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Open Thoughts on the U.S. Election Results

Looking back at San Francisco from the Rockridge Station in Oakland. I wanted to note one of last night's victories, more money for the BART system.  Image by Malcolm Kenton

Looking back at San Francisco from the Rockridge Station in Oakland. I wanted to note one of last night’s victories, more money for the BART system. Image by Malcolm Kenton

I assume most of you are probably in a state of either shock or fear or a combination of the two. I wanted to write a note here, so you’ll know that someone is listening one and two, that you’re not alone and three, so I can process these things. The platform is here for a reason and I’m using it for this today.

First of all, at the local and state levels, some strong advocates and leaders were elected for the first time or re-elected. Some strong leaders were very close to winning. And the presidential election itself on a county-by-county level was very close. While there were some places that flipped, others stayed the same or were stable.

Additionally, I’m so proud of all the cities that voted for transit or other infrastructure bonds. There’s also been an idea that in the new presidential administration, that an infrastructure measure of great consequence may actually happen. I can see that, as many of the transit referenda went forth in places that went red last night.

Going forward, I do think we need to tackle that civic-inferiority complex, along with our own inferiority complexes. We need to listen to all people. We need to make sure they are all fed and have the opportunity for healthcare without the extreme financial burdens. We need to make sure they all have a place to live. We need to stay out of bedrooms and church houses and other places that if we don’t have to go, we don’t have to go. If someone isn’t attacking you, don’t be a bully. Believe what you believe, but don’t attack people or be a bully in the pursuit of your own feelings of needing a person to be a certain way for you to feel some kind of self-worth. Sometimes we deal with this in our own families or colleagues or classmates and even longtime friends. I think our first step is to accept who they are, discuss things tactfully and then when it’s clear that mindset change is not happening on a particular day, move on and focus back on ourselves and self-worth and self-love and our improvements that we’ve been told we should do, through various means.

I know that many times in the past six years, I’ve written people off, people who have no intention of being violent or who really just want answers to questions, because I don’t like how they say it or what they say. I think we have done this a lot over the past few years and really over the past 50 years since we decided collectively that all people should have rights, but on the flip side they only have rights if they do things our way and in our moralities. Do realize that this country is not unified under one moral code. Other than life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all. Also realize that we have built this country under systems that have always privileged a select few. However, because we had language in our constitution that stated otherwise, we as people in the United States have felt like we can have a fair shot at challenging those norms.

On the flip side, we need to redefine the American Dream such that it doesn’t require extreme wealth and the appearance of success to succeed. We need to stop making it about what we own as so much as to what we can offer in our own creativity and grit and love.

Our cities must continue to fix and maintain and build better transportation systems. We need to wipe the terms market-rate and affordable out of our housing conversation and just talk about housing. We need to commit to a common, free, lifelong education system. We need clean water and air. We need free or low-cost healthcare. Our first responders and protectors that seek to protect and serve, need do that not just fear and bully and kill. Our regions and cities should  their citizens before investing in corporations that may or may not stay around long enough to build the economy. We should respect the rural areas and the breadbasket of our nation and instead of shaming suburban people, looking at it for what it is and doing our best to create real, functional towns and villages out of the various sprigs of development that we have.

Additionally, I ask that you respect those of us, who may have chosen third parties and who may take this opportunity to choose another country of residence. We live on a globe, not just a flat piece of land and there are many more issues and places and ideas that we need to address. Many of us look to Copenhagen and Amsterdam for bike/ped infrastructure, and to South Korea for rail infrastructure. We need to be looking outside the box, especially if all that changes is that all of the new laws of the last eight years are repealed. If we are allowed to continue to exist as a democracy, if we aren’t at risk of deportation, or extreme public shunning or shaming, or being killed, we can start the conversations we need to have at the local and state level on new leadership. We can be more innovative with whom we choose as leaders. Or, much as I’m an American expat in America, we can visit and live and work in other places, build up income and experience and come back home and shift our country.

In 2020, I will be old enough to run for president. Not saying that I’ll exercise my right then and that it will be available, but I want us to think about what the world could look like as soon as next year, when there will be more elections and maybe local ones you can plug into and start building the seeds to help us get back to a better place.

And finally, let us be courageous and keep living our normal lives. The oppressor wins when we bow down and we change our lives. Let’s be our best selves until the end.

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[Weekly Email] Voting and Housebuilding

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It’s time again for my weekly email. As it went out wrong again, I’m including it here on the blog, plus, if you scroll down, I’ve included a small note on my election day experience so far. Here’s the email:

I’m sure you noticed that my house, my virtual house that is, has been under construction.

(Especially when you got that other email just a little bit ago, sorry about that.) 

Actually, what I did was build a bunch of little houses that are not structurally sound alone.

And those of you who are architects or architect-adjacent like myself understand how important it is for the house you build to actually stand up by itself.

So first I figured I’d build some connecting paths to my houses.

That’s what Kristen Jeffers Media is, a way to connect all my various ventures under one singular idea, which is me and the channels in which I communicate with the world.

However, I still planned on making sure all those houses were separate things and not one big thing. I am also feeling stretched thin trying to keep the lights on in all these houses when I could just spend my energy in one big house.

That big house being The Black Urbanist, the one you come visit me at all the time anyway.

(I’ll still be Kristen Jeffers Media legally)

What does this mean for PlantoSpeak and Kristpattern? It means they will be living inside two nice big rooms in The Black Urbanist house.

Kristpattern is essentially The Black Urbanist at Home anyway. And that’s how I’ll refer to it. You can still purchase things under the banner of Kristpattern at the Spoonflower site, and on Zazzle.

