The City Space

Cultivating Urban Understanding


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The Way You Move

Modes of transport venn diagram

How do our modes of transportation effect the way we experience our cities? I put together this little chart looking at the different factors we usually consider when traveling by car vs. bike vs. foot vs. bus or train. (Let me know if you think I left anything off or if you disagree with any of the points.)

It helps to see overlaps in the concerns of transportation users because we can utilize these commonalities to share ideas and build power. For instance, a significant consideration for bikers and walkers, which does not matter much to drivers or public transit riders, is the safety of their route. That’s “safety” as in bike lanes and sidewalks, not criminal presence. When you’re in a car, you rule the road, but when you’re using one of the other forms of transit that our cities and towns have so frequently declined to prioritize, you have to think about how safe your route is before you head out. Some routes are so treacherous as to prohibit a person from using a bike or their feet to travel there. So, when I understand that safety matters for both bikers and walkers, I start envisioning sidewalks and paths built alongside one another that protect everyone who uses them. Then, as projects are proposed to create bike lanes and wider sidewalks, I know who would benefit from them and whose opinions should be present in decision making.

Similarly, knowing that a big concern for drivers is the availability of parking spaces and that a big concern for bikers is the availability of secure locking locations, I begin to wonder whether an increase in the latter could help increase the former too; by alleviating an obstacle that may prevent people from biking, we can encourage biking over driving, and leave more parking spots open for people who truly have no other option than to use a car. Besides, bikes take up far less space than cars, so it would be relatively simple to designate a small plot of land for a shed that could then hold dozens of bikes.

Even the weather, which seems to be a largely immoveable force, can be mediated for public transit users with heated and/or covered waiting areas. This also creates an alternative for walkers who, instead of deciding to drive on a day in which rain is forecasted, can continue walking to work as usual, but have the option of ducking into a shelter and taking the bus if it suddenly starts to rain.

What I’m getting at here is that understanding the concerns of different transport users does not just help us to work for their individual and overlapping benefits, it also helps us to encourage their participation in new modes of transit. Once we determine which factors turn people away from, say, taking the bus to work instead of driving, we can work to mitigate those factors by creating more direct bus routes or building a more affordable pricing structure for bus passes. Then, with the right research and packaging, we would hope to induce further public transport use. Of course there are dozens of steps involved in this process, but it’s an example of how an awareness of transportation needs and concerns can advise our development and use of transportation infrastructure. Consider this chart a jumping off point to take a look at the transportation needs and concerns in your own community.

As a final word, transit gets a fair amount of play in this space, but many urbanist blogs focus far more on the tough and vital issues that are related to this integral element of our cities. If this transportation post piqued your interest, consider it your invitation to explore those blogs further. Check out Streets.MN and Streetsblog for starters.


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Concepts of Homelessness: Interview with Abbilyn Miller

For the last few weeks, we’ve been talking about homelessness: society’s views of homeless people and their needs, our faulty shelter system, and how we might move toward better solutions. Today, I share an interview with Abby Miller, who works for the Housing and Urban Development Agency in Washington DC, and who authored the thesis I talked about a couple weeks ago. Her unique insights into popular conceptions of homelessness and how they affect policy have truly changed the way I understand home and homeless people. And her work is based on years of on-the-ground research.

In case you find terminology in this interview that you’re unfamiliar with, please consult the Urban Lexicon. I added some definitions pertaining specifically to housing and the federal government. Important disclaimer: All views shared in this interview are Abby’s personal opinions and do not represent the opinions of the Housing and Urban Development Agency.

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Q: So, Abby, what have you been up to since finishing your PhD?

A: I’ve been working at HUD. I started out in Office of Strategic Planning and Management, working on HUD’s homelessness goals. Shortly after that, I continued working on those goals during a rotation* to the Philadelphia field office, working in Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing. I got to see some of the very real barriers to getting better housing there. Then I came back to DC.

Q: What’s it like working for the Federal Government after operating on the local level during your PhD program?

