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.

Betty White, aliens, & OMG! Puppies: Tripping through Big Foot Land & beyond

Blue Wonder Woman mug with purple flowers

This sums a lot of it up

Over a ten-day span last month, Arthur and I ate supernaturally fresh produce among the Sequoioideae in California; viewed a surprisingly large number of Krylon-wrought, alien-themed murals on corrugated metal in the deserts of Nevada; and moshed in the pool with the hundreds of other metalheads attending the Psycho Las Vegas festival at the Hard Rock Hotel in so-called Sin City. (Okay, I did not mosh in the pool, and I am not even a proper metalhead—but I did survive among their throngs for several days!)

I’ve had the great good fortune of taking many epic trips in my life: I’ve driven Australia’s Gold Coast, seen the sunrise over Guatemala’s Lake Atitlán, made it through Iceland’s Fimmvörðuháls hike in one long day, gotten lost on a mountain bike in the Judean Desert, soaked in mountain onsen ryokans in Japan, even hobbled around the Great Pyramid of Giza in an air cast. I’ve been so happy and grateful for them all, but I’ve noticed that what makes a trip especially enjoyable and memorable can’t always be predicted. The most potent travel magic, I’ve found, isn’t necessarily made by combining a greater number of days with a longer flight and a more impressive to-do list. Not to say I don’t retain vivid memories of drunken late-night singing with locals in a rural Russian dacha, or speeding in a Jeep through the jungles of Cambodia with a bunch of brawny Aussies—I absolutely do! Just that, sometimes, a relatively unassuming trip will pack a bigger than expected punch of awesomeness.

Such was the case with this recent voyage west. I guess it was a few things: the combination of great food and great company throughout; the right balance of activities and downtime; and a rotating kaleidoscope of natural and social environs that kept my brain keyed up without making me dizzy. Well, some things did bring on at least momentary vertigo:

Toxic waste alien sign Nevada

Toxic waste, Nevada

Bellagio fountains show

Bellagio fountain show, Las Vegas

Goat Rock California

Goat Rock, California

Oh, and I think I touted these guys, too:

Per usual, I came home with too much show-and-tell to fit in one blog post—good thing this WordPress subscription automatically renews!

Until the next brain dump, thanks for the unassuming but epic embarrassment of riches, western U.S. I’ll be back for more.

This weekend in Brooklyn: Sound summer camp for badass young ladies!

Teen girls with headphones and microphones

When I took the Bushwick Daily assignment to write about SoundGirls.org’s Live Sound Camps for Girls, I thought it would be cool. Music, Brooklyn, empowering teenage girls—what’s not to like?

Well, I was right! There was nothing not to like about writing this story.

The end!

SoundGirls.org logo

No, no—of course there is more. But it’s the good kind of more!

It turned out that in addition to getting acquainted with an awesome nonprofit that connects female sound engineers the world over, hearing wonderful stories about girls learning to rock intimidating audio gear, and bookmarking the knowledge of this traveling summer camp program for the next time I meet a cool teenage girl, I also got to spend half an hour talking with the woman who’s been Pearl Jam’s sound engineer for the last 25 years: SoundGirls.org’s executive director and co-founder, Karrie Keyes!

I will pause to mention that, while I do enjoy me some classic Pearl Jam, I was even more stoked and awed to learn that Karrie has also worked with Sonic Youth, Fugazi, and Neil Young, and did a 10-year stint as the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ monitor engineer.

Waynes World not worthy

ANYWAY, what Karrie’s doing with SoundGirls.org is just as cool as all that, of course. Check it out, and if you know an NYC-area teenage girl who’d appreciate the chance to get her audio on this weekend, do spread the word!

“…as i hit the gas and crash it through a store front window.”

So goes the last half of the last sentence of what is so far my favorite vignette in the very great Rick Berlin’s newish book, The Paragraphs.

Musician Rick Berlin at the Midway Cafe Boston March 2014

Rick at the Midway Cafe, March 2014

I’ve known Rick since my college days in Boston, and have had the joy of seeing many of his live performances, attending the first Jamaica Plain Music Festival (which he helps to organize), and writing about him a few times. I also once convinced the doorman in his old Piano Factory apartment building to let me sleep in the basement when I didn’t have anywhere else to go! Yes, Rick and I go way back.

Over the years, I’ve been the lucky recipient of much correspondence from Rick—both of the personal and email blast varieties. His fearless writing (as I was stoked to be quoted as saying in the opening pages of The Paragraphs) is vital and disarming, and it makes me so happy to know that some of it has finally been anthologized.

Read more about Rick in this awesome Boston Globe article from last month (written by the also great Joan Anderman, @middlemojo) and git your copy from Jamaica Plain’s own Cutlass Press. It’s a great companion on the subway, while waiting for the doc to see you, and in bed at night, when it’s the last thing on your mind before you fall asleep.

