Tag Archives: Issues and Ideas

Mixed-Use Ain’t Always Pretty

Over the last couple of weeks I was made aware of the attempts by a community in Raleigh to determine once again, what they think looks right in a community. As far as I know, the accessory dwelling battle continues to happen in Raleigh and it’s cranked up again in DC. This latest situation is a bit different.

A woman wanted to take advantage of state funding for those who are willing to take care of developmentally disabled people. She built a staircase onto the exterior of her home in order to comply with state-mandated safety regulations for people who operate state-funded homes for disabled people.

Yet, her neighborhood association has slapped her with fines and demanded she tear down the staircase. All the usual arguments are there: property values, appearances, etc. Yet, to me, it speaks again to how housing and building codes, as well as incentives for a certain style of neighborhood, are pushing communities backward.

Communities are more than their buildings. If people can’t learn, make a living, raise a family, worship, or entertain themselves in a neighborhood, then there’s a problem. Even if one of the above is missing, one should still be able to have a link, that they don’t have to drive themselves or fill up with expensive fuel, to get there.

Furthermore, if we want to bring back the element of freedom to the American Dream, why are homeowners so worried about structural elements or even the appearance of more traffic or people than a house normally holds? Why do areas such as this one in Brooklyn get taken out by developers even though they are wildly successful? This is even more problematic in New York, as there are more connections to areas that have a different mix of retail. If urban planning at it’s core was began to deal with sanitation issues, then why has it evolved into or maintained elements that declare situations such as an abundance of working class occupations, housing, and businesses a nuisance? Let’s not even get started with the racial inequities built into what’s known as urban planning.

Yet, at the end of the day, we have to remember that mixed-use, which I’m going to define here simply as a community with multiple activities and types of activities, isn’t always pretty. The successful shopping district may not look like Michigan Avenue in Chicago. A home-based business may require an oddly placed staircase instead of an extra cell phone line. A granny pod in your backyard may be your only solution to age in place and next to your children and grandchildren.

Time is up for us to privilege looks over function. Especially if we expect everyone to buy into the “back to the city” placemaking movement and stop harassing those who don’t fit the mold of what neighborhoods should look like.

Image by Flickr user Shards of Blue.

What If The City Doesn’t Want You Anymore?

A study of urban political systems is a study in the history of cities spitting out or sectioning off their least desirables, namely lower class and people of color of any class. First, it was the gentry of the streetcar era that found they could move further away from their servant class. Then it was housing covenants that kept out non-whites from post-war suburbs. The 1960s brought urban rewewal and slum clearance. Today, we have people who are underwater in shoddy built suburban houses because the city was such a bad place, we needed to get everyone out. Meanwhile, shiny new condos and apartments are filling cities. Sadly, or should I say ironically, some of these places are failing to sell units. A great primer on this history is the textbook City Politics: The Political Economy of Urban America by Dennis R. Judd and Todd Swanstrom.

One major example of failed “urban renewal,” which I was not familiar with until recently, is the World Trade Center complex. The area was a vibrant neighborhood until the Port Authority decided to start being a real estate developer instead of a promoter and operator of decent ports and commuter subways. City Journal has more details on how the taxpayers of New York are dealing with a potential white elephant, which now has not just one, but two tragic events attached to it.

Another example of modern urban renewal is the “entertainment district” that many downtowns have become, including my own. As a woman, I can do all of my shopping downtown, and there are a couple of affordable boutiques. Yet, men are out of luck. Outside of thrift stores, there are no suit shops for men. The restaurants have a new allure, yet, we don’t have shiny new stores downtown at all. I love the local consignment shops and the old theater that plays classic movies. Yet, what about the chain stores that fill our shopping malls and power centers that attract the mass majority of the population?

Once upon a time, downtown was the shopping mall. Department stores were locally owned and did not pay workers inhumane wages. Another concept that’s now foreign downtown is the supermarket. The farmers market we had was great, but it only operates in the summer. What am I supposed to do about fresh food during the winter months if I want to be true to my walkable, urbanist principles? What if I had no car because I was broke, but I was trying to live in a place where everything was close by? Downtown looks cute architecturally, but it far underperforms for the style of real estate it contains.

