The City Space

Cultivating Urban Understanding


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The East Library in Milwaukee

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Every so often, you encounter a building that just astounds you with its perfection, and if you’re lucky, it’s a building you can actually spend time in (not a million-dollar penthouse, for example). The new East Library in Milwaukee—completed just months ago—is absolutely that astounding, especially when you consider that so many libraries are decades old, dreary relics. These pictures tell the East Library’s story, but I’ll add some context too.

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First, a word about the neighborhood where this library is located. I wrote a profile of a nearby intersection for Urban Milwaukee, which will give you a good idea of the area, but to summarize: It is a dense, popular neighborhood filled with restaurants, bars, grocery stores and residences. Located on the East Side of Milwaukee, the area trends younger (a university is fairly nearby) but has many families and seniors too. It’s connected to several bus lines and well-used traffic arteries. It is ripe for a public library and it had one for quite some time, but that library wasn’t built to meet current needs and its dark, low-ceilings and brick walls were far from inviting. Continue reading


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The Housing Segregation Conundrum

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I live in a city that is often called “the most racially segregated city in America.” I’ve heard a few different definitions of what that means but the best one explains that in no other city in America does black so thoroughly and consistenly mean “poor,” and white so thoroughly and consistently equate with “middle class or wealthy.” I think about segregation and it’s complicated cousin, gentrification, a fair amount, especially as they relate to housing and homelessness. I see the neighborhoods where my clients–who are almost all African American–end up living and they are filled with other poor African Americans living in run-down houses with few businesses nearby. Then I look at my own neighborhood which is mostly white, with a bit better housing stock and far more vibrant local businesses. The worst crime that happens in my neighborhood is theft and drunk driving. In my clients’ neighborhoods, it is assault, rape and murder. This is the general picture, not the exact details of every block, but the general picture is bleak and clearly segregated.

A couple weeks ago, the New York Times rans this op-ed by Thomas Edsall entitled “Where Should a Poor Family Live?” In it, Edsall questions what he calls the “poverty housing industry” for its maintenance of the status quo–keeping poor people in poor neighborhoods instead of moving them into wealthier areas which theoretically offer greater opportunity. He asks, “Should federal dollars go toward affordable housing within high-poverty neighborhoods, or should subsidies be used to move residents of impoverished communities into more upscale–and more resistant–sections of cities and suburbs with better schools and job opportunities?”

Edsall mostly talks about federal subsidies that come through Low Income Housing Tax Credits (which widely enable most affordable housing corporations to build and maintain their developments), although his arguments could also be extended to public housing. In essence, Edsall is raising an immensely challenging, but highly relevant question for today’s cities and towns: Should public and private anti-poverty efforts (in this case, affordable housing) focus on uplifting the neighborhoods where poverty exists, or removing poor people from those neighborhoods altogether? Continue reading


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A Recipe for Success

Brady Street 2015

Milwaukee, WI has made more frequent appearances on this blog, now that I live here, but usually I write about it in something of a critical light. I walk its streets every day, so I see the good and bad that goes on here, and it’s usually more productive to write about the bad, and constructively brainstorm ways to make it better. However, today I want to talk about Milwaukee in a wholly positive light.

Brady Street Milwaukee

I’m going to talk about one specific street here—Brady Street—because I think it is a fantastic model for a thriving, positive neighborhood street. Brady Street is one block from my house and it serves as a commercial anchor for the East Side of Milwaukee. The businesses here range from a hardware store to an STD clinic, from a Waldorf school to a Catholic church, from a Mediterranean nightclub to a popular sushi café, and from a dingy sports bar to one of the best wine bars in the city. It would take days to explore every storefront on this lively avenue. The street runs parallel to the river and it’s tucked in something of a residential area, yet it’s a busy, bustling thoroughfare with so much to offer. This is due to several important factors that I hope to see in more neighborhoods around the country: Continue reading


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Glorioso’s Italian Market

Glorioso's Italian Market

The specialty market is a dying breed. With the exception of bakeries, which will always have a home in the land of cakes, cookies and bread items, most specialty food stores—carrying just one category of foods—have given way to the one-stop supermarket. I’m not arguing with the logic of it because most of us don’t have the luxury of several hours to hop from store to store every time we need to go grocery shopping. Nonetheless, cheese shops, butchers, and green markets are a rare treat when I do have the time to visit them.

