The City Space

Cultivating Urban Understanding


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The Other Problem With Walmart

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Today, my next post is up on the Strong Towns blog. It’s about Walmart’s effect on our towns and cities. (Spoiler alert: That’s a negative effect.) Here’s how it starts:

Whether you are stumbling on this website for the first time today, or whether you’ve been a Strong Towns advocate for years, you’re probably not a fan of Walmart. Big box stores are not really our thing here. We know that they create a far smaller tax base than your average mom and pop shop, that they take economic value out of our communities, and that they dominate town landscapes with their unnecessarily massive parking lots and ugly buildings. But there’s another problem with Walmart, and it matters because it hits the most vulnerable people hardest: The problem is that Walmart systematically depends on the poverty of communities. 

Read the rest on the Strong Towns blog. Thank you for your interest in these topics and for your support of organizations on the front lines of this movement.

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The College Campus: A Pedestrian Paradise

Pedestrian Bridge University of MN

Last weekend I went home to Minneapolis to visit my parents and also meet with a professor in the University of Minnesota’s Urban & Regional Planning department (where I’m exploring potential graduate school options). Stepping onto the University’s campus (which I admittedly, didn’t spend any time on growing up, despite the fact that it’s in my hometown), I was immediately struck by how wonderfully pedestrian friendly it is. This is true for most college campuses, but it’s been a while since I’ve had reason to go to one, and my own alma mater was so tiny that it didn’t feel particularly remarkable that it was walkable. It was basically one big square block. But this, the University of Minnesota, home to 40,000 students, is a mini-metropolis completely accessible on foot. I’ve heard other urbanists talk about what a great model college campuses are for walkability and good city design, and seeing it in person really brought that point home. Here are a few photos and observations to showcase this.

Sidewalks University of Minnesota

I walked across an entire bridge devoted only to foot traffic. It even had a covered area for when it’s snowy or extremely cold. I moved from building to building on pedestrian-only sidewalks and through courtyards, in addition to skyways that connect many of the buildings too. Due to a combination of cold weather and my visit being during a time when there weren’t too many classes in session, these pictures don’t show very many people, but you can clearly see the wide, plowed sidewalks and the bridge open to pedestrians and bikers, including demarcated lanes for each mode of transportation.

Pedestrian Bridge 2 University of MN

When most of us look back on our college years, there’s a certain fondness felt toward that experience. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a relatively carefree, enjoyable time in our lives. I have to think that some of that is due to walkability. When many people talk about why they loved college, it was their proximity to their friends, their opportunities to play a quick game of football or watch a late night movie or grab snacks in the cafeteria on a whim. It was the fact that they didn’t have to wake up at 5am to endure a 1 hour commute to class but could instead just roll out of bed, gulp down coffee and stroll over to their classroom in a matter of minutes. That walkability contributes to an overall sense of community and closeness.

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It’s also important to note that this pedestrian-friendliness almost always means wheelchair-friendliness. In a car-centric environment, someone in a wheelchair often needs to charter a ride service in order to get anywhere, or rely on the public bus. However, in a walk-friendly area, a wheelchair user can seamlessly travel from place to place, via safe, accommodating sidewalks and accessible building entrances. There is less segregation between able-bodied and disabled individuals. I love that this is an aspect of many college campuses. Certainly many old buildings at universities have catching up to do when it comes to accessibility, but the paths in between the buildings are a good start.

This walkability makes me even more excited to be back in school. And even if academia is not in your plans for the future, you can take advantage of the walking paths and public squares at any university near your home. Our cities could stand to take a page out of their books.


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A Change in Perspective

Rockwell Automation Headquarters

Last Friday evening I was able to step out of the office around 4:45pm, a little earlier than I usually do. It had been an exhausting, full week—the phone constantly ringing, coworkers needing me for this and that, new projects starting and old ones wrapping up. My job ebbs and flows with one day feeling very relaxed and the next feeling off-the-walls hectic. An issue will arise and in my line of work—where good people are faced with impossible circumstances compounded by a lack of housing—that issue usually needs to be handled immediately. So it was a week of immediate needs.

