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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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Why I’m Writing a Book Part 1

The answer is simple. I want to keep the momentum going. Below are my first three books.

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And yes, as promised, I’ll be adding more details to this, but for now, this is what I’m starting from.

Pick up the book here. And find out why I’m posting everyday here.

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Inspiring People: Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan

For women who are either active or have a strong interest in politics, being able to see women in leadership is reassuring. Now, not all women have policies I agree with or advocate. Yet, it’s great to know that it’s possible for women to be in politics and still be people. And today’s inspiring person happens to be one of them.

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 in a couple of weeks. 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.

I have the good fortune of having had three women be mayor during my lifetime in my hometown. Raleigh, my college hometown, has elected a woman to her second term. And DC, my current favorite city, outside of the former two, just elected its next one. As of January of this year, there were 269 mayors of U.S. cities over 30,000 people. My mayor, Nancy Vaughan, is one. Both her and Nancy McFarlane are two of fourteen women mayors of cities over 200,000 people in population. I’ll be interested to see what this years numbers look like (please, someone tweet, Facebook or put a link to those numbers in the comments). Hence why I’ve decided to focus on Mayor Vaughan as my inspiring person this week.

When I was in Nashville two weeks ago, I was there for the CEOs for Cities National Meeting. I was in a delegation with several Greensboro leaders, including Mayor Vaughan. She was on the program and this picture captures a bit of her brief speech:

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She’s done a lot of awesome things outside of just being mayor. She’s shown her love of hockey. She’s approachable on social media. She’s a good hostess (and I say this in the spirit of her just being a good hostess, not that she should be one, even though she’s also married to a former state senator and fellow city council member). Same spirit goes to her being an awesome mom and daughter. Oh, and speaking of social media, as of this writing, I just saw where she’d volunteered to help build some tiny houses here in Greensboro.

I was most proud of her in this moment shown above, when she presented about her efforts to end poverty in Greensboro and to develop regional collaboration, having worked on a portion of this initiative with Winston-Salem mayor Allen Joines.

I’ve gone to plenty urbanism/good governance conferences and poverty’s still, if not a taboo subject, one that is controversial and one that doesn’t bring out the happy feelings. Trust me, I gave a poverty-focused speech to a group of local government leaders in Fort Lauderdale when I was there recently. People there spoke of my convictions and of it being a provocative speech. Other conferences I’ve attended discuss the subject, but often nothing is done outside of discussion.

Yet, here was my mayor discussing it, in the midst of other mayors presenting more happy-go-lucky “we saved our city” topics.

We have a ways to go in Greensboro with fixing our issues, but so do even some of those “happy-go-lucky” cities. And I’m proud to know and admire my mayor, who is doing a great job of moving us forward.

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Lofting Amongst the Leaves

Image via Apartment Therapy.

Image via Apartment Therapy.

 

When you think loft apartment, you probably think New York. Maybe LA. However, plenty of old industrial cities have wonderful lofts. Some of those lofts are fairly affordable on an average professional salary. Like Durham. This week for Apartment Healing, I’ll be highlighting a classic Durham tobacco loft.

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.

Whenever I come to Durham these days for more than an afternoon, I have the good fortune of staying with my friend, who has one of the cutest old loft apartments near the train station and the regional bus station. It’s also in good proximity to restaurants, which has rapidly become the selling point for a lot of people who have the means and love being close to entertainment.

And if you are reading this and you tend to find yourself living where you are because you are close to the restaurants, and not necessarily using anything else, this might be a perfect spot to go to.

The specific unit I’m highlighting, was at the time of its writing, home to a mom and her two elementary age girls. The ceilings were high, and the windows large, as it is with my friend’s place. The configurations are unique, bedrooms are on platforms and walls don’t always go to the ceiling. The home spotlighted in Apartment Therapy didn’t have proper shutters on  its 22-foot tall, west-facing windows at first. The owner learned the hard way that party goers will sweat and suffer if faced with that kind of sun. I used an extra blanket during my last visit to my friend’s, due to the recent cold snap and the fact that large windows also leak out air.

Someone in the comments of the piece on Apartment Therapy asked if the smell of the tobacco leaves lingers. I can say that it does. And it adds character. Kudos to the people who had the idea of making old factories apartments. They aren’t perfect, but they are certainly cool.

Check out the original Apartment Therapy article here.

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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The Walking School Bus

When I was in kindergarten, we lived close enough to the school to walk. I only remember walking and biking to the school grounds on the weekends, but the option was there. Today’s Video Friday segment highlights recent efforts to get kids walking on school days and to involve both their parents and the greater community in that pursuit.

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.

This week, we’d like to highlight their clip on The Walking School Bus, one of the efforts surrounding National Walk to School Day in several cities and states. The video highlights diverse groups of elementary-age students, their parents and community members who came together to help kids walk to school.

Some of the schools have a regular “walking school bus” and others were doing so to celebrate the special event. However, the idea of helping kids, many who do not get the proper amount of physical activity, to walk to school is pretty awesome. Also, there’s a great moment where a parent talks about making a way to walk even when it’s difficult.

Check out the clip by clicking on the image:

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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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Can You Tell Me How to Get Back to that Street?

Sesame Street turned 45 this month. I came back to my alma mater for homecoming. With those two things in mind, I’m highlighting this photograph of Hillsborough Street in Raleigh for Throwback Thursday.

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The photo above was taken in 2012 and at this angle, not much has changed. Planet Smoothie has become Insomnia Cookies.All the other business, some that are still there, some that are gone, look pretty much the same. If I were to take someone back in time to a place that’s been pretty consistent since I arrived on campus back in 2004, this would be that spot.