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That’s why I was particularly thrilled to learn that my new apartment was a quick seven minute walk away from a specialty Italian market called Glorioso’s. Now, this is more than just a cheese shop or a butcher, but it’s a definitely not your typical grocery store. First of all, it’s arranged in an inviting manner, with an entrance that brings you down a few stairs, so you feel as if you’re stepping into another place, perhaps the cellar of an old Italian restaurant (although the windows on the edges prevent it from feeling dark or dusty). To your right is a small assortment of produce—just the bare essentials you might need to accompany one meal or so. To your left is a pleasant seating area where you can get right down to eating whatever it is you’ve just purchased (additional seating outside is also a nice touch during the warmer months).

Glorioso's Italian Market

In front of you is the butcher and cheesemonger section, with easily a hundred different types of cured meats and cheeses from around the world. You can either browse the coolers and grab whatever you’d like yourself, or you can step up to the deli counter and order the precise amount that you need, watching the butcher carefully slice it to your desired thickness for sandwiches, Sunday dinners or hor d’eourves trays. At one end of the deli counter, you’ll find the prepared food section, which offers pasta salads, calzones, lasagnas and more, for reasonable prices. Behind the counter there’s also a full kitchen where you can get any number of pasta dishes made to order. As if that weren’t enough, there’s another counter that provides housemade meatballs, sauces and pizza doughs, so that you can take them home and prepare them as you wish. This is food I’d be comfortable serving at a dinner party, but just as comfortable throwing together for a quick weeknight dinner.

Glorioso's Italian MarketThe center of the store is full of various goods including bread from a local bakery, coffee from several local roasters, and fancy imported canned fish. The second room of Glorioso’s is half-filled with a wine shop and half-filled with every item you could possibly need for Italian cooking. Homemade raviolis, fresh pastas, gourmet sauces and olive oils, salts, baking supplies and even cooking utensils. As a cook, I love just walking through the aisles and examining all these interesting products. I almost feel like I’m back in New York, meandering through the narrow aisles, surprised to find all manner of imported items crammed into a modest space.

Glorioso’s has made life easy for me in so many ways. For one, it’s the closest grocery store whenever I need to grab one or two items that I’ve run out of for a recipe—say milk or an onion. For another, it’s my go-to place for prepared food because it’s practically homemade, and it gives me the ability to put as much or as little effort into cooking as I want. If I felt like making my own ravioli (which I’ve done with my mother several times), I’d get my ingredients at Glorioso’s, but if I felt like just plopping a few frozen ravioli in a pot of water and topping it off with some jarred sauce once it was finished, I’d also get those items at Glorioso’s.

One might expect this place to have disappeared years ago, what with the competition of nearby chain grocery stores and sandwich shops. Yet, at nearly seventy years old, Glorioso’s is a piece of Milwaukee heritage still going strong today. It’s a testament to the Italian immigrants who helped to make this city great, and it continues to feed residents of all cultural backgrounds with delicious, affordable food. I feel blessed to have landed an apartment so near to such a rich amenity, and I plan to sample as much of this tasty food as I can over the next several months. If you’re ever in the area, you must make a stop here.


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Who is my Neighbor?

Who is my neighbor?

