, and an open space to gather.

All three are connected by 3, soon  5, daily roundtrips on Amtrak, which take just about 3.5 hours now and will take 2.5 when recent track work and expansion along the route is done. The drive between the three is about 3.5 hours now, so soon, there will be a time savings. Already, professors and such who live in Cary, just west of Raleigh ( one of the fastest and wealthiest areas of growth in the state period, not just with Black Americans looking to return to the south) and Carolina Panthers fans who live both there and Greensboro, take the train to their classes and games in Greensboro and Charlotte and points in between. In the meantime I-40 and I-85 are clean, well-lit and well-marked guideways to a trip that if you start in the middle at Greensboro only take you an hour and half tops each way. All three cities have airports and the Charlotte one is a major international and domestic hub, Raleigh can take you to Toronto, Paris and London, plus Atlanta and Washington, without headache. Greensboro has these nice seasonal flights direct to and from Denver and Detroit, which outside of me in KC, house the outer reaches of my black family who have done some form of the classic migration.

Granted, on the USA Today maps, the census shows a net loss of people to Greensboro. To Charlotte and Raleigh though, it’s as if they’ve become the New York and Chicago of today. Atlanta is the poster child for the return migration, and DC, which has always been a source of black migration and wealth generation, even when it’s center city was in decline, is still a magnet for black migration. And then there are the Texas cities, which also offer cheap property, high salaries and in some areas, strong school districts.

I’m often asked this post’s title as a question. It’s been four years since I sat on that panel. I got on that panel because I wanted to challenge cities and also families to consider the benefits of light density on their lives. I want people to have the choice of apartment vs. house with yard. I don’t want them in their cars for 20 minutes just to go to the grocery store or the bank. I don’t want them in their cars at all really, save to go on long road trips or to pick up things that can’t be delivered or to ride with their friend as a groups to fun activities.

And above all, I want them to live in a place that sees them as 100% human and capable of contributing to civic society. I want us to have our own things and have the freedom to come and go as we please. This is why we move. We move for freedom and peace.

NOTE: This piece is very focused on the migration of African-Americans who were slaves or are slave descendant. We also need to discuss and include African immigrants of recent times, a handful who are doing their own return migration to countries that are much more stable and even competitive with some cities in the U.S. as far as housing, jobs and civic power. Also, I don’t see the data properly covering millennial movement, except of those who moved back South to attend colleges, namely historically black serving colleges. Also, the maps U.S. Today created don’t use Census data from the last five years. Oh and KC does have high outmigration. But you can call me an outlier. Sometimes, even “bad” cities can be beacons of opportunity.


The Urban Hierarchy Was Never Dead

Urban Hiearchy Not Dead

Nearly four years ago I declared that the urban hierarchy is dead. I was already refuting The Urbanophile, Aaron Renn, but I thought I had a good case.

After all, this was before I graduated from my MPA  program, before I rented an apartment that almost bankrupted me, before I moved halfway across the country to improve my job prospects, before police brutalities, school failures, high rents and student debts, and finally bad local and state leadership could come in and cloud my view of the ability for all cities to be equal.

Like Renn, I’ve now lived in two regions of the country, namely the Midwest, which I’m finding has less flexibility and more hidden issues, which are now coming to light.

And at this writing, we are going knee deep into the season in the States where we put things (used to be just sports teams, now it can be anything) on a bracket and determine how good it is with arbitrary guesses.

So it shouldn’t surprise you that just like all other things, all cities were never created equal. Some were port towns. Some were railroad towns. Some were sundown towns. Others still aren’t really towns and therefore use that to fail to provide proper protection of all its citizens.

This is an assessment of US towns and cities, but globally, you find this on every continent, places that are restricted, places built on one industry, places that have died and will never come back, unless they get connected to the current economy. 

In addition, the financial system we often need to help us build or rebuild our cities and towns, may not even want to work with you. Homes in certain areas are still risky investments. Some people still don’t see favorable loan options. And again, why do we even need loans to purchase homes? Why can’t we go back pre New Deal and lower home prices so that like cars, more people with moderate incomes (but incomes!) can pay for them outright. Why can’t more people own things. Same goes with small business loans and other personal loans. Some can get them, some can’t. And it’s not always judged by credit scores and what people can pay.

