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Gratitude for the Places in a Box of Pictures

It’s another Thanksgiving and a national day of gratitude. And I’m especially thankful this year for the places I can visit, because I or someone else took a snapshot or video of them.

For the past month, I’ve been participating in a challenge to post something on my blog every day, as well as write 50,000 words. While I’m probably going to be just short of 50,000, (24,000 is still great though, and I wrote a book), I’ve enjoyed having the chance to explore different facets of what it means to have this blog and write here. I’ve especially enjoyed the opportunity to express my gratitude and share a few extra stories.

I decided to look inside this box this morning:

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I was looking for Thanksgiving pictures specifically, but ended up taking a virtual trip down memory lane as we all usually do on Throwback Thursday on social media. I thanked God and my family and friends and colleagues for all the places I’ve been able to see. I was reminded of trips to the North Carolina mountains, amusement parks,shipyards and zoos. I saw old cars, old trees, old houses. Of course, I saw all the times I’ve gathered around meals with family.I scroll through my phone often and head back to college,  airports, train stations, beaches, museums and similar times of gathering with friends.

Even though we carry a lot of our memories on our phones, I hope that you have a picture box you can go back to on days like this, to reflect on all the places you’ve been and the places you have yet to go.

For me, it’s a reminder to capture as many moments as I can, because there’s always a place for joy and gratitude when you dig into your picture box and revisit all those places.

Happy Thanksgiving and I thank you for reading and taking this journey with me!

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Travels and Protests

Since we are getting ready for Thanksgiving tomorrow, I’m going to keep this week’s Potatoes simple. One link to numbers around Ferguson and one link to the Amtrak train tracker.

This is Potatoes and this is what I normally call my Wednesday posts, because on Tuesday, I usually write a long post about one thing that I call Meat. Today’s post is supposed to go down a bit easier, but sometimes packs the same punch. I assume you have your ticket to come home tomorrow. Great, regardless, Expedia can help you. Click here and if you end up getting a ticket or hotel room, then the proceeds go back to me, to help me keep this site going. Thanks for coming and I hope you have a wonderful holiday week!

So, this post has gotten several major stats together that are relevant not just with the Ferguson case, but with issues surrounding police brutality across the nation. You may think that police brutality or misuse of forces has nothing to do with the growth of your city. However, if your buildings are burnt because people get provoked to extreme anger or businesses won’t come to your city because they heard that your forces are very aggressive and not equitable, then you have a problem. Also, there are issues around school funding, and jail funding and a will of the people to be able to survive and thrive. Click on the big HERE below to check out some of those numbers (apologizes for a bit of mild language):

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Now, for a bit more fun. I always love when I get on planes these days and I can sit back and look at one of these:

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It’s great to be able to track my trip in the air and see that some of those twists and turns we take are getting us to our final destination. From the comfort of my home today, I can do that with all the active trains in the Amtrak system.

The Amtrak train tracker is conveniently placed on their home page at www.amtrak.com and allows me to search for specific cities, route names or zoom in on a particular region to get a sense of where a train is going. Always comes in handy on days like today when I’m waiting for friends to get in on the train. Click on the screenshot below to check it out for yourself.

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This post is part of my participation in #NaBloPoMo, the time of the year when bloggers come together to pump out daily content and connect. Find out more about that project and how I’m participating, here and here. This is day 15 and I’m so excited to have been able to daily blog. Thanks everyone for sharing posts, commenting and liking them on social networks.

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One More Time for Ferguson

There are many with heavy hearts and many with tears today. Yet, my first reaction outside of a bit of anger, was to get back to what I do best and write inspiring and empowering words. What you’ll see is partially repost from August and a couple of new thoughts.

This is Meat and what I normally do on Tuesdays is dig deep into an issue, then on Wednesdays, I follow-up with stats, your Potatoes. Think of the next couple of days as your meal for the week from me. And while you are preparing for the big one on Thanksgiving, think about digging deeper with me with my first essay collection birthed from this blog, A Black Urbanist. It’s a short read, perfect for that connecting flight and it’s got a lot of nuggets in it on how we can do better and how we can find our hearts. It’s coming out as a PDF e-book on the first and you can pre-order it here. Be on the lookout for information about print and Kindle/Nook versions.