You’ll also see the phrase The Black Urbanist at Home over there a bit more often and if you need a reference point, think of it as my interior design line. Because even in all my urbanism, I still like to decorate houses and carry my laptop in nice bags and cover my phone and you all know I love dresses. So that’s that room.

PlantoSpeak, which you should totally plan on coming to in January, tentatively scheduled for the 7th in Washington, DC, just before the Transportation Review Board Annual Meeting, is the first of what I hope will be many The Black Urbanist Masterclasses.

You will see that name more often, but you’ll also see PlantoSpeak. You may also see some of my Masterclasses on other platforms and you can always purchase one for your own office or organization and I’ll come to you.

So, that’s it for this week’s edition of The Black Urbanist Weekly. Again, this month as we move into the holidays and making new budgets and goals and buying gifts and such, I wanted you to be aware of ways to support me and also to keep you in the loop about the evolution of my brand and my design practice.

If you want to read curated links and my latest posts, head over to my public Facebook Group and join and make sure you’re still on my email list in December, when we shift back to more regular programming in my email.

And, for those of you who want to support me and might not need anything I’m selling, you can subscribe to The Black Urbanist Tip Jar, for $5 a month. I’ll be launching a bigger subscription service soon, with more content and projects, but for now, click here and you can turn one of your cups of coffee into something that will help me keep my foundation standing and write more of the stories and commentary you want to hear from me.

Oh, and please go and vote! Here are my thoughts on voting from earlier, which I sent out on social media with the photo leading this post. As of this writing, all polls are still open across the U.S.

It is done! I’m going to speak specifically to the privilege, yes the privilege, of voting in the District of Columbia today.

First of all, I walked a block to my poll. I listened to one of my favorite songs as I walked. I met a few folks with materials, but it was mostly our folks for our Advisory Neighborhood Commission, which is like a congress of neighborhoods, that actually holds weight and gets things done. I walked in with my identity documents, not because I needed them with my existing voter registration card, but because I needed them because I needed to register to vote on the same day that I voted. Oh and it wasn’t a provisional ballot, although there was a corner for folks who did that too. It was a normal paper ballot and if I’d wanted to, I could have used an electronic one. There were no lines at around 11 a.m. Eastern when I was there. All the poll workers were friendly.

And I want everyone to know, that this is how it should work in a democracy, a fully open, non suppressive, democracy. I’m not going to endorse anyone here, but if you know me, you know how I voted and that I’m going to get out and do the everyday work of making sure we have a government we can all be proud off.

My buttons are a nod to my home state, which needs to turn blue tonight and start to become turquoise. My other button says think globally, participate regionally, act locally, which is a nod to the Piedmont Together regional plan and all the transit, parks, and rec and other infrastructure bonds that are on ballots today. Please vote for the ones that actually make sense! And vote for people who make sense! I will endorse that measure. And the middle one is my Shower April Beans pattern which you can find at my Spoonflower store along with other cool patterns you can look at to take a break from everything else on your feed today via the link in my bio.
Happy Election Day and may the odds ever be in our favor! Also, newsletter subscribers, it’s weekly email day!#election2016

I’ll be back to writing essays soon. And if you want to be on the email list, go here. And if you want to support me, there are tons of ways to do that above. And for the record, I don’t think the world is going to end today ;).

 

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

Hey everyone! For those of you who are on my email list, you probably noticed one of two things:

  • It didn’t come at all and the link didn’t get posted to social media
  • It came and it was all about stuff  I’m doing, all my new blog posts and no links to any good articles. Also, it came from a Gmail account that I don’t normally send from and if I do, it’s not to get spam from you, it’s to keep in touch on GChat, and it said I had something in it you’d really like.

I hope you did like it, just in case you missed it yesterday, here’s the text in its entirety:

Wow! October has been both a trick and a treat. I’ll be laying low on the costumes this year and getting a blowout. And maybe a new bold lipstick from Sephora.

Those of you following me on social media, you may have noticed that the lights are on over at the blog and on the pages more often.

Also, you may have joined my Facebook group (and I thank you for that!) If you haven’t, you’ll be missing out on all my posts, almost as soon as I hit send on the links.

Another change you’ve probably noticed over the past few months is that I’ve been working on developing actual products, besides my first book, to sell . I’ve noticed that I’ve not gotten a lot of feedback (outside of noting that many of the educational products need to offer AICP and AIA credits, if you can help me with that over phone or email, please reply and let me know).

Also, you may wonder what’s happened or happening with PlantoSpeak. It’s still happening. I canceled the September-October course due to lack of registrations.

I get it, you may not need it or feel like it’s something that adds value to your practice. However, maybe your colleague does. Or, maybe it’s something that can go into next year’s budget.

However, quite simply, I want to make it clear that this is my life’s work. However, it is still after six years a labor of love.

For those of you who have brought me in to speak, to help with your planning projects or to write a paid article, thank you!

What I hope to do with PlantoSpeak, as well as any future books, trainings or partnerships is to bring more value to both you as a practitioner or community member and to all of our communities. And I hope to do it under this banner.

If you like what I say or do please let me know if you don’t mind me sharing that word of gratitude with everyone. Please recommend me to your colleagues and thank you to those who have!

And a special word of thanks to the folks involved with CityWorksXpo and the Roanoke community. I loved my gift box and my handwritten thank you note!

If you don’t want to get weekly emails, reply back and I’ll bounce you back to monthly emails. That’s really easy now in my new email client. Anyway, I don’t have much more to say, besides read my blogs and read my articles. Here’s what I wrote at a glance.

