Using Design to Address Homelessness through Transitional Housing

Last spring Activate14–an outreach initiative I co-founded–jumped on the tiny home craze in an effort to address Raleigh’s underserved homelessness community. We wanted to prove our belief that good design is accessible to everyone and can radically change a community.

The transition out of homelessness is more successful when services like job training, medical attention, and other support are provided through temporary housing, rather than providing services alone. The housing community model allows someone to build a steady job and income without worrying about their safety, belongings, and where they will find shelter.

Not surprisingly, a transitional housing community is more cost-effective than letting the homeless stay on the streets. Increased hospitalization, overnights in jail, and emergency shelter cost taxpayers upwards of $40,000 per homeless person per year. Imagine the savings if we could transition people from homelessness to self-supporting lives through $1,500 to $30,000 tiny homes with community space. 


Continue reading “Using Design to Address Homelessness through Transitional Housing”

The Case Against Major-League Sport Stadiums in Urban Areas

Before leaving Raleigh, a conversation emerged around bringing a major-league sports team to the capitol city. Several people–all men–thought a football or basketball stadium near the amphitheater would be THE BEST THING EVER.

Let me tell you why it’s not:

1. Stadiums are dead zones. The NBA plays 41 home games per year, the MLB has 81 home games per year. What happens the other 324/284 days? Not much, maybe some concerts and big college games. And that’s not just an empty stadium, that’s empty parking lots, shuttered retail space, and a lot of dead sidewalk.

Have you been near a stadium during the day? I’ve seen Indianapolis, Charlotte, Seattle, Philadelphia, and Minneapolis stadiums first hand. It’s terrible. Parking takes up 3x as much space as the stadium itself. Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis covers 6 to 7 city blocks for the stadium, parking, and landscaping. These megablocks have poor walkability scores and rarely, if ever, include ground-floor retail.

Erik Weber has a great post on specific stadiums.

Dodgers Stadium (pink) and parking (orange)
Philly Stadiums (pink) and parking (orange)







Continue reading “The Case Against Major-League Sport Stadiums in Urban Areas”

Quick Ugly Housing = Future Affordable Housing?

Elan City Center Apartments Rendering (Greystar)
What it really looks like…

Is Raleigh getting ugly, or is it just me?

Raleigh is quickly looking like a second-tier replica city dictated by developer’s profit margins. All of our new housing developments are plywood wrapped in terrible materials; they’re poorly designed, unfriendly to the street, and, frankly, an eyesore.

Elan City Center could be one of those at Clark+Oberlin, on N Boylan, S Wilmington or N Person, by Trader Joe’s, or anywhere else in the country. It looks familiar because Greystar, a developer from Charleston, owns 44 complexes in Raleigh, Durham and the RTP alone, and they’re not the only developer in town. There are currently over 2,500 unit under construction in Downtown and Glenwood South.

The real problem is that none of these complexes offer affordable housing. With studios starting at $1,050, they have priced out singles making under $50,000 and couples making under $25,200 each (given a 25% income allowance for rent). How can the City of Raleigh champion itself as friendly and diverse at these prices?

My hope is that in 10 years–when the facades are tattered, plywood floors bowed, and amenities dingy–there will be so many units empty that the prices will drop. Finally, Raleigh will have affordable housing downtown–unless the developer razes the building for bigger profit margins.

This is the only reason why I am glad we are not building like the Capitol Apartments anymore.

Capital Apts_web
Capitol Apartments. Photo by

If the City of Raleigh wants downtown Raleigh and the surrounding neighborhoods to be a hub of creativity, diversity, and innovation, then it needs to start acting more like a benevolent developer + leader and less like a doormat. I suggest that they give the Appearance Commission real authority and require all new developments offer a percentage of their housing available to low-income families, similar to the Town of Chapel Hill.

“The Town shall encourage developers of residential developments of 5 or more units to (a) provide 15 percent of their units at prices affordable to low and moderate income households, (b) contribute in-lieu-fees, or (c) propose alternative measures so that the equivalent of 15 percent of their units will be available and affordable to low and moderate income households;”

Until then, we can only wait until poor design and quality works in favor of lower socio-economic groups.

