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Hey folks!

I’ve just gotten in from a conference day where I’ve been encouraged to make a leap  into another step in my business and it just so happens on another Friday night like this in October, six years ago, I made another major leap and put The Black Urbanist out into the world.

Quite simply, I wanted to answer the question how can we make our cities and places better?

Recently, I made a huge physical leap, moving cross-country for the second time in 18 months. I did this because I wanted to start combating my own civic-inferiority complex.

I wanted to be proud and happy with where I lived. I wanted to be somewhere that is vibrant and energetic. I wanted to find people who care a lot about the world we live in and are in positions to make things happen in the world. I wanted to sell my car and walk and bike and take public transit everywhere. And I wanted to be a little bit closer to my home state of North Carolina but with enough distance to have my own space to grow and change. (But I still wanted to get Bojangles when I felt like it). I loved Kansas City, but at the end of the day, I didn’t have all of these elements at the same time. Likewise with remaining in Greensboro or going back to Raleigh.

And this is why I’m now a resident of Washington, DC. I’ve got more thoughts coming on this, but I wanted to take a moment and pause since we are talking a lot about leaps today and it’s the blog’s birthday and I like celebrating things.

I’ve also developed more passions over the past few years. The first is making sure your story is heard, especially if you’re a colleague in the planning, architecture, development and community space.

That’s the mission of Plan to Speak.

I also love patterns, especially on surfaces such as fabric, gift wrap, wallpaper and other products. I also wanted something that no matter what, when it’s seen, it brings people joy.

That’s why I created Kristpattern.

I’ve gone back and forth over the years over whether or not my online space is divisive or healing. It’s been both and either for the past six years, but it is necessary.

It is necessary to point out ways that development harms existing communities.

It is necessary to be unique and highlight that all kinds of people work in the planning and development industry and create some of the most healing and loving spaces in the world.

It is necessary to call for more diversity, equity and inclusion in our workspaces and on our job sites. Because all three are not the same thing.

It is necessary to call out systems of oppression, especially those in our education, law enforcement, financial and other government and social service systems.

It is necessary to get the language and history right when it comes to talking about how we created the environment we live in and how many of us have had no chance but to respond to the environment we live in.

At least until we make a wholesale commitment to building homes, completing streets and ensuring spaces are safe, ethical and efficient for everyone.

Please come visit me over at  www.kristenejeffers.com and learn more about all the things I love to do and celebrate with me as I continue to grow and celebrate this milestone. Also, if you want to help me continue this conversation, or want advice about how to create a conversation of your own, there are many ways there for you to plug in and help.

Also, plan on joining me and others at The Untokening in Atlanta on November 13th, especially if you are interested in centering the narratives of people of color in mobility advocacy.

Thank you everyone who continues to read, share and work with me!

And if you aren’t already follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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Kristen Jeffers writing at Union Station in Kansas City, MO, Spring 2016

I wanted to discuss a comment about cities that came up in the debate/ town hall last night. Note, this is not a post endorsing one or the other, although I’ll say that I’m with her. But the issue brought up is one that trips up a lot of people when it comes to talking about metropolitan policy and how black folks have been allowed to move about and take part in the environments that have been built and paved and provided for us.

First of all, the debate’s mention of urban policy and where black folks tend to live assumes a concentric city model, which looks like those diagrams of the earth where you cut it open and you have a ball in the center and rings around until you get to the crust, which is where we actually live.

This is the Burgess Concentric City Model. He applied it to Chicago first. However, maybe it should have been a rainbow instead…

The actual model goes into even more detail about human pathways, but I’m going to simplify it to three rings: the core, the suburban rings and the crust which is rural farm and natural areas. The core in this globe is the inner city. You have a business district, a city hall, maybe a county hall, the largest school, possibly the high school, a college or university and then you have either old money wealthy whites (or others of color who were able to maintain wealth since the city was first built). You also have the regional sports stadiums and other institutions marketed and intended for the entire region to use. If you have a major public transit system, all the routes lead to this area. When people come to visit your town, this is what they think of and this is where the things geared to them are located. Also, the name of this  inner core city, is often the name the entire region uses to define itself, when defining itself to people from the outside.

However, after World War II, when we had the second wave of suburban development, the department stores started to leave, along with others that catered directly to white folks, who were moving into the suburban areas. A few years later, black folks were allowed to  move out and onward, so essentially, all the people left in the “inner city” were the poor people of color, LGBTQA+ people and others deemed less American and undesirable.

This is where the bulk of the logic of that particular candidate comes from. Also, that candidate has participated in the development of cities for many years and from what I’ve been able to observe, subscribes to a inner core, then suburban rings that just have houses and a few services, and are restricted to certain types of people, then rural crust where all the farms and the things that sustain us (or the corporations that make all of our food, textiles and the like) are. This is probably the idea they have when they want to make the country great again. Basically make us all perfect round balls of metro areas. (Among other things…)

However, this was never quite the case anywhere. Why?

