The City Space

Cultivating Urban Understanding


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New on Strong Towns

First day at my new job (in my living room, because I work from home now!)

First day at my new job (in my living room, because I work from home now!)

It has been far too long since I last posted. That’s because I just started a new job at Strong Towns, where I’m working as a Communications Specialist. I’ve only been there 2 weeks and I already know it’s the best job I’ve ever had. I get to contribute to a movement that I believe in during a time of growth and change at the organization. And, as one of my friends recently pointed out, I am getting paid to write! I feel like I’ve made it in many ways. Your support of this blog is part of that success.

Transitioning to a new job has left me with little time to write here, but I’ll try to remedy that soon. For now, here is some of what I’ve recently written on Strong Towns:

In addition to writing myself, I’ve also gotten to bring in new contributors and highlight the work of others, one of my favorite things about this job. Here are some of those recent pieces:

Strong Towns is a transformative and important organization that is changing the conversation about financial resilience and urban vitality in America. (And I’m not just a fan because they gave me a job. I promise.)

Check out this list to see if we’re coming to a town near you.

Be back soon.


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What Happens to Small Businesses During Light Rail Construction

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It’s always exciting when I get to post on the Strong Towns blog. This week, I wrote about an issue I tackled a couple years ago on this blog: Summer Construction and Small Business Struggles. I expanded on it and dealt specifically with light rail construction on the Strong Towns blog, asking the question: How should we handle situations where the long-term goals of one entity–in this case the government and the city–clash with the short-term, day-to-day existence of another–small businesses? There’s already a lot of good ideas shared in the comments section. Here’s how it starts:

Four years ago, I sat in a small Caribbean restaurant called Caribe, in St. Paul, MN enjoying some phenomenal tostones and cuban sandwiches with an old friend and thinking to myself, “How did I not know about this place before? I’m definitely coming back soon.” A couple months later, I learned that the business had been forced to shutter its doors. What happened so suddenly that this beloved cafe had to close? If you’ve been following the public transit scene in the Twin Cities for the last few years, you know the answer: a light rail line was built in front of this business and hundreds of others on University Avenue. Getting to these diverse small businesses by car–and even on foot–became a serious challenge during the construction phase, thus many businesses saw a severe downturn in profits…

Read on for the rest.


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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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Urban Milwaukee Column #2

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My next column is up on Urban Milwaukee. Read about the intersection of 1st St and Pittsburgh in Milwaukee, a transition point between two very different neighborhoods, on the cusp of major change. If you missed the first one, you can read it here. I’m enjoying this method of exploring a new city–diving deep into one specific intersection in a given neighborhood.


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Writing for Urban Milwaukee

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This week, I’m honored to start writing as a columnist for Urban Milwaukee, an online journal that seeks to provide an informative and open dialogue on the issues, events, and people affecting Milwaukee’s most urban neighborhoods, and to promote urbanism within the city of Milwaukee.

Here’s the start of my first column:

Located at the convergence of the Lower East SideRiverwest, and the Beerline, the four-way corner of N. Water St. (E. Kane Pl. to the east) and N. Humboldt Ave. is a very important intersection in Milwaukee. It is also a space in transition, and has the potential to experience a lot more change in the next few years. It’s currently home to a mix of big, contemporary apartment buildings and older houses, as well as BelAir Cantina, the popular taco spot, Finks, a craft cocktail and beer lounge, and Greek Village Gyros. Just up the diagonal Pulaski St. is the famous Wolski’s Tavern and just south on Water Street is Brochach Irish Pub, soon to become the Red Lion Pub.

Perhaps most important, this corner is on the Milwaukee River, and while the new apartment complexes are slowly encroaching upon that view, I think there’s still a chance to save it, and benefit residents and river lovers….

Click here to read the rest! Check back every Thursday for a new column.


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Around the Block – Links from the Week 9/19/14

Around the Block - Links from the Week

I think it’s time for some links. On my radar this week:

  • First, a simple article about new businesses who moved in and didn’t gentrify, but did improve their neighborhood. Glad to see that it’s possible to do that.
  • Next, a quick rundown of “6 Cities Taking a Lead on Solving Homelessness.” Lots of creative, constructive ideas here.
  • From my hometown of Minneapolis, some exciting news that the city council in a nearby suburb of Edina approved the transformation of an old building into apartments for homeless youth! This is a huge step in the right direction, and I hope something we will see more of in other places, because youth homelessness is a major issue in our nation.
  • For a longer read: This New Yorker article, “Paper Palaces,” came out last month but my mom just showed it to me. It’s a breathtaking delve into a unique architect who builds functional, often portable shelters, schools, museums and more, around the world.
  • This one’s also from last month, but it may not have reached you yet: The United Sweets of America, a dessert for every state in the country. Find yours and tell me if you think it makes sense. All the ones I investigated seemed pretty spot-on. (For instance: Wisconsin’s dessert is “kringle” And that reminds me, I haven’t had any since I moved here yet!)
  • Finally, I recently added some new links to my Favorite Sites page, gleaned from the Strong Towns National Gathering last weekend. Some seriously top-notch people doing good work around the country.