But when I finally got to lock the door of my office and step outside to the bus stop, I was met with a glorious sight: sunlight. Up here in the north, 95% of my workdays end in darkness, the sun having set by 5 or 5:10. On Friday, this was not the case. As I shuffled my feet fighting off the cold while I waited for the bus, I looked across the street at the hard concrete façade of the grand Rockwell Automation Headquarters and caught the sun gracing its corners at the most gorgeous angle. They don’t call it the “magic hour” for no reason. A layer of golden light seemed to have settled on the glass windows in a perfect, cascading arc. The neighborhood where I work, Walkers Point, is mostly industrial buildings and Rockwell is king of them all, so this massive representation of industry and mechanics looking beautiful was quite a sight to behold.

It reminded me that a change in perspective is sometimes exactly what we need in order to help us think about improving our cities.

One of the most basic examples of this is taking a walk. If you’ve never, for instance, walked to get your groceries, walked to work, or walked to drop your child off at school, it can be an utterly eye opening activity. Please try it. I guarantee you will find at least one building or view you’ve never noticed before. You might even run into a friend coming down the sidewalk. The differences between traveling from point A to point B in a car and walking to get from one place to another are numerous and significant. Biggest of all, you’re forced to interact with your city instead of viewing it from behind glass at high speeds (plus you get exercise and fresh air). You start to understand the delineations of neighborhoods, the need for green space and the history of the architecture around you. You start to comprehend what many of your neighbors go through every day if they cannot afford a car or choose not to use one for whatever reason. That change in perspective is invaluable.

Rockwell Automation Headquarters sunlight

For me, seeing that view of the sun hitting the Rockwell Automation building gave me a new perspective on all these hulking buildings, chain link fences and billowing smoke I am surrounded by in my office. They are, after all, a part of the city too, just as much as the trendy coffee shops in other neighborhoods. Historically, in towns across the country, residents and governments have tried to exile industrial buildings to the edge of their towns or put them outside the city limits altogether. That’s certainly why Rockwell is in this particular location on the south side of Milwaukee. However, this city has since grown up around the industrial zone so that now there are houses and schools just blocks away from auto-part factories and machine manufacturers.

Last week, that moment of sunlight made me I realize I kind of like this about Milwaukee. It’s not every city where you can actually see the industry that is helping your city run, the companies that your livelihood was built on—that generations of people have worked in to support their families. Most cities separate usage so strictly that you might never know where the factories in your town are, or if they exist at all. Now, obviously it’s no good to have toxic fumes wafting into schoolyards, but those fumes shouldn’t be permitted in any area of a city—no matter who’s is hanging around there. Ideally, parents who work in these factories can walk over and pick their kids up after school in a matter of minutes. How great is that?

Walkers Point has always been a solidly working class neighborhood, meaning that it is a neighborhood with jobs to do and affordable houses to live in. It is changing, no doubt; employment has moved overseas and upscale restaurants have begun to take advantage of the cheap, empty buildings in the neighborhood. Nonetheless, I am hopeful that the neighborhood can grow without losing its history. Clearly, the Rockwell Automation Building isn’t going anywhere.

That’s a bit of a rambling way to say that a little sunlight can do a world of good in opening our eyes to the possibilities around us. And, as winter slowly fades, I know there’s more sunlight on the way.


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Interview: Earl Schwartz shares a history of Jews and African Americans in North Minneapolis

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A year and a half ago, back when I had just started this blog, I wrote a post about Jews and African Americans in North Minneapolis. North Minneapolis is a neighborhood in my hometown with the fascinating history of two minority populations living side by side, although currently it is a predominantly African American area—Jews having moved out during the second half of the twentieth century as they made more money and ascended in class. The trouble was, when I went to write this post in 2013, I couldn’t find much information on that history. I dredged up a PBS documentary and a small book and wrote a brief blog post on it, but I’ve always known that there was more to the story—if only I could hear from someone who lived during that time. I wanted to know whether the two populations truly interacted and if so, what that relationship looked like.