Then we get to cities who have public transit and cities who don’t and cities who have it, but it doesn’t work well. We have airports, but not all cities have direct connections. We have trains, but likewise, not every MAJOR city is directly connected. Even when it comes to cars, parking is always expensive, some more expensive than others. Roads are subsidized today, but when you stop subsidizing them, are they turning into gravel? Can vehicles besides automobiles and trucks share the road? Can you even walk beside the road, in something besides a muddy ditch. Must we always monitor the door zone and make sure we don’t get crushed and our helmets split into two.

Why aren’t all our K-12 schools the same, at least in the US? Why do people feel like they have to pick the perfect school? Why aren’t all our schools being funded and striving to be the same. Why aren’t all kids brains the same?

No city has ever had the same foods available, at least not without modern transport and logistics networks? And then on top of that, does every neighborhood have the same supermarkets or supermarkets at all? Are the restaurants hip or are they just making ends meet for the cooks and the owners?

Are a good majority of its citizens healthy? Can the medical facilities be trusted? Are there a variety of them? Are the practitioners concerned about health or how they are getting paid? When people do bad things (and even when we suspect them of doing bad things), do they stay locked up without rehabilitation or do we just throw them away and forget they ever existed?

You can have cities that look the same and appear to have all the same things, but if they aren’t equal in service, then yes, you have a hierarchy of cities. Agglomeration economies still make a difference. Even with the Internet and phones, people still need the same speeds.

And on a personal level, one thing that will probably never change, is personal relationships. Each person is unique and sometimes, you need to be near the people who make you stronger and wiser and help you overcome all these inequities. Even in a perfect world, we all have something different to contribute.

However, we are not above being able to equalize a lot of the conditions in our towns and cities. Now some building types make that harder than others, but a mixture of financing and re-thinking how to govern places is a good start to fixing the hierarchy. Also, cheaper passenger transport, with fully integrated modes (fly across country, train up seaboard, Uber or bus to specific home), will make it easier for all citizens of cities, regardless of income, to collaborate, not just online, but in person.

The urban hierarchy will die one day. Unfortunately, that day has not come yet.

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Six Ways to Lead Your Cities Anyway

Six Ways to Lead Your Cities Anyway

What do you do to make sure you can create your city, as it is?

Last post, I wanted people who I’d worked with or tried to work with in the past to listen and allow me the space to be myself and work in improving my home city.

While that message was needed, it forced me to examine myself and realize that nobody was really chasing me away from my city but myself. I couldn’t handle the fact that some of the powers-to-be or family and friends just didn’t like my ideas or that I often had to present a dissenting view on boards and commissions, as well as in the press.

I really wanted to be liked and feted, but being liked and feted doesn’t always guarantee progress, especially if you’re being liked  and feted by people who are part of the status quo.

So, I’m writing this follow-up to encourage you (and ME) to take opportunities to create the city that you need to create, wherever that is. Here are six things I think we have to do, if we choose to remain on the ground and make change.

Keep protesting.

They may not want to listen, but it’s our first amendment right to make demands of the government, as well as others such as developers , nonprofits and  stores who claim to want to serve other people. Truth is, many of them are listening and it’s guilt and their own maintenance of the status quo (or financial reward) that keeps them from not wanting to do right by the people.

Run a political campaign.

Go to the board of elections the next time there’s an election you want to affect and put your name on the ballot.Yes, you may get smeared. But if done smartly, you won’t lose your job and you’ll find out there are people in town that think exactly like you. Also, yard signs don’t cost that much money. Some of the best political campaigns were not the ones where the people won, but ones where people raised awareness and got the current leaders to change their minds.

Buy some property, any property.

Now there are not very many cities left, well, hip popular cities, where you can do this. But there are plenty of smaller cities and small towns that have cool storefronts that will let you purchase them and pilot your business and development ideas there. Again, there are plenty of people who are like-minded and will support you if you have a good idea and motivation. This also goes for vacant farmland and vacant homes, especially in cities like KC that are not offering them at a discount. Just because you own property doesn’t make you have to behave like a douche.

Create multiple streams of income and multiple online and offline networks.