Musique concrète? Oui oui!

I’ve blogged about Lily Wen before, and with good reason. Among other fabulous things, my excellent friend is an all-vinyl soul music DJ and Lindy Hop luminary. And not too too long ago, she started a record label called Figure & Ground.

Les Yper Sound Explorations in Drums & Sax record

I love everything about this record. Just look at the cover!!

Beside having a really hip-looking website, Figure & Ground put out a rad EP last year of spoken word tracks by Alan Watts set to groovy NYC woodwinds. This year, the label may be outdoing itself, as Lily prepares to release Explorations in Drums & Sax: 14 original tracks, inspired by ’60s musique concrète, written and performed by the duo Les Yper Sound (comprised of New York session musicians Miles Arntzen and Jas Walton), with additional genius contributed by Beastie Boys collaborator Money Mark and Sudanese pop artist Sinkane, AND produced by the one and only Lily.

Whew! I will allow us to catch our breath.

Despite the record’s close relationship with sometimes non-musical “concrete” sounds, Lily writes that “it journeys through many genres showcasing percussion & woodwinds among an eclectic array of acoustic & electronic sounds—all rooted in rhythm and melody.” In other words, its notes and arrangements might be unusual, but they’re still perfectly listenable. Time to release that breath in a satisfied and relaxing way: Ahhhhhh.

Also, the album contains a song titled “Potato Brain.”

Now I know you just started scrambling for your headphones and Sherlock Holmes pipe (because I did, too), so here’s a link to a little listening party you can have right now before the thing comes out on November 4.

Thanks for keeping the hits coming, Lily! And by “hits,” I mean of course “intergalactic instrumentals mingled with the acousmatic sounds of everyday objects.”

Writing about architecture is like… dancing about music?

People wearing building costumes

I had no idea until this moment that there is a persistent mystery surrounding the origin of that famous quote (which of course I chopped and screwed above).

But whoever originally said it doesn’t really matter for the purposes of this blog post. What matters is that some words I wrote about architecture recently appeared in the American Institute of Architects New York Chapter‘s newsletter!

The Ways and Whys of Incorporating Social Science Methodologies into Architecture Curricula

What does all that mean? You’ll just have to read it to find out!

Many thanks to my very righteous clients Scott Francisco of Pilot Projects and Melissa Marsh of PLASTARC for hooking me up with this fun gig.

Now, let’s dance!

Guys Posing as Nuns, Astroturf, and Thousands of Pieces of Fake Fruit: LoftOpera’s Le Comte Ory

That was the working title of a preview I just wrote for Brooklyn-based opera company LoftOpera‘s newest production, Le Comte Ory (translation: The Count Ory) for Bushwick Daily.

LoftOpera performs Tosca photo by Robert Altman

LoftOpera does Puccini’s Tosca—by the looks of it, a more sober production than their upcoming one (photo by Robert Altman)

Here’s a preview of the preview (you can read the whole thing here):

“It’s totally ridiculous; almost unexplainable,” says Daniel Ellis-Ferris [the company’s founder and executive producer]. “It’s new for us to be doing something this playful.

“For example, there’s a threesome at the end of the show. When they did it at the Met [Metropolitan Opera], they just had three people sitting on a big bed, fluffing a duvet around. That’s about all you can do at the Met. But we’re working with gymnasts and circus people in a warehouse deep in Bushwick! So we can make ours a lot sexier. And our audience will have fun with that, rather than be offended by it.”

Sounds like the makings of fun for sure. I’m going to see the show with my friend Charles, a certified opera expert, next month. Extremely psyched!

A Most Brooklyn Saturday (with some Manhattan thrown in)

Here at Unsolicited Vibe Assessment, we strive to give the people what they want. (That is what we strive to do, isn’t it? And by “we,” I mean “the royal we,” aka me.)

The Dude Lebowski

The Dude knows all about “the royal we”

When I emailed a former New Yorker friend the other day about Arthur’s and my Very Brooklyn Saturday, she replied:

“Enjoyed reading about your epic day in Brooklyn! Are you going to blog about that?? What an unforgettable mix of all things BK and happy life there. So very excited to visit you across the bridge and hang with all of you there soon. I can feel that Brooklyn happiness in me already. If I ever return to NYC, it will definitely be either BK or Upper-Upper West Side. After your e-mail, BK is winning by a few points : )”

I’m nothing if not a Brooklyn booster, so yes, friend, I shall blog about it! Perhaps we’ll be able to make a few more fans for our beloved borough.

Arthur and I bought our wedding rings today!! They’re recycled gold, because we’re giant hippies.

Wedding bands

Rangs

Actually, today was such a nice day that I want to tell you more about it.

Arturo went to hot yoga at 10:00 am and I repotted some plants that were overgrowing their bounds. I also listened to a radio program about the genocide in Syria, which is so horrific, of course. That kind of stayed with me all day—perhaps not the best audio choice for this moment… But gotta stay informed.