“Who is my neighbor?” This question, posed by a crafty lawyer in the Gospel of Luke invites Jesus to launch into one of his most famous parables of the Good Samaritan. (For those unfamiliar with the story: A Jewish man is walking along a road when he is suddenly robbed and beaten up by thieves. While he is lying in the ditch, two people whom we would assume to be helpful simply pass him by. In the end, a Samaritan—a person of a different race, with whom the Jews had very poor relations—comes to the injured man’s aid, binding his wounds and giving him money to stay at a nearby inn while he recuperates.) When he has finished telling this parable, Jesus turns the question back on the lawyer and asks, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” to which the lawyer replies, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus says, “Go and do likewise” (NRSV).

I tell you this, not because I want to preach to you, or even because I want to talk about religion at all. Rather, I bring this up because that repeated question, “Who is my neighbor?” bears relevance for cities and neighborhoods.

Is a neighbor the person next door and across the street? That would be simple.

Does my entire neighborhood contain my “neighbors”? Linguistically, that would make sense.

Can I consider everyone living in my city a potential neighbor? This would mean a whole lot of neighbors.

Are business owners, cops and teachers my neighbors too, or just the people who live in the houses nearby? If they’re all neighbors, how do I get to know them in different ways?

After the Strong Towns National Gathering in which many of the participants challenged and encouraged one another to get to know their neighbors better, I realized I needed to first figure out “Who is my neighbor?” The passage from Luke helps me broadly define the term. If we were to follow the invitation of the Gospel passage, and the invitation of my fellow Strong Citizens last weekend—which is truly the invitation of any neighborhood that lacks community—we should show compassion, friendliness and warmth toward those around us. That means whomever we encounter in our daily lives. The aid pushing the elderly man at the senior center across from your office, the rambunctious children running around your grocery store with their tired mother, the fast-walking business man in a suit who passes by your house on his way to the bus every the morning, the immigrant couple that runs your laundromat, the teenager who makes your sandwich at the deli counter. These are the people around us and they deserve our kindness. One by one, person by person, block by block, these small acts add up to more pleasant neighborhoods and towns.

This week, as I have been intentional about saying hello to my neighbors on my way to work, in the grocery store, at my volunteering shift, and in the hallways of my apartment, I’ve discovered a few things:

  1. It’s harder than it looks. (And we already know this because we don’t do it very often.) First, it’s hard to be the one initiating. Most of the time when we’re walking outside on our own, we close ourselves off to the elements, process thoughts within our heads, and keep to our own business. So, it’s challenging for me to step out of that every single time I see someone (especially because I’m somewhat introverted) and say “Hello.” It’s also hard because the response from others is not always positive. I don’t know about your neighborhood, but in mine, people tend to keep their heads down. They don’t expect a stranger to speak to them, so when it happens, they sometimes take so long to process the occurrence that they can barely muster a reply before I’ve walked past. None of my neighbors have replied rudely to me—they just haven’t always replied with a cheery “Hello” right back. The two instances of pleasant greetings that stand out to me from the last week were from a young boy coming out of school, and an older man smoking a cigar on his front stoop. Unfortunately, most of the young people in my demographic are plugged into their iPhones or generally aloof. I’m trying my best to move against that stereotype.
  2. It helps to have a buddy. I’m not the most outgoing person, but I have plenty of friends who are. I like to be intentional when I’m with them about taking those leaps to talk to strangers, which I might not otherwise take alone, knowing that I have a friend at my side to join in the conversation.
  3. This is the beginning. Once I get my hello’s down and start recognizing faces, then I should move on to asking names. Saying hi to people doesn’t feel like it’s doing much, unless it encourages others to say hi too. I’m hoping to contribute to a community that feels warm and welcoming. Last week, without my doing anything, a nice woman struck up a conversation while we waited together at the bus stop. Her first comment was the simplest, “How about this warm weather we’re having?” but it led us to discuss our jobs, recent events in the city and the wild antics of the football fans  here. Later that evening, I caught a glimpse of the same woman standing in the check cashing spot near my apartment, confirming that she’s a resident of the neighborhood. Next time I see her (for all I know, it might happen today while I’m waiting for the bus again), I’ll definitely find out her name.
  4. We have nothing to lose. Being friendly is the simplest way to make our neighborhoods better. Once you get past the initial hurtle of opening your mouth, it’s smooth sailing. Only good can come of this.