So a few weeks ago, I went out on a limb and asked my Facebook friends whether they had any ideas, and thankfully, they did. A couple suggestions brought me to interviewing Earl Schwartz, an Assistant Professor of Social Justice, Religion and Middle East Studies at Hamline University in Minneapolis. Professor Schwartz is Jewish and grew up on the Northside. He had a lot to share about that time, particularly, about why there’s not very much information available concerning this history. I’m so glad I got to have this conversation with him:

Q: What is your background? How did you come to be familiar with this history?earl-schwartz

A: My parents grew up in North Minneapolis, so essentially, except for my dad’s experience in WWII, neither of my parents ever lived more than a couple miles far from their birthplace. I and my brother and sister were also born on the Northside.

Q: I see, so your knowledge comes from personal experience. Do you still live on the Northside?

A: Currently, my wife and I live in Como Park in St. Paul. However, when our kids were young in 1993 and we had outgrown our tiny house in South Minneapolis, we put our house up for sale and it sold in 6 days, which really took us by surprise. My mother was still living in the house we grew up in—in North Minneapolis. So completely by good luck, we ended up spending almost the entire school year of 1993-1994 with my mother, in the bedroom I grew up in. Continue reading


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A Strong Towns Response to Homelessness

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I’m immensely honored to begin writing for the Strong Towns blog today. Strong Towns is an organization that I have learned so much from over the last few years. In fact, I would say they are the main vehicle through which I have grown my knowledge of and passion for making cities better. Naturally, I chose to write about an issue very close to my heart: homelessness, in my first post. Here’s an excerpt:

Last year, on a given night in January, more than 600,000 Americans were homeless. That means they were sleeping in their car or under a bridge or in a temporary shelter in cities across America. Most of the time when we see disabled veterans asking for change or single mothers waiting in line at church food pantries, we turn away and ignore their presence in our towns. We even design our public spaces to try and prevent homeless people from being in them. But homeless people have the potential to be Strong Citizens too, and, no matter how much we might try to zone them out of certain areas, they are still our neighbors, deserving of the same respect we try to extend to the family who moves in next door. With that in mind, we should strive to more fully include the homeless in the activities of our towns, valuing their unique perspectives and working to create better places that serve all our citizens.

Read the rest on the Strong Towns website.


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What’s in a homeless person’s bag?

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If you’re a lady, or you read lady magazines, you’ve undoubtedly come across the “What’s in my bag?” trope. In it, a celebrity or fashion blogger displays and discusses the contents of her purse including favorite brands of lipstick, fancy wallets and so on. I want to share something in the same vein, but with a goal that is entirely different from introducing you to a new make up company. Today I want you to understand a little bit of what it’s like to be homeless in America.

I work at one homeless shelter and volunteer at another because, among the issues that are present in cities, I believe homelessness is one of the most serious, and one that must be addressed before I feel I can start working on things like better parks or mixed use developments. Of course, many of these assets go hand in hand with ending homelessness, but right now I am focusing on the root cause. In my day to day, as much as it feels awkward and uncomfortable, I am often privy to the contents of homeless and low-income individuals’ bags. Whether they are unloading their items as they check in each night at the shelter (in which they literally have to remove everything from their purses) or just sifting through their bags to find a document that will allow them to sign up for food at the pantry downstairs, I’ve noticed a few items that show up consistently. I’m not revealing anyone’s personal information here, just hoping to give you a sense of what a homeless woman (or man) must often carry around with her every single day.

As you read over these items, consider the weight of them—literally and figuratively. What would it feel like to carry these items around with you every day? Consider also, how these items are not so different from what a wealthier woman might have in her purse, yet serve different or additional purposes.

So, what’s in her bag?