  1. Why All the Development in the World Doesn’t Matter if You Don’t Know Your Soul
  2. The Real Answer to Why I Moved, for the Second Time in 18 Months, to DC.
  3. The One Key Reason Those Scary Housing Discrimination Maps Are Still True
  4. On The Blog at its Sixth Birthday: Reflections on Its Purpose and My Growing Business and Passions
  5. On the Second Presidential Debate of 2016 and Knowing Your Truth About Where You Live
  6. And fresh off the “presses”–How I Get Around the DC Metro Without A Car (And You Can Too!)

For this month, I’ll be sending you stuff related to Plan to Speak. In December, we’ll be back to the regular program. Also, I hope to see you in a few weeks in either Atlanta or Philly!

Oh and let me know if you’re unable to read my logo fonts in the body of my posts, I love that I can make my posts look a bit more like me, but I know that everyone can’t read cursive.

Anyway, what’s going on? I’ll get into more details in next week’s email, but I’ve done a lot of soul-searching over the past year, about my name, why I write and why I do what I do here. I’ve also been getting a calling to just keep things simple and easy, not just for you to understand how I can help you and how we can change the urbanist world together. I also went to a online businesswomen’s conference the other week and it helped me jumpstart a lot of ideas, the first to shift from MailChimp to InfusionSoft, as I grow from just sending out emails, to providing web courses, selling products and keeping up with you and what you’re doing.

The second step in my evolution was to start writing more blog posts, sending out emails weekly again, posting more on Instagram and Twitter, reviving my Facebook Group and also making sure people knew all that I do. But there was one thing missing and that was looking at myself in the mirror and being ok, finally, with the site name.

The site name has been something I’m equally proud of and equally ashamed of. The shame has come primarily from the idea that it makes me look like some radical militant who doesn’t really want racial unity or unity at all. Also, as I’ve balanced both this project as a passion project and working in the mainstream planning, development and nonprofit world, with an eye to corporate and foundation and even educational scholarship, grants and sponsorship, I’ve worried that the name being what it is pushes away prosperity and money.

Also, having already lost my dad, I also feared losing others who otherwise love me, but can’t stomach the name (these are primarily family members and potential business partners and colleagues–if you claim to be a personal friend and can’t rock with the name, then I need you to reconsider our friendship).

Here’s the thing though, there’s nothing wrong with being proud of who I am, and raising valid issues. Sometimes those issues may manifest through anger and frustration. Other times, they may come through as researched solutions and quick-fixes. They may be green painted bike lanes or they may be reparations. Yet, they are all solutions. They are all emotions. And if the intent is to do no harm, and instead do great good, then I’m all for the methods we take to get to that greater good.

And again, as I’ve always said here. I am Kristen Elizabeth Jeffers. I am a slave-descendant Black American North Carolinian (Washingtonian) cis hetero woman. I am a urbanist. Urbanism is an architectural school and a spacial planning practice and a political movement committed to the dignity and the efficiency and the creativity of all kinds of people. It is based on a theory of the urban-to-rural transect, where land is gradually developed and developed in a way that allows everyone a fair chance at making the life they want and need.

And with that, I’m proud again and again to be The Black Urbanist and look forward to working with fellow Black Urbanists, allies and others who are about the mission of making the world a better place. Also, I want to take a minute and express my complete solidarity, not only with Standing Rock, but all those who are constantly under persecution and threat of imprisonment of some kind. Black Lives Matter. Again, none of this should scare you or make you think we don’t care about you. Do know, I and others who share my views and my life experience do note when we feel no one cares about us and all we want is a fair chance.

Anyway, if you aren’t coming to Atlanta in two weeks to talk about what it means to NOT be a token, I hope you change your mind. And if you are, I can’t wait to see you. Also, Philadelphia folks, we are taking our Third Wave Urbanism conversation, to your fair city on Monday the 14th. If you feel like one or a few of the products or services I’m offering would be valid to you, please let me know as well. And if you want to be on the email list, hold off for a bit as I get the kinks out of the new system. If you don’t mind sharing your email in the comments below, you can and I’ll add you manually to the new system. Or you can private message me on any of my social network accounts.

Finally, thank you and I love you all!

Kristen

I’ll have more details on what some of the consolidation stuff will look like in next week’s email and here on the blog in my next housekeeping note. 

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I mentioned in a prior post that I do a fair amount of walking and I no longer have my car now that I’m in DC. I wanted to break that down and help folks getting started here without a car to understand how car-free life works. This is very D.C. specific, but I used the same logic in a more modified form in Kansas City and in Raleigh in undergrad.

There are nine steps. Think of them as a Mazlow’s Hierarchy of Needs for transportation.

Step 1–Go on a map and get adjusted to where you actually live, not where you think you live in your head.

Especially if your only experience in DC is the area between the Capitol Building and the Lincoln Memorial, which by the way is 2.6 miles long and takes 56 minutes to walk in its entirety. I learned the hard way back in 2009 how large of a walk this is. We went to the Lincoln Memorial at night on our first day of our visit. I continued to have pain throughout the remainder of my trip that was only fixed when I started wearing hosiery. Thankfully this was during November and they also helped keep me warm.  These days, I’m still adjusting my schedule and my backpack weight so I don’t end up with back aches from carrying my whole life around to too many places across the city daily.