A: I expected to come here [the Federal Government] and not really find a place for thinking about the stuff that I was thinking about and researching [in Champaign, IL], because I spent so much time with individuals who are really outside of the government funded system, the guys who are not really able to work with transitional housing programs. I saw coming to HUD as […] filling out a different part of the work.

Q: Have you seen any of your ideas being implemented back in Champaign where you did your thesis work?

A: The tent city dissolved while I was working, but I continued with my advocacy and I taught a class that worked with the tent city. It was an iterative class, an action-research course for upper level students to dive into a project. After the tent city dissolved, I had the students building bodies of evidence to make cases to the city council for the types of housing stock that we didn’t have in our community. One of the things we didn’t have was any apartments with a Housing First approach.

Across the US there has been a persistent increase in the amount of permanent supportive housing and a steady to slight decrease in transitional housing, but our community did not follow that trend at all. We had over 400 beds for single men and they all had sobriety requirements. They were getting transitional housing funding from the federal government but the housing was set up like shelters […] There was a total mismatch with what people actually needed —affordable housing and affordable housing with services. So seeing this gap, I worked with my students to put together a report that we pitched to the Champaign and Urbana governments and tried to get some people hooked.

Q: Have you seen any of your ideas being implemented at the federal level?

A: Since I came here, my current boss thinks about space. She thinks about what something feels like. Something [else] I’ve been really encouraged by […] is a Medicaid final rule on home and community-based services. Medicaid has this program that allows states to apply for waivers so that health services can be provided in the home instead of in institutions. In the final rule, they actually define what a home […] is. This is the first time I’ve seen the federal government saying, “A locked door is a home. Freedom from a landlord coming into your space is home.” These are actual qualitative elements of what makes something a home [ …] For me, it was really powerful to read because a lot of the elements they talk about in this are elements that I found people wanting in shelter spaces and not having. I came here hoping that there would be room to exercise my knowledge of design and space, and I think it’s happening. I think we’re getting there. 

Q: What do you see as the relationship between local justice work and national policymaking? Where is the best place for social justice activists to engage?

A: I think it depends on your disposition. There is more flexibility at the local level, but larger impact at the federal level. There are certain pieces that should be handled by the localities and other pieces that should be handled by the feds.

In my research, there is one thing that was crystal clear to me: In the six projects I looked across, when the conservative factions of the community said to the people who were thinking more progressively, “We don’t want to do this” or “We don’t want to make this change,” the federal government’s anti-discrimination policies protected the people who did the work. I found that to be a very powerful tool to wield on the local level.

Q: How fast can change occur at the local level versus the national level?

A: I would say it depends on political will as to how fast something gets done. Right now, we have a president who has declared that he wants to end homelessness. That’s the best possible mandate we could have. We can get more done in a progressive environment.

If the federal government keeps its eye on innovative programs they can scale up, but I think the innovation is going to happen on the ground, with the people interacting with individuals.

Q: Is there still a place for homeless shelters in America? Will we ever be able to transition away from them?

A: Champaign is conservative and racially segregated. There’s a strong mindset that “this is the way things are done” and the shift to the idea that we can end homelessness is in direct conflict with the idea that we can ameliorate circumstances. There are some people that will not have their minds changed.  I saw way too many shelter and transitional beds, and not enough affordable housing with transitional supports, no employment programs, none of the stuff that’s going to change peoples’ situations. However, I do not profess to understand the workings of larger cities. I think it is probably the more rural, conservative areas that have the mismatch.

The bottom line for me is that we have never made a serious investment in socialized housing in this country. We’re not comfortable with the idea that people are provided with housing because they need it. We look at someone who is homeless differently than someone who is poor and needs housing, like they need treatment. The very miniscule amount of socialized housing that we have now is under fire. There’s not enough of it. Poor people need places to live. They need safe, private homes, whether they find themselves actually homeless or whether they are doubled up. We need more housing and it needs to be affordable to the people who make the least. It’s a broader systemic problem.

Thanks so much to Abby for sharing her perspective and experiences in the field of homelessness.

*The program that Abby works under is called the Presidential Management Fellowship and it involves, among other things, a chance to work in a variety of government offices during “rotations.”