Below is the beginning of my repost from August:

I’ve been thinking about how I would respond to the recent events in Ferguson, MO. And then I realized, I’ve always been thinking about how I would respond to certain events. That this page responds to a lot of the ills that lead to what happened there and what has happened in different forms in other communities throughout the United States.

From a very young age (and that young age occurring throughout the 1990’s), I’ve known that things were always different in certain parts of town. That sometimes people did bad things and those bad things would sometimes lead to being shot. Or, sadly, the bad thing would mean being shot. As I grew older, standing on a field outside of my middle school after another copy-cat Columbine bomb threat, I realized that anybody could get shot, even in the nice places. The night my purse was stolen at my luxury apartment complex. At gunpoint. Many a night where I was surrounded by bad things, but those bad things never happened. Not to me at least.

Some bad things can be prevented though. We can work on trusting each other so we don’t automatically assume someone’s up to no good or could be a crime suspect. We could work on our economy, so that people can make a legitimate living, and not be tempted in a life of crime or bored by “having nothing to do.” We could make it so housing isn’t so expensive. We can fix it so our roads aren’t so un-inviting and allow for more than just speeding cars. So we don’t automatically assume all walkers are criminals. If someone is threatening us, we can use self-defense, but only to stop the perpetration, not take a life.

And finally, we can pray. That’s all I’ve been able to do, because I need my words to go somewhere where they can truly be heard and where massive, society-bending change can be made.

I will like to add a few more things to the original post content above from August. First is to VOTE. And if you don’t like who’s on the slate, consider running yourself, especially if it’s at the local level. Secondly, let’s continue to hold meetings and discussions on how to hold our leaders, from the police, to those elected, accountable. Third, let’s make sure that we are doing what we can to tell our kids that they matter, that black lives matter. Finally, while I don’t condone violence, do understand that a lot of the anger shown has been pent-up over issues ranging from lack of getting jobs, to seeing family members die, to mean shopowners who assume people as threats and who feel like the only way they can do business is price gouge, to feeling like the government doesn’t listen at all.

Many of you reading this are elected officials, urban planners, architects, developers and other city and civic leaders. Let us all take one step back today and work on ways to make sure we can help others, before they cause harm. If you have control of any piece of the system, consider doing your part to fix it.

This post is part of my participation in #NaBloPoMo, the time of the year when bloggers come together to pump out daily content and connect. Find out more about that project and how I’m participating, here and here.

 

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One Week Until A Black Urbanist

Cover Image

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been posting teasers about why I’m writing a book now. However, since we are one( that’s right, one) week from the book release, I wanted to really talk about why now.

There’s a part at the end of the book where I mention that I don’t have all the answers, that I don’t profess solutions, I just want to get a conversation started. In addition, I like telling somewhat serious stories, stories that are real, but have entertainment value. I’m also very concerns about several of the issues I’ve presented in the book.

Finally, so many of you have wanted to have something you could hold of mine! Some of you collect books just like me and would love to have something with my signature on it. Please express your gratitude this week (and every week) for that.

I’d like to thank everyone who’s offered to read and left feedback and shared my posts throughout this month, As I come to the end of my posting experiment, I must say that i’m not looking forward to rolling back and I’ll probably keep up my daily posts. Look for a survey about that soon.

Now, so I can have an awesome book launch day, here are some reasons why you should buy the book and share with as many people as you can.

  • It’s from a millennial perspective: Many people, especially in the real estate, economic development and placemaking sector, want to know what millennials actually want. Why do we want to rent instead of buy? Do we really like bars that much? Do we totally hate the mall? Will we buy all of our stuff on Amazon? Will we stop voting? I answer all these questions in my frame of a black woman millennial. Not the only perspective, but one and sometimes one perspective is all you need to get a sense of what people are doing and what you need to ask.
  • It brings a lot of my thoughts together: Even though it’s billed as  book of essays, a lot of my essays fall under general themes, so you get a better sense and a longer sense of how I feel about things. Also, there are things in the book, that are not on the blog, so you get a few bonus thoughts from me.
  • It’s in plain English: People know about the mall, Amazon, voting, IKEA heart pillows and trains. You won’t find too many mentions of adaptive reuse and I don’t think I use terms like fenestration at all. If you are in any place along the placemaking spectrum and your family has trouble understanding you, give them this book. I’m only one person, but at least they’ll get a dose of what you do daily, without all the heavy language.
  • You want to help me keep writing: If you buy this book on December 1, and if you buy the version here (it’s a simple PDF), then all the proceeds go back to me. If you wait until later get the Kindle/Nook/iBooks or print versions, less money goes to me, but if it’s in print, I can sign it, with a special note for you. Also, if you want to have me come to your local bookstore, or other place where you bring authors to talk, let me know by emailing me here. I can work with your budget and I might even be able to bring books with me.