This is also a plea to learn your neighborhood name (or names in my case, as I technically overlap and depending on who I’m talking to, this can be a cause for consternation and write me off as being a trustworthy individual). Please also learn how to say neighborhoods like Glover Park and that it’s Malcolm X Park and National Airport and Anacostia is just the area around the Frederick Douglass House. Try not to truncate neighborhood names other than NoMa./rant

Use Google Maps and overlay the Metro on the actual map. You will thank me, when you realize that Shady Grove is not that close at all. In fact, I’ll give you a bone, here’s the D.C. Metro map to proper scale.

D.C. Metro Map at the Actual Scale of the System by Peter Dvorak. Click on the image to see all of his pictures and to purchase his work as a print.

D.C. Metro Map at the Actual Scale of the System by Peter Dvorak. Click on the image to see all of his pictures and to purchase his work as a print.

Step 2–Understand that while this city moves at a faster pace, you travel at a slightly slower pace over less land, especially if you live inside the District or close in.

Actually, even if you live pretty far out, don’t expect ease of travel during rush hours on weekdays. Also, if you are commuting and you find that you would be better served living close to your office, in one of the suburban areas, go live there and be closer to not just your work, but a handful of quality happy hour places and suburban big box stores and trails and 20-60 minute trains into downtown and back out. Or if you’re like me and like being in the middle of everything, as I’ve managed to do as a stroke of luck, by all means, stay where you are future (or present) neighbor. Or, you may find family is close by, but work may change. Or work may just change. Or you start dating someone.

As good chefs know, keeping a well-stocked pantry with your staples helps maintain some consistency in cooking. The same goes for your commute. With so many choices, you could travel so many ways. However, time and money are still finite and you want to maximize them both as you choose how to get around the region.

Step 3 –See how far you can walk to get to your destination.

Every day for me is a walking architecture tour. You may find that for yourself as well, so definitely start exploring on the sidewalks.

Every day for me is a walking architecture tour. You may find that for yourself as well, so definitely start exploring on the sidewalks.

You may find that even if you walk slow, you’ll get to your destination cheaper, faster and with some physical activity built in. From my position on Georgia Avenue, I walk to Petworth station, to the Shaw/Howard station, to U Street and to the Columbia Heights station. If I wanted to get more exercise in, Adams Morgan and Chinatown and Dupont and Metro Center become part of my walkshed.

If the only things I needed to do were in walking distance every day, I would stop here and I’d have a perfect budget and I’d be living in a perfect village. But we can’t all live in Clarendon. And because we all don’t just live in Clarendon and sometimes we want to go to a Smithsonian museum or a Nats game, we have to use more than our two feet. Also, what If I can’t walk?

Step 4–See how far you can bike, both with your personal bike and Capital Bikeshare.

I am still proud of myself for making this journey, even if I had to space over two days and use the hotel storage where I was attending the event.

I am still proud of myself for making this journey with Lina, even if I had to space over two days and use the hotel storage where I was attending the event. At this moment I’m just across the Potomac from the monument core on the Mt. Vernon Trail.

 

First of all, if you haven’t ridden a bike in years, and you already know your balance isn’t the greatest, I would reach out to my friends at the Washington Area Bicyclist Association(WABA) and see when their next learn-to -ide class is. Then, I would go on Craigslist or to one of the local thrift stores and see where you can get a nice used bike. Folks at WABA can help you with that as well. I would not buy a bike from Walmart or Target. They may be cheap, but they are so heavy, you might as well be riding a Capital Bikeshare (CaBi). Once you pay your $85 a year for a CaBi membership, you get 30 minutes free per bike and there are stations all over. I suggest you get a fob, even if you don’t plan on using it much.

I will admit though that uphill rides can be a bit rough and anything north of U Street and Florida Avenue starts the uphill climb, at least in the Northwest quadrant. Also, CaBi stations get sparse the further north you go. And if you’re in one the main dense suburbs, you may have slightly better comfort and markings to go where you need to go or you may have nothing at all. Also, learn how to lock your own bike down, so all of it is there when you get back. If you want comfort maps at your fingertips here are ones for:

  • D.C.–http://ddot.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/ddot/publication/attachments/dc_bike_map_2012_full_version.pdf
  • Arlington–http://www.bikearlington.com/pages/maps-rides/ …
  • Montgomery County–http://mcatlas.org/bikestress/#

(If your part of the metro has one, let me know. I crowdsourced this list via Twitter after exclaiming that I knew about Arlington’s map, but where were the other major regional maps).

Step 5–Mix in Metrobus and Circulator and your county bus system (ART, DASH, RideOn, The Bus)

Don’t look down on the bus. Especially when the bus helps your wallet and actually saves you time. I live off of Georgia Ave. I like doing a few things and visiting people who live in Silver Spring. I also like being downtown quickly. The 70s buses help me do that quick and easy. I just know it’s 20 minutes in either direction and I’m thankful I don’t have to walk. One day there will be no delays and I’ll get a good seat, but I can’t beat the $1.75 in each direction. The 79’s especially great for taking an express route to where I need to go. The Washington Post has a great primer on how to use the bus for the first time. Also, ask if your destination has a free or direct or both shuttle. This is what makes Potomac Mills Mall even possible, as well as the National Harbor, although both now have public transit routes. I doubt they will ever be in the Metrorail system and VRE, the Virginia side commuter rail, just scratches the surface of the Potomac Mills area and not at a high frequency.

Step 6– Now take Metrorail. Or VRE or MARC, depending on which state your suburb is in.

Two #newtrains, passing in the wind...