P.S. lol at the stock images on the websites for these developments.

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Food Truck Proposal for Raleigh’s Moore Square

The City of Raleigh is spending $12 million to revamp Moore Square, one of two downtown green spaces. While the space needs an upfit to reflect the world-class status Raleigh is working towards, I believe there are smaller steps the city could take to attract crowds and increase revenue.

Restaurants, shops, and a children’s museum face the square on the west end. To the east are empty lots and storefronts. There is no reason to walk through the center of the square. Currently, the square is known for its homeless population that are attracted by public transportation and a variety of services aimed towards people in need.

I suggest the city allow two food tucks to serve from the middle of the square. Area food trucks are eager to run in downtown Raleigh, and are willing to pay for the opportunity. Each truck would easily pay $100 per shift. After a few weeks, the city would have enough funds to buy picnic tables and other amenities to create a more enjoyable experience.

Other cities proved that the presence of food trucks aren’t detrimental to other businesses; they increase interest and foot traffic. People will take lunch breaks in the square, visit after work, and spend time outside. Furthermore, the square will feel more safe with a greater public presence.

Sure, a city employee will have to schedule food tucks and process payments, and other employees will have to empty the trash can more frequently, but I think 4 food trucks per day will generate enough revenue to cover it.

C’mon Raleigh!


Activate14: Architecture + Design Event Series

What started as intra-office conversation on hosting architecture and design events quickly turned to reality when Frank Harmon Architect decided to sponsor the inaugural summer event series at the AIANC Center for Architecture and Design (CfAD) in Raleigh, NC. Planning quickly commenced with the AIANC Program Committee. We decided to bridge the events by focusing on issues facing North Carolina cities: sustainable foodways, alternative transportation, and urban housing.

Within 2 months we had started the framework for Activate 14 (a play on the address of the CfAD), released a Design + Build Competition Call for Entry open to North Carolina architects, architecture students, and artists, and started planning for 4 summer events.

Activate 14 is an annual event series that instigates conversations with the public about current architecture and design issues shaping our communities. It is free, public event series in downtown Raleigh, utilizing the entire grounds of the CfAD with cascading events to feature educational components, food, drink, music, children’s activities, and art.

This has been my primary focus for the past 2 months and I’d love for you to check out the website and give me some feedback, especially if you live in North Carolina!


My NYE Wishes for Raleigh: A List


I think about Raleigh all the time. I want to make it better, I want to contribute, I want to provide services to encourage a thriving urban center. Here are some of my wishes for the New Year.

I wish for increased ridership on public transportation; dedicated bike lanes; attainable rents for startup businesses or discounted rents for the first 6 months; successful implementation of the Market and Exchange Plaza renovations; window displays in abandoned buildings; more interactive public art; a nighttime gathering space that isn’t centered around alcohol; cool playgrounds; politicians concerned with living wages, alternative transportation, and all things green; a great anchor tenant in 227 Fayetteville; a local grocer near my home; BIKE SHARING; a neighborhood cleanup; utilization of empty lots; shelters at bus stops–we’re bare to the elements; streets democratically oriented towards pedestrians and cyclists, not large personal vehicles with lonely riders; pedestrian scrambles on Fayetteville during the lunch rush; food trucks!; c’mon parklets!; affordable solutions for downtown living; Dorthea Dix to become a park; a bar in the basement of the Velvet Cloak; intersection repair, everywhere; mixed used buildings that haven’t been value engineered; a GOOD donut shop; light rail; and, as always, books, books, and more books.

Well, this list could go on but I’ve exhausted my supply for the night.

What do you want?

photo © Matt Robinson,

Custom Textiles: Print All Over Me + Spoonflower (Durham!)

While doing some research today I ran across another custom fabric company called Print All Over Me that lets me pick an object to digitally print whatever pattern I want or pick from another’s uploaded design (that user receives 20% of the sale). I can’t speak to the cut or fabric but the print is as good/bad as you make it.