Hopefully one of those reasons is enough for you to join the folks who’ve already pre-ordered and decided to make my book part of their bookshelf. Once again, here’s the link to the PDF e-book I’ll be back next week with information on pre-orders for print and Kindle/Nook versions. Happy reading!

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Inspiring People: Kaid Benfield

I’m breaking my inspiring person rules today, to highlight someone I’ve only met virtually. Yet, when I read their writing, I feel like I already know them. Plus, pretty soon, I plan to fix the fact that we only know each other through our blogs. That person would be Kaid Benfield, currently in transition from the NRDC to Placemakers.

This is Inspiring People and it’s what I do on Sundays here on The Black Urbanist to highlight people in the urbanism/local government/planning/placemaking/add your adjective here space to highlight how they inspire me as a person also in this space. I’m also dropping a book next Monday. A Black Urbanist-Essays Vol. 1 is my first stab at putting these thoughts on literal paper. I’ll be launching an e-edition via a site called Gumroad on December 1, which will present it as a PDF. Look for a print and mainstream e-book edition in the future. Either way, it’s a great way to support what I’m doing here at The Black Urbanist. Check it out here.

In 2009, I was just another blogger who occasionally wrote about smart growth issues. This blog hadn’t quite been thought up yet. Yet, there were a small minority of folks who I followed and occasionally heard feedback from. Kaid’s one of those people. Another reason I find him admirable is that one, he’s a fellow North Carolinian and two he’s a lawyer. Not a planner, architect, government official or anyone else you’d expect to be as well written on placemaking as Kaid is. Plus I’m including this excerpt that I’ve bracketed from his recent book People Habitat. I think it speaks for itself as to why I find him inspiring.

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I invite you to take a look at his blogs, pick up his book (and mine too) and take a dive into someone who I can’t wait to have coffee with and discuss learning from our home state what it means to love the place you are born and the environment where you live.

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Don’t Judge the Town by Its Houses

Kelly and Matt's 100 Year Old Apartment-Apartment Therapy

 

Anyone who loves bungalows, lofts, Craftsmans, live/works, row houses and any other type of pre 1950’s suburbia style homes often learns that in small towns or less hot neighborhoods, they will find their perfect home, but without the big city and hot neighborhood prices. Sometimes, they even luck out on finding a cute hardware store in walking distance or a friendly neighborhood handyman. Or maybe, they’ll just find charm. Like the couple in today’s Apartment Healing., who found their perfect home in downtown Salisbury.

This is Apartment Healing, the Saturday feature of the The Black Urbanist where I talk about my love of interior design. This month, I’ll be spotlighting a few of my favorite home tours from sites such as Apartment Therapy, AprhoChic and others that share my sense of simple, eclectic and transformative style, especially in spaces and places where its un-expected. Before we get back into the meat of the post, just a reminder that The Black Urbanist is powered by Bluehost.  Check them out and they’ll get you started with everything you need about web hosting and blog making. They’ve kept me going right here for the past 4 years and counting.

For those of you not familiar with Salisbury, North Carolina, it’s one of the towns you’ll pass through on Amtrak between my hometown of Greensboro and Charlotte. You’ll drive through it on I-85 and see what feels like every chain suburban store known to man. But if you look to the north, no matter what direction you are driving, you’ll see the courthouse square beckoning on the hill. And you’ll definitely see the downtown on the train. It’s in that downtown, that you’ll find Kelly and Matt’s 100 Year Old Apartment.

Just like the lofts from last week (which are also in a North Carolina downtown near a train station), you get the exposed brick, the old wood floors, the large windows and the rustic charm. You also get stories in this particular Apartment Therapy home tour, stories of a first Christmas, a nice restaurant downstairs, a handyman.

As much as I love city life, I appreciate the rural and suburban ones too.Finding a cute apartment or home in small town or city, that doesn’t break the bank, but has all of the “fancy” trappings and looks like a home on AT from one of the bigger cities, could be exactly what you need for your next home. I think it might work for me. Just make sure there’s a train station.