Don’t be bound by just one source of income and one set of people who have ideas. This is what some of the developers have done. They started with an advantage, but they maintain that advantage by networking and having multiple buildings and business ventures. This is why they think they can bully people. DO NOT BECOME A BULLY.  DO NOT BECOME A SNOB. Use this to secure your future and create avenues for other voices and people in the community, as well as have a place for your to just be yourself and laugh and enjoy things.

Don’t beat yourself up when the bullies and the powers to be do something stupid.

The ignorance of your leaders is not your fault. If you have people in your circle who believe that, dump them. If you feel insecure because of the actions of other leaders, STOP. One thing that elected officials and major landowners and the Academy and Grammys and even being in jail hasn’t stopped is your ability to sing, dance, create and write out things you feel. In other words, until you die, you are a human being on this planet, with value and no one can stop you from being.

When you, yourself, after realizing that what you really want is to explore the world and see other things, is to move on to a different place, move on.

Some of these people already have. Many are maintaining homes in other countries, if not other cities. Yes, finances and having a family of your own may play a factor, but sometimes, moving around and again, keeping multiple support networks and visiting other places is exactly what you need to do.

While we should continue to speak out against global forced displacement and various other violations of civil rights, we also have to remember that we’ve been given a gift as community builders. Sometimes that gift is for our hometown and sometimes it’s for other towns, cities and even countries. Ask for help, be resourceful and know that we all have issues. I support you and I wish you great success as we continue to build better cities and towns together worldwide.

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Let People Lead in Your Cities

Let People Lead in Your Cities

What if the real reason people aren’t staying in your city is that they can’t lead?  Can’t they be themselves?  They can’t make the money that they need or even the money that they want? Won’t you listen to their complaints and make changes? Won’t you treat them like adults? Do you silence them? You doubt them? You act like you don’t care?

I feel like it’s safe enough to blatantly say that I couldn’t stay in Greensboro because I’d never get paid to be my full self. Kansas City has its problems, but allowing me to be 100% my full self isn’t the problem. And that’s saying something for a city that’s very much like the city I left behind.

Read this. If you don’t see Greensboro(or any American city) in parts of this, then I’m not sure what you are seeing. I’m also starting to see a Kansas City that doesn’t want this to be their legacy. Two authors have already written about these failures, one even projecting into a not so distant future what KC could look like if we saw major effects nationwide from climate change. Even the propagator of some of the worst segregation and elitism couldn’t beat cancer. When your time is up, your time is up.

But as recent events have shown, and reminded me, a prophet is not beloved in their homeland. Maybe in the broader nation, but not in a place where one has to pay their bills. Another cliche is that you don’t poop where you eat. Well, that causes dysentery for one and two, being critical about your home can leave you on more of a Thomas Wolfe tip than a James Baldwin tip. Even Baldwin had to get out and get his head straight so he could heal through the art.

And I feel like that’s what I’m doing. I’m working on some literal art. I’m examining my surroundings with an outsider’s eye. Last week, I brought you my fantasy fiefdom. If only you could bet on it like all those fantasy sports teams.

But to reign this back in, leaders of cities and corporate overlords– you will attract employees and entrepreneurs of a certain age and look by letting them be who they are. Especially if they are making it rain for you at the job. As long as they are doing no harm, to themselves and others, what’s it to you. Or are you too busy being harmful to yourself by drowning in greed and hoarding to see that the cities that are growing fast, are letting go of the old guard thinking, the forcing into boxes, the checking off of those boxes?

And when it’s time for you to let your life live its course, you can be proud that your legacy will live on. Because we were allowed to be full humans and we have enough life to keep the planet sustaining.


To Create a Perfect City

To Create a Perfect City

All it took in many cities for development in the old days was one man who bought up bunches of land and started building houses on it, which he turned around and put up for sale.

One man. Probably white and already wealthy. 