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Bakeries of New York

I moved to New York City with a list in my pocket. And on that list were the collected wisdoms of family, friends, and bloggers who had been to New York at one time or another and had deemed these the essential bakeries of New York, the spots I had to visit, the baked goods I had to taste. In order to cull that list to a manageable length, I made a pact with myself that I would only visit one new bakery each month. This way, I could savor my experiences and thoroughly assess them.

I now present to you the first seven months of my bakery adventures, with accompanying analyses and ratings:

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September. Magnolia Bakery: Vanilla Cupcake with Chocolate Frosting. How fitting that Magnolia Bakery turned out to be my first stop in September; it’s one of the most famous bakeries in New York and has satellite shops around the world. I visited the original and it did not disappoint. First, the size of the cupcake was ideal, neither too small to satisfy nor too large to induce a stomachache. Second, the appearance (with a small sugared flower on top) was cute but absolutely no frills, indicating that this dessert was all about the flavor. An appropriate ratio of frosting to cupcake (2:3 in my opinion) and an appropriate balance of sweet vanilla and buttery rich chocolate took this cupcake into the ranks of deliciousness. ★★★★

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October. Momofuku Milk Bar: Cornflake Chocolate Chip Marshmallow Cookie. If you’re unfamiliar with the hype around this cookie, do yourself a favor and quickly google for the recipe (and hundreds of blogger renditions). It’s an unexpected treat. Like the Magnolia cupcake, this one came in distinctively non-showy packaging. In fact, I was quite skeptical when I ordered my much-anticipated cookie only to find that it came in plastic wrapping like a grocery store purchase. Still, I sat outside in the October sun and bit down into glory. So many flavors and textures going on here: cold chocolate chips, salty and crispy cornflakes, chewy cooked marshmallow and soft surrounding cookie. I polished this off in a manner of minutes. No sharing. Gold stars all the way. ★★★★★ Continue reading


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Concepts of Homelessness: What’s Wrong With Shelters and How We Can Change That Picture

“Thinking about “home” leads people to focus on the attendant assumptions of what a home provides—namely privacy, safety and security, permanence, comfort and the like. Thinking about “homelessness” leads people to focus on the attendant assumptions about the individual, for instance, mental illness, substance abuse, domestic violence, poverty, unemployment, and others.” 

–Abbilyn Miller PhD, Determining Critical Factors in Community-Level Planning of Homeless Service Project

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In my last post, I talked about my experiences with the American homeless shelter system, which is failing to properly meet the needs of the people it seeks to serve. I argued that, with numerous homeless shelters currently standing in as long term housing for millions of people—a purpose they were never intended to fulfill—we should open our eyes to this misguided format of sheltering and move in a new direction. In today’s post, I will share with you evidence and arguments from a well-reasoned thesis by Ms. Abbilyn Miller that deals with many of these issues. She’s a PhD and all-around badass lady whom I know and trust, and her work has a lot to teach us.

Abby argues that however we choose to define the purpose of a homeless shelter (either as a service center, a containment space, a roof over someone’s head, or a “home”), that will guide our creation of shelters and will effect the impact that shelters have on their residents. The input that we seek when determining the best form of shelter also matters. We must ask whose needs are being prioritized during this process; citizens who possess homes and do not wish to see “vagabonds” and “bums” on their streets, or citizens who simply cannot afford traditional housing?

Abby’s thesis compares the independence and autonomy of a tent-community in the city of Champaign, IL with the varying degrees of control, home, and service provided by homeless shelters in the same city. Her project involved years of on-the-ground study in homeless shelters, transitional housing spaces, tent cities and local government circles. I urge you to read the whole paper, but for now, I’ll outline some of her key arguments here and add my own reflections.