Two #newtrains, passing in the wind…

Speaking of Metrorail. As of this writing, you may have not heard the best things about Metrorail, the thing you probably think about when you hear the word Metro used in reference to the train or any transit around D.C. However, it’s hands down the best way to cross the rivers, especially with your own bike. Also, I’m using it to go to Capitol Hill (Eastern Market to be exact) and down to the Waterfront/Nats Park areas. It’s also become most convenient to cross town this way, instead of try and do it on bus (being underground is warmer). My storage unit is adjacent to West Hyattsville. Thankfully, because I have a life that’s more than just using the train to go places in the metro (but all about grabbing Amtrak at Union Station to go up and down the eastern seaboard and the yellow line for further flights out at National Airport), I don’t have to worry too much about this thing called SafeTrack.

However, if you live in any suburb, it’s either express bus to one of the major suburban junctions or it’s the stop in your suburb that you live close to. Unless you add the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) or the MARC train, depending on which state you live in or are communing to and from. Honestly, doing this to Baltimore or BWI Airport will save you some sanity and money. Please again look at the Metro map above, the one with the real distances , and decide if it’s really worth the extra money to ride down F/G street versus walk or bus those four blocks inside the District.

Also, I keep my SmarTrip Card around my neck and I load it with a cash amount as needed. If I was doing more riding both the bus and the rail system, I’d invest in a pass. If you know you’re primarily using one or the other or both as transportation, and doing it at least 3 times a week, then I’d go with one of the passes at the WMATA site. Also, the speciality ones do make great jewelry or bragging rights. You do need a different set of tickets for VRE and MARC, but you can go here and get tickets for everything transit and train related in the region.

Step 7–Uber and Lyft, too.

I’m trying to reduce my dependence on these two, by dressing properly for the weather and being less afraid of walking home alone before 9 p.m. However, for late nights, tight timelines when I think I’m walking or biking or busing the right direction, but I’m really just lost, and carting stuff home from the grocery (although I’m looking into one of those carts for my Giant/Target trips), Lyft and Uber have been my lifeline. Oh and when you have really good friends who live way out past Metro stops. This also applies when Metro is shut down and your bus drops frequency or stops running.

I’ve not done it yet, but I’ve heard you can buy trips in bulk as well.

Step 8–Car to Go, ZipCar or Enterprise Car Share.

I’ve only done one of these and that was so I could drive around a city that didn’t have as much transit on the opposite end of my trip. I have ridden in all but a Car to Go with people who are members of these services. Again, this is what you do when you need to go somewhere that’s not as car-free friendly like Rehoboth Beach, you need to haul a ton of things from a storage unit or boxes from IKEA (although I know someone who has carted a vacuum cleaner on Metro from Target) or there are really no other good options to get where you need to go.

Step 9– Reconsider Car-Ownership.

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I only miss her at night, and when I’m tired and don’t want to put in the work all these other modes require. But then I think about the hurting I put on her on the streets and parking downtown…and the fact that I was already down to driving her only every other day or every two days even in Kansas City. I think she’s in a happier place with her new owner.

You can only get your friends to drive you so much. You may want to become an Uber or Lyft driver yourself or have a business that requires you to haul things or a job that requires you to spot funds for site visits. You might get on a Home Depot/Apartment Therapy kick and it becomes a self-care activity. Your kids may just cause you more trouble on the bus and Metro than its worth, if they even come close enough to your house.

Also, if you don’t live in the District proper or you’re somewhere that’s still not well served by transit or you have a social or work life largely outside of the District, and you can park easily, as many folks not in what’s considered the Old City do, then by all means, do get a vehicle of your own (or figure out how to get your vehicle here).

Yes, this statement may throw out everything I just mentioned. However, I’m an advocate at the end of the day for a multi-modal future, not necessarily a car-free future. Also, some of you like driving in the demolition derby known as driving in the core of the District of Columbia (and to be honest, certain parts of close-in suburbs that will remain nameless). And some of you should volunteer yourselves as tributes, I mean Uber, Lyft, Postmates, Instacart, Door Dash or a litany of other delivery service drivers so those of us who wreck our vehicles every other year, who get anxiety behind the wheel (or sometimes traveling period), don’t have to drive.

The extra money  you make using an app could potentially pay off any expenses that come with having the vehicle. Do know again, that your vehicle can become more trouble than it’s worth. Maintenance, parking and fines are all higher here. That’s what ultimately tipped me to sell my car and not bring it to the District.

Finally, we are at the top of the pyramid! Your commuting and traveling equation may look different, but if you’re looking to go car-free for the first time or in a long time and you also want to save money and be efficient on how you get around, consider my method or create a sustainable one of your own!

Other Resources

  • GoDCGo (The official transportation demand management site of the D.C. Government)–http://www.godcgo.com
  • RometoRio (Great resource that predicts how much a particular mode or combination of modes costs)–https://www.rome2rio.com/
  • Transit app (You will want this or Moovit or something to supplement Google and Apple Maps sometimes paltry route tracking and directional skills and mode combining on your phone)–https://transitapp.com

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

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Politico has written some great longreads recently on cities in the Piedmont region of North Carolina and Southern Virginia. So good, they have helped me refine and shape my urban theory. Namely, they’ve helped me be at peace with just being an urban theorist and influencing the world in that way.

Before I went to Roanoke, one of my good friends sent me this one, on Roanoke. Having been at the first CityWorksXPO, I knew some of the story, however I didn’t know all the story of how Roanoke brought itself back to light. And again, I am thankful for how this community has taken the bold step of allowing both young people and black folks to take on prominent roles, in government, in art and on the street corners. I’m also thankful it helped me dig back into one of my premier urban theories—the civic inferiority complex in time to present it at this year’s XPO.