Several plots of farmland. Land which used to be fields and served that purpose, is now a whole neighborhood. In the early years, these neighborhoods were connected throughout with sidewalks, with access to streetcars, with plots designated for community retail, such as a market. Many of these older style neighborhoods were still bedroom communities, but they were connected. In the case of J.C. Nichols here in KC and others, there was emphasis placed on who could and couldn’t purchase those homes, which unfortunately was codified in the federal mortgage-making code. Oh and the official history of his Country Club Plaza flat out states that he was just one man that changed the city

So to say that other developers and even you milling around and buying (and being sold) properties can’t change the city (or, at least a chunk of it) with your money, ideas and landownings is crazy. It really comes down to money and respect of who holds said money. Eventually, you can change your city with ideas and small investments. Eventually.

This still keeps me up at night, because unfortunately, I feel the only way to enact wholesale change on cities overnight, is to purchase wide swaths of empty land or existing properties and create my own fiefdom. Let’s chat about that fiefdom shall we?

Let’s first assume that I’m in KC and I bought up a chunk of abandoned or less-loved area East of Troost, but still in KCMO.

Restricitve covenants are illegal these days, but often rent and asking prices are such that certain people are excluded. I’d put up a for-sale sign on the residential properties and tell people the amenities and then invite them to propose a price for it. I would take millions from some and I’d hand out some for free. I’d do it lottery style, so the goal would be to get a diverse amount of people, but let Providence handle who was picked and wasn’t picked. No credit checks. Some people would get jobs handling transportation, doing landscaping, teaching at the educational campus or working at the marketplace and they would get homes that I’ll set aside for workers and families. The lottery will be for folks who don’t live in the neighborhood. 

For the transportation, Transportation to and from my fiefdom would be free and would include all types, appropriate to the context.  I’d give the money to get the Linwood streetcar built, and restore older ones. Troost and Prospect would get streetcars too. Remaining bus lines and the streetcars would have every-15-minutes bus service. There would be free car-share vehicles for trips to stores and other neighborhoods (fiefdoms). There would be bikes. And the sidewalks would be clear. If you still insist on bringing a car after I told you all this, you would have a place to park. But only if you make a compelling case to need one (you use it for your business, you are disabled and use it to cover long distances, you’re an Uber driver, you drive to a far-flung place that doesn’t have rail or bus or air service enough for you to go there as often as you need). While not directly in my KC fiefdom, I’d also donate money to get a streetcar or true light-rail (our existing vehicles can actualy do both!) to the airport. You’d start at the River Market stop, then wind your way through the Northland (possibly tunneled, possibly in the highway median), such that it’s only a 30 minute trip each way. Yes, it would go that fast too. Our  existing vehicles can safely run at 35 miles an hour.

There will be one central marketplace, which the community owns and staffs. There will be all kinds of healthy food options, with an eye to conscious omnivores on down to complete vegans. Subtracting staff salaries and real food costs, care will be made to make sure that people eat. You’d be able to get other things there too, either shipped directly to the store, to your home or inside the building. Yes, this is sounding like Walmart, but my Walmart would look like Target and pay like Costco. Actually, it would look like the City Market, because there would be room for both basic needs stores and also some fun stores. Just like homes, there will be different sizes for all. Also, services like doctors, yoga studios, and credit unions will be in this space too. 

There will be many open parks, with playgrounds and racket courts and basketball courts and even a fountain. This is KC. It seems that I must have a fountain to be a legit fiefdom.

There will also be one school, a campus if need be, that provides all that a kid would need as they grow. That includes any kid with a special need. If we can’t provide it, we will make arrangements free-of-charge for the kid to get the education they need, right by their own home. Or, if the kid was game, we’d bus them across town to another campus, which has mastered something we don’t quite have yet and gives them an opportunity to meet people who don’t live and work in their neighborhood.

But there’s a problem here. It should not take people buying up land and creating fiefdoms to provide education, food, education for all ages and all other needed and wanted services. Also, this could turn into separate-but-equal really quick, especially here in KC and in other places that still have very defined lines of where people of certain races and cultures live, exclusive of their actual income. My economics are probably way off, but I wanted to err on the side of providing homes and jobs and basic needs. I’m assuimg that I’m crazy rich already and can make up the difference.

But that’s what we have, fiefdoms, in an alliance under one city. Or in most cases, we have multiple cities, of multiple fiefdoms, doing whatever they feel like doing to provide basic services. Essentially, separate, but unequal, with a wee bit of separate-but-equal.