The tent community upon which Abby’s work focused was a safe, self-governed community that existed in 2009 where individuals that society would label “homeless” made homes out of tents in an empty lot. When the government of Champaign threatened to kick them out, they fought back. Abby writes, “The spectacle of [this] self-consciously independent and politicized community that made demands upon the local government challenged the belief that “good” homeless people submit to what is offered public and non-profit organizations by confessing their wrongs, developing habits of personal responsibility, and promising to reform themselves” (Miller 7).  Here is the heart of the issue: while shelters conceptualize the homeless as a special population that must have guidance and rules placed upon them in order for them to earn a roof over their heads, alternative housing options offer independence and self-sufficiency for low income, unhoused people. Continue reading


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Concepts of Homelessness: Why Shelters Are Not the Solution

In recent years, communities around the U.S. have been faced with an intractable problem of homelessness, dwindling resources, and increasing numbers of tent cities within municipal limits. In this moment of U.S. upheaval, we have a chance to rethink what home means and how local policies can better meet people’s needs of home, particularly for those considered homeless. A common thread unites all community conflicts and decisions about shelters, transitional centers, tent cities and other institutionally created housing for the homeless—core beliefs about what ‘home’ and ‘homelessness’ mean. How we think about ‘home’ and what that means for housing impacts how people without access to those dominant types of housing are conceptualized. National approaches to home have implications for all citizens, but particularly for those who find themselves unable to afford the types of accommodations associated with ‘home.’

-Abbilyn Miller PhD, Determining Critical Factors in Community-Level Planning of Homeless Service Projects

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Homelessness first came into my life when I was young, volunteering at a church soup kitchen with my parents. On Sunday evenings, a line of tired-looking people would snake around the building, waiting for the back doors to open while I poured cups of juice and milk, and the grown-ups prepared food—always the same assortment of canned vegetables, mashed potatoes and chicken. I remember being told that many of the men and women who came to eat were homeless and this sat with me. What did ‘homeless’ mean? Did they all live in the streets? When we left after clean-up, I didn’t think much about their situation, though, beyond being thankful that it was not mine.

As I grew up, my awareness of people who were experiencing homelessness also grew. Some were on the streets, sure, but many lived in shelters that dotted the downtown landscape of my city. I’d never been inside a shelter, but I imagined them to be warm and welcoming, with beds for each guest. Back then, I saw homelessness as a long-term state and “homeless” as a concrete identity which it might take years for someone to break out of. Luckily, or so I thought, shelters were a constructive solution to this problem, meeting a visible need and housing people who had nowhere else to go.

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By the time I finished high school, I had learned enough about American poverty and injustice to develop an understanding that without a home, it’s nearly impossible for a low-income person to get ahead in any other aspect of her life. I knew that housing was fundamental for healthy, successful families and for overcoming the persistent inequality in America. And I yearned to contribute to a solution. So, in 2011, I started working at a nonprofit that ran a rotating shelter in different faith communities throughout the Twin Cities. I thought the shelter was providing a way out of homelessness for people in need. What I learned there changed my mind.

For the first time in my life, I put myself into direct contact with homeless people beyond just handing them a cup of juice. I don’t know that my contributions amounted to much more than providing a cold drink, but I did spend time listening to the stories of the people staying there, and I allowed these stories to teach me about homelessness. I met mothers with growing daughters, single fathers with newborns, large families with moms and dads and aunts and cousins; some staying for just a day or two, and others who would be there for a whole season. (Program rules prevented families from staying more than six weeks, but if they did not find more permanent housing by then, they would seek placement in another shelter, or a renewal, and start the cycle again.) The shelter’s guests had landed there due a slew of unfortunate circumstances, and they were exhausted from the sheer weight of all this turbulence and uncertainty.

Children from the shelter playing outside

I remember a woman—I’ll call her Jenny—who had recently separated from her husband and was now in charge of their three preteen girls. She’d stayed with her mother for a while, but when that living situation fell through, the shelter became her only option, and she’d lugged all her family’s belongings in garbage bags to the church. I was doing the night shift one evening when her youngest daughter became ill and threw up all over her cot. Jenny never even woke me, but she cleaned up the sheets, gave her own bed to her daughter and slept on the floor. She was utterly on her own, with three young people relying on her. I could not imagine handling this level of responsibility without a stable place to come home to.