Those are the surface problems with cities pushing folks out. The real problems come when the suburbs they come into are suburbs in the truest since of the word. They were only subdivisions to begin with and there are no centralized services, shops, or even schools. People complain about parents not coming to schools in low-income areas. The suburbs make it worse by forcing these people to go even further to their schools, possibly via a non-existent bus. What does one make of the dead Kmarts and dead Borders that were so hot when the demographics of the neighborhood were different? Granted, Borders was part of an overstreched business model, but the one in the “inner-ring” suburb I grew up in, up the street from the dying mall, died first.

So hence why I fault those that want to willingly be part of a failing system that traps people. Many suburbs are truly towns and offer people services in walking distance, as well as concern for all it’s citizenry. Yet, too many suburbs are housing subdivisions with nothing to offer. With cities that practice covert forms of urban renewal and suburbs that don’t want to recognize their role as small cities or big towns, we are left with not only suburbs of self-hate, but hateful, hostile cites as well.

One last note before I close out this post. Posts like this and my previous post expose how different governments consider one place a town, a city, or a suburb. I see Greensboro as one big suburb with two to four walkable urban areas, some with all the necessary services such as Lindley Park and others without such as Downtown proper. In other states, a suburb may be an actual city such Alexandria, VA, but thanks to the media, overshadowed by it’s neighbor across the Potomac River.

Either way, there is no excuse for governments of any type to contribute to the demise or the migration of their citizenry. Putting a subdivision next to a landfill, selling out downtowns to one developer, and continuing to pursue loop roads that are known contributors to sprawl are not good. Governments, as well as residents, need to come to terms with being good citizens. Stop stealing, whether it’s your neighbor’s car or “prime land” that’s already a small-scale, but thriving community.

Photo of Downtown Greensboro by Flickr user dmattphotography.

Suburbs of Self-Hate?

I’m seeing lately that communities of color are buying into suburban ideals that are actually hurting rather than helping the community. This article in the Atlantic Cities talks about how this has happened in some Asian communities in California and I’ve seen it firsthand in the Black community here in North Carolina. (Latino readers, I’m not going to speak for you here since I have no evidence, but I don’t doubt it happening there too).

What disturbed me the most about that article is that people were leaving the city because of bad schools and crime. It makes me ask, attends these schools and who committs those crimes? If these are our neighbors, are we giving up on our own people? I know race is arbitrary, but culture is not, nor is neighborliness.

I do understand the embarrassment, real safety risks involved in staying in certain neighborhoods, especially as a member of non-white group or even as a white person who’s been unfairly targeted for ridicule or persecution. I understand the feeling of entitlement once one has come upon a better social class and standing to move somewhere where the class is well known and celebrated. I know that it speaks to victory over ones oppressors to move on sometimes.

Yet, when will we take responsibility for what’s in our neighborhoods and stop running away when problems start? Are we sometimes holding the very same attitude as our oppressors?

Suburbia, in many cases, was built for purposes of isolation. I do understand that folks like nature and that’s well and good. However, the proliferation of gated communities (for average, non-celebrity Americans), zoning restrictions that assume malefeasance out of its citizenry, and even charter schools are doing more hurt than harm.

We have to realize that we have to take the good with the bad. If the man on the corner calling out crazy stuff is physically harming you, then yes, please report him to the authorities. That kid that’s bullying your child may actually be the victim. We actually need to question our children more, especially when they claim they are not learning or being bullied. Are we sure THEY aren’t mistreating fellow classmates or cheating on tests? If the problem is inside the four walls of your home, moving to a different place will not change it. In fact, you may find youself to be the new nuisance in your new neighborhood

I also understand wanting a more rural setting. But if you want that, consider an actual rural setting. Or, be mindful of other ways you can be environmentally friendly, such as growing food in your yard, carpooling, or lobbying for better, more connected infrastructure in your new neighborhood.