This post is part of my participation in #NaBloPoMo, the time of the year when bloggers come together to pump out daily content and connect. Find out more about that project and how I’m participating, here and here.

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A Beltline for the People

The first time I encountered the word beltline in terms of transportation, it was referring to the Raleigh Beltline. The Raleigh Beltline is an urban loop highway that was built in various stages and with various standards over the past 50 years. I have many fond memories of commutes and various adventures that were found after I took it to my destination.

If you live in a city of a particular size, there’s probably a beltline or at least a series of suburban to urban freeways in your area. They exist primarily to help you navigate suburbia, or get in and out of the central business districts of your region as fast as possible.  Yet, as of late, the concepts of a beltline or a greenway/parkway have become more in tune to non-vehicular transportation. Today, for Video Friday, I wanted to highlight the efforts of the Atlanta Beltline, a key example of this new concept of non-vehicular long distance paved trails around a city.

This is Video Friday and it’s the Friday series on The Black Urbanist. It’s my way of thanking you for hanging with me this week, by giving you something to watch instead of read. It’s also the holiday season and I’m sure you are either hosting all your family or you are getting ready to be one of those poor souls invading the airports and train stations and roads that the news always talks about on holidays. Take some stress out of your trip by using Expedia to book a good deal on your flight, rental car, hotel or all three. Click here  for more information and know that your purchase will support The Black Urbanist and help me keep writing! 

In that spirit, we have partnered with KCET’s City Walk. City Walk is a series of videos showcasing how people walk in their cities.

I’ve heard a multitude of things about the Atlanta Beltline over the years, some good and some bad. However, what I love about these videos is that they are written as documentaries, with no narration, but with people speaking for themselves. I also like how it highlights a diversity of people using the trail. It gives me high hopes for the beltline style Greenway that’s coming to Greensboro soon (and is already complete in places). Sometimes, talking a nice long walk or a bike ride is all you need to feel a bit better or get some good exercise. In the meantime, take a look at the video by clicking on the image below:

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This post is part of my participation in #NaBloPoMo, the time of the year when bloggers come together to pump out daily content and connect. Find out more about that project and how I’m participating, here and here.

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Working on the Move

Last week I spoke to Guilford County Schools students about how to be a successful writer (while taking some of the advice back into my system). One of the things I highlighted was the ability to be able to work with just a laptop and a smartphone. Today, I’d like to comment a bit on how I work on the move, for Throwback Thursday.

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The photo above is from just a few months ago when I was in Charlottesville. While I was waiting to head to a meeting, I popped into this co-working space. There was free wi-fi, free printing, cute and bright furniture and meeting space if I needed it. I thought about that space today, as I tried out the new ColLab in downtown Greensboro. I wrote pieces of this post on my phone at a reception at another entrepreneurial space. Several of the major spreadsheets I use are on Google Sheets. We are becoming a flexible work world. Even at jobs that have more stable workspaces, there are cubicles and common rooms.

As cities, we need to be ready for true mobility. Unfortunately, the space pictured above is no more. The new space in Greensboro is not full yet. However, we all welcome a place we can call home, even for a few hours. I hope cities continue to realize that co-working spaces are just as vital as hotels. With many of us combining home and work, it’s imperative that our spaces achieve the same objective.

This post is part of my participation in #NaBloPoMo, the time of the year when bloggers come together to pump out daily content and connect. Find out more about that project and how I’m participating, here and here.

 

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A Few of My Favorite Online Calculators

So in a previous post, I mentioned this concept of a sliding scale for home purchases. Today, I’m going to bring you the root of that concept, at least for me, the calculators that tickle my fancy.

This is Potatoes and it’s the Wednesday series on The Black Urbanist. It’s when I take Tuesday’s current event and add a stat or a deeper commentary through images. It’s also the holiday season and I’m sure you are either hosting all your family or you are getting ready to be one of those poor souls invading the airports and train stations and roads that the news always talks about on holidays. Take some stress out of your trip by using Expedia to book a good deal on your flight, rental car, hotel or all three. Click here  for more information and know that your purchase will support The Black Urbanist and help me keep writing these posts! 

I think we should get things started with a couple of basic cost of living calculators. I like these because they give me a realistic picture of what different salaries mean in different places. I however, believe it’s not the end all be all. Depending on who you know and how you are able to arrange your housing, eating habits and transportation habits, some of these changes aren’t so drastic.