Spoonflower–Durham, NC–is similar but you buy printed fabric by the yard, which means you have to make the object. They have 12 fabrics to choose from including silk, linen, and cotton.

Either way, here are two services that help you MAKE IT HAPPEN.

These custom clothing services will keep popping up because who wants to go out and run into someone wearing the same shirt? Then it gets down to Who Wore It Better? and things get ugly.

Speaking of which, what’s going on at NCSU’s College of Textiles?

Images from PAOM, who am I to judge?

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Why I wanted to be a RDU Baton holder

I am the RDU Baton holder on instagram today (@rdubaton) and I plan to use it as a soapbox for multimodal transportation, sustainability, utilizing urban space better, the need for public art, and so on.

The mission of the RDU Baton is to showcase Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and the surrounding communities. We’re supposed to “show off our beautiful and lively corner of the world,” which many other baton holders have done. These people are pumped to be living here, in a growing area grounded by great universities, a burgeoning tech center, good food, and craft beer. I like all those things too but there is a lot more to Raleigh regarding transportation, social equity, and sustainability.

The relationship between the homeless, Moore Square, public transportation, and the city is strained; the train tracks are privately owned and serve as a thoroughfare for the transient; new cookie-cutter housing is built in large blocks next to residential neighbors with no input; bike riders fear for their lives because there are not dedicated bike lanes, even on brand-new streets; a small group of citizens dictate how public land and resources are used, citing safety and money to scare people; a lot of time, money, and space downtown is focused on alcohol and the more frequent “special event”; light rail was struck down, again, while Citrix is building a giant parking deck on Morgan Street.

I live between NCSU and downtown in a relatively low-income area cut off by Hillsborough Street, Pullen Park, and the railroad tracks. I see a lot and ride my bike to work often, rolling past the jail, a methadone clinic, new housing developments and several great local businesses.

I’m hoping to bring awareness to some of these issues. Raleigh is great, but it could be better.

Thoughts on Books and Bookstores

I’m researching book mobiles and book bikes and such to figure out ways to increase literacy and the love of reading. I’m tired of blogs foretelling the death of books as a physical entity. At some point they will meet their end but we are not there yet. At the very least, rich book collectors will keep the first editions of “masterpieces” in plastic sleeves on their built-in shelves, much like a collection I saw a few weeks ago (which focused on African-American dialect written by white people, of course–ugh).

Cost and accessibility are problems: new books are expensive. Libraries and book stores are not always easy to get to, or the selection isn’t great–used bookstores especially, or once surrounded by stacks of books, you forget what you want to read, you can’t remember authors or titles picked up in friendly conversations, or the staff is nonexistent or unfriendly.

Furthermore, bookstores once doubled as the printing press or publishing house of literary reviews and magazines and were the hub where writers and readers converged (i.e. Sylvia Beach and Shakespeare and Company, Left Bank, Paris, 1920’s) Sure, online forums are great places for that but, personally, that’s not my thing. Plus, trolls. I want to have a face to face conversation and allow my excitement to carry me into the nth cup of coffee.

Though the independent bookstore is doing well in the midst of big chain bookstores failing or downsizing, it is necessary to revamp the bookstore model. Digital books and media must be included in the selection and other revenue streams must be found….more on this later. Shakespeare-and-Company-Hemingway-Sylvia-Beach-Adrienne-Monnier bookstoresgothamliterary1948party_zps193d7c73 The literary crowd of Shakespeare & Co. Joyce and Sylvia BeachSylvia Beach and James Joyce

Wilders Grove in the Newspaper

A public art project I’ve been working on for McConnell Studios made it into the newspaper Sunday and you can barely see me in one of the photos…it’s a start! ha!

The project is “Wilders Grove,” a 40 foot long undulating wall composed of recyclable materials to be installed at the first LEED Platinum waste service center in the nation. We estimate that over 600 volunteer hours have gone into the project, not to mention the hundreds of hours it took to develop the kaleidoscope software and build the frame.