Please folks, stop this whole running away to the suburbs because of the Other. Look hard in the mirror and make sure the Other isn’t yourself. Stop hating yourself. The time is up for racializing our neighborhoods and this kind of “grass is greener” thinking.

Photo credit: flickr user Derek Bridges.

Identifying Real Place Inferiority

Ambulance Chaser

Upon opening my inbox and my social media streams on a recent morning, I was met with this article. In the article, published by the News & Record and written by a fellow blogger Michael Turner, laments the lack of an identity that we have here in Greensboro.

He has some good things to say, but the real problem is not that we don’t have an identity, the problem is that we feel like we are lesser than someone else when it comes to our city. I’ve said this before and I will say it again-ALL CITIES HAVE PROBLEMS. Not just cities, but towns, suburbs, farms and anything else that’s either incorporated and providing municipal services or working hard to make sure the cows come home from graze.

The problem of having no identity is nowhere near as bad as the problem of no heat, no water and no way of getting medical supplies and food. Thanks to Sandy,at least 7,000 people in New York are having that very problem. To cap it off, they still have rent due. Their landlord- the public housing authority. There are middle class people, including first responders, who are facing devastation they never thought they’d see. One minute, they are living the American Dream in the NYC area despite 9/11. The next minute, their home is gone. Do you think they care as much about the ideal and image of NYC or do they care about rebuilding their home or getting basic needs?

I’ve written articles here before about making the best of what you have and creating your own identity wherever you are. Yet, I say this not to force people to stay in unsafe(as in, you hear gunshots nightly and you have stuff stolen on a regular basis and someone’s been assaulted) conditions. I say this once again as I’ve said it before, that the message of place inferiority rings hollow when one has money and connections to make things better.

Please remember our fellow brothers and sisters who are still struggling to make that happen. Many are not lazy, most are just out of luck.

Image above courtesy of Flickr user Andreanna Moya Photography.

Becoming A Placeist-The Black Urbanist on its Second Anniversary

After two years of writing this blog, it has come to my attention that I am simply a placeist. Not in the Urban Dictionary manner that sort of has undertones of being a racist or any other -ist that is negative. It’s in the sense that I see benefits in all types of land use (as well as drawbacks). I love buildings. I love people. I love cars, trains, planes and buses. All in equal measure. It’s hard for me to continue to keep just being an urbanist. I will keep the name of the blog as is, because there’s still cognitive dissonance with it and the word Black when it refers to my ethnic background. They are separate and I will advocate continually for their separation. The largest forum I have is my blog and Twitter handle.

However, in practice, I’ve seen that we do better when we recognize there are benefits to all land use, in moderation and in reason. So what exactly makes me a placeist? Here are a few things:

Some days I just need my car. I have a bad back and lifting groceries is hurtful and becomes expensive due to chiropractic adjustments. Also, my job is a statewide job. I need to be able to get to city to city in a timely manner. Now if we had a full blown, New Jersey Transit-esque train system in North Carolina, I could think about selling my car. That and full grocery delivery.

Some people with yards actually use them. They plant food and sell it to folks. They hold block parties. They build accessory dwellings when they are legal. They have backyard concerts. They use it to enjoy a piece of nature and then get back to solving problems of the world. However, the problem comes when those yards don’t have sidewalks or even roads that make it easy to get all over the city on foot or even just down to the corner drug store.

Some cities and their dwellers are too expensive, too status quo and too conservative– Although I love the newer hipster businesses, I love the old greasy fish, burger and pizza joints too. My purse does too and since I’m walking home daily, I need all the protein I can get. Also, good design, good working appliances and fixtures and good location should be just guaranteed, not an “urban amenity”. And what of people who stay in their own neighborhoods and never branch out? Who want to do something new, but never stop talking about it. Creativity is not all due to osmosis; you have to be doing something on your computer at the Starbucks, not just reading someone else’s punditry.