  1. Some cities are built along a riverfront. This automatically rules out having a round ring of neighborhoods in many cities. This is what you see in Chicago, Detroit and St. Louis. The irony is that the model I just mentioned in its original form was applied to Chicago. Maybe it should have been a rainbow instead of a full circle.
  2. Some cities grew in pairs or clusters. So there are multiple metro cores and farmland that became suburban rings and then all grew together to become one mega region. New York is really this, but with water separating the various cores and rings. Also, I grew up in the Piedmont Triad region of North Carolina. Not to be confused with the Research Triangle Region of North Carolina where I went to undergrad. Both started as triangles and are now adjacent amorphous blobs. Trying to make this a circle will only make your head hurt and you sound stupid.
  3. Economics and family structures have always determined where people choose to live. People need to be close to the things that help them survive, like jobs and food. Wealthier  people get to have more of what they like nearby. Some wealthy people wanted farmland, others wanted cultural institutions. Those others, who are at the mercy of working a job, go wherever the job is. And then those who have chosen to raise children often build and move where they feel their family will get the most of the values they want to institute into their children.
  4. Black families and sometimes Latinx and Asian families, basically anyone who was not considered white when it comes to schooling, real estate and access to public spaces and services, has always had to reckon with where slavery, then Jim (and Juan) Crow, then redlining, then urban renewal and now, mass incarceration and the aftermath of being incarcerated,  affordability or upward mobility allow them to go. For myself, my upward mobility and personal preferences dictate that I want to be near the cultural centers and also in areas where retail is clustered, which is becoming the inner cities again. But I’m a business owner just starting out, so I am on a budget. I’m also car-free, partly because of economics. Other friends, of all races and nationalities, are having children and want them to have their own safe yards, that they can manage and not have to worry about police or even neighbors shooting at their children. Because so many inner core areas closed schools or don’t provide similar public options, smaller towns in the metro regions, that are often written off as suburbs, are a more attractive option. Oh, and Target. It all really boils down to who’s good enough for Target. And who Walmart hasn’t left yet.

So what’s really going on and what should I make of this?

What I invite folks to do in the light of this particular comment and the work here, is to research the history of how your specific metro area was built, governed and developed since its inception. Each metro area, while it shares a few common elements, applies those elements differently. We need to know how our metros are made, because it’s going to take a ground-up effort to make things better. Also, you’ll sleep better knowing that living in the suburbs or inner city or on a farm or even in a shack (tiny house!) may not be a bad or shameful thing.

How Do You Start that Research?

  1. Wikipedia. Seriously, the entries on your metro area will help you find basic information and also help you find primary sources and places to go to learn why your city has its shape and how people have made it have that shape over the years.
  2. Historians and librarians in your metro area, as well as urban planners and others working in community design and governance— Basically anyone working to make sure everyone who lives in an area is accounted for and is part of the story of your city. They will help you make sure what you read is right and give you even more books to read and places to go to find information. They will also be able to point you to other people like…
  3. Long-time community residents, suggested by the professionals above. This is where you get the real stories and the more nuanced stories of why people do what they do. Or, even better, you can talk to your older family members. Record those chats, as they are history. I love what the new podcast Historically Black is doing around black oral histories. StoryCorps, and even shows like This American Life and Stuff Your Mom Never Told You are also doing a great job of uncovering local and social histories as well. (I’m going to shamelessly plug my podcast with Katrina Johnston-Zimmerman here, Third Wave Urbanism as well, where we also talk about how metro areas are really made and average people).

Above all, let those of us who are professionals stress about where people actually live. No matter where you live and what your story is, you have value. Developers and builders and city leaders, remember that the next time you decide what needs to be built or torn down in your city.

Also, please make a wise decision about voting on November 8, 2016  and during other times when elections are called in your city. Especially when other elections are called in your metro area. These folks have the direct keys to your success as a city.

I’m Kristen! Six years ago, I started blogging here to make sense of the built environment around me. You can find me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. You can find out more about me at my main website, www.kristenejeffers.com

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Kristen Jeffers - Union Station - 4

This post is really long overdue and I was pushed to write it after seeing a couple of things on my timeline, as well as sorting out my thoughts as I make the move to Washington, DC from Kansas City. I’ve also been trying to be more literary in how I post here and less reactionary. Yet, blogging as a medium trades on allowing anyone to put their ideas out in the world. Also, writing creates a healing release of energy and often the feelings expressed in the blog are tampered down. Or, even better, in the case of things that really need to change, people start thinking about how they need to change. I don’t need to explain myself to anyone, but I am sharing this because it helps me in my process of self-discovery and improving my professional practice. So let’s start with my privileges.