So what does this have to do with Sesame Street? Other than this being an excuse for me to drop a nod to both Sesame Workshop and the AV Club’s Sesame Street Week? Well, it’s a good way to think about returning to a place we’ve left before. If we grew up with Sesame Street, we remember the goodbye music (ok, if we grew up with it prior to 1991, because the older end credit music had much more melancholy in it).

That goodbye music, while signaling the weekend on the show, was just happy enough (especially at the end) to remind me that Monday was still coming and there would be more live Big Bird. And with the photo itself, even though things on Hillsborough are changing rapidly, this spot is still there and now there are cookies. (COOKIES, a nom, nom).

Ok, I’m done with my rambling thoughts on Sesame Street and Hillsborough Street. What street can you go back to, that gives you that feeling that nothing has changed, yet everything is changing?

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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Finding the Lines

Once upon a time, the Home Owners Loan Corporation, the New Deal era agency that refinanced struggling mortgages. graded neighborhoods based on race, country of origin and other more practical and less discriminatory methods. This practice, known as “redlining”  looks different in every community. Hence, while there are lessons for everyone in this article, it’s best to study your city’s history for yourself. Today I’m sharing a resource to help you do that.

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! 

Slate’s history blog, The Vault, is compiling a bunch of the old “redlining” maps (and is looking for more). While every city is not represented yet, several are and they all provide a comprehensive view of how redlining was actually applied throughout the country.

As I mentioned in this previous post, in my hometown of Greensboro and in several other places around North Carolina, areas were segregated, but that did not keep African-Americans from owing homes. Many of my family members owned land and farmed on it. Yet, other factors contributed to segregation and unequal housing practices. Even today, those suburban-style neighborhoods built as black neighborhoods have lower property values and fewer services than identical built-for-whites neighborhoods.

Take a look below at the map of Durham, one of the closest maps to me and check out the other maps currently on Slate’s list.

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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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Suburbs of Survival

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What if you didn’t have a house to live in? What if the only house you could live in at the present moment, was not a shack, had running water and electricity and a loving parent to make sure you wake up every morning even though your routine is currently more flexible? Oh, and that house wasn’t in a walkable neighborhood, but in a newish low-density area, with free parking? And the cherry: the fact that your family has possession of it proves that black folks, even in the age of bad mortgages, foreclosures and economic inequality, can in fact own and maintain a house?

This is my suburb, and it’s a suburb of survival.

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!

So I’ve said before that I live in the suburbs. I lived downtown, but lately, many downtown apartment complexes are becoming vertical suburbs, with no real service providers, and a bunch of novelty items. Nate Hood warned downtown developers to stop building entertainment districts, but some didn’t listen. Those of us who would like to build wealth or take career chances or be creative, can’t actually do that when rent is at or beyond 30%. I and other Millennials would be amenable to paying a little more in rent to be able to enjoy the benefits of a walkable community with a variety of services close by, but not merely to live in the midst of restaurants, theaters and boutiques.  That’s why so many of the big places are losing out on their creatives. We may still travel there, live there, be there, but for some of us Millennials, of all cultures, we are only able to find the stability of income and wealth building we need in the suburbs.

Anyway, it was this article, by Paul Mullins, that highlighted how much the suburban concept was a survival mechanism for African-Americans of varying means, even in the era of redlining. While some cities did not allow Black Americans to truly own their suburban homes or move into certain areas, others, including my own, redlined neighborhoods that when built out, looked exactly like white neighborhoods and offered the same level of community cohesion and personal space.

And even though some people were forced to pay too much for their homes or the mortgage rates are too high, some people still own their homes. Some have owned them for years. And they, like anybody who has a home, know the power of being able to shelter family, traveling renters and maybe even themselves in their second house on the beach.

Many large older cities boast streetcar suburbs — neighborhoods characterized by detached single-family homes, oriented not around cul-de-sacs but around streets with sidewalks connected in a grid pattern. At the center of these neighborhoods lie what we consider the main roads lined with retail establishments. These roads were once served by streetcar lines radiating from the center city — lines financed and built by private companies that could sell the suburban land around their lines to developers and reap dividends.

This is the kind of suburb that the free market brought into being before a series of policy decisions hobbled streetcar companies and subsidized road building and car ownership. Current car-oriented suburban development patterns, where hardly anything is walking distance from spread-apart homes, are not the result of the free market, but rather of a market distorted by multiple levels of subsidy. Though there is not much that individual developers or local planning departments can do to change this situation in the short term, it is worth keeping in mind when envisioning the future built environment.

And this gets complicated by racial segregation and redlining. Urban renewal also throws a wrench into the old streetcar suburb concept as well. Many proper, predominately African-American streetcar suburbs were demolished or reconfigured to be car-dependent development. Gentrification is taking away a lot of dense, service-rich neighborhoods away from those with lesser means, many which happen to be African-American.

Before I close, this does not let developers and planners who choose to not plan sustainably off the hook. Sustainable place-making concepts must not be limited to downtown areas.There are clear health and economic benefits from building services into suburban neighborhoods. The density I want to start seeing starts with making sure more things are in walking distance, in both urban and suburban places, rather than focusing on putting more luxury high-rises in downtown arts and entertainment districts. We should give everyone a chance to have the home that they need and want, while being able to enjoy walking access to the commercial corridors that define neighborhoods and offer places — be they parks or libraries or coffee shops, casual eateries or corner stores — where communities come together, and that make possible a sense of shared wealth, to accompany the private wealth that suburbs symbolize.

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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