 
Does knowing your neighbors come naturally to you? If you live in a neighborhood like that, I’d love to hear about it. I’d also love to hear about your experiences talking to your own neighbors. Will you take the challenge?


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The Magic of Summer Saturdays

Larsens Fish Market, Menemsha, Martha's Vineyard

Picture the last time you had a truly wonderful Saturday this summer.

I think summer Saturdays are magical. The city wakes up in waves, with the rising of the sun inviting the first surge of dog-walkers and joggers out onto the sidewalks and into the parks. A few hours later, older couples and families with children venture down the block to their neighborhood coffee shop or bakery, lingering over the last muffin crumbs on the plate, chatting with neighbors and friends. The farmers’ markets set up their white tents and welcome the next wave of shoppers, eager for fresh produce and conversation. Saturdays are open with possibility. If you’re a kid, you might choose to play at the local park or run around the neighborhood with your friends. Adults might finally take time for their hobbies, reading books from the library, working on building projects, practicing musical instruments or sharpening their basketball skills. As the day comes to a close, we dive into cooking comforting meals for our families, or heading out to the neighborhood diner for a burger or pizza. Sunday hasn’t come yet—with its pressures of the impending Monday and chores at hand—and the workweek is melting away. The city is alive, but calm and present.

I tell this story of the magical summer Saturday because, to me, it is a perfect picture of what cities and towns could be all week long, and it’s proof that they’re capable of it. Even in my little college town of Walla Walla, WA, which was empty and quiet six days of the week, Saturdays always brought a new energy and vibrance into the space. In particular, here are a few of the positive summer Saturday trends I’ve noticed in cities all over the country, and would love to see blossom throughout the week:

  • We choose to walk or bike instead of drive. With more time on our hands and quite likely, an exhaustion from driving back and forth to work all week, we often choose to stick closer to home and use our feet to get where we need to go. The environment is better off and so is our health.
  • We frequent local businesses and markets in our neighborhoods. We get our shopping done without having to jump in the car, and they get our business more than they might during the week. It’s a win-win.
  • We linger. We hang out at cafes, at parks playing ball, and on the waterfront, feeling a sense of calm and starting to notice everything our towns have to offer.
  • Some of us choose to spend our weekends caring for our gardens and houses (if we have them). It may not always be fun, but it transforms our cities into beautiful, inviting places.
  • We visit with our neighbors, friends and family members. We bake pie and take it to grandma’s house where we enjoy an afternoon snack and share stories from the week. We beckon our neighbors across the street to join us on the porch for a glass of lemonade or beer. This warmth is extended towards others because a day of rest gives us the time and energy to do so.

What each of these aspects point towards is an atmosphere of leisure and plenty, which enables us to support local businesses and spend time with one another on a deeper level than we do during the hecticness of the week. Saturday can be the day when we engage in simple but powerful community-building activities like beautifying our streets and actually saying “hi” to our neighbors when we encounter them on the block. These actions incrementally add up to more positive places.

I realize I’m being idealistic right now, and that on many weekends, Saturdays look a lot different from this. Maybe they’re full of driving the kids from music lessons to soccer practice to Target. Maybe Saturday means going to work. Maybe Saturdays seem like an endless list of chores and tasks that just won’t let up. But maybe also, you yearn for a weekend that is more peaceful and warm. If our cities looked and felt like this all week long, we could have that. I understand we can’t all play at the park when it’s 20 degrees out, or sit around sipping beer when there’s work to be done, but we don’t need to completely give ourselves over to the regiment of to-do lists or weather or whatever else might distract us from living the lives we want to lead.

If we took simple steps like utilizing public spaces more often, frequenting our local businesses, and walking instead of driving on occasion, we could welcome that Saturday spirit into our everyday lives. It takes nothing more than a reorientation of mindset.