Every important document she possesses — The first thing to know is that when you’re homeless, you are constantly in need of documentation. You have to show it to the shelter where you’re hoping to get a bed. You have to show it to the cop who tells you you’ve been sitting on that park bench for too long. You have to show it when you arrive at the government office to sign up for food stamps. Not only do you need your own social security card, ID, and birth certificate, but you need the documents for all your children and any other relatives that might be with you. You carry it constantly in a folder, or sometimes in a plastic bag in case of rain. We’re not talking about making sure you have your driver’s license in your pocket. We’re talking about every important document mapping out your entire life, carried with you at all times.

Cell phone and charger — If you see a homeless person with a cell phone, you might initially think it’s a frivolous expense, but actually it’s one of the most important items to have if you’re without a permanent residence. Thankfully, most homeless individuals I have met in this country do figure out a way to afford a phone. Unfortunately, whereas homeless individuals could probably make better use of a smartphone than anyone else (being able to look up directions to a food pantry, respond to emails for job interviews, etc.) it’s rare that I come across anyone with an iphone or android in my line of work. Still, those trusty cell phones will help people through many a tough situation, and provide a way to connect to family who may be far away.

Make up — Everyone wants to look his or her best, including people who are struggling to get their basic needs met. She will undoubtedly have job interviews or meetings with social workers where she wishes to present herself in a certain light, and make up can really help with that. Access to basic hygiene is a huge issue for homeless people. Imagine not being able to feel clean each morning by taking a shower, or not being able to afford deoderant when you run out, or not having access to a bathroom when you need to change your tampon (there was recently an enlightening article about that topic in the Huffington Post). Not only are you without the safety and comfort of a permanent home, but you also lack the amenities of a permanent home. Make up is a small way to take strides in the direction of personal hygiene and dignity.  

Tissues and napkins Similarly, having tissues or napkins with you (probably grabbed from a cafeteria or soup kitchen) can be an important way to keep clean. If your days are not spent inside a home or office or school, you’re likely on the streets or moving from place to place, anywhere that will allow you to hang out. There’s only so many times you can use the bathroom at a mall or McDonald’s before someone tells you to “move along.” I wrote about the need for better public access to restrooms in this post, but until that time, tissues will likely be found in the bags of homeless people.  

Candy, condiment packets, other small food items — When you don’t know where your next meal is coming from, every little bit helps. Whether it’s a Snickers bar you bought for a dollar from a vending machine or even some condiment packets you grabbed from the checkout line at the deli, keeping forms of sustenance with you is vital. A homeless person cannot just head for her kitchen cabinet when she gets hungry for a snack. Furthermore, for homeless individuals who experience illnesses like diabetes, having food available can mean life or death.

A few cigarettes — You may be thinking, why on earth would someone who has so little money spend her precious dollars on expensive, unhealthy products like cigarettes? In fact, there are several reasons. First, if you were a smoker before you became homeless, its unlikely that in the midst of all you’re undergoing—what with trying to find housing and income and support—you’re going to decide that that’s the right time to try to quit smoking. It would likely only add to your stress. Second, when you’re undergoing the trauma of being without a home, probably juggling a few children, managing a health issue, trying to keep it all together—it’s natural to want a momentary stress reliever. These are two reasons why you might find cigarettes in a woman’s bag.

So, there’s a look into the life of a homeless American. Think about the weight of it. Think also, about how it’s not so different from what a wealthier person might have in his or her purse, but everything serves a much more life-and-death purpose. You’re not carrying around lipstick so you can freshen up on the way to a date; you’re carrying around lipstick because it’s a minute way to make yourself feel presentable for a job interview that could dramatically change the course of your life. You’re not bringing along a candy bar in case you get hungry in between the gym and your dinner plans, you have that candy bar for when you can’t make it to the soup kitchen in between doctors’ appointments and food stamp sign-ups, and you’re facing a night without supper.

Homelessness directly impacted more than 600,000 Americans last year, many of them children. That’s equal to the entire population of Washington, DC. I hope this post gave you a small sense of how homelessness is both normal, and not so normal, for many Americans–women, men, white people, black people, children, seniors and more.


