Why I Love Conferences

Why I Love Conferences Kristen Jeffers The Black Urbanist

It is that time of year again when many of us who blog and write and speak gather at industry conferences. Or is it always that time of year?

Back in the day, maybe you went to your state American Planning Association (APA) conference or the big national one.  Architects had AIA or NOMA or maybe the Congress for New Urbanism.(CNU) Transportation folks did the  Transportation Review Board Annual Meeting , the National Bike Summit, Railvolution or something else similar. Anyway, you did your one conference, got your continuing education credits and came back to the nest (or bunker) and went at it another year.

Nowadays, between TEDx, Pecha Kucha, and Ignite in the tech/mainstream world and Transportation Camp and similar unconferences in our world, not to mention the South By Southwests, SparkCons and Middle of the Maps that just do a lot of everything.

And I can’t get enough of these gatherings, no matter where they are and what purpose they serve. I get a thrill from presenting my thoughts as a keynote. I love bringing together my friends to have a guided conversation. And of course, there are the social activities that come from these gatherings. This is networking at its finest.

Why do I love them so much? I think it’s one thing to write in isolation, with the occasional Facebook share, comment or email to a colleague that happens with an online or even printed article. Yet, for me, as an extroverted writer and speaker, the joy that comes from gathering with my fellow urbanists or marketers, or professional black women or young women with side gigs or just chillin’ with my best friends and family is healing. It’s why so many of us when we can or on a regular basis attend worship services or fellowship meetings or yoga classes. You grow and you change and you heal from being around like minds.

An additional piece I like about conferences and convening is that when done the right way, these events change lives outside the conference hall. One example in the placemaking movement is the Tactical Urbanism push, which started as a Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) NextGen conversation and has now been published into a full length book that’s making the rounds of the mainstream. I’ll never forget the time I participated in this effort to create a promenade on a local street: (I’m in the pink hoodie).


I want to add that conferences that don’t have a good mix of keynotes, breakouts, formal and informal networking sessions fail. Some of the best connections and most valuable business deals happen in the exhibit hall. Another failure comes when your content isn’t compelling. I know occasionally, one has to explain the mechanics of a situation, especially in a continuing education class. Yet, we remember most the vibrant teachers, the ones who have found the human touch in the most boring of subjects.

I’m going to leave you with a set of videos produced on why people go to the CNU every year. I look forward to seeing you this season on the conference circuit. Subscribe to my email list (Go ahead and put your email in the box below)

You’ll be able to find out where I’m going, and who I’m going with. @blackurbanist on Twitter is your best real-time connection to what I’m doing on the convention floor. I’ll also be creating a running Storify. My Twitter is also a good place to find out about special events and opportunities to meet with me at these venues.

And finally, thanks to those of you who have brought me to your gatherings. If you want me to come and speak at your gathering, please contact me. Unless it’s local, I do ask that you work with me to offset travel costs and time spent preparing my remarks, but I can work with the smallest budget, to maximize both mine and your learning time.

About Kristen Jeffers

I'm Kristen. Almost five years ago, I got tired of not seeing black women as nerded out about trains, better streets, riding bikes, walking not just out of necessity, tall buildings, old buildings and honestly a lot of other things. I was in grad school for community and economic development (ok, it’s actually an MPA), and I wanted to make sure people knew I existed and that I could help them do this thing called placemaking better. Five years later, I’m still doing that, although not from my hometown of Greensboro, NC, but from Kansas City, MO. I spend most of my time in Kansas City promoting better biking and walking infrastructure metro-wide with BikeWalk KC and the Kansas City B-cycle. But I also wrote a book A Black Urbanist (you can grab that over on the right) and sometimes I give speeches and help other communities tell their stories at design charrettes and public meetings. I’ve also written or appeared in all of the major “urbanist” publications, either as a subject or as a writer, as well as most of my hometown papers as subject or writer as well.