So what do you think? Can we live like it’s Saturday all week long?


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Cafe Maude, My Neighborhood Bar

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If you wanted to walk from your house to a bar on a given Thursday night, would you be able to do it? Unless you live in an extremely dense urban area, you, like most of us, are out of luck on the neighborhood bar front. You’d have to find a bus route or pay for a taxi or get in the car (always risky when drinking) and drive somewhere just to enjoy an evening beverage. But if you allow yourself a little creativity and leeway, you might just find the neighborhood spot you’re looking for. In my case, it came in the form of a classy restaurant that moved in a few years ago near my parent’s house. It’s called Cafe Maude and I have made it my neighborhood bar,

Café Maude in Minneapolis, MN is the sort of place where you can bring your friends for brunch, your family for dinner, and your date for a late night cocktail. It can be all things to all people. I make sure to stop in each time I’m home in Minneapolis visiting my parents as it’s just a five minute walk from their house. Perfect. The décor is dark, with warm purple, red and gold accents—enough to feel luxurious but not so fancy that you can’t enjoy a California burger in your jeans on a Saturday afternoon, too. Guests find seats at the bar (always my preference), at a table, or in a cozy booth/couch combo that invites relaxation and intimacy. There’s also a breezy patio out front, although the view from those seats is just a gas station and a hardware store. That’s alright with me though, because it’s a neighborhood bar and it doesn’t require anything more than a drink served by a friendly bartender.

The drinks are an art-form here, and as cliché as that might sound, I mean it. I have never seen someone make a drink with such care, style and creativity as I have at Maude (besides my bartender boyfriend, of course). For example, last summer I ordered my first gin gimlet and watched in awe as the bartender pulled out a homemade, infused simple syrup (can’t remember what it was infused with now), fresh lime juice and top quality gin. He proceeded to shake these simple, but select ingredients with ice, double strain for smoothness, then pour into a chilled coupe, with a tiny bottle of the remaining liquid that wouldn’t fit in the glass on the side. Anyone who’s going to pour me a cocktail in a coupe, and set that little glass bottle of just-a-bit-of-extra-drink-to-top-me-off-later next to it, knows the way to my heart.

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If fancy cocktails aren’t you’re thing though, let me address your concerns. First, these bartenders execute their craft with zero pretension. They won’t talk to you about the ingredients unless you ask, and they definitely only shake the cocktail enough to meld the ingredients—no gimmicky shaker-tossing here. Second, they have draft PBR for $4 that comes out of a tap covered with dancing pink elephants. (It looks like this.) So everyone can truly be happy.

That’s probably what I like most about Café Maude. The crowd is casual, low-key, and no one’s putting on a show for anyone else, but rather, enjoying a pleasant evening with a drink or two to accompany it. This is definitely a neighborhood bar—not a sports bar, or a club, or a hipster bar. A neighborhood bar, where even the kids and non-drinkers can find a beverage they’ll enjoy and some olives or mac & cheese to go with it. You can stroll down the block from your house, get a seat easily and hang out for a few hours any night of the week.

Cafe Maude is definitely not cheap, with cocktails in the $10-15 range and entrees around $20. But for an evening out, especially if you’re just grabbing drinks and snacks, it’s well worth it. (And if you’re determined to get a good deal, the afternoon happy hour prices are completely reasonable; $2.75 tap beer, $5 house cocktail, oh yes.)

It’s hard to properly convey the distinct pleasure of walking to down the street to a local joint, except to say point out that one couldn’t possibly find a better evening activity than taking a stroll through one’s own neighborhood (getting to know it a little better) and enjoying a crisp beverage now and again. Please do give it a try.

Photo credits: Heavy Table, Cafe Maude


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Charlotte’s Place

Math Camp Charlotte's Photo Gallery

What would you do if you had $100 million? I bet most of us could come up with a use for $1 or $2 million easily (donate to charity, buy a house, send our future children to college), but $100 million? It’s unfathomable. And yet, as most Americans grasp for jobs and salaries in this economy, an elite few are swimming in money—hundreds of millions of dollars of it. One of those is Trinity Wall Street, a massive, historic Episcopal church in lower Manhattan that owns 14 acres of New York City real estate.

