The City Space

Cultivating Urban Understanding

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Rock Your Assets

Lake Michigan Rainbow

This post is about cherishing and celebrating whatever is good in your city. In activist lingo, that goes by the name of “asset-based community development.” Put simply, it’s the idea that when you’re trying to improve your neighborhood, you don’t start out by listing all of its problems–trash in the streets, few local businesses, speeding cars, etc.–but instead, you begin from a place of plenty. You consider what your neighborhood does have going for it right now and build from that. For example, you might have trash in some of your streets, but you might also have a great park that kids love to play in down the block. You might have an active faith community, or families that have been in the neighborhood for decades, or a great art museum… When you start by highlighting your community’s assets, you can build your plan to make it better from those good things. You can rally the faith community to help clean up the streets. You can advertise that museum and get more bike or foot traffic from the surrounding neighborhoods. You can encourage food trucks to hang out at the park.


One thing I have loved about my new community in Milwaukee is the way we really utilize one of our biggest assets: water. The city sits against miles of Lake Michigan shoreline and it also has a network of rivers running through it. Summer time means thousands of people are creatively enjoying the water in a myriad of ways. Continue reading

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Why I Love My Neighborhood


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?)


What’s the deal with “development”?

from last year's visit to an at the Chicago Art Institute on the Studio Gang Architects

from last year’s visit to an exhibit at the Chicago Art Institute on the Studio Gang Architects

This blog is partially about urban development and I think it’s pretty clear by now what “urban” means—of or pertaining to cities.* But what about “development”? We hear talk of community development. People advocate for development in the Third World. We see plans for neighborhood re-development (often viewed as a codeword for gentrification). For some people, development suggests positive outcomes and hope for the future, while other people understand development as overreaching, unnecessary or coercive action. Because of this disconnect, I want to weigh the diverse definitions of the term and varying responses to its implementation.

To begin with, proponents of development argue that it signifies progress and greater equality. For them, development is the new façade on a dilapidated building repurposed for use in a community. Development is internet access in remote villages of South Africa and indoor plumbing in the slums of Cairo. Development means improvement, renovation, democratization. And how can we argue against a rise in living standards, a lessening of the massive inequality in our world? Continue reading