First of all, No. I do not see myself as SOLELY a victim of my circumstances in life. If anything, I have so much privilege (and privilege as defined as the things that you passively are given, based on appearances and advantages). Just to be clear on what I consider my privileges are here’s a bulleted list:

  • Master’s degree from a Research I institution, from a department that regularly places people in positions in the nonprofit and government sector throughout the Piedmont Triad area of North Carolina and beyond. Undergraduate degree from another Research I university, that forms the backbone of this site. Both schools have national prominence, well known alumni and would not have admitted me as a student 70 years ago if I was black in the case of my masters alma mater and black and woman in the case of my undergraduate one.
  • The choice and ownership of a motor vehicle. I am letting go of said vehicle, but it’s basically because I want to maximize my privileges in my next stage of life, not compound them.
  • I’m also able to give up my car and live well, because of how my new city is planned. Said city has high rents and I’m able to afford a not so high, but still high rent.  
  • I have multiple bank accounts, at national banks, many who are too big to fail.
  • I have multiple business ventures, that while have slow periods, have afforded me the opportunity to travel to many places, and create this website and this website and this website, among many other opportunities to make real change happen in communities across North America. I’ve also been employed by many offices and in some cases, in supervisory positions.
  • I speak English natively, which by far, English is still the language of global business and the internet. I have access to an app to help me learn other languages.
  • I have all of my body parts (wisdom teeth too!) and senses. I have a full head of hair, and that hair grows.
  • I present and date as a heterosexual cisgender woman. Some of you may not subscribe to all these different changes on the gender binary, but in civil, secular society, many do and we need to acknowledge basic civil rights in this matter.

However, because not everyone is conscious of how bias and poorly created systems can hurt a person, I consider these parts of my life unprivileged. Not all in the grand scheme of I wish I could change them, but some I do wish would not create barriers to my wellbeing:

  • I am a descendent of African slaves, of various skin colors, who live in the U.S. Southeast and speak with the requisite accent. Because some people, both in and outside certain racial groups and nationalities have issues and use skin color to determine who gets to do certain things, who is criminal or not criminal, and sadly who gets to live, this is an issue as well.
  • Also, a side note to my prior note is I often choose to wear my hair in it’s natural state, which is big and curly. I also have a scalp condition that makes it look worse than it is sometimes. Trust me, I do maintain it regularly and these curls are healthy and happy.
  • Another site note to bullet one: I sound like I came from the U.S. Southeast. People still associate that accent with less education and sometimes a layer of prejudice. I also use slang and other markers of being a black American from the South.
  • I am a millennial. While marketers may market to us and we are growing older and wiser, in the workplace and even in some social spaces, there are negative assumptions made about me and what my generation does or doesn’t do.
  • Until a few weeks from now, I will have only lived in cities that while are great regional powers, are not considered global cities by the modern definition
  • I am a woman. I know that’s a privilege above, but in a world where men don’t always know how to share the world with others, this can be a problem.
  • I have a lot of things going on. This at times mean I don’t always pay attention to details. Many of the jobs I’ve worked over the years, thrive on details. I’m more of an ideas person and I have to work twice as hard to make sure the details happen. I hope that one day, more of my income and work can be focused on creating objects and presenting ideas. But until then, this counts as a disadvantage.
  • I’m still grieving the loss of my father. Although I was a legal and independent adult when this happened, I lost a major confidant and friend and that hole has yet to be filled, if it ever will.
  • I have student debt and consumer debt in the five figure range. While some of this was self-inflicted, it does make me feel ashamed that I didn’t make better financial decisions and I long for the day that I won’t have these kinds of financial burdens.

Ultimately I wanted to spell out my privileges and disadvantages because these do affect my practice of community design. I also wanted to respond to a major concern that bubbled up because I saw a forum on the social media page of a person I respect a great deal, a take down of this article that appeared on the site The Establishment. Also, several people made comments that were also very concerning and troublesome to me about the site and the author and her opinion. I know these folks read this site and I see them all through the year at conferences and I consider them like-minded individuals. Which is why this post really threw me for a loop.

The site, much like this site, centers the narrative of women, especially women of color and how we react to social issues. Sometimes, to people who are not women or women of color, such spaces just doesn’t make sense or seem irrational. And in this case, this article and it’s author attacks the culture of poverty appropriation that’s risen up in recent years and uses her experience growing up as a poor person to explain her concerns with how these trends have been commoditized and used.

It may seem like I’m defending a person who has a few mental issues. There’s no seem to it, I am. Many of the people who would benefit from smaller homes, already bear a burden of shame because they are FORCED to live in small homes. Those homes have had code issues and violations for years prior to the person assuming ownership or rental of the home. It also assumes that the person is in the shape of maintaining any type of home at all.