For those of us working at the shelter, our job was to provide, at the very least, rest for people like Jenny and her daughters. Days at the shelter would start around 4pm, as we prepared for a busload of seven or eight families to arrive at the makeshift residence. Once they got there, volunteers (and I) handed out snacks, flipped on the TV, threw together games for the kids to play or books for them to read, and got to know the guests. When evening crept in at the shelter, everyone went to their respective beds and a volunteer stayed overnight with them. Then, in the morning, the families would be bussed out to their respective jobs, schools or a day shelter. So it went, every day of the year.

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Much has been written about the global charity industry which allows privileged people to donate their time and money to help the “less fortunate” without truly engaging or honestly listening to the people they seek to help, and this barrier between server and served was often present at the shelter where I worked. With the constantly fluctuating populations of volunteers and clients, it was challenging to develop anything beyond a short-term relationship with an individual and so much easier to just sit behind a counter and dole out snacks during your shift. Yet, for each month that the shelter spent at a different house of worship, dedicated members from that community threw themselves into the work. They believed they were providing a valuable service for people who needed a home. Meanwhile, I was on my way to recognizing just how far from “home” the shelter truly was.

Near the end of the summer, I started looking after a rambunctious two-year-old boy at the shelter whose young mother badly needed a break from chasing him around. He was adorable and I was enthusiastic to entertain and get know him. Then one day, I came to the shelter and he was gone; he and his mother had secured a spot at a higher-quality downtown shelter. Just like that, they left us. In that moment, I remember feeling quite hurt that this family wanted to leave our shelter for a different one.

Then I opened my eyes and realized how bad the conditions were. We were basically slapping cots and air-mattresses on the floor of a church basement and calling it a “home.” To make matters worse, every morning when the residents departed, they were forced to pack up all their belongings and carry them with, leaving the place as though no one had ever been there. The spaces they occupied and the amenities they were provided with were often cast-offs, unused because no one else wanted them. Sometimes families didn’t even get their own rooms.

I do not mean to diminish the efforts of volunteers and staff who provided a warm place to sleep for families in need, nor do I wish to write off the impact that the shelter had; I know that those enrolled in the shelter also gained access to employment help, legal counsel and other services during the day. So it’s not as if there was a lack of care. However, I also know that this place was not a home.

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If you read the founding documents of most homeless shelters, you’ll actually find that the majority of them are intended to be “emergency” housing, meaning that they are a temporary fix for a person who didn’t make rent last month and needs somewhere to stay while she gathers the funds for next month. Some shelters are safe havens for domestic violence victims who are supposed to be relocated to permanent housing once the situation with their abuser is dealt with. Some shelters are specifically for men or women recovering from addiction who need a clean space for a few weeks. Regardless of the circumstances though, most homeless shelters were intended to be temporary solutions for temporary problems.

What has actually happened is that they have become long-term housing situations for hundreds of thousands of Americans. These children and adults bounce from shelter to shelter when their stay-limit is up, spending months on end in a system which was never designed to accommodate them for more than a week or two. Cots on a basement floor may be enough for a few rough days between paychecks, but they are not sufficient to house people long term. We can’t fault the shelters for failing to shift away from their original purpose, but neither can we allow these inadequate, unproductive living conditions to persist.

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Homelessness is a critical issue that I have dedicated my life to combating, and I hope it is something that matters to you too. However, we cannot hope to bring justice into this situation without unpacking our perceptions of homelessness and truly listening to the people that we have labeled as “homeless.” Only then can we determine the best ways to meet their housing needs.

In the next installment of this series, I’ll talk about the thesis quoted at the top of this article, and how we can move towards broader concepts of home in order to create more opportunities for everyone to have one.