Some suburbs are dead– I’m watching the one I grew up in, which in reality was the annexed outskirts of a city, die. The businesses are vacant, dirty or predatory. People do harm there because they can. I hate going out there because it feels dead. It’s one thing to have vibrant businesses that aren’t as shiny and slick. It’s another thing to have businesses that are beat-down looking and beat down their people through predatory lending, high prices or rotten food. On top of that, the good stuff is going even further out or coming back into the core of the city. The bus can take folks into the core, but that’s given the bus even comes close by at all. Suburbia was not made for the poor, yet it’s gradually becoming the domain of the poor in many areas.

We need our farms– How else will we eat? Corporate farming has been good and bad for feeding America. Yes, less of America goes hungry, but they also have diseases and conditions that were not evident before corporate farming. Also, there’s the whole food market that’s been turned upside down by Walmart, the government and other major food companies. Yet, at the end of the day, the ability to be partially or fully self-sufficient through your farm is noble and should continue to be honored by society and the market.

There are more bold points and I’ll be writing about those in the coming weeks online and offline. Yet, what really made me change my mind about this whole urbanist-suburbanist-ruralist dichotomy is that thing we call the mountain town. It and its cousins the beach town, and the college town throw everything we know about placemaking out the door. It’s equal parts resort for the rich and occupation for the working poor. There is unmatched beauty and intense knowledge exchange. There are quirky haunts like the soul teahouse and the gourmet Mexican restaurant.

Big cities used to hold a monopoly on these types of things. However, with the internet and other technology, once remote places aren’t so remote anymore. What I love especially about the towns defined by the geography, is that the restriction of either beach or mountain peak force towns to be built compactly. Especially in the mountains. Eventually, Walmart runs out of room because it’s competing with a mound of granite that is way too expensive and impractical to blow up.

Nowadays, I’m about good places, period. Therefore I go forth as the Black Urbanist, Placeist at Large.

Does It Matter Who Owns the Corner Store?

Recently, a friend on Facebook asked this somewhat quintessential question: Why don’t black folks own businesses in their own neighborhoods? One commenter to this status mentioned that it may be because we (as in black folks) have forgotten to help our own as we have achieved higher and higher financial goals and wealth.

I myself personally believe (and I mentioned this in a comment myself) that black folks went through a period where some of the business types in predominantly black neighborhoods were unwanted and unneeded in their eyes. I’ve even had someone who remembers urban renewal in Greensboro tell me that they willingingly tore down the neighborhood businesses in hopes of something better.

However, in many cases, that something better never came. I am also cautious of some modern “revitalizations”, especially when the lots have been sitting empty for several years with no vision and no purpose.

Meanwhile, I applaud those who took up the banner of preserving the history, the commerce, and the tradition of ethnic enclaves, of all cultures. I even applaud those of other cultures who have come in and filled up the vacant spaces, either with businesses and services more geared to their cultures. I especially love if they maintained the original businesses quality and culture, and improved the original operations.

When community and culture and affordability are respected, then I don’t think it matters who owns the corner store.

We underrated, we educated
The corner was our time when times stood still
And gators and snakes gangs and yellow and pink
And colored blue profiles glorifying that…

The corner was our magic, our music, our politics
Fires raised as tribal dancers and
war cries that broke out on different corners
Power to the people, black power, black is beautiful…

The corner was our Rock of Gibraltar, our Stonehenge
Our Taj Mahal, our monument,
Our testimonial to freedom, to peace and to love
Down on the corner…
Common featuring The Last Poets, The Corner, 2005

Yet, when businesses on these proverbial corners completely forget their legacy and their obligation for service, then they fail. If a shop owner follows its teenage customers instead of offering jobs, then they have failed. If women are looked upon as strange invasive creatures and vice-versa for males, then they have failed. Yes, we need safe space to be ourselves as men and women, but at the end of the day, there still comes a time for mutual respect. Elders should shop for free. What about GLBTQ folks and their needs? It’s this vision of the corner store or business as a service that owners need to undertake.