I came up with this theory back when I was watching and trying to make sense of why cities like my hometown of Greensboro, seemed to be chasing after the next big thing. Why they felt like they weren’t good enough by themselves to create economic opportunities? Why only certain people owned and built buildings?  Why only certain people were allowed to assume greater leadership? Or, if you are allowed to assume greater leadership, why does it have to be done in a certain way? Or why do you have to be allowed, why not let people do and then co-sign?

This battle has taken me a merry chase (as my mom would say), in the past ten years, since I put on my radar that I wanted to return home to Greensboro and get active in local politics. In my younger years, I always believed that cities that had smaller footprints and leaders that you could get to know, would be perfect for young folks with drive, much like myself, could come in and do a lot of good. I could create my destiny. I could manifest it.

Honestly, for a lot folks, that turns out to be true. But the nitty-gritty of how that happens is not often portrayed well. People don’t always explain from the outside that you have to nurse the egos of the big funders and developers in town. If you don’t go that route, then you have to be in good standing with the academic institutions and they have to be completely in tune to the concept of academic freedom and not trying to stoke the egos of the big developers. You need to have rich parents, or their rich siblings or a rich spouse or be savvy at getting and paying back loans and credit cards. Finally, being connected with a wealthy religious institution and their congregation of wealthy folks doesn’t hurt either. And sadly, it’s easier if you’re a white straight male, and a white straight male native to the region you are coming into.

I don’t regret learning this the hard way. However, knowing and really believing this going in would have saved me some tears. Those of you who missed my writing and wondered why there were periods of censorship and just lack of output should know, at times I was struggling under not having a lot of these resources. Or having these resources and not liking the terms that I had these resources under.

I’m at the point now though where I see my role in life as being exactly where I need to be. And also not all of my fault. It’s kind of hard to be something you aren’t and also hard to try to be who you are in a community that only wants you to be a certain thing or go about things in a certain way. Especially when there are exceptions to the rule and you’re not one of them.

Reading the recent Politico article on tt-Salem pulled all this together for me, as well as a lot of self-reflection as I continue (at this writing) to adjust to being a resident and not just a frequent visitor of D.C. Even though I went to school to be a community and economic developer, it’s not something that you get trained to do and then you go out and you do it. It’s not residential and small commercial electrical contracting and wiring like my dad did and it’s not grade school teaching like my mom did.

There’s no set career path and it depends on being in cahoots with lots of the big wigs. The old-school capitalists and their heirs who have money to throw around will either create their own alliances or they will handpick people they’d like to work with. People can pitch to these guys (and they are still mostly guys) good ideas, but they have to be things that the big wigs ultimately like and think would be ok.

Also, this assumes that the big wigs weren’t about destroying your community in the first place. In the Winston-Salem example, a brief mention is made to a church, which I have had some family members attend, that purchased a lot of downtown land and decided to become their own developers. Sadly though, even though this is black-owned and black-controlled land, it’s not quite a 40-acres-and-a-mule model. The power elite could have decided these folks have no value (and some have, check this article out from a few years ago were black properties were openly valued less by local banks in Winston-Salem). They could have completely taken their land.

If you don’t believe me, read the article and then also look of the history of forced sterilization that happened at the hands of employees of one of Winston-Salem’s power elite companies.

Also, I like how the Politico article, both of them, mentions that the power elite was afraid of losing their livelihoods. Even though rich people lose fortunes all the time, we don’t often think of that happening, especially not to our employers, some of whom we can see living lavish lifestyles. However, it does happen. You can have flush years and you can have fallow years no matter who you are. You can be blacklisted from contracts. Your industry loans could dry up while you are in the middle of the paying back your debts. You could get cancer or some other major illness or be in an accident and die. Your family and friends and your colleagues and business partners could turn their back on you. A tornado or hurricane could flood or flatten all of your possessions.

When it comes time to asses our ultimate purpose and we look ahead to the ending of this current life individually, we are all destined for the same fate.

So, I say this all for two reasons, one, having a civic-inferiority complex is normal and curable and two, learning how to ask and be courageous and press on and create your own tribe is vital.

I am learning that having a building and things around them, can be great community builders. And of course show off some awesome creativity. I think modern architecture has a place in the neo-traditionallist model, in moderation.

But as I mentioned in this post, what happens when all the buildings and spaces are gone and it’s just you and your soul?  Do you cease to be a person without a body?  Or do you live on,as a spirit, doing what you can to tell your story and encourage others?

After all, it doesn’t take a body to make a community. But it does take a soul and a mind to tell a story.

May we all always be telling our stories, sharing our stories and banding together as communities in that manner to make sure we don’t all float away, never to be heard of again.

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

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People have been asking me why I moved. I’ve given them answers and sometimes they’ve not been as foolproof as I’d liked for them to be. And now a month out from the move, I feel like I can answer the question a bit better.

“But you can buy a cheaper house here. Food’s really expensive out there. You know, there’s racism everywhere. No, we didn’t call all the time and it may have seemed we weren’t there for you, but we were.”

I’d like to remind everyone that I’m from North Carolina. I heard all these things when I left for Kansas City and then some.

This is not to lay shade on any one factor of why I ultimately decided that Kansas City wasn’t going to be end game. In fact I’m going to start with a pretty easy one.

I can walk here. And when I walk, I find myself at a reasonable destination. And when I can’t walk, there’s a bus within 10 minutes and maybe even a bike too. It sometimes takes me 30 minutes to an hour to get somewhere across DC. It used to take the same to do so in KC.