Photo credits: KOMUnews, me, blog


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Skills I’ve Learned in New York City (and a few areas for improvement)

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I’ve been in this wild city for six months now. It’s had its ups and downs but one thing is certain: New York City has taught me bucket-loads about urban landscapes and my place within them. Today, I’m sharing a handful of skills I’ve developed during my time here, plus a few things I could stand to improve on:

What I’ve Learned

  1. Moves like lightning— I think there was a time in my life when friends would accuse me of being a slow walker, but not any more! In New York City, you snooze you lose, so you better believe I am speedwalking down those streets and running up the steps from the subway platform. (I get my fair share of actual running done in Central Park too.) The New York style of movement is about more than just speed though, it also demands limberness and careful maneuvering. You have to be ready to dodge that pack of tourists, sneak around that man dawdling with his shopping bag and get to the door in time to help that woman pushing a stroller—all in a manner of seconds. I’m glad I’ve honed this skill because I use it every day.
  2. Spotting the un-crowded places—In a city of 8.3 million people, open space should be cherished above most other things. Thus, I am developing a knack for spotting those places with a little more room in them: libraries, cafes (like the one I’m sitting in right now), museums and even calm neighborhoods where one can wander freely, undisturbed. I’m always looking to add to my list of uncrowded places, too. Let me know if you have ideas (but keep your voice to a low whisper. We can’t let too many people in on the secrets).
  3. Cultural awareness—Back in the Midwest last week, I realized I might be starting to take New York’s diversity for granted. I stepped into a lounge bar in an old warehouse in Wisconsin and the first thing that hit me was not the music or the décor but the enormous amount of white people—more than I’ve seen in one room in months. It’s not that I don’t notice race and class in New York. Quite the contrary: I notice it every day, everywhere I go. But the diversity around me—racial, economic, ethnic, and religious—is beginning to feel normal. Like why on earth would I not hear five different languages on the bus on my way to work? It’s a joy to be exposed to such varied lives and to have my privilege questioned on a daily basis in such an in-your-face way. I won’t get it like this anywhere else so I’m learning from it as much as I can.
  4. Dressing for all occasions—Let’s start with the feet. Life in New York requires  a considerable amount of walking (see #1) so you always need a pair of trusty, walkable shoes on hand. And yet, New Yorkers also spend time at the office and out to dinner and at other venues which require nice-looking shoes. Here, preparation for any occasion is key. Moving upwards, you’ve got to have the right clothing to keep you warm outside in the winter, cool on the subway platform in the summer, and dry during a thunderstorm. You can’t just stash a rain jacket in your car; you have to carry everything with you. This I have learned, but not without a fair amount of mistakes along the way.
  5. Sucking it up and opening my wallet—This is one thing I wish I didn’t have to do, but sometimes it’s unavoidable that I’m running to an event after work and I know that with subway travel I probably won’t get home till 10pm. On these evenings, it’s inevitable that I’ll be eating out instead of cooking for myself more affordably at home. I keep a mental list of cheap spots near my office and other frequent destinations. However, eating out more has definitely been a mindset shift and I have to compensate for that budgeting in other realms of my life.
  6. Finding friends in surprising places—When I came here, I thought I wouldn’t know anyone, but that turned out to be wrong. Quite a few people end up in New York City and I am blessed to have rediscovered several friendships from past periods of my life because those people are in New York suddenly too. In addition, I’ve opened myself up to meeting new people through friends, coworkers and roommates. When you’re surrounded by millions of people, you’ve got a pretty high chance of finding some good eggs among them.
  7. All the other stuff—Naturally I’m learning more than just what clothes to wear and how to walk in New York City. There’s personal growth, career experience, spiritual exploration and all the other juicy things one would hope to encounter in a new place and new phase of life. But I’m not ready to speak on all that just yet.


Areas for Improvement

  1. An ear to the ground—Within my wonderful network of friends, several are long-time New Yorkers with a serious awareness of what’s going on in the city, and others are just naturally in the know. If I tag along with them, I get to enjoy underground concerts, hole-in-the-wall restaurants and secret neighborhoods that I would never have discovered on my own. I’d love to be able to find these myself though, so that I can pass on the knowledge to future newcomers and visitors.
  2. If only I could walk in heels…this would solve the whole “carry nice shoes and wear walkable ones” situation. Alas, I possess zero skill in this arena.
  3. Deep breaths—Patience is not my strong suit and in this fast-paced city, I could stand to cultivate a bit more of it. I need deep breaths for those moments when I’m stuck behind a crowd of people or when public transit fails or when this place doesn’t quite feel like home.