00 Pizza

00+Co (photo from Yelp; those are not my beautiful hands)

Then we met up and biked into Manhattan to try a new vegan pizza place in the East Village, went to SoHo to get our rings, bought a few books at the Strand, and met up with our friend Andy at The Lot Radio, possibly the most Brooklyn thing ever: a streaming radio station located in a shipping container in a vacant lot that also sells cold brew coffee and vegan cookies.

The Lot Radio via Hyperallergic

Courtesy DJ Haram

Top: The Lot Radio (photo from Hyperallergic) Bottom: A DJ sesh live from their webcam! (photo from, and quite possibly of, DJ Haram: djharam.tumblr.com)

Then Arthur went to meet some friends for dinner, and I came back here to write to you :)

I’m always glad to be in NYC, but particularly on the first hella-sunny Saturday of the springtime, with the best of friends and most delicious of itineraries, I’m even more keenly aware that there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.

Readers! Where’s your happy place?

Scholes Street Studio: Making my day in all kinds of ways

I did an interview a few weeks ago with the lovely human beings Anita Mercier and René Pierre Allain, long-time Williamsburg residents, accomplished parents, and co-owners of Scholes Street Studio, a gem of a music space in our fair neighborhood.

The fascinating couple took more time than was necessary to show me around their beautiful and impressive live/work/performance space, and we enjoyed talking about their collection of African masks, the benefits of a metalworking background in the context of a major building renovation, and the ever-changing arts landscape of NYC.

Artists By Any Other Name performance

Artists By Any Other Name perform in 2015 (photo courtesy of Scholes Street Studio)

I felt the story I wrote about it for Bushwick Daily basically did the conversation, and Scholes Street Studio itself, justice. Plus it came together pretty easily once the interview was done, which always feels good from the ol’ craftsmanship perspective. But I was totally and wonderfully shocked when Bushwick Daily’s managing editor Emilie Ruscoe sent me the following feedback a couple of weeks after it was published:

“This is way overdue, but I have been meaning to email you back regarding your amazing work on the Scholes Street Studio piece! It was outstanding! Seriously beautiful, thoughtful, elegant features writing that, in my estimation, made up a story that seems like something the most discriminating news outlets I read would have been proud to run. I feel so lucky that you wrote it for us and so proud to have something so great among the stories I’ve edited for this site. Thank you so much!!”

Jeez, Emilie—you made me blush! You also made my day. Heck, my week! While trying to write well is its own reward, it’s a huge, huge help to get thoughtful pats on the back like this from time to time (as well as thoughtful critiques, which Emilie is also good at!). Helps make all the time spent staring at the screen totally worth it.

So this is pretty much a win-win, right? Memorable conversation, solid story, and morale-boosting accolade. (Well, if my math is right, that actually constitutes a win-win-win.) Just had to share.

Fellow writers (or anyone else): Tell me about a notable compliment you’ve received!

“We just met on the Internet. … Wait, that’s not what it sounds like!”

Nothing wrong with meeting on the Internet, of course! But the phrase sounded funny when I used it to describe my relationship to musician and writer Mariel Beaumont as I blew in to Brooklyn’s Knitting Factory a few nights ago in search of her and not sure I’d recognize her.

Mariel wrote to me last week to say she enjoyed this interview about vinyl record collectors I wrote for Medium and asked if I had any tips for promoting work on the site. While I was super-stoked to get a shout from someone I didn’t know, I had to be super-disappointing and let Mariel know that all the strokes that article’s gotten have been courtesy of the Dust & Grooves publicity machine; no marketing genius of mine.

Church Girls

Mariel (female) with her band. One of these guys is her twin brother!

We got to talking just the same and I learned her band Church Girls was going to be up from Philly in just a few days to play a show. I told her I’d try to make it, she told me she’d put me on the list, and—this outcome is far too infrequent—we both did what we said!

After I made a few wrong guesses, she spotted me in the crowd, we chatted for a bit, I heard Church Girls’ très bon indie/post-punk/folk-type set (with a few ripping guitar solos and a little Sam Cooke thrown in), and she was even nice enough to procure me a secret beer from backstage. (Pro-tip for making friends: this effort never fails to impress.)

In addition to getting lots of love for her music from the persnickety press, Mariel has written some great stuff, including this story, on Medium, about some of the real-life lessons she took from an adolescence spent at DIY shows and basement clubs. (See, this is the extent of my marketing strategy: “Hey, blog readers—check this other article out!”)

Despite its inherent identity as a connector, we all know the Internet has a Jekyll and Hyde personality that can work to isolate us (and deluge us with crap) as well as it can bring us closer together. As something of a luddite, it’s nice for me to occasionally be reminded of the ability of tools like web publishing and email to allow us to meet new, actual people in real, physical places. So much the better when those people are genuinely cool, and offer you beer.