100 influential urbanists you probably don’t know about, but might-should

I don’t think I’ve heard the hyphenate “might-should” since I last hung out with my high school boyfriend’s Florida-born, Lynyrd Skynyrd-listening parents in their motor home—which was definitely a while ago! But sometimes it just fits the bill.

Case in point: last week, my beloved client-friends at ioby asked if I could help them with a project. They had recently come across Planetizen’s “100 Most Influential Urbanists” article and wanted to put together their own list of 100 more influential urbanists who also happen to be ioby Leaders (their honorific for residents who step up to make their neighborhood better in some way, and raise awareness and money on ioby to do it).

Naturally, I didn’t even need to think, “Might-should I do this?” I totally leapt at the chance to mine five-plus years’ worth of inspiriting ioby blog posts, videos, and giving reports for 100 awesome people who demonstrate the range of just who ioby Leaders are and just what they can do. Summarizing their stories into bite-sized pieces was also fun, though a taller order.

It’s so hard to have favorites when everyone is a knockout, but here are a few who stick with me:

  • Lucille White of Cleveland, crossing guard and grandmother of 19 (!), who lost two nieces to hit-and-runs. “Miss Lucille” convened a dozen middle and high school students in her neighborhood to help design and implement desperately needed traffic calming interventions where they live.

  • When the city of Highland Park, Michigan repossessed over 1,000 street lights from Jackson Koeppel‘s already underserved neighborhood, he co-founded Soulardarity: a membership-based, community-owned solar power nonprofit that’s installing its own new solar street lamps to light the way for his neighbors.

  • A poet and musician from Black Hills, South Dakota, Lyla June Johnston leads a team of 50-plus volunteers to organize the annual Black Hills Unity Concert, an event that joins native and non-native people alike in prayers for reconciliation, celebrations of unity, protests against injustice, and songs of hope.

Jeez, if I keep going, I’ll start tearing up again! Just too much greatness here for one blog post. Good thing you can check out 97 more excellent people and stories on ioby’s blog any time you want. They might-should help you remember that—despite Donald Trump’s best efforts—there’s still a lot of good going on out there these days.

Celebrating the first-ever National Day of Racial Healing

Seems like an apt annual holiday to instate, doesn’t it?

I collaboratively penned this article about one facet of the puzzle—the role of structural racism in our neighborhoods, and how resident-leaders are turning back its tide—with the wise and wonderful people at ioby.

ioby neighborh vacant lot project

You can get more info about the National Day of Racial Healing, an initiative of the W. K. Kellogg Foundation with support from over 130 other organizations, on its website or with the hashtag .

A tryptophan-laced Quote-n-Meme-fest

According to some possibly-reliable source I just encountered on the internet, “tryptophan [the notorious turkey-derived soporific] is an essential amino acid needed for growth and development, producing niacin and creating serotonin in the body… Lots of other foods contain as much or more tryptophan as turkey, and do not cause drowsiness.”

This is especially good news given that I’m a longtime vegetarian and haven’t cracked into a T-Day turkey since high school. Conveniently, tryptophan-heavy pumpkin seeds, soybeans, and lentils are all staples of my everyday diet already. Niacin, here we come!

All this talk of chemically-induced healthy sleep and stable moods is leading up to something other than a series of funny turkey memes, though…

Hillary Clinton turkey gif

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Albeit there will be those, too.

Mostly, I wanted to leave you for the upcoming holiday weekend with three quotations I’ve read or heard in the past couple of weeks that have helped me envision the path forward after this upending presidential election.

First, from ioby, a revolutionary platform for starting and supporting neighborhood-based projects (and one of my favorite clients):

We believe that getting to know our neighbors, and working together to solve problems, is a transformative act of healing.

We need to remind ourselves that democracy is not just about voting and protesting; democracy is also giving, leading, doing, and inviting others to participate in building the social and physical fabric of our society. The neighbor-led change we support every day is civic engagement. If we work together, we can — and will — heal and shape the future of our communities.

Older man with turkey hat gif

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Next is the venerable Malcolm Gladwell, with his podcast Revisionist History. I listened to episode 10—”The Satire Paradox“—at the gym today and enjoyed its parting shot:

Nothing of consequence gets accomplished without courage.

[Speaking to the stories in the first 10 episodes of the series:] You can’t educate the poor without making difficult choices, without giving up some portion of your own privilege. You can’t be a great basketball player without being willing to look stupid. You can’t heal your church without sacrificing your own career. You can’t even drive a car properly unless you’re willing to acknowledge that you sometimes make mistakes: stupid, involuntary, dumb mistakes.

The path to a better world is hard. Is that depressing? I don’t think so. I think what’s depressing is when we ignore everything history is trying to tell us.

Psychedelic turkey gif

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And last, a quote -slash elegy for the late, great Leonard Cohen, who I learned over the years to revere, if not always like. This one came to me from my internet buddy Pooja at Life’s Fine Whine:

Leonard Cohen quote

Hope you enjoy the holiday, everyone. See you on the other side.

A reluctant blogger finally gets into blogger-hood

If you know much at all about me, you know that I’ve never had a Facebook account or an Instagram account. I signed up for Twitter in 2009 so I could join Medium, but I’ve so far tweeted exactly once (to my local NPR morning show host so I could recommend he do a story about the awesome combination washing machine repair and rock collecting shop in my old neighborhood). I have been on Flickr for the past decade, and have somehow posted over 18,000 photos there in that time, but I have also accrued only 18 followers, which says something about how much I care to advertise it. The list goes on thusly.

Galah bird in Onkaparinga, Australia

One from the Flickr archives: 27-year-old me about to receive a finger bite from a gas station owner’s pet Galah bird in Onkaparinga, Australia. That’ll learn me to poke!