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Montreal in Winter

Notre Dame Cathedral at Christmas

This winter, I had the good fortune of joining my family and my boyfriend on a trip to Montreal, Canada for a couple days. It was great to take time off from work and visit a country I’d never been to before, especially one so close by. We spent most of our time walking and eating (my two favorite activities while traveling).

Before we went to Montreal, I had visions of a picturesque, old European city settled on the waterfront, but when I arrived, I found a much different scene. Sure there were a few cobble-stone roads and antique buildings, but the city was also very much a modern landscape with skyscrapers, hotels, plenty of chain stores and a fair amount of car traffic. I had expected to return with praise for old-fashioned urban design, but instead I found that Montreal had its fair share of pros and cons, just like anywhere else. Here are some of the positives, as well as negatives, I discovered in this French city.

Montreal at Christmas

  1. Pro: The holiday decorations. Montreal had some of the most tasteful, delightful holiday décor I have ever seen. We’re talking glowing angels and festive pine wreaths straight out of a fairy tale. These decorations made everything sparkly and warm—an essential feature to an otherwise dark and chilly weekend. By and large, they weren’t religiously-focused either, making the accessible for people of all faiths.

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Pedestrian Right of Way

Nearly every day in this country, pedestrians are killed by cars. I’m not just talking about drunk drivers. I’m talking about your mom or your little brother walking across the street on their way home when suddenly a car barreling down a residential neighborhood at 40 mph because he needs to get to the grocery store right now, strikes and kills them instantly. When we talk about crosswalks and lower speed limits and wider sidewalks, we are talking about life and death. If you want to hear a truly tragic story of a young mother and child recently killed while crossing the street on their way home from the library, listen to this Strong Towns podcast episode.

I want to briefly demonstrate for you the absolute carelessness of the majority of drivers in an every day situation, through a quick video. Now thankfully, I didn’t die doing this.

In this video, you’ll see me walking up to a crosswalk, which is clearly marked with signs on both sides of the street and white painted lines in the road. Then you’ll see how dozens of cars (and a city bus!) completely disregard my presence and my right of way. I’m posting the Wisconsin law regarding pedestrian right of way below (which is very similar to most state laws) so you can understand exactly how these drivers are breaking it. In summary, legally, cars must yield to pedestrians or wheelchair users who are in a crosswalk, and even to pedestrians who are crossing in a place where a crosswalk would theoretically be, if the city had bothered to paint it (i.e. any intersection). You can scroll down past the legalease if you want to just watch the video.

340.01(10)

(10) “Crosswalk” means either of the following, except where signs have been erected by local authorities indicating no crossing:

(a) Marked crosswalk. Any portion of a highway clearly indicated for pedestrian crossing by signs, lines or other markings on the surface; or

(b) Unmarked crosswalk. In the absence of signs, lines or markings, that part of a roadway, at an intersection, which is included within the transverse lines which would be formed on such roadway by connecting the corresponding lateral lines of the sidewalks on opposite sides of such roadway […]

346.23: Crossing controlled intersection or crosswalk.

(1) At an intersection or crosswalk where traffic is controlled by traffic control signals or by a traffic officer, the operator of a vehicle shall yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian, or to a person who is riding a bicycle or electric personal assistive mobility device in a manner which is consistent with the safe use of the crosswalk by pedestrians, who has started to cross the highway on a green or “Walk” signal and in all other cases pedestrians, bicyclists, and riders of electric personal assistive mobility devices shall yield the right-of-way to vehicles lawfully proceeding directly ahead on a green signal.  No operator of a vehicle proceeding ahead on a green signal may begin a turn at a controlled intersection or crosswalk when a pedestrian, bicyclist, or rider of an electric personal assistive mobility device crossing in the crosswalk on a green or “Walk” signal would be endangered or interfered with in any way.

346.24: Crossing at uncontrolled intersection or crosswalk.