Naturally a church with such a gargantuan income stream has invited a wide assortment of controversy and criticism over the years, and you can read all about that online. But frankly, religious groups get enough bad press these days, so, being an interfaith activist and a person of faith, I prefer to highlight the instances where religion serves as a force for good. When you’ve got hundreds of millions of dollars at your disposal, you darn well better do something good with it, and here’s one solid and impactful thing Trinity did: they created a space where everyone was truly welcome.

It’s called “Charlotte’s Place” and the idea is simple yet transformative. Charlotte’s Place is essentially an open-door community center, but instead of just drawing children to an after school program, or seniors to a free lunch program, they draw everyone into a flexible and welcoming space. (Interesting fact: Charlotte’s Place actually grew out of a need that Trinity recognized when it found itself entangled with the Occupy Wall Street movement a few years back.)

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The Financial District (where Charlotte’s Place is located) is a confluence of high-powered Wall Street employees, wandering tourists (mostly visiting the World Trade Center memorial) and homeless people. Charlotte’s Place serves them all. Businessmen and women can eat their lunches in the sunlit community room without having to pay for an overpriced sandwich and fight a hundred other customers for space in some meager dining area. Tourists can stop in to use the free wifi and rest their legs for a bit without having to buy a coffee at Starbucks. Homeless people can use the clean, spacious bathrooms without drawing looks from department store employees or being kicked out by a manager. All are welcome at Charlotte’s Place.

The space is mostly devoted to one large, tiered room—a renovated storefront that had previously just been church storage. It’s wide windows let in copious sunlight and invite passersby to see what’s going on inside, while smaller rooms in the back provide space for meetings and classes. One of the most exciting features of Charlotte’s place is the art blossoming all over its walls. What started as a mostly blank canvas is gradually being filled with media like mosaics, collages and paper cranes—all created by community members. Overall, Charlotte’s Place has an attractive, modern feel while still offering more intimate spaces to chat with a friend or find some peace and quiet.

On any given day at Charlotte’s Place, you might find a college student working on a paper, children reading books with their parents in the mini library, a free yoga class in the afternoon and a free movie screening with pizza at night. Charlotte’s Place attempts to meet the needs it recognizes in all of the people who use it space. Staff members connect homeless visitors with housing counseling, screen for SNAP eligibility, provide free lunches and even help arrange transportation for low-income people to get to doctors appointments. (For a complete list of services, click here).

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I came to Charlotte’s Place for a community gathering a couple weeks ago and within minutes of being there, I thought to myself, “Yes. This is exactly what I’d do if I had millions of dollars.” Now, this ministry is still new (and I’d love to see it expand its hours) but it is such a promising start. I can’t count the number of times I’ve wanted something better for my city only to be confronted with the insurmountable cost that it would take to implement that idea. It’s refreshing to watch an organization with money do something transformative and progressive with that wealth, especially when it is so well-situated to serve its community.

Houses of worship are practically the definition of grassroots, and they’ve been active in their communities for centuries. All around us, synagogues quietly serve weekly meals to their hungry neighbors, Mosques birth movements for racial justice inside their back meeting halls, Buddhist temples offer true relief for the weary on all walks of life, and so on.

Most of these religious institutions stand by a mission of welcoming and they avoid proselytizing their guests, but they also maintain their faith-based roots. For example, Charlotte’s Place attempts to provide a meditative, calming presence in one of the busiest neighborhoods in the country. What a blessing for the neighborhood to have this space for all of its members to come together and get what they need.

