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Why I’m Grateful for Cities

Why I'm Grateful for Cities

Just in time for the United States Thanksgiving celebration this week, I want to positively but honestly, give thanks to cities for what they do well and right. So why am I thankful for cities?

Public Libraries

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Big Books by Flickr user Tim Samoff

You may have seen the above picture on some social media site. It’s actually the parking garage of the central branch of the Kansas City (MO) library. There are many other branches. Some of them are open daily. Some aren’t. Some are open late, some aren’t. However, that doesn’t always matter because there are plenty of books, events and even a coffee-house at one branch for me to use. Books have always been a refuge for me. I have fond memories of my mom taking me to our nearest branch, as well as doing summer reading programs. I’ll talk more about my actual education later, but the school library has always been a good friend and in this time of transition in my life, I can’t help but thank my new public library for helping me adjust. And having great architecture, which adds to the greater placemaking value of the city.

Public transit that comes on its own rails 

Looking back at San Francisco from the Rockridge Station in Oakland. Image by Malcolm Kenton

Looking back at San Francisco from the Rockridge Station in Oakland. Image by Malcolm Kenton

I’m aware of every recent DC Metro problem. Really, I am. But I can still plan around most of the lines being on time. They ride on their own rails, therefore other traffic doesn’t hold them up. In the industry, we call this kind of transit fixed-guideway. The idea is that it’s fixed to one clear path and therefore you can plan its movements and know exactly where it is at a certain point. There are buses that simulate this, but often they don’t ride in their own lanes and they move at the speed of the driver. Streetcars are also technically fixed to the ground, but they are in mixed traffic and driven, so they also have this issue. Anyway, transit in theory comes on a schedule, you plan around that schedule and you can propel yourself with your two legs or a bike in combination or in lieu of transit. Still, I don’t have to worry about car maintenance or parking it. Well, I do, but one day I could give it up and lean on public transit, because cities provide that.

Unique cultural experiences 

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Spinning Mothers sign in front of the Contemporary Art Museum in Chicago in November of 2012. Photo by the author.

Someone recently changed the sign on the front of Greensboro’s Elsewhere to whereelse. That’s how I’ve always felt about that place. So much so I made it a key part of my going-away celebration and I looked longingly at pictures from this year’s fundraiser for the arts space. Every city needs to have a quirky space, whether it’s explicitly art or explicitly about bringing together marginalized people or if it’s just fun but unique like that flying pig I saw in Cincy a few weeks ago or this swinging banner that says Mothers in front of Chicago’s Contemporary Art Museum that I saw three years ago this month! Also, Elsewhere has worked really hard thanks to grant monies to improve several vacant lots near its Downtown Greensboro building, many of which despite downtown’s renaissance have not seen their property values rise. Now, they’ve risen in a more organic and people-focused way.

My education 

Image from the 2015 Homecoming on the Free Expression Tunnel on the Campus of N.C. State University. Image via the N..C. State Alumni Association Facebook Page

Image from the 2015 Homecoming on the Free Expression Tunnel on the Campus of N.C. State University. Image via the N..C. State Alumni Association Facebook Page

I’ve said it before that I learned my urbanism in college. This is because both my campuses provided such a great community. There were social issues, much like  many campuses are having now. But I’m proud to say that we have leadership and even fellow students who want our actual campus to be a safe space, a learning space, a growing space. However, I’m thankful the most that I finished school before the mass gentrification around both campuses. I feel like the neighborhoods surrounding our schools are just as important and because it is college after all, let it be a little grungy or at the very least middle-class so professors and service workers can also live nearby like students.  I’m also thankful for my K-12 education in the Guilford County School system. That it was just one system was the cause of concern of many parents over the years, but making the two major city systems and the county system one has created a better funding environment and a sense of unity that all students in the county are worthy. Also, the graduation rates have been climbing for the past six years.

So that’s my gratitude practice for cities for this year. Do you have any things you want to thank cities for? Tag them #thankmycity and I’ll be on the lookout to share them. Also, subscribe to my email list to keep up with me and where I’m at both on an off line.

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  • I am grateful for the relationships I’ve gained by walking to shops and becoming a regular at places on my way to work. It’s really nice to bump into people you know, as well as meeting new people. This wouldn’t happen if I just drove from my driveway at home, to the parking lot at work.

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