Remember when I said I had money to rent in a high rent city? Well, there are many people who work honest jobs who don’t. There are also plenty of people who the system has burnt out and who would love to get back to work, but for some reason cannot work now and their mental state has deteriorated. Likewise, there are people who just can’t buy homes to get ahead or even keep the homes they have. We have so many expensive systems that are necessary, such as healthcare and education. Sometimes the system just eats us, even though we try not to get caught.

Again, that  site itself supports many of us who are of color, women-identified and who have both OPINIONS and LIVED EXPERIENCE that supports many of those ideas there. Also, just because I have an idea, doesn’t mean I believe it’s 100% valid all the time. And honestly, we’re just trying to not get eaten. (I will note here that they will be running a story on the podcast. Again, support. I however was familiar with the site long before we were approached about the article about the podcast).

Now I will mention that there’s nothing wrong with people making choices, even choices to live in ways we find unsustainable or . However, we do have to let people make choices. And we have to realize those choices won’t sit well with everyone. Also, I think that we can reclaim certain spaces and just because some people don’t respect actual poverty or want to fix the system that causes it, doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy certain things. Otherwise, I wouldn’t get out of bed at all in the morning.

However, it doesn’t mean that we can’t call out things as we see it or express concerns that the message that things like luxury tiny houses, shiny new parks, bike lanes only in wealthy areas and the lack of information on how to maintain homes and increased law enforcement for some crimes, but not others sends. We should be calling out political leaders and public administrators and even some of our own ideas that don’t advance a just society.

Finally, I would have stopped this blog years ago if I really internalized all the criticism I get. Some people feel the name is too militant, even after I explain its intent. People don’t like being reminded that we do have problems around the issues of race, class, gender identity and a whole host of other issues, even in disciplines like architecture, development and urban planning. Many feel like I would do better just doing my community development and planning practice without those things.

But when you strip those things away, we forget that there are people involved. And people come to communities and life with all kinds of experiences. However, I’m a firm believer that there’s room for everyone at the table and we must let them sit down, even if we have to argue a bit first.

And again, even when I am working and I get frustrated when something isn’t being done right or I am struggling to get work done or even if I get visibly angry at certain things, I’m not done with working. I’m not trying to not work hard. I’m wanting to be smarter with working and make sure the energy is going into the right place.

Let me leave you with a very personal example of how one can play and enjoy culture and shiny new things, but still have a critical eye to what needs to be done in the world and also present those criticisms boldly and validly.

Recently my hometown opened a brand-new park, that was built as a public-private partnership at the bequest of a wealthy woman and also with foundation funding and leadership. I was concerned when ground was broken, that much like the park across the street, only certain people would be acceptable bodies there and likewise trouble in the park couldn’t be handled by the right authorities, in the right way, at the right time. We would see any negativity as meaning our city was horrible and the park was worthless as it would only be a space for the rich.

Yet, I’ve not set foot in this park, but judging from looking at the park’s Instagram feed, my friends posting about it on Facebook and all the people who I consider friends who helped build and maintain elements of the park, several who do have times that they criticise various movements and actions of people of power in the city, are claiming this park and making this park thrive. And all kinds of people are in those pictures and those stories being posted and they’re all smiling and having fun.

At the end of the day, I believe we can live smarter, wiser and happier, even when we deal with our privileges and our concerns. I hope that this post makes it clear and I look forward to many more years of community design and various other ventures I find interesting and sustainable to life. Also, if you are in a position to give, please give. Likewise, be open to teaching, learning and growing. I will do the same.

I’m Kristen. I’ve been writing this blog for nearly six years and I love writing about communities, creating communities and designing things. Learn more about me here. And follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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We May Be Gentrified, But Our Culture Doesn’t Have to Die.

Gentrification by Flickr user Abbey Hambright

We are at peak gentrification. What’s next?

Namely, what’s next for cultures and communities of color who are left in the wake of the racism and greed that drives many gentrification conversations in our cities. How do we overcome the drama of losing our homes and stores and schools and jobs and bus stops and our friends to better pastures. Are there better pastures? Do we have life after so much of it seems to be taken away?

If we lived in an equal society, one where we truly celebrated and embraced differences, instead of using them as tools of inequity, gentrification wouldn’t be bad. For one thing, it might not even exist. Why would we need to value one piece of land over another? Why would land have the kinds of value it does? Why not band together and share what we have?

I won’t dig that deep into history, but we know that some folks see land as communal and others see it as something to be had at any cost, even if it means destroying the psychological and the physical beauty and benefits it bestows. Generally land possession has been in the hands of the most powerful or seized from those who did not see power the same way as the conquerors. Our human species has always been in the business of trying to overtake, overwhelm or intimidate others into either being property (slavery) or having property (land, objects, ideas, cultures).