All of it to say that as long as blogs have been around (probably 20 years), people close and not so close to me alike have suggested that I start one. Of course I understood the idea (I’m a writer! we have the Internet! therefore, I should write on the internet!), but my reluctances ran several:

1) I’m not particularly techie, and wasn’t particularly interested in learning how to blog from the software standpoint.

2) While I have come to love writing in many genres and spend a lot of my days doing it, my most favorite writing pastimes involve composing personal work for specific audiences (journal entries that only I see, letters and emails for friends…). I didn’t want to feel like this supposedly-fun pursuit was actually work.

3) Conventional wisdom holds that the best blogs are somehow focused—on food, travel, relationships, the world’s largest collection of taxidermied frogs depicted in various everyday life situations*, etc. Since I like to write about all of those things, and many more!, how would I ever imbue my blog with a sense of focus, purpose, and cohesion?

Most of those reasons finally stopped stopping me in January of last year. At that time, I was a half-year in to my new full-time freelance writing life, for which I’d already gone through the learning pains of setting up an entire website (with a lot of help from friends like Claire here!), so the tech thing was no longer so intimidating. I found I was actually enjoying challenging myself to write in different genres, and slowly became more and more curious about how blog writing would compare to the other types I’d recently gotten practice with (including ghostwriting, post-translation polishing, and drafting static pages for websites). Plus I now had a natural focus for my blog: my life as a freelance writer! And since that in itself encompasses a lot of topics, I felt I could justify squishing them all into one blog with “freelancing” as the overarching umbrella.

Blog tags

A screenshot of my blog post tags. Too eclectic? Nah.

Since the start of 2015, I have come to enjoy these weekly diversions from writing blog posts for inspiring nonprofits and newsletters for unique conferences to reflect on the work I’ve recently done and life I’ve recently led.

As a (somehow unexpected) side benefit, I’ve also found myself crossing paths with some awesome fellow bloggers. Here are two I believe are worthy of sharing with you now: they also got roped into the Liebster Award madness recently, and both (to my amazement) took the time to post responses to the 11 funky questions I posed when I nominated them!

Have a look?

  • Nicholas Peart, aka The Slider, a British-born painter, musician, songwriter, poet, filmmaker, photographer, and traveler who wrote some stuff about his time in South Africa that I very much enjoyed.
  • Neil Scheinin, who goes by the handle Yeah, Another Blogger, a fellow self-described dabbler who writes thoughtfully about a range of fun topics, including pizza, beer, and rock music (mmm!).

In response to their responses, I will just say:

  1. Nicholas, one of my favorite popcorn toppings is a solution of garlic, olive oil, and crushed red pepper. Heat that up in a pan while the kernels are popping, then drizzle it over the bowl, sprinkle a bit of salt, and you’re golden!
  2. Neil, regarding the number of seconds by which you’ve been known to extend the three-second rule (“thousands and thousands”), I can only say: NICE WORK.

Thank you both for your camaraderie, and your good writing, in this big old Internet world. Knowing I’m in the company of such excellent dudes makes me a less reluctant blogger every day.

*Okay, Froggyland is a website, not a blog. But I’ve been dying to mention it, so I just shoehorned it in here. Apologies to the purists. (But aren’t you also speechless??)

Cops, doughnuts, and the evolving streets of L.A.

If you haven’t watched Locavesting founder Amy Cortese’s 2012 TEDxMaui talk, you might want to check it out. Amy is a longtime and award-winning journalist, book author, public speaker, and all-around very cool person, these days mostly focused on the topics of crowdfunding and community.

Locavesting

In 2011, she published Locavesting: The Revolution In Local Investing And How To Profit From It, which chronicles the local investing movement and explains how even small investment shifts away from multinational companies and toward locally-owned enterprises could reap enormous economic and social benefits for individuals, their communities, and the country.

Oh, and at around the five-minute mark of her TED talk, Amy tells the story of “the cops in Clare, Michigan that saved their town’s 111-year-old bakery—and revitalized their downtown in the process.” I’ll let her deliver most of the rich details, but can’t help letting you know that these guys renamed the place “Cops & Doughnuts” and started selling “Don’t Glaze Me, Bro!” t-shirts!

All of the above made me feel honored to write a story for the Locavesting website recently, about how Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is partnering with national nonprofits like ioby and local orgs like the Ride On! Bike Coop to plan and fabricate L.A.’s next generation of more human-friendly city streets, using a fiscally-viable, community-led process. It’s inspiring stuff!

I invite you to read up, watch at your leisure, and invest locally. See you at the doughnut shop!

Cops and Donuts

It’s a great time to be a grassroots fundraiser

So says I! (And I didn’t even know about The Shins song until I wrote that and Googled it to see if it’s a thing.)

I recently wrote a blog post for my client and badass crowd-resourcing platform ioby that starts on this positive note. Call me a Pollyanna, but I just reread it on their website and was cheered to find I still believe it’s true.

Operation Tea Party Hard 80

I found this on Flickr when I searched for “grassroots” (Posted by Anonymous9000: “Brilliant handmade Rorschach mask with the scientology Cult’s Oak Cove building in the background”)

When our parents were our age, how did they raise money to build a new community garden, get a mural painted on an underpass wall, or start an after-school reading program? I’m sure, heroically, they organized bake sales, passed the hat at church, and put up fliers on lampposts.

All of that stuff is great (especially the bake sales), but today’s neighborhood leaders also have The Mighty Internet at their disposal, and the difference is night and day. Case in point: since its founding in 2009, ioby has helped 450 local improvement projects get off the ground with almost $1.5 million in crowdfunded cash.

This ain’t your mama’s Rice Krispies Treat (though, again, I love those, too)! Let’s hear it for the Internet and awesome orgs like ioby. Being a grassroots guy may never have been sweeter.