So what can we do?

I believe that as an alliance of cities and fiefdoms, we can set a goal to provide co-op grocery and markets, centralized and fulfilling K-12 and secondary education, and free and prompt transportation options. We can continue to provide places to gather, for various schools of thought, pending no one emerges from these meetings with the attempt to do real harm.

I think we could do this today, because these are our things that we can drop money on right now and shift the conversation and how we live.

I believe we can start looking at each other as human beings worthy of mutual respect and sympathy. I think we could switch to a system of true rehabilitation and re-training, to help those who truly have criminal minds (and not just those we THINK) do.

And housing. If we are going to spend money to build something, let us ensure our water and sewer systems are clean. Always. That there’s always a place to go when we are sick and going there doesn’t automatically bankrupt us and won’t bankrupt us down the line. We provide basic shelter, maybe communal at first, then small dwellings to people on a sliding scale. Then, because we’ve stopped servicing some of our other social welfare issues as hard or as inadequately as we were doing, we can zero in on the problems with costs and making sure people have adequate roofs, at the privacy level they so desire.

No city is perfect. Yet, we cannot keep going with the inadequate ones we are fielding today. And we cannot end with separate but equal.

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If You Are Using this Blog To Justify Displacement–STOP.

As we pass another Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and as I prepare to launch something to help us tell stories better, a small, but necessary rant.
Yes, I’m a card-carrying new urbanist. I love pretty buildings, bike lanes, fancy hipster crafts, and restaurants. Yet, I’m still a black American young woman, who is tenuously in the middle-class. I am straight. I have the means to serve as an advocate, to make trips, to speak out, to write this blog. I can read and write and cook and see and feel and touch and hear and taste.
But privilege or no privilege, there are still people out here suffering. And some of our principles in urbanism and planning aren’t reaching them the way they need to, to empower them to speak with their own voices and to be content with what they have and to create wealth in the way they see fit.
If you’re not familiar with Dr. Mindy Fullilove’s research on both Root Shock and her solutions to fixing it, along with Tom Hanchett’s book that speaks about what happens to those who are displaced, go here.
Now that you’re back and informed, let’s continue.
As much as I hate to hear that even my work on this blog and now in real life with bike/walk justice and equity, as well as other major environmental justice mechanisms, may not be enough, I still speak out with both hope and prophetic fire.
It disappoints me that in my hometown, my city is willing to continue to give up easy access to social services that repair people’s lives for more restaurants that I might go to once because I can, but not go back to again because the food might not be good and in all honesty, I’m giving money to a company that repeatedly creates blight by not completely renting out shopping centers that it owns in certain neighborhoods.
I’m already not a fan of my new city, from its past indiscretions in helping model and create the housing segregation that mutated into being both a class and race problem. (Fixer-uppers are fun, if you know good contractors and have the money to do it) No sooner did I get back in town from a month-long East Coast holiday visit (hey privilege!), I read on our neighborhood news site that the company that I currently rent with wants to tear down places that aren’t so blighted and in the regular paper about black leadership that also thinks tearing down without a clear path to building up is the answer.
I’m willing to let you fact check me on all the issues I’ve listed above, but note I have included articles so you can read about all the plans above yourself and make your judgements. Still, I can tell you this, from a morning when I started writing this post awake way too early and having trouble breathing because I have no central HVAC and no windows that open. I have some options, but they’ll all increase my rent and cause other conveniences. (I know, privilege again. What about the folks who have no options at all?).
So as much as I believe we can do better than this, and that transportation, then better housing will lead the way, I also need to be prophetic and corrective and call out BS when I see it.
We’ve done ourselves a disservice as a developed world by making housing and food commodities. Granted, we would trade some convenience if we didn’t have restaurants and apartment buildings and public transit, but we also don’t need to go to the far extreme of everything healthy and happy being prohibitively expensive.
Let us not forget Flint and Detroit.  Or the DC Metrorail’s decline. This could be any of us because we all have some service or regulation in our city that we cut back on and many of our cities will still give big companies and developers incentives.
Again, I’ve written so much on mutual respect, trust and love. Let’s start with that and let’s work together so that we have a community and not a marketplace masquerading as such.
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