Tag Archives: holiday messages

Maintaining Good Places, My One Wish for 2013

Every year for the last two years, I’ve put up my wishes for the urban fabric. This year, my wish manifests in one word:


It’s nice to have brand new town center neighborhoods, but let’s not forget to maintain the old ones, especially those that were already town centers.

It’s nice to have brand new transit lines, but lets not forget to maintain the old buses and trains, so they won’t fall apart and stop coming on time.

It’s nice to have new civic centers, but let’s not forget to maintain the old recreation centers, that serve so many children and their parents who need a nice community place, for a reasonable cost.

It’s nice to have new markets, but let’s not forget to maintain the old ones, lest they start to sell moldy or old food, because they don’t believe they have the clientele or the money to support good food.

It’s nice to have new homes, but let’s not forget the old ones, the ones that are well made, with unique, authentic features. Also, let’s not forget those who live in these older homes, that may have paid off their homes and have lived honest lives. Let’s help them maintain their American Dream, especially if they’ve been there for 30 years, fought for this country, endured racism, sexism, classism and any other isms. Sometimes, gradual change is good enough.

It’s nice to have all these new things, but if people can’t maintain sanity, cordiality, neighborliness or a general positive sprit, then people have failed before they have even walked out of the door.

And with that, I hope to maintain this page more this year, to bring you more of my ideas and commentary. I hope to maintain a space where all community voices can come out and talk about what creates real community.

Kwanzaa’s Seven Principles and the Community

Millions of people are celebrating Kwanzaa this week. Founded by Maulana Karenga in 1966, the holiday started out as a cultural celebration for African-Americans and a replacement for what were thought to be non-African affirming holidays such as Christmas. However, over the years, the celebration has a evolved into a celebration of Pan-Africanism coupled with the other holidays celebrated in and around December. People all over the world and from all different backgrounds are celebrating Kwanzaa.

The holiday is observed over seven days from December 26 through January 1. Physically, people interact with symbols such as African and African-inspired clothing, corn to represent agricultural traditions, and lighting a kinara, a menorah-like candle figure that has seven candles, three red, three green and one black. They are lit each night to honor the Nguzo Saba, the seven principles of Kwanzaa. These principles are the heart of the celebration and considered the heart of what it means to be African or African-American according to Karenga.

It’s these principles that I want to highlight. I believe that these principles can go beyond the seven day celebration and become part of our daily community life, no matter the cultural tradition. In fact, Karenga has stated that these principles are part of a “communitarian African philosophy.” With evolutionary science in agreement that civilization as a whole began in Africa, we are all Africans anyway. In his 2012 statement on the holiday, he calls for continued examination of who we are as people and to fight for social justice for all.

The Nguzo Saba itself is as follows:

  • Umoja (Unity): To strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.
  • Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.
  • Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility): To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems, and to solve them together.
  • Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics): To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses, and to profit from them together.
  • Nia (Purpose): To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
  • Kuumba (Creativity): To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.
  • Imani (Faith): To believe with all our hearts in God, our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

How would these principles connect to other urbanist creeds and general community goodwill?

First, Umoja speaks of keeping people together. Although race is arbitrary, the good traditions from different cultural groups should be celebrated and cultivated. Yet, a unity that is unjust should not be tolerated. The re-segregation of schools and continued segregation of neighborhoods by race and class are detrimental to a society that seeks to maintain growth and prosperity.

Kujichagulia speaks of branding oneself, instead of letting others define you. Some of the new city branding projects sound great, but fail to reach out to average community members and leaders of communities that have been excluded. The principle is better manifested when all community leaders and members come together to define themselves, instead of yielding all control to PR and marketing experts.

Ujmaa manifests itself in tactical urbanism, and other forms of grassroots planning and activism. I see this principle in the community gardens, community policing that builds instead of breaks trust, and in faith communities who continue to invest and include the communities they surround instead of walking away when many of their congregants do. I  also see this principle in the Occupy movement, especially around the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

Ujamaa  in some respects equals Buy Local. It talks about local commerce, something that’s trended in many circles over the past few years. Yet, to me it speaks to the need to support good, just, honorable businesses.While this is easier said than done in a world of Walmart being the only affordable option in many households, we need to do what we can to force all businesses to do better to serve instead of sell to customers. I  also want to use this point to disparage the belief that there is no need for culturally-based stores. Some of the same people who would laugh at the black bookstore selling incense, gladly support the local, family owned sushi bar or Irish pub. Mind you, all these businesses could be donating money to schools and senior centers. They could employ youth who need something to do besides walk the streets and terrorize others. They could be paying workers a fair wage and also making good, strong products.