So there you have it: seven lessons learned, three areas for improvement. Maybe we’ll revisit this when my service year is over in August. For now, Happy Monday!

Photo taken in Sunnyside Queens


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Honeypie in Milwaukee, WI

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I make too many snap judgments for my own good. When it comes to restaurants, I’m particularly guilty of this. If the lighting looks odd or the signage is outdated, I become easily skeptical and it takes a truly fabulous meal to turn my mind around. This weekend however, I had quite the opposite experience when I walked into a restaurant and felt instantly at home—snap judgment spot on.

It was a lazy Sunday morning and my boyfriend and I decided we’d treat ourselves to brunch in his new neighborhood—Bay View—in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. We are, to put it lightly, breakfast connoisseurs in both the cooking and consumption fields so we take our breakfast spots seriously. Given that he just moved to a new part of town and I was in the city for a visit, it seemed like the right time to explore our options in the neighborhood, and that’s how we found Honeypie.
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When you walk in the door, you see that the restaurant is small and the tables are full—a good sign during the brunch rush—but also that the wait is short. We sat down within ten minutes, just enough time to take in the cozy, charming and slightly eccentric décor: old portraits, linoleum floors, wooden booths, and a map of Bay View on the wall solidly anchoring Honeypie in its location. There is pride and history in this place; we could tell right away.

thumb_600The service was flawless and we had coffees in our hands seconds after the request had left our lips. Real Wisconsin maple syrup in a plastic bottle on the table was all I needed to tell me that this breakfast would blow our minds. Scanning the menu, we were both immediately confronted with tough decisions—breakfast casserole or scallops benedict or classic farmers breakfast—but we also spotted something that we didn’t have any trouble deciding on: two corn bread muffins with honey bourbon butter and blueberry jam. Sold. We had that to start, followed by an elaborate breakfast burrito on one side of the table and the quiche of the day on the other. It was the most heavenly quiche I have ever encountered—large and impossibly fluffy, with bits of tomato and bacon enveloped inside, and a light, buttery crust cradling the bottom. I’m betting it’s rich, fluffiness was due to a massive amount of cream folded within, plus high quality, farm fresh eggs. This quiche was, in all senses of the word, perfection. I’m told the breakfast burrito was pretty spot-on too, but I was too full to confirm that.

Once we cleaned our plates, the waitress came ‘round right on cue to ask whether we had saved room for one of their mountainous, juicy-looking pies in the bakery case. Sadly we had not, but at my boyfriend’s suggestion, we rounded out our meal with a salty dog [added the link because I knew someone would ask] split between the two of us. On par with the pacing of the rest of the morning, the waitress assured us we could linger as long as we liked, so we paused to sip and read some choice New Yorker articles while the afternoon crept in.

It was the most delightful Sunday morning. My positive instincts were right on and I couldn’t be happier for it. If you’re ever in Milwaukee, find this place.

Image sources (I was too busy eating to take these myself): Honeypie, inside, corn muffins

And if you’re looking for another review of the place from a few year’s back, here’s On Milwaukee’s take (which the second photo is from).


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City Branding

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Our country is plastered with logos. Your toothbrush, your coffee, your steering wheel, your computer, and the very floorboards on which you walk have all been carefully labeled and categorized by the companies that made them to invoke certain emotions and associations when you encounter them. Your city also has a brand, though you might not have noticed. It’s on your water tower, and that sign you pass every time you come home from a road trip: “Welcome to ________” in a font and color-scheme tailored to your city. Indeed, whether we notice it or not, the dominance of branding in American culture—the insidious hold that it has on our every-day lives—means that we have to take the branding of our own cities seriously too. We have to understand the ways in which these images are created, determine the purpose of their creation and decide whether they are worth having at all.

What is city branding?