All photos from Charlotte’s Place Facebook page


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Why I Love My Neighborhood

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I love my neighborhood because…

  • Children live here. They walk to school with their mothers and fathers in the morning (bundled up with many scarves, mittens, jackets during the winter; kicking soccer balls down the street in the summer). Grandmothers and grandfathers also live here, buying mangos at the produce stand on the corner, chatting with friends at the drug store. Teenagers live here too. They play music on the sidewalk, flirt with their classmates and skateboard down the dead-end streets. Everyone belongs.
  • The corner store is always open for that midnight milk run. (There is NOTHING worse than pouring a bowl of cereal at 7 in the morning only to discover that you are out of milk.)
  • I’m near three significant subway lines and several bus routes. My commute is only 20 minutes door to door, and that is a gift I value every single day.
  • I’ve got friends down the hall and friends down the block, close enough for an evening stroll to the best taco joint in the area, or a quick drink at one of the local bars.
  • It’s a tad quieter than the rest of New York. We’re our own little space outside the compacted busy-ness of the city, yet still close enough to get there in a matter of minutes.
  • I always feel safe here. Even when I get off the train at 1am on a Saturday night, dozens of people get off the train with me and disperse to their homes. You’re never alone.
  • It’s right next to the Hudson River and the glorious trails of Riverside Park, where families hold picnics, and bikers and runners enjoy miles of open path.
  • My church is only 20 minutes away.
  • This is an intersection between multiple neighborhoods and so many different people pass through here every day.
  • I can walk to the Laundromat in my sweatpants and a t-shirt, drop my clothes off and walk back in a matter of minutes. It’s as if the sidewalks and businesses are an extension of my home. I feel comfortable here. Everything is within reach.

Now it’s your turn. What do you love about your neighborhood?

(Here are some more questions to get you thinking: How does your neighborhood make you feel? Why do you fit in there? How does it look, sound, smell, taste, feel? How did you end up there in the first place and why have you stayed? Who lives in your neighborhood? How does your neighborhood fit into your city?)


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Interview: Anna’s Word on Detroit

My cousin Anna is an inspiration for a lot of people, and one of the ways she inspires me is through her activism for racial reconciliation and economic justice. She spent the past two summers in Detroit for that very reason, and I told a bit of her story last month. In today’s interview, Anna digs deep on the causes and effects of Detroit’s economic struggles, as well as potential paths forward. Sincere thanks to Anna for sharing these powerful words.

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Q: Where did you grow up and where do you live now?

A: I grew up in a suburb about 15 minutes outside of the city of Detroit, called Farmington. The past two summers, between my semesters at school in Chicago, I have lived in Detroit, in an impoverished neighborhood in the heart of the city. It’s been eye-opening to see the differences in resources and opportunity between the city I grew up in an where I’ve been living. I was privileged to go to a high school where I was well prepared for college, when right next door in Detroit, there is a graduation rate of just under 65%. Besides education, there are stark differences in employment opportunities, racial demographics, public services, police activity and access to fresh food.

Q: Can you describe your neighborhood in Detroit?

A: The Detroit neighborhood I lived in is ridden with abandoned homes and buildings. Before I lived here, I had never seen a place with paralleled vacancy. There are only a few businesses, and since the city itself is lacking in adequate public transportation and businesses that would offer jobs, there is not a lot of opportunity for people. But in the midst of this struggle, people fight on. There is also a sense of community that I’ve never experienced before. There are regular neighborhood gatherings, and it is common to see many people gathering together on porches and in parks. People in my neighborhood love being together, and they welcome each other, and that is something that was less prevalent in the community I grew up in.

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Q: What did you do in Detroit?

A: Both summers I have been working for a Christian community development corporation that creates affordable housing, runs parenting and homeownership classes, helps start small businesses, provides affordable produce, runs many programs for children and youth and more. During the summer, their main youth program is a day camp for kids in the city, which is a way for kids to have fun, be safe, eat hot meals, learn, and experience the city while they are out of school. The day camp is also an employment opportunity for teens in the city. I spent most of my time in this area, specifically helping with the children’s activities in the organization’s community gardens. Continue reading