What’s the difference? It’s been both necessary and fulfilling to have to propel myself. Granted, the weather here hasn’t been horrible, besides being wet, yet. But I now own real winter clothing, I can get through the winter just fine. I thought saying goodbye to my beloved Betsy (and yes I did love my car a lot), was going to be more shocking than it has been. In fact, even as folks consider getting cars with all the turmoil with Metrorail and suburbanizing jobs, the stress of calling an Uber after a missed bus pales to being faced with hundreds of dollars in fines and maintenance.

Secondly, DC, if we go with how the Great Migration went, is my natural second homeland. If I was going to leave for a greener pasture, this is the one that my ancestors had chosen over and over again, with the help of rail lines and even horse and buggy. Plus, if I need to travel in and out of DC, I don’t feel like I’m constantly making a mini Great Migration of my own. I constantly felt like I was living in two worlds and I needed to be cultivating both.

Speaking of those two worlds, it was really three. I’d already moved my heart to DC, long before I moved my body and my body was forever punishing me for being without its soul. It wasn’t as bad when I lived in North Carolina, because my body always knew its soul was only a 5.5 hour drive away (and yes only five and a half because I drive efficiently up I-95 or U.S. 29). And now that I’m in DC, and have both parts of my being connected, I feel less like I’m fighting.

And at the end of the day, a new cut of barbecue couldn’t make up for the absence of the community and my soul I was desperately seeking in the metro.

You guys know I’m all about full disclosure at this page. So I’m going to bring something up that the Kansas Citians don’t always like for folks to know about. That thing is the one-year freeze. I get it, if you only expect people to come and go. If a person starts showing signs early that they are plotting an exit, why engage?

If I had been honest to myself in the early days, it probably wouldn’t have bothered me so much that I didn’t make as deep of connections as I wanted to in Kansas City. Now as I said before, folks made it clear that if I was dying, they would know about it or they would make sure I didn’t die. But what about making sure I don’t cry? What about making sure I don’t have to beg and plead for what I need?

I’m going to pause the post for a minute to lighten the mood and  put in my musical interlude of my new D.C. centric Spotify playlist:

And if you want a nice movie to watch that shows non-political Washington and has a nice indie love story vibe and you’re an Amazon Prime member, check out Last Night.

I left town for the first time since I moved when I went to Roanoke for CityWorksXPO the other week. I cancelled the rest of my trip home to Greensboro, for two reasons. One, I don’t like driving in the rain. And two, I worried that I wouldn’t be able to go home on I-95.

Let’s take a moment and notice what I did there.

Now no shade to Greensboro. It taught me the sheer joy of popping out of the Dupont Circle metro and meeting Krispy Kreme’s hot light. I recognize that bit of Texas Pete-drenched breader in the Bojangles smell I smell faintly at the Union Station metro stop. When I carry my Harris Teeter reusable bag with the big N.C. State block S on it, even the Carolina fans stop and say hello. We then ask each other where we got our best Nats and D.C. United gear. One day we’ll get pro baseball and soccer in our home state, but until then, we can borrow DC’s.

And of course, had people before me not taken that migration up I-95, I wouldn’t know the joy of Busting Loose in the Chocolate City.

 

Speaking of Nats. Can I get the right Natty’s on a tap? We’re regional. And seriously Cookout and Biscuitville, it’s time, come on up the road. Lots of hungry Carolinian Washingtonians are waiting for you.

In the meantime, I’m off to the corner cafe with the croaker fish and that hot dog spot that carries slaw along with its chili, mambo sauce and those half-smoke things people keep telling me about, that in all my visiting, I’ve never had chance to eat. I’ll be riding there on Capital Bikeshare and I’ll be trusting Metrorail to get me home, as long as it still continues to run late in the evening.

I’ll still use Kansas City in my banner. You guys possess one of the coolest things in the world and that’s being in the center of it all. And the better streetcar. And a can-do spirit that rivals so many.  Plus, DC really doesn’t have a skyline and you guys do and I like dramatic illustrations of my love for all things urban and cities.

Plus,  I won’t be a stranger. But when I come back to visit, I’ll come back with my soul in tact.

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

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The night before I wrote this post, I got a present. The present was that the National Geographic website dropped some of the HELOC  residential security maps, commonly known in the profession as the redlining maps,  into an article, highlighting the amazing work done by the Mapping Inequality Project.

If you haven’t already, go to that site and play with their maps. I was able to grab Kansas City.

Kansas City's 1930-1940s Real Estate Maps

And Greensboro.

Greensboro Real Estate Maps from the 1930s and 1940s

They left out Durham on this version of their maps, but here it is 

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And my current place of residence, which I happened to snap a shot of here, when I was at another event where another group of folks pulled together a wonderful exhibition of why this happened and where.

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This is why I talk about “redlining” when I talk about the creation of the hood.

The “hood”. The “barrio”, the “Whitetopia”, the “ghetto”…

…are real and they are real on maps and sadly, we are nowhere near getting away from these barriers. Yes, even in areas that are gentrifying and moving from red to yellow and blue.

The one key reason that those maps haven’t changed that much.

Education, namely education of our children.

But you say, we have so many choices and there are so many educational providers and I really just want my kids to get their best shot. Oh and my neighborhood didn’t exist back then. And we have black and brown neighbors and they are so nice. We let their kids play in our sunroom and on our wooden swing set.

Your kids, but what about all kids. What about that abandoned school down the block. The one they said was “low-performing” and had “low-enrollment”? And can we mention the mere fact that you have a sunroom and one of those wooden swing sets from Home Depot puts you in a different class level than quite a few Americans? Where did the remaining 5 kids go? You would hate to have a rotting building sitting in your neighborhood waiting for development, so why let that other neighborhood have one too. Or not turn it into the condo building that the “hipster” neighborhood did.