(1) At an intersection or crosswalk where traffic is not controlled by traffic control signals or by a traffic officer, the operator of a vehicle shall yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian, or to a person riding a bicycle or electric personal assistive mobility device in a manner which is consistent with the safe use of the crosswalk by pedestrians, who is crossing the highway within a marked or unmarked crosswalk.

In the video (which I filmed on New Years Day), I walk a few feet into the crosswalk and wait patiently as car after car blows past me. Eventually, I get fed up with waiting and start to walk into the middle of the road, where the first lane of traffic is persuaded to stop. Then finally I keep walking into the second lane where cars just barely hit the brakes before entering the crosswalk and hitting me. I actually put my up, motioning the drivers to stop (although you can’t see that since I am filming from my perspective).

Forgive the expletives (or put the video on mute, the sound is not really necessary), but when I have to risk my life just walking home every day, I get pretty angry about it.

That is the state of pedestrian safety today. And this video is taken at a designated crosswalk! In spaces without signage or painted lines in the road, the cars blow by continuously in an even more dangerous manner. Pedestrian safety is not just the battle cry of angry hippies. It is a necessary component of all city planning and road design. It is the difference between life and death for your child walking home from school, your friend riding her wheelchair, your father taking his dog for a walk, your grandpa on his way to church and you, wherever you choose to go that does not involve a car.

So please, if you’re a driver, always stop for pedestrians. And if you’re a pedestrian, know that you have an absolute right to be where you are. It’s only by continuing to declare our presence and the value of our lives that we can move into a future of greater safety for everyone.


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A Glance at 2014

This is probably the longest time I’ve gone without blogging, but it was a much needed rest, in the midst of holidays, travel, a busy season at work, and planning for the future. I’m back with a recap of 2014, including favorite posts from each month.

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In January, I was fighting it out through a deep, snowy New York City winter. I wrote Young Wanderers: Where My Generation is Headed and How We’re Getting There, a reflection on what it’s like to come of age during this economic recession, and all the expectations that are placed on young people.

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In February, I had spent enough time in NYC to have learned a few things (like moving quickly and dressing for all occasions) and I shared those, along with a few areas for improvement.

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In March, I wrote an in depth piece in two parts, regarding what’s wrong with the homeless shelter system in America and how we can change that picture. It was inspired by the work of my friend Abbilyn Miller.

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In April, as spring warmed up and I began to consider where I’d be going after my New York program finished, I created a graphic to help analyze the pluses and minuses of different modes of transportation. I still find it useful today.

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May brought with it the creation of this essay entitled “I Don’t Buy It: Ethical Consumption in the 21st Century. It was written truly from the heart, about the immoral system of global production, which we are all implicated in. I also offered some ways I attempt to consume in an ethical manner. It was my most popular post of all time.

Milwaukee's Third Ward in Winter

In June, I wrote about the city I was planning to move to: Milwaukee, WI. I talked about the transitions it is experiencing and the many ways it contradicts itself economically, culturally and architecturally. It was a helpful reflection in preparation for coming back to the Midwest, and it reflected a transition that many cities are currently undergoing.

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In July, after coming back home to Minneapolis for my birthday, I wrote a quick profile of one of my favorite neighborhood bars. I hope you’ve had a chance to find your favorite neighborhood bar in whatever city you live in.

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In August, I spent time discussing a topic that’s not really polite dinner conversation but is an important issue: bathrooms. Specifically public restrooms and the lack thereof in certain cities, and how that effects different segments of the population.

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By September, I was settling into a new apartment with my partner. I also had the chance to interview my cousin Christina about her life in Richmond, VA, particularly about what it’s like to have a biracial family in a southern city. An interesting discussion about education, health care and differences between the South and North ensued.

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In October, I started writing for the online city journal, Urban Milwaukee. My column profiles a new intersection in Milwaukee every week, crisscrossing the city and getting to know its diverse neighborhoods one by one. You can read all my articles thus far here.