So again, what do we do? Especially if we put it like this, even if we were all living in the same kind of tent, somebody would find a way to discriminate or be greedy or even steal and murder to get more.

We just stop.

Stop and be grateful for what we already have. Be grateful for neighbors of all kinds. Be grateful for the ability to learn and grow naturally, but not at the expense of others. Stop feeling like we are losing ground or losing whatever we had. The only thing that will forever be truly ours is our soul.

Ok, but you say, that’s all nice and flowery, but what can I do RIGHT NOW, to stop all the injustice. How do I close down the prisons? How do we lower costs, without causing crazy amounts of poverty? How do we get kids interested in learning? How do I make enough to eat tonight?

It’s still internal. There are a lot of formerly impoverished  and underprivileged folks out here who the minute they win the lottery or get a helping hand or strike gold, literally or figuratively, start acting like their oppressors. Instead of getting ahead to give back, the goal was to get ahead and become the oppressor.

Plus, we all should enjoy the beauty this world offers us. We should all be focusing on becoming our best selves. We should not be out here trying to eat others in the pursuit of doing it.

And so this gets us back to gentrification. Why do we need to pay such high rents or why do we have to throw money away at that ONE PERFECT HOUSE when all we really need is a place with running water, a clean bed, free of pests, free of noise or full of noise, a roof, and in my case, an in unit washer/dryer or cheap drop off laundry near by.

But as you may have noticed in that sentence, we do have diversity in what we value and what we think is important. Hence why we love having a marketplace that allows us choice. But we do have to respect the choices of others. The choice to dig down in their souls and play their drums and instruments. To eat food of which we don’t like the smell. To have purple hair. Or to not have purple hair.

And to push people who do have the keys to the homes and the charters for the schools and means to put in the bus stops, to stop feeding our worst natures and make it easier to come back together as a people. No, we’ve never been 100% together, but now would be a good time to start trying.

Before I end this, let me remind you–if you’re a developer, politico, or someone else who is in a position of power or influence, this doesn’t excuse your behavior when it comes to creating the environment that’s allowed for gentrification (and for all other social ills before that. Read this post. This is not your excuse to continue to gentrify.

And if you’re like me and you long for the day you can enjoy all the shiny things without guilt, and finally pay off all those bills or buy a house or whatever your personal gentrification killer is, this is for you. We gon be alright.

I usually embed the links to my favorite reference articles, but I wanted to leave them here so you could go to them directly. They all address various aspects of gentrification, including the fact that this is now a world-wide phenomenon. I also included links to areas where people of color are making class-based decisions and inventing new things, despite the barriers.

  • http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/apr/19/los-angeles-la-gentrification-resistance-boyle-heights
  • http://triad-city-beat.com/barstool-downtowns-forgotten-saloon/
  • http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/artsdesk/general/2016/04/19/the-chateau-nightclub-has-closed-leaving-d-c-s-hand-dance-community-without-a-formal-home/
  • http://www.theestablishment.co/2016/08/10/the-pain-of-gentrification-knows-no-borders-nyc-dominican-republic/

These 5 African Foodies Are Redefining The Diasporan Culinary Experience

  • http://www.thenation.com/article/trusting-baltimore-communities/
  • http://www.wnyc.org/story/its-complicated-culture-clash-brooklyn-neighborhood-gentrification/
  • http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/brooklyn/corners-myrtle-broadway-evolves-horror-show-hips-article-1.2697226

I’m Kristen. I’ve written here (and a few other places) about cities and places and how we can make them better for almost 6 years. You can learn more about me here. And you can follow me on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. Oh, and don’t miss any episodes of my podcast with Katrina Johnston-Zimmerman Third Wave Urbanism.

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The keys to my commute. Yes, that includes my headphones and my library card.

There’s a reason I walk around with my DC SmartTrip card hanging around my neck. And I post time-lapse Instagrams and such of the KC Streetcar working well. Why I wish I could park my car for good and why I relish walking in even 90 degree heat, if it means I’m able to propel myself to my destination. Or in the old days, walking just an 1/8 of a mile to a bus stop near my parents homes, that would take me straight downtown and open up the rest of Greensboro.

And it’s definitely why the root of this blog is my musings on wanting a train in Greensboro. Why I spent a year working in an official capacity for bike and pedestrian infrastructure improvements. Why I still will write these kinds of posts pushing for transportation options and most certainly equity. My parents used public transportation. They had cars too, but they also supported me taking Amtrak (including of course my first memorable trip from Greensboro to DC with my mom) and they supported my solo trips, which sometimes included cars and which sometimes did not.

This is what personally makes me disappointed with this call recently, even after all this maintenance is done, for DC’s WMATA (the umbrella that the rail and bus sit under) to shut down Metrorail even earlier at night and to not open it early. I’ve noticed that even in supportive forums online, people have noted that the system wasn’t meant to be a subway, a modern city enterprise.