Nia is pretty self-explanatory. Everything has a purpose and everything should have a purpose. That purpose should not be self-serving. If I were to choose a planning/urbanist element to pair with this principle, it would be the community plans, maps, and the process of creating such. These documents serve as the basis of our efforts and help us remember our purpose in creating communities.

Kuumba goes beyond its basic principle. It honors the creative arts and the creative mind. It is here where the creative class principle makes sense. The creative class is not the whole of the community, but it is worthy of respect. Eventually, if creativity is not respected, there will be no innovation and adaptation to changing realities, from natural disasters, to obsoletance of technologies.

Finally, Imani goes beyond religious belief. Even if you don’t believe in God, you have to believe in the ability of your fellow man or woman to do whatever has been granted for them to do. Everything is not simultaneous, fast, or easy. In many communities, it’s been faith that has kept them from completely dissolving and giving up their culture and value to outside groups. Faith is what has kept inventors, builders, and other creators doing what their titles entail. Faith is the heart of all the above elements of community.

To close, we should not completely divorce Kwanzaa from its African culture or celebratory elements. Yet, we should honor the community building elements of Nguzo Saba as we continue in our quests for creating great places.

Image credit: Flickr user soulchristmas.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! New Things to Come for the Black Urbanist

Christmas Tree at Center City Park

Good morning all from Greensboro, where it’s been Christmas for several hours now. Tomorrow we start the Kwanzaa and the extended Christmas season.
We welcome 2013 in a few days.

It’s that notion of 2013  that I want to meditate on right now. In 2012, I celebrated two years of putting together this blog, which has now grown into a full-fledged website. As you will see if you are reading this on the website, I’ve done another redesign. With this redesign, I will be expanding my editorial content, adding more audio, video, book reviews, and even more of the placemaking commentary you’ve come here to enjoy, learn, and share.

I’m also looking to hear from you! If you have something that you think would be a good fit for the page, such as an urbanist commentary on a place in North Carolina, where people of color stand in the new urbanism, or the story of how you created a better block with barely any capital besides sweat equity, I want to hear it! Email me at theblackurbanist@gmail.com.

I am once again grateful to The Atlantic Cities, The Congress for New Urbanism, Piedmont Together, Sustainable Cities Collective, my undergraduate alma mater, my current employer ,and many others who have shared my work this year. I am also thankful to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, for conferring on me the status of being a Master of Public Affairs with a concentration in community and economic development. Were it not for my course in urban political systems, this blog website would not exist.

I’ll be on Facebook and Twitter throughout the holiday as well as working out the kinks on this page. I’m still working on getting the podcast so it can be downloaded, but in the meantime, please share the stream with others.

Merry Christmas! Happy Kwanzaa! Happy New Year! Happy anything else I forgot! Let’s celebrate in the community today and everyday!

Today is Thanksgiving Day in the United States and this afternoon I will I embark on my annual journey to see both sides of my family within a span of 5 hours. While many folks have the tradition of watching the Macy’s parade, watching football and eating copious amounts of food, my most unique Thanksgiving tradition involves one long country road.

On a regular basis, the concept of one road=one family rules my life. Within ten minutes I can be at my mom’s house. Five for my dad’s. Of course you’ve picked up on the houses being separate, but it’s been so long, I’ve worked at making sure it doesn’t feel like there was separation.

Meanwhile, on Thanksgiving, it’s worked out on many years that both family celebrations are within 30 minutes of each other, connected by one (technically four, but it’s close enough) country road.

I’m very thankful for that country road. It’s the same road I learned to drive on and it’s taught me the value of the rural environment. As I drive over the rolling hills of the North Carolina Piedmont, I see small farms. I see all types of home architecture, including one house that keeps adding turrets, stained glass windows and doors. My mom and I have bets on it being a bed-and-breakfast, but who knows? There’s even a small waterfall cresting from a dam at another point of the journey.

This road and the country surrounding it is why I love the urban transect so much. For those of you who aren’t urban planners, the urban transect is a system developed in the 1990’s to portray the optimal progression of land use. It goes from New York level urban density, to un-claimed natural land. In between there are levels for used farmland, small town main-streets and even lesser dense suburbs. It accounts for all the desired land uses in a way that honors compact living, efficient development and the need for some communities to have space from their neighbors. It allows for the rural areas much like the ones I’m visiting today to exist in a modern, urban-centric, placemaking scheme.

We talk about density and connectivity and the ability to bring communities together in the placemaking blogosphere on a regular basis. Thanks to this road, and the years both families gather on this road, I get to feel what it’s like to be a part of my first community, my own family.

And on that note, let me take the time to express my thanks and gratitude to everyone who has followed me on Twitter and Facebook, given me a byline in another publication, read and shared this blog, heard me speak , invited me to speak and all of the above and more. Let us all be grateful for the great places in our lives and work hard to preserve them all.