Ultimately, I think that this obligation is what makes it hard for people to maintain such businesses over a long haul. These businesses are more than stores, barbers or beauty salons. They are sounding boards, mini town squares and city halls. If you are not ready to be a de facto mayor or community leader, then you best take your business elsewhere. I believe this is why these businesses fall onto those who either want this charge or those who have no other choice but to run this type of business. I think some black leaders (and I’m sure there are others of other ethnic enclaves who feel the same way) who wanted to run a business that would not become every inch of their lives.

So does it matter who owns the corner store? Absolutely. Yet, it’s not a question of what the owners look like on the outside, it’s a question of what they believe on the inside about their community and their business.

Image credit Flickr user Mr. T in DC under a Creative Commons Licence.

Finding Happiness in the “Generic” City

So I was looking for jobs about six months ago and I came upon my current position through my network of grad school friends. On paper I knew I had what it takes to get the job. I also knew that this was a job that I could grow into and also be myself. Later on, after getting the job, I moved to the downtown area where this job was located. I have a great view of said downtown from this place. I can afford to eat a meal out at least once a week in this downtown. I can walk to work and to those restaurants in less than 15 minutes. Also, I have a car. It’s paid off and I can get to where I need to go outside of downtown in about 15 minutes. My car can also get to the beach in 4 hours and the mountains in 3.5. There’s decent low-cost places to park it. Oh, and I went to grad school in this same place, with one year free and the other for less than $20,000. Oh, and the train station is right next door.

This is my hometown. I have to write its name with the state abbreviation beside it. It’s economically distressed in areas. There’s no light rail. There’s no Trader Joes (yet). My parents live within those 15 minutes.

It could be Anytown, USA, the Generic City.

I thought I’d be living somewhere else by now, but I don’t need to. Even with those drawbacks I listed in the paragraph above.

The New York Times recently published one of their famous stories of how recent college graduates are living in New York. New York for Americans and much of the world is probably the number one name-brand city. A lot of people in the comments claimed that those folks featured were trust fund babies. However, I see in some of these stories echoes of mine. This too is an article for those of us who are fortunate to be working a salaried job. To have state-school level student debt, if any at all. To have a parent who was able to take one in while one worked out their career issues.

My parents, a schoolteacher and an electrician, along with a few other family members and generous friends stepped in to help me out by providing shelter,food,entertainment, money advice and even a few extra dollars to help me get my car, furniture and the like. I call this the village effect. I know everyone has some kind of support network, even if it’s just social services. In the meantime, I went to a state school and financed it mostly through scholarships and grants, taking out loans,then paying back the differential of what I didn’t need. I did the same thing in grad school, only I lived at home and worked as a graduate assistant. In between I worked a few places, but nothing longer than 14 months or permanent. I made some financial mistakes, but I know now what I need to do to fix them. Now I live in a small, but solo apartment in a very nice area of downtown.

Yet, if I’d moved to New York City, or even Washington, DC, my true dream name-brand city, I don’t think I’d be in such good shape, unless I had a job with a crazy high salary. My equivalent job in New York pays exactly the same as it does here in North Carolina. Unfortunately, there’s no cost of living adjustment. On the subject of college, my loans would have eaten me alive. We are going to assume that I would not have received any financial aid, at either a public or private university.

I also think the NYT article echoes a need that some people have to move somewhere with action, but not necessarily with a job or a job that pays all the bills. What I advocate is for a person to move somewhere with a job, but close to a decent airport, train station, Megabus stop or cross-country interstate. If you are living somewhere where you have low rent, then you can save up to take vacations (paid or unpaid). If you are in a mid-sized, but well-located city like I am, a low paycheck goes a long way. Either way, a steady paycheck in this economy goes far longer that no money in a city that may be a name-brand, but with no job prospects for you.

Back to the negatives of this generic city for a minute. There are some missing stores, but they are coming (Trader Joes, we are still waiting). Yet, with that aside, being in this generic city, I know the powers-to-be who are bringing the store in and why we have yet to see it. I’ve also mentioned on my Facebook page about how our 35 year old co-op is moving downtown and assuming the role a Traders has in many a community.