Ok, it’s “Kristen’s Personal Story Time”.

Today, I’m going to tell you about how I came out alright, despite starting my schooling in what were legally the “inner-city” schools when I started kindergarten in 1991.

My first caveat is that in North Carolina, we actually go to public schools under one county district, but many different zones. When I started school, I was still in the Greensboro City Schools District. My parents worked in the Guilford County Schools District and there was a High Point City Schools District. That all changed in 1993 when all the schools merged into one county district under the Guilford County Schools banner.

Yes, people fought. But fast forward 23 years and the Guilford County Schools district has an 86% graduation rate and we now have a program to ensure college gets funded for all kids. Oh and some schools, the ones we consider our high performing ones, graduate 100% of their students. And they pull students, by their personal choice and test scores, from across the entire county. And some of those schools are housed with students deemed troubled by their home schools. Others are your typical extremely “gifted” student holes. Others, the directionals, one which I’ll talk about going to in a bit, are what have become the “suburban” districts through migration, both of locals and of transplants used to a more segregated and suburbanized school environment.

However, that’s at the high school level. What about the elementary level?  When I went to kindergarten, my school was up the street and around the corner. I could have walked and sometimes we did but my mom was waiting for me most days in the car rider line. I wanted to ride the school bus, but we lived to close to the school.

However, my mom, who had taken a break from her own classroom teaching of middle schoolers and was raising and pre-schooling me at home while my dad continued to go work for the school system as an electrical maintenance man and wire homes and do other residential and small commercial electrical contracting jobs on the side, didn’t like my school.

I know I was getting teased a bit and I was also easily distracted, to the point I had to start going to school earlier, so I could adjust to my surroundings. My mom also tells me my classmates bothered me a whole lot more than I remembered. Plus, my teachers wanted me in “gifted” classes and my mom wanted me to be in a regular classroom, where everyone had a fair shot at learning the same things and I wouldn’t feel like I was so “gifted” I couldn’t learn anything any more and that I was too perfect to learn.

Rather than ship me out to the suburbs, which in reality, were just the 1990s subdivisions being built on old farmland around the existing farm towns and their respective “county” schools, I got moved to the school zone right next door. School became a 15 minute walk instead of a five-minute walk, but my mom was right there with me in the car rider line. Mom also made cookie bags for my classmates at Christmas, became friends with my teachers and was on the PTA, with a handful of other working class parents, some of color, some with English as a second language, all upwardly mobile in their own way.

In fact, many of those parents moved on, much like my mom and I did, but we moved on for a different reason and we now live in a similar, but further out neighborhood. Ok, she lives there, but that house in the neighborhood I went to my final elementary school in, is still there. Had we lived there and not the apartment we lived in when I was in the fourth and fifth grades, I could have walked to school, because the school is behind the houses on the next block. Or I could have stayed in our old house with dad and stayed in my same school. Gone to middle and high school not too far away.

However, for middle and high school, I got a special exception to join my mom in the county “suburban” school zone where she was teaching middle school. My own mortification and fear of failing in front of my classmates, many who my mom taught their seventh grade year, and in front of my mom’s teaching colleagues, kept me in line. At the time I attended my high school, it shared one of its buildings with my middle school and I went to my high school classes upstairs and came back to my mom’s classroom in the evenings to wait to go home. On 9/11/2001, I ran to my mom in the covered walkway between the high school and the shared building after school relieved that she and I was still alive. There was not a cloud in the sky that day…and as you see, I’ve digressed greatly.

However, a few things to wrap up my personal story. I had involved parents, who didn’t let their financial means keep them from trying to be engaged parents. But, both parents weren’t working and my mom had an education degree and still commanded even her PTA meetings much like she did her various classrooms over the years. There was funding for the special program at my second elementary school. By the time I got to my third elementary school, my mom was working again due to my parents’ divorce and my dad was servicing the schools in my zone of the district. People knew my parents and they knew me and they knew our struggles and they wanted to see me succeed.

However, there are other classmates of mine, especially at the second elementary school whose parents weren’t as involved, yet they still managed to find a way to success. I attribute it to the values set by the administrators and teachers at that school, to love us all equally. Plus, that neighborhood is one of the unique neighborhoods in Greensboro, in that it houses so many people of all races, income levels and education levels, it has resources and it has a people committed to political unity. If we want to put it in DC terms, I was in Takoma Park. And if that neighborhood (which will remain nameless, because things have changed a bit and I want this to be a universal story) and Takoma Park could do it, there are others that can too.

However, we need neighborhood schools, run by a central district over a reasonable geographic area, and we need diverse neighborhoods. Also, the other caveat, in the map above, some of our Takoma-style neighborhood was blue and some of it was green and yellow. It was never hazardous. Why Takoma was hazardous baffles me, but so do a lot of the maps.

I’d like to think that my parents beat the odds. I’d like to think my neighborhood was special. But it isn’t.

NPR recently reminded us of that when it talked about how much our school choice is dependent on the old redlining maps and is solidified by the loss of schools or the lack of investment or completely homogeneous by both race and class and language skill schools. And many of you have heard the This American Life episode series about the Chicago schools.

Many of you, who otherwise support walkable communities, transit improvements, diverse types of housing and other things seen as urbanist, get stuck when it comes to the schools. Even those of us of color get stuck, much like in this well known New York Times article.

I do think we can start chipping away at the education paradox of urbanism. But we have to start somewhere. Otherwise, those maps will forever be rainbow-colored and not in a good way.

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

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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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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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