Read more about the project on the website or check out the News & Observer article. If you’re in the Raleigh area and want to participate, email

OTYV4.AuSt.156matt McConnell and I are taking the wood panels off the steel frame.


Expansion in Downtown Raleigh


I didn’t like downtown Raleigh when I moved here in 2009–I was working two jobs, the scene was small and close knit, and, being a government center, was dead past 5:30pm. After Raleigh Denim moved downtown in 2010 (I was working there at the time), I noticed that many storefronts were going under renovations and filing with new restaurants and shops.

CAM Raleigh opened next door, Capital Club 16Neptunes and Kings kept the Martin–Salisbury corner busy, the trifecta of Beasley’sChucks and Fox dominated the Martin–S Wilmington corner, Raleigh Times expanded next door to include a rooftop, Bida Manda brought Laotian food to the South, Videri Chocolate and Tasty Beverage brought traffic to the old train station, the warehouses were acquired by Citrix for their new headquarters, the AIA NC built their new headquarters across from Peace College (my office, Frank Harmon Architect, built and rents from the AIA NC), Seaboard Station expanded with Tyler’s Taprooma cafe, and a burger jointC. Grace lit up GloSo, and Dos Taquitos Xoco is almost open, CityFabricCompostNow, and ReDress Raleigh moved into Boylan Heights, Trophy Brewing is coming to the Morgan St. shopping center (next to murder mart), the Fiction Kitchen is setting up, and the Person Street developments of Rapid Fitness, PiebirdRaleigh City FarmMarket’s new location, and an upcoming market, and the various little boutiques that have popped up around downtown… I’m sure I missed someone, sorry.

Being part of the downtown community and watching it expand and thrive has been a great experience. All the bars and restaurants I go to are locally owned, are involved in the community, and have a similar set of values. What’s even better is living so close to downtown and walking or riding everywhere.

I can’t wait to see who is going to start what next… there are so many projects and ideas and floating around downtown, you can feel it.

Check out my new job at Frank Harmon Architect!

Hello loyal followers, visitors and one-time hitters,

I want to apologize for my absence the last week and a half… I was previously posting almost every week day, a feat I was very proud of. However, two weeks ago today was my first day at Frank Harmon Architect, PA, a nationally acclaimed architecture firm in Raleigh, NC with a focus on sustainable practices. Check out the projects on our website and especially Frank Harmon’s “Journal“.

Here is a view of our office on the 3rd floor of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) building our firm designed and completed in late 2011.

I’m excited about the opportunity to work with such great minds on interesting projects, to be surrounded by creativity, and to face these new challenges head-on.

Here is my head shot for the company PR stuff courtesy of my friend and colleague, Courtney E. I think it turned out all right, especially given the previous 39 shots!

My Food Truck Startup

My friend Tom approached me a few months ago about a joining his new food truck venture. He thought I would be a good fit given our personal history and my previous work with startups. Well, that talk at Surf Club led to bringing our dream food truck to life. We bought the truck bus and have started cleaning and preparing it for our culinary adventure.

You can follow our ride at Ready to Roll.


The Food Bus on day of purchase!

The Best Chefs in the Triangle are…Women!

The poll results from the Independent Weekly’s Best of the Triangle were released this week and I immediately noticed that all the Best Chef awards went to women! (Coincidently, all their names start with A.) The rest of the finalists were men save for the husband and wife team at Magnolia Grill in Durham (now closed).

The Winners
Ashley Christensen, Poole’s, Raleigh
Andrea Reusing, Lantern, Chapel Hill
Amy Tornquist, Watt’s Grocery, Durham

The culinary world is famously male-dominated but it seems the citizens of the Triangle are gender-blind! Here are some gender-related culinary statistics: in 2011, the James Beard Foundation nominated 96 chefs, 18 of them being women, up from 16 in 2009 (both Christensen and Reusing have been nominated); at the Culinary Institute of America, men outnumber women 7 to 3; of Michelin’s 106 3 star restaurants, there is one female chef.

Congratulations winners (and voters), this is a step in the right direction and a great achievement for women, the Triangle and the culinary world!