Really? So the Nation’s Capital isn’t a modern global metro region. Yeah, the one with the three working airports, one with so many international air carriers, it makes my head spin. There are many people who have had at least one late night out and about where they lost track of your imbibing, and I’m sure they are VERY thankful that all they had to do is stumble and giggle onto a train, in lieu of stumbling and giggling into jail or worse. (I do want to remind folks that drinking responsibly is the best way to combat this, but still…)

And what about those fine bartenders, waiters, hosts and such. Maybe that was you 20 years ago, but you moved up in the world. Really, moved up, huh? Should we not be happy to be employed at anything, especially considering the kind of world we’ve been living in, for dare say my lifetime of 30 years. Or even better, the people who’ve always worked the overnight shift, the ones who make sure you can get your fresh kale smoothie you reluctantly drink because now you need to fix your health.

Sometimes when I go to see my friend Screech and the game runs late, hopping on the Green Line is my best bet. Well…it was.

I’ll stop stereotyping when you do. I’ll stop criticism when we do the right thing and start recognizing that our cities, not just DC, but all of them, can’t call themselves cities or even members of a metro region, where commuting is vital and necessary to prop up all these extra houses and Walmarts, empty or not, if we don’t have comprehensive transportation.

And comprehensive transportation includes either 24-hour trains, or 24-hour buses or 24-hour bikeshares. Or all three at once! And no car-sharing is not the same. Rates on even the cheapest option can easily surge. Having worked with a GPS sharing economy app, I often have to rely on GPS to get me to even the most familiar places for the first time, due to the pressure of getting a route and order right. But not a transit operator, who’s been drilled on the proper way of going and even better, has the benefit of a fixed route. Hardwired in the ground or painted on the side.

Don’t you like knowing exactly where you’re going when you travel?

Also, these things don’t go unnoticed by higher powers. In Boston, which already has seen service drops and even fare increases as it faces up to  maintenance issues, the Federal Transit Administration took them to task back in March for these actions, and failing to finish a report that would have highlighted impacts to poor communities and communities of color (which while not always the same, tend to be the same thanks to all the redlining we’ve done over the years and continue to do).

Does Metro, in the FTA’s backyard, in a city famous for its diversity coupled with its regal nature as our seat of government, think they’ll escape these kinds of criticism? Do they think that private cars, either as taxis, app-based services and possibly drunk drivers is a real solution? Unfortunately, thanks to the lack of grid in some areas and the flat-out lack of sidewalk in others, plus, speed levels that are much too high for a core city, biking and walking don’t always make sense.

We need all parts to work together.

I care so much now because as a handful of you know, I’ll be making the move from KC back to the DC Metro area in a few weeks. With my budget and with where I may be working, Metrorail may be a lifeline. I, like many, are choosing where to live due to proximity of transit service. Yes, you friend up there might drive downtown, but having sat in car traffic downtown, I can tell you that’s not always the solution either.

Plus, when I was in Toronto last year, I seamlessly switched between the night bus and the day train. Even if the solution is night buses, on express routes, at least that’s dedicated routes. And I know that many buses in the DC Metro are already running close to all night. But at what frequency? I could be ok with higher frequencies and official bus bridges if I knew that I would still get to my destination promptly.

No matter what, the core of my writing on communities has always hinged on strong transportation options. Let’s get back to doing that. And if you live in DC or the Metro region already, read this and submit your name to the petition at the end.

I’m Kristen. I’ve written here about cities and places and how we can make them better for almost 6 years. You can learn more about me here. And you can follow me herehere and here.

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I un-ironically wear a raspberry beret sometimes in the winter, and yes, I do throw it up in the air and tell the world that I’m going to make it after all. I was already cliche Minneapolis before I even set foot there the first time.

Two of my favorite speaking opportunities have been in the Twin Cities region of Minnesota. Specifically Minneapolis. Let’s relive some moments from my first visit, in 2014.

I was joined by two of my besties and we ate and saw some cool things. Plus, I remember vividly, that it was one of the first days that I had to wear a sweater and my wool coat in the fall of that year. Which made it pretty easy to stand here and made me pretty mad that it was so cold my regular raspberry beret wasn’t sufficient.

Kristen standing next to TV Land MTM statue when it was on Nicolet Mall in September 2014 . Photo by Graham Sheridan

Kristen standing next to TV Land’s Mary Tyler Moore as Mary Richards statue when it was on Nicolet Mall in September 2014 . Photo by Graham Sheridan

(Ok, it was still a raspberry headband. And practically every parody of this scene results in the hat falling down on the ground or being picked up and stolen…)

For those of you who still don’t understand this double-reference, here’s the original Mary Tyler Moore title sequence and here’s Oprah imitating it and talking about why the character of Mary Richards as portrayed by Mary Tyler Moore is an icon, especially to feminist media types like myself. And do I really need to link to this. (Most of the originals on YouTube are muted. You can purchase the original here.