Another negative factor is the local social scene. We are still more of a family town, but we do have singles activities if you look long and hard. For me, it’s taking the steps to one, accept that I have a different lifestyle and two, cultural events aren’t necessarily one-sized fits all.

Once again, this is an elitist article. This assumes that you have a decent job or job offers. You have a choice on where you live. No, scratch that, this is a real article. You only got one job offer and it’s not in that name-brand city you dream about every night. You love everything about your life besides the city on the line of your mailing address. However, in that generic city, you just might be living your dream life after all.

North Carolina- A Microcosm of the Nation

North Carolina, my home state,represents a microcosm of the nation.

How does it do that? Land use,economic development patterns, and population.

Land Use

Within a 7 hour drive, one could be at the peak of a mountain or digging their feet under sea level. In between there are rivers, lakes, swamps, hills of red clay and sand and even a bit of desert. Both the Piedmont Triad(Greensboro and vicinity) and the Research Triangle have suffered from droughts, rendering many areas barren and some lakes empty. Contrary to popular belief, we also get snow. The mountains see it every year and in the Piedmont it’s been a welcome suprise roughly every other year. Even the coast has seen snow in my lifetime.

Economic Development and Patterns

Secondly, our cities and towns reflect all the major industry patterns of America. We have a finance capital (Charlotte), which has now staged a major international event in hosting the Democratic Convention. We have a Silicon Valley(Raleigh, Durham and the surrounding town/suburbs) which has created a major international network of technology and scientific innovation. It has also hosted an international event, the 2010 NHL All-Star Game. The midwestern former milltowns are evident in Greensboro. It struggles to recreate new industry, but has seen seeds of light, much like Detroit and Cleveland have. It also struggles with some sense of direction, much as Chicago is right now. Hollywood can be found down on the coast in Wilmington, which is also our state’s major port town. Some could bill Asheville as Portland, with slightly more mountain terrain and a little bit of bad racial history. Throughout the state major agricultural activity continues to occur, through traditional farms, organic farms and processing facilities.


Population numbers tell us immediately we are All-American and all-global. Greensboro and Durham are one of the largest refugee resettlement areas in the United States. For many years, migrant workers have filled our remaining farms, processing centers and mills with cheap labor. According to Hannah Gill, a Research Associate at the Center for Global Initiatives and Assistant Director at the Institute of Latin American Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the Latino population of North Carolina has doubled since 2000 and it’s not all from migrants or from births. Black roots in North Carolina stretch from all over the state. I’ve not known of a place where we do not exist. I have country relatives and I’m not my family’s only urbanist. The Lumbee, the Cherokee and other native tribes have a rich history here, which cannot be ignored or erased. Indus Region natives are congregating around the technology firms of the Research Triangle. I could go on and on about all the people from different places, but I would be going on for hours. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that there is someone in this state, either temporarily or permanently, from every nation on this planet. If they aren’t here now, then they’ve been here at one point.

One moment to address the The South’s ugly head. It lives in places throughout the state, places that industry left years ago, that poverty has ravaged and that leaders seem to believe don’t need help at all (at least not publlicly). There’s still our purple politics (blue in the major cities, red elsewhere).Lastly, it’s seen in our tenuous relationship with race as it comes to who who deserves opportunities to grow. Oh and let’s not mention school funding and redistricting and the continuous practices of sprawl. Amendment One. That bit of the Old South still makes us southern.

Which comes to my wrap-up here. North Carolina may be south of the Mason-Dixon line, but we are not ambiguous or limitless or lifeless, or all bad. We may not have Major League Baseball, but all the other professional sports are here and there’s always the Durham Bulls, they were famous, right? Rail transit’s on it’s way. The option to live, work and play in a dense area is alive, especially in Charlotte with it’s mainstream, full service grocery and downtown Target. I can always go down to my grandparents and plant a garden and get a feel of the land. I’ve not been mistreated and when I am, I keep on walking down the street. My job, my home, my degrees and my family are not harmed by one person’s act of hate. Yes, there are still folks that can say that, but so can folks in a lot of other states. We are not alone in needing to address residual race, class and sexual orientation issues.

