The Next Steps- Moving Past Black History Month in My Planning Practice

Sankofa Bird Image

I originally planed to re-post my entire series on Black History Month. However, as the month progressed, I’ve been inspired to take things a step further.

When I started this project in October 2010, I was looking to give a voice to African-Americans who have technical and professional backgrounds in urban planning. I also wanted to marry that voice with that of the members of the community who have been tireless fighters for environmental justice and equity.

I never imagined that I would meet and interact with so many leaders all stripes and colors, committed to making the world a better place. We have a long way to go to make sure all neighborhoods are safe, multi-modal and complete. However, I have no doubts that the people I have met and will meet are committed to making this happen in our planning departments, architecture firms, civil engineering firms, universities and out in the streets, homes, places of worship, schools, and shopping centers where it needs to happen the most.

With that thought in mind, I couldn’t just re-post my limited scope of what’s next and who’s making waves this year. While this may not name people by name, the goal is to continue to honor the work of people on a daily basis. I like many scholars and commentators believe that Black History Month is limiting. We should call it Black Heritage Month and use it to charge up our communities to enact change.

So how am I moving forward in my practice? First of all, I am embracing the fact that the only label I have on it is what sits on top of this page. Even then, that label only states the obvious. I count as part of my circle those who see form-based, economic, political, faith and educational solutions to community problems. I believe that we fail when only look at our communities through one lens. While I’ll continue to talk about technical issues such as transit oriented development, I will also be highlighting here and on Facebook and Twitter more “inferiority complex” beaters such as communities who turn their schools around and suburban neighbors who turn their front yards into community gardens.

Secondly, I’ll also be answering questions you have. Be on the lookout for my first ever reader survey. I want to know who my community really is. I have some idea from Google Analytics and from the likes and re-tweets, but I know that we are so much stronger. I’ll be releasing my Spring 2012 event schedule as well, so we can meet in person if we haven’t already.

Lastly, I am working on a vision I have of creating my own third space and creating third spaces for others. For those unfamiliar with the term, a third space is a place outside of home and work where people can gather for social opportunities. Coffee shops, churches and community centers serve this purpose in many communities. However, with the loss of Borders and smaller bookstores continuing to close, we are losing a good deal of these spaces. I want to help create another and replicate the model in a sustainable and just manner.

I want to end with the principle of Sankofa, which states that it is not taboo to go back and reach for what you have in order to move forward. I just finished reaching back and  I am ready to go forward.

This is a post of the Black Urbanist, a project of grassroots planner and writer Kristen Jeffers to create real community. If you enjoyed what you read, please follow The Black Urbanist on Facebook( or Twitter( and share with your friends, family and colleagues.