The main theme of the Twin Cities for me, through all the things tied to it (MTM, Prince, the loss of Philandro Castile), is resilience and making it after all. Sadly, Castile and Prince did not, but thanks to the spirit of MTM’s character, we have Oprah and in turn we have a bunch of us out here, making content and owning our own things. Teaching people how to be a better community, as I did in this shot below in 2014:

Presenting on being a Strong Citizen at the 2014 Strong Towns Gathering in Minneapolis. Photo by Ed Efurt

Presenting on being a Strong Citizen at the 2014 Strong Towns Gathering in Minneapolis. Photo by Ed Erfurt

and I was about to do this year in this shot. on telling your story and the tools to do so:

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Another theme of the weekend was seriously just woman power. The group I was meeting with, the Association of Community Design, was powered by more than a handful of women and nice supportive men. In the design, development and governance conversation, you just don’t see that too often. Here’s a bit of our group, as we were wrapping up a weekend, that we spent just being present.

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Want to read my presentation? Go here. Stop and listen to it below:

And the communication checklist for designers is here.

I also ran into more woman rail fans. That world has been even harder to crack the glass ceiling in, but later this afternoon, I rode these streetcars:

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That middle image shows a woman driver, who took the opportunity to highlight the history of how women in World War II often drove streetcars. That last image is my new Como-Harriet line T-shirt, one of the many clothing bargains I got while in Minneapolis. Speaking of clothing and bargains. Yes, I went to the mothership. The mothership of City Targets:

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And because I’m that urbanist who admits I’m a mall rat and quotes Victor Gruen as a defense we went here.

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As you know, my urbanism was shaped by my dad. My dad and I often went to the Four Seasons Town Centre and the late Carolina Circle Mall in Greensboro. I was raised and grew up in the 1990s, which was the high era of bigger is better suburbia. It was also the best era of Nickelodeon. And I loved Legos as a kid, still do. Especially, when you see awesome creations like this:

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I also went bargain hunting at New York and Company, to the left of this picture, which hands down is still my favorite adult era mall store. I have to give them credit for making a dress I now own in five iterations.

If all other enclosed malls die and this one stays, then we will be ok. It will fulfill it’s role as a tourist attraction. It was disappointing that not all the existing department stores were here, that the IKEA was across the street and that there was a tax on the clothing here, unlike in other parts of Minneapolis, including at that mothership Target. One bonus is its rail accessible. Same with the airport on the same line. This is what you see when you get off at the mall.

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And as we end this time of fangirlling and making it after all, let me leave you with a few recommendations of things and places to do in Minneapolis.

I felt safe, and I felt like this could be a place that I could thrive professionally. But then again, I was staying at the hotel attached to the IDS Center and that probably had something to do with it.

On a more serious note, I have been told that efforts are being made to incorporate more people in the Twin Cities society, especially by the arts community. However, it was noted that residential segregation was still very high and that, along with the issues surrounding the police shootings in the area, this knocks down the Twin Cities.

The high points? Light rail to the airport and a handful of major tourist points,regular bus service to a number of ethnic enclaves (which while have great food, shouldn’t be so segregated), artist resources and those tax breaks on clothing, grocery and other necessities!.

One last picture, as I left town on the Blue Line.

Photo by Malcolm Kenton

Photo by Malcolm Kenton

I’m Kristen. I’ve written here about cities and places and how we can make them better for almost 6 years. You can learn more about me here. And you can follow me here, here and here.

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As of Saturday June 11, the Congress for New Urbanism has convened for 24 times. Since its inception, it’s gone through an evolution, an evolution powered by its roots in the architectural tradition of design and critique. It’s precisely this history which makes it still relevant in the greater design, development and governance (which I’m going to shorten to DDG) conversation.

Exactly why is CNU still relevant? For three reasons: the new focus on diversity of both voices and vernaculars, the approachability of the conference venues and the ability to debate the principles of new urbanism and push for their integration into other key parts of the DDG conversation.

Diversity in Voice and Vernacular and Body

First of all, my introduction to CNU  happened because of my willingness to speak up and speak out against the seemingly lack of diversity, at least in online spaces, in the DDG fields. I was invited, as part of what was then a separate track of NextGen ideas, to speak on diversity and equity. I felt unworthy to do it alone and I brought in two people who I knew would knock out the conversation in their respective spaces.