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Finally, in November I seriously considered getting a car…but after weighing the positives and negatives, I came down firmly on the side of maintaining my bus/walk lifestyle. I feel healthier than ever and I know my city in a way I never would if I spent all my travel time inside a metal vehicle. I hope my essay helps you analyze whether cutting your car out of your life might be beneficial to you too!

Now here we are in December. It’s been a year of huge transitions. Last January, I set some simple, natural goals: Get the next job, get to the right place geographically, and keep figuring out what I should be doing. I can confidently say I have met all those. I am working to end homelessness–a goal that I believe is central in the fight for economic justice and an end to poverty. I am living in Milwaukee, WI–a city that is new, yet familiarly Midwestern, and feels like home because my partner is here with me. I am continuing to figure out where my future leads, whether that looks like grad school, government work, or a new city. Regardless, I know 2015 will be an adventure.

My current goals for the year ahead include getting to know more people in Milwaukee, cooking at least one recipe from all my cookbooks, applying to grad school, getting a cat, and of course, writing more great content for this blog.

A few other notes as we look back on this year:

The most important thing I have to share as we close out the year is my thanks for everyone who reads this blog. Thank you for taking the time to consider these ideas, provide your feedback, ask questions and make your cities and towns better everyday. Have a wonderful new year! I’ll be back soon with some photos from a recent trip to Montreal.


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Giving a True Gift

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Hi everyone, I’m going to talk to you straight today. It’s the season of giving and before you rush out to the store and buy tons of cheap products produced by underpaid child laborers, read my post about ethical consumption, then consider another form of giving. There’s no sense in filling our houses and cities with more and more stuff. The weight of that is taking its toll on our environment and on our psyches, creating an endless cycle that demands we buy more in order to keep ourselves happy. It will never be enough. Share a true gift this year instead.

Here are some gift ideas to get you started. They are completely non-material (meaning they don’t involve buying an object for someone), and all are low-cost or free:

  1. Bake something. It’s so simple and, if you’re like me, you’re probably baking tons of delicious goodies right now anyway—far more than you or your family could ever consume alone. So wrap up a plate and walk over to the neighbor’s house. Bring one by for your child’s teacher or coach. Ship off a box to an old friend far away. This is guaranteed to make everyone happy.
  2. Do something helpful for someone else. This can be as simple as a daily task that would be useful, or a more specific task that utilizes your personal skills. Offer to babysit a friend’s kids so she can go out to dinner with her husband. Shovel an elderly neighbor’s driveway. Help a family do their taxes, if accounting is your forte. Play a free concert for a local nursing home, if you’re musically inclined. All of these options require little to no money and are often much more appreciated than a material gift.
  3. Give a gift certificate to a local restaurant. What better way to support your local businesses than by sending your friends to dine at them? Not only will you be sharing the food you love with the people you love, they might come back for more, and continue supporting the business long after you give the gift. This can be completely customized based on your budget. I bet a $10 gift card to your favorite coffee shop will mean just as much as a $30 gift card to your favorite burger joint.
  4. Make a charitable donation:
    1. If you want to donate domestically, please consider making a contribution to this amazing organization: Strong Towns. They are a grassroots, nation-wide organization working to help cities and towns flourish and develop financial resiliency. Strong Towns also taught me a good chunk of what I know about urban development and making cities better. If nothing else please check them out on their website. This is a good place to start, and there are loads of great, free ideas and resources shared on their blog weekly.
    2. The options for international generosity are nearly boundless. Pick your region or issue of interest and you could be combing the internet for days looking for the perfect charity. I want to suggest just one, which I have been a committed donor to for many years: Blood:Water Mission. As the name suggests, Blood:Water Mission targets two issues: HIV/AIDS and clean water. It is a US nonprofit that partners with East African organizations on the ground to improve water access/purity and support people affected by HIV/AIDS as well as prevent the spread of the disease. They have a super cool feature on their website which shows you how far your donation will go to support several different AIDS- and water-related solutions, no matter how much money you are able to give.  Check it out.

 
Thanks for letting me preach a little bit. I wish you the very best this season.

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