At the end of the day, I hope all of you got a good taste of why I like calling North Carolina home. Also I hope you have seen why you may also be calling North Carolina home, no matter where you live.

Getting Human Transport Outside Of The Box

A human is not a box. However, we still prefer to transport ourselves as such. Then again, we do live in a world, namely in the United States, where corporations are people and those “people” often make things that come in boxes.

Yet, we are failing ourselves by only making our transportation systems work as if everyone comes in a box. You know I’m anti-hierarchy, but this is one clear place where a hierarchy makes perfect sense. The hierarchy I’m talking about is one of transportation (or transit) oriented development.

Those of you fellow urban planning nerds have heard the words transit oriented development so much, it’s almost like a bad song stuck in your head. Especially those of you who are urban planners and you can’t get your community on your side to plan better. In their minds, if it’s not bringing people or “people” to commercial enterprises, then it’s not doing it’s job or worth the money. Don’t even get me started on the STROAD problem.

Sadly, not everything that people do is worth money. Sometimes it’s worth time or community or love. Therefore, we need to stop yielding to the “people”‘s transportation hierarchy and get back to the human transportation hierarchy.

So what does the “people’s” hierarchy look like?

1. Plane
2. Boat
4.Tractor-Trailor Truck
5.Cart/Wheelbarrow/Red Wagon
6.Bike Cart
7. Hands/Back of a person or animal.

As you can see, this list prioritizes space, speed and ability to bear weight. In some iterations, it doesn’t even include human beings. If this transport hierarchy can be worked through without humans, why do some think it’s appropriate for humans without cargo?

In my opinion, this is how a human-based transportation hierarchy would go:

1. Walking

I’ve left out animals on purpose. Unless you have no other choice, let’s let our horses, camels and other animals lay at rest. Machines were invented for a good reason here ;). I also went from the most to the least mechanical. We are organic beings after all. At least in the United States we really value our independence from things besides ourselves.

Bringing all these thoughts to a close, quite simply we need to bust out of the box. That box being the one that makes humans a commodity and not a community.

Find me on Facebook or Twitter. I’ll be outside the box.

Image Credit: Flickr user Roland Tanglao under an Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) licence.

Identity Crisis- When Your Suburb is Really a Town

Sorry Alexandria, you’re really a city, but I think we all knew that deep down(Photo Shot by me in August of 2008)

What makes a suburb a suburb? It’s one of the major questions that is at the center of the battle for how governments or independent communities of people should regulate and create public space.

This issue has been on my mind quite a bit in the last few months. First, it was Emily Badger’s Pseudosuburbanism as a resident of Alexandria, VA. Then it was this article I shared on the social media pages about how diversity is changing the old rules of what constitutes suburbia. Ultimately, some of this debate is the old civic inferiority complex rearing up its head again.

Ultimately, I’ve found a few things make a town an actual town. They are as follows:

-You have an individual or several individuals who govern your affairs as elected officials. This government is recognized in the town charter.

-You have your own post office (However, this one is becoming less prevalent with many rural towns losing their post office)

-Your population is heterogeneous. Diversity is the rule, rather than the exception.

-Organic community creation (non-governmental entities such as fraternal organizations and neighborhood associations) includes and embraces the diversity of the community.

-Your school system services children from birth to the end of college. This is done through Head Start, a vibrant public K-12 system and a community college. Bonus points if your town is a college town.

-You have either a traditional or a created main street apparatus. This apparatus does not count if it’s really just the suburban mall that’s been grafted into the form. Old Town Alexandria is a good example of having national stores, but under multiple owners and with public streets, sidewalks and parks.

-Once again, there are multiple owners, renters and the like. The community wasn’t planned. If it was planned, it has long ceded into having multiple private owners of buildings and public control of infrastructure.

You may note that this list does not address form, outside of having a true main street. I am not excusing places that do not have a good urban or town form. Yet, this post is to highlight that not all main cities have a monopoly on good urban form. Unfortunately, in many cases in the U.S. today, you are either a town or a city.

If you don’t recognize that, it’s time to act like one.