Fast forward to 2016. While Andres Duany has always brought a bit of the Cuban/Latin vernacular into his talks, you couldn’t beat the multitude of people of color, both women and men, on various stages in this conference. From Pashon Murray bringing the group her work with Detroit Dirt and the local ground perspective, to Mitchell Silver bringing in planning and landscape architecture and good governance, to Tony Garcia holding down the banner for the small scale public project work to myself debating the racialized aspect of the gentrification conversation and why we should use more words in talking about place-based social ills to task and Army base planner Alexander Dukes sounding off on the autonomous cars debate. Not to mention so many other attendees of color, from not just Detroit, the Midwest and the United States doing great work in many fields and other presenters of color who I may have forgotten, being that I was only in Detroit for the Friday and Saturday portions of the Congress.

Finally, on the diversity front there’s a growing Women’s Caucus. Women of all stripes have struggles in an industry cluster that has often failed to pay, respect, promote and engage women on the same levels as men. While I love writing and graphic design, those areas of the project often bill lower and are often the domain of the women in the firm. Then there are the issues around work-life balance, especially in design firms that seem to know no end to the workday. I’m looking forward to helping get this started and supporting the other ladies, with both moral and technical support.

Approachability of Conference Venues

Detroit is the poster child of urban decay, grit and resilience, along with car culture and sprawl and highways. Yet, it provided this year’s Congress with the dream venue, a walkable cluster of theaters, hotel ballrooms, parking lot vendor bazaars(also with many vendors of color)  and even an open street with the planned weekend closing of Monroe Street through Greektown for us to enjoy. You could also get a quick sense of the downtown via the People Mover and Ubers and bikeshare bikes were at the ready to whisk you away to the Eastern Market and Lafayette Park.

Even though I was staying with my aunt (and also visiting mom) in the upper Northwest corner, while I was downtown, the venues were compact. Many mentioned how much they were able to enjoy proximity to venues at the various hotels and AirBnB options, in addition to others leveraging family and friends. I also purchased food from the food trucks and shades from the fashion truck. I missed out on the downtown bowling, but enjoyed giving my presentation in a presentation venue that was essentially the top floor loft space of a bar and maintained the relaxed feel you expect from such a space.

And lastly, with the Pecha Kucha, the dance party and the closing party, we blended our conference and regular Detroit fun and idea sharing together. It felt like the best of the CNU 19 Madison project lodge and yet it was a long way from that congress’s $75 closing party.

Ability to Debate Amongst New Urbanism and Also Through Other Design, Development and Governance Principles

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Having been at this blog and my design, development and governance education and career for almost six years now, I’ve had the opportunity to not just attend five CNUs, but also two state level APA conferences, two New Partners for Smart Growth, several Streetsblog trainings and meetups, one state-level City and County Manager Association conference, another city governance focused training two N.C. State Urban Design Conferences, a major design charrette where lots of out-of-town professionals were brought in and the inaugural Strong Towns meetup. As I’ve written before, it’s vital in our sector to present ones work and discuss best practices.

I used to think that my value in the space was getting paid to present my work (and it is, to a certain extent still). Yet, now that I’m doing field work, I’ve found the best thing for me to do is to go to as many of our conferences and tell the story of my work and remind folks of my design philosophy. My goal in my career is to be able to have a solid balance between field work (project design and stakeholder engagement) and peer critique, debate and training (keynote speeches and workshop facilitation, along with actual debates like on Friday night that other can spread the word about inside and outside the room).

Lastly, most other conferences in our field only exist to throw information at folks for the sole purpose of retaining licensure in that discipline’s certification. CNU, while offering licensure and education of its own under it’s own and other licensure programs, centers idea exchange for the sake of idea exchange, and not just from the big deal people. Now this is something that has evolved over the years and there is still an emphasis in the main program of “big deal” folks. Yet, there’s nothing stopping me from showing up in town, getting my own venue and telling people I’m going to be hosting a talk, book signing or the like and getting them to show up. In the past two years, efforts have been made, if I announce it with enough advance notice, to get it in the main program book and on the website.

Remember, I am a young writer, without licensure, but with plenty of passion and skill in interpreting what’s going on in the DDG world. I’m a black woman who’s not very wealthy. I shouldn’t be here. Yet, in its current iteration, CNU’s big tent allows me to flourish without limits. There may be people in the fold who are my polar opposites and may even say harmful things not just to our profession, but the world in general. Yet, at the end of the day, the greater force of the movement is behind open doors, diverse voices and spirited debate. The relevance comes in allowing more people like me to come inside and be welcomed immediately. Even if it’s just me doing the welcoming.

I’m Kristen Jeffers. Over five years ago I started this space to discuss diversity in the design, development and governance professions. I currently write this blog and also do stakeholder engagement, speaking and other writing work. I hold a Master of Public Affairs with a Concentration in Community and Economic Development. I am a North Carolina native living in Kansas City. You can follow me on Twitter and Facebook, as well as Instagram. You can email me. You can get emails from meLearn more about who I am and why I do what I do. And here are all my prior reports on CNU.

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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).

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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…

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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.

 

 

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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

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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.

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