Alright folks, don’t forget to follow the action on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Have a phenomenal weekend!


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The New York Files

Rachel Q at the High Line

As my departure from New York City nears (1.5 weeks left!), I’m doing a lot of packing and a lot of goodbyes – to both places and people. It’s a busy time, as any move is, but I wanted to take a moment to share with you a slice of the posts inspired during my year here.

  • My first big reflection came in the form of this essay entitled, “My Role in Gentrification.” It’s still something I think about every day here, and my insights about this key urban issue will stick with me in cities far beyond New York.
  • Soon after arriving, I realized the need to cultivate calm and quiet in this bustling place, so I wrote about how to live a simple life in a complicated city.
  • I also faced some moments where I wasn’t so thrilled to be in New York.
  • In November, I reflected upon my family’s history coming to this country from Germany during the Holocaust, and settling in a neighborhood very near to where I live in New York City. And I recognized how it affects me to this day.
  • By February, I’d been here long enough to have built a knowledge base of skills for New York City life, as well as some areas I could still stand to improve upon (For the record, I can report that I definitely got better at #1 and #3, but I have made my peace with the fact that I will never successfully walk in 3-inch heels all day.)
  • In the spring, I shared a list I had been working on all year: my New York bakery list! I sampled so many tasty treats over the last year and it was fun to have this little quest to guide me. I ended up continuing the quest for my remaining months here, trying the pastries at Baked in Brooklyn, Bouchon Bakery and more.
  • I enjoyed writing this short piece about Why I Love My Neighborhood, and I invite you to think and comment on that topic over there.
  • Finally, I closed with my ultimate NYC guide last week. Here are Parts 1 and 2.
  • For a complete list of all New York City posts, click here.

 

With that, I’m off to Milwaukee, WI. It’ll a brand new adventure and I can’t wait. Thanks for reading along during my time in New York and you can be sure I’ll have a whole new batch of insights in the coming month.

Photo credit: My friend Matthew Morriss


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Do you have a story to tell?

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One of the best things that happens on this blog is when I get to hand the mic to other people. I’ve done a few interviews over the last year, but I’d love to do many more. Do you have a unique perspective on the city where you live? Have you witnessed community developmentgentrification, small business growthhousing issues? Or do you just live in a really cool neighborhood that you want to tell us about?

I’d love to interview you. It can be quick. It can be long. It can be phone, Skype or email. Drop me a line if you’re interested: rachelquednau@gmail.com .


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Around the Block – Links from the Week, 7/18/14

Around the Block - Links from the Week

Relevant stories in the world of cities and their residents.

  • If you’ve ever set foot in a library, it’s likely that you’ve come across a homeless person using the bathroom or the computer. This Reuters article talks about how libraries are on the “front line” in the fight against homelessness, offering services, meals and safety. But they also have their not-in-my-backyard critics. Read about it here.
  • You may have read about how the Detroit government shut off water to 100,000 of its residents. This story in The Atlantic covers the details of how that’s impacting day to day life in Detroit. My own posts about Detroit can be found here and here.
  • In the midst of unceasing violence that makes me question when peace will ever truly exist in the Israeli-Palestinian region, I found this NPR story about Israelis and Palestinians breaking fast together after their respective religious observances particularly significant and moving.
  • Speaking of religion, a “dinner church” is blurring boundaries between rich and poor, religious and non-religious in Brooklyn, NY. Read the story here.
  • I discovered a blog called Pattern Cities yesterday and I’m finding it the perfect place to learn about how cities’ ideas spread around the world. You might be interested if you like geography or politics.
  • Finally, a New York story that made national headlines: The Long Island Rail Road workers, who operate the most trafficked commuter rail in the nation, ferrying some 300,000 people back and forth every day, almost went on strike. Things were looking pretty grim for all parties until an eleventh hour deal was solidified between the unions and the government.

And here’s a quick tip, I usually post these links to Facebook or Twitter as they happen.