The first thing that comes to mind when we talk about branding is logos, and most cities have a logo, though it might not be very memorable.  However, “a brand is not just a logotype,” says Peter Saville, who designed the current branding for Manchester, England. “It’s a set of values that are communicated through actions.” The words used to describe a place, the people and objects associated with it, the images that encapsulate it, even the very font used on its letterhead, comprise branding. For example, Las Vegas has coined itself as “Sin City” and utilized the tagline, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” This attempts to communicate a sense of adventure, risk and allure that Las Vegas hopes will bring in tourists and new residents who seek a thrilling lifestyle. You probably recognize their famous billboard (above), too—another piece of branding.

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City branding usually takes into account the existing history of a place, so a marketing consultant who is tapped to help with a branding project might ask, are there any significant events that occurred in the city? Does the town host an annual festival that is popular in the region? Is there a natural feature that might draw people toward the place? This iconography can be enhanced to articulate the spirit of a town and create a distinctive selling point for outsiders. Nashville, which has long been known as a center for American music, capitalizes on its history with the tagline “Music City” and the musical note incorporated into its logo, as well as a rock-band-like font for the city name. In my opinion, Nashville’s is not a particularly attractive logo, but it gets the idea across, and it tells tourists what they’ll discover if they come to the city: fresh concerts, an exciting nightlife and maybe even celebrities on the streets. Nashville’s branding also achieves star power without being too pretentious. Continue reading


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Young Wanderers: Where my Generation is Headed and How We’re Getting There

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Almost every week, I come across a new article along the lines of “Where Millenials are Making It” or “Cities for Young People Today.” The US Census even came out with an app called Dwellr that allows you to fill out a profile based on your preferences for city size, transportation, education levels and more. Then the app suggests ideal places for you to live. It’s fun. You should try it. And while it’s not technically billed for young people, the idea of a seventy-year-old grandma flicking through her iPhone to decide where to relocate seems a bit farfetched, so I’m going to go ahead and say it’s geared towards us.

Obviously, the question of where a millenial can “make it” is important to me at this time in my life—I’m young (for now) and I’m about to make another career move, and probably half a dozen more after that in the next few decades. My peers are also contemplating similar questions about where to move and why. We weigh our job prospects, our family connections, our romantic relationships, our income levels, our personal networks, our geographic preferences and probably our senses of adventure to help us to determine whether to stay or to go. And if we’re going, then where to?

The US Census estimates that on average, an eighteen-year-old can look forward to about nine moves in the rest of his or her lifetime. However, mobility in young Americans is also at a fifty-year low, with less than a quarter of 25-29 year olds having relocated in the last year. It’s no wonder that we are all less mobile, though, given that our average student debt is $28,000, our job prospects are scarce, and the degrees that we paid so much for have depleted in value in the global market. We’re still moving—that’s inevitable—but we’re thinking more carefully about where we’ll be able to get by, and where it might not be worth the struggle. Continue reading


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Getting the F*** Out

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Flash back to the last time you endured a seriously stressful situation. Maybe it was a clash with your boss, a fight with your significant other, or even a close call while driving during a storm. You walked (or drove) into the situation thinking you had it under control and then suddenly the people around you and the particular circumstances blew up, leaving you reeling with confusion. After these intense moments, some of us react by holing up in our rooms and refusing to see anyone. Others of us feel motivated to aggressively respond to the crisis. And then there are those of us who—after undergoing something painful or traumatic—desperately desire to get the f*** out.

GTFOing can be as simple as hopping in a car and taking a long drive out of town to clear your head, or it can be as serious as breaking a lease, packing up your belongings and leaving a city for good. These are not strategies of abandonment; they are getaway plans at the ready, should the need arise. Mobility is not just about escaping a bad situation, but moreover, it is about opening up the ability to say “yes” and act on the opportunities that present themselves in new places.

Just up-and-leaving sounds dramatic, but we’re all faced with the potential to change locations on a regular basis. You get a promotion and it’s in a new place. You’re unhappy where you are and you ache for new surroundings. You miss the family you left behind when you took a new job. You meet someone with whom you could journey anywhere… Continue reading

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