The CNN Money Cost of Living Calculator keeps it simple. Put your current salary and city in (Winston-Salem’s close enough) and  put your desired city in. As you all know DC tickles my fancy a lot and is a city I can easily drive to, that has the most drastic change in income (Atlanta is the same distance, and the housing only a smidgen more expensive than here).

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I will admit that these percentages are a bit simplistic. How about we find a calculator with a little more meat. The Calculator.net Take Home Pay Calculator gives you a better idea, based on federal tax allowances, your state and city tax rates (if applicable) and a handful of other factors, what you will actually see each month. I like this one even better, because I can see how I need to budget on a month to month basis and how much I personally feel comfortable with paying with a certain salary rate. (The site defaults to  $50,000 a year, I could also be happy with that with the right budget and habits).

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The above assumes that I’m making this salary in North Carolina and that this is a salary and not self-employment income. However, I can play with any state scenario, frequency of payout and a few other areas.

Finally, the calculator that prompted my sliding-scale housing post, the New York Times Buy or Rent Calculator. This calculator takes something that’s normally presented as one of the calculators above and takes it to a different level. In fact, this calculator is so huge and so awesome, you’ll have to click on this

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(I tried to make the link huge and awesome too).

So there you go, my favorite calculators when it comes to determining cost of living, budgets and of course, the rent/buy question. What are some other calendars that a placemaker could geek out over? I’m sure there’s some good transportation ones that I didn’t think of. Let me know in the comments or on social media.

This post is part of my participation in #NaBloPoMo, the time of the year when bloggers come together to pump out daily content and connect. Find out more about that project and how I’m participating, here and here.

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Could Sliding Scale Home Purchases Work?

There are a litany of calculators out there for people to use when they are ready to calculate how much home they can afford. Put in the magic number and you get exactly what level of house you can afford, at precisely the perfect time. What if that magic number was the only number you needed to get a house or an apartment? That whatever number you put in was enough. Introducing the sliding scale housing market.

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This is Meat and it’s the Tuesday series on The Black Urbanist. It’s when I take a current news event that’s moderately related to what I talk about here and add a bit of my own commentary. It’s  also the holiday season and I’m sure you are either hosting all your family or you are getting ready to be one of those poor souls invading the airports and train stations and roads that the news always talks about on holidays. Take some stress out of your trip by using Expedia to book a good deal on your flight, rental car, hotel or all three. Click here for more information and know that your purchase will support The Black Urbanist and help me keep writing these meaty posts!

Could this really work? I understand that we are in a marketplace and a market that privileges the highest bidder when it comes to homes. However, there’s also a glut of foreclosed homes. Several cities are offering homes for a $1. What if we developed a system that married the parts the system that were beneficial to homebuyers, sellers and cities.

The first pillar of this plan would be establishing a standard rate for realtors, one that makes sure they get a fair rate. Essentially, there would be low-cost realtors, much like there are low-cost versions of other service providers. This forum on Zillow brings up the need for such a provision. This low-cost realtor role could be taken over by existing housing nonprofits and housing authorities, which already serve in this role for many people. What would happen is that this strategy would be given the advertising dollars and prestige currently afforded to the regular mortgage process.

The main difference would come with the mortgage market. This method would essentially be getting rid of mortgages. It would have to be grandfathered in, but the idea would be that buyers pay 30% of their current income and that’s it. The down payment is the final payment. And yes, since we are going on income, some houses would be free.

Would this be sustainable? It depends. A lot of the current housing market is speculation. A new amenity comes to a neighborhood and real estate speculators jump in and raise the prices of their homes, condos and their rents. This in turn creates the high prices one comes to expect in a gentrifying or already gentrified area.

I could foresee going to a sliding scale to deal with the factors presented in this article, which noted that middle-income earners can afford homes in many areas in the country, especially those with higher than average salaries.Yet, they gave grades to particular cities and no city received an A, which assumes perfect affordability (lower taxes, homeowners insurance rates and prices out of the gate). What does it really benefit to have such inflated home prices? Our number one priority should be making sure people get into homes, not that some faceless developer gets more money.

However, some developers and landlords are actually good. Some people need to rent, because they are mobile. Yet, I think a good start would be to reign in the mortgage market using a method such as this.

 

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