Business Idea: West Philly Landscaping

Please, someone, jump on the opportunity that is small-scale landscaping in West Philly!

Everyone loves a pretty yard. I see people stop in front of flowers, smell and take pictures of blooms, kick around fallen cherry blossoms in the spring, and point out the unexpected–a sea of tulips, an old twisted spruce, banana palm trees, a lone iris.

But here’s the problem:

  • The yards aren’t big enough to justify the purchase of the all the tools you may need to revamp a yard. Especially if you’re a renter (and shouldn’t landlords take care of their properties?).
  • The yards aren’t big enough for an overgrown yard to look *that bad* so owners, landlords, and renters don’t make the effort.
  • Summer is hot. A lot of people would rather stay inside. Or perhaps they’re too busy. Or maybe they just don’t want to do yardwork.
  • A quick search for landscaping companies in the area takes you to big suburban outfits that will probably charge a lot of money. Where are smaller local companies?

It is mid-summer and every rowhome is ready to be weeded, maintained, and shored up. The sidewalks and retaining walls could use a good power wash. And the yards are small – 16 feet wide by 5-15 feet deep. Some even smaller depending on how much concrete has been poured over the years!

I did it 2 years ago and couldn’t keep up!

I was also doing a lot of larger projects like major plantings and maintenance and hauling. I even had a school as a commercial client and I hired two people part-time to help me out. When my “real job” client work picked up, I went back to my desk. The money was good but I wasn’t in a position to scale, and the employees weren’t interested in taking it over.

I used pictures of my own house as proof for clients and advertising on Facebook. Here is a before and after of my front and back yard at 51XX Catharine Street:

Here’s how I would start:

  1. Grab a wagon and few hand tools to do basic weeding and cleanup of small yards (buy or rent from West Philly Tool Library). Forget the hauling and big stuff for now–unless you have a truck and want to do more intense labor.
  2. Make sure you’re green–that will sell well here and it’s the right thing to do. Use the paper bags and take them to the organic compost recycling center in Fairmount. You can even pick up small amounts of mulch for FREE – enough to mulch a small yard.
  3. Go door-to-door with an estimate pad and come to the door ready with a number. Make it hard for them to say no. I’d find the balance between the value to them and a formula (say, $0.50 / sf for a basic cleanup). Leave the estimate slip with them or in the mailbox and make sure your contact info is on it. The neighborhood is so dense and walkable that you can hit a few blocks per day.
  4. Nail the first impression. Make the estimate slip look good. Dress like a landscaper – sturdy shoes and pants. Set up a quick landing page. Grab emails for a seasonal updates – rake leaves in the fall, plant bulbs in December for spring tulips, plant in the spring…
  5. Offer bundles (1x month for 3 months), add-on services like power washing, and check the property for other quick fixes. As I look out my window, I see a neighbor that needs their mailbox set – there’s $50 to dig a hole and dump some concrete.

Go for it!

This is a wide open market and people are looking. Check out neighborhood Facebook groups and Nextdoor – people are constantly asking for recommendations, especially when seasons change. And it will only take 1 yes from a landlord who owns several properties or one of the apartment buildings that want a maintenance package for their properties.

I’m happy to talk more if you’re interested.

Notre Dame Reimagined

An art historian has a digital map of Notre Dame, but will it be rebuilt exactly as it was?

The roof of Notre Dame needs 50 acres of oak trees to rebuild and no trees in France are big enough to use. So an exact replica is out of the running.

What about modern materials? Steel beams instead of lumber. So now we’re updating materials, and certainly the methods of construction are different.

Why mimic the past when the France can marry the best of the past with the best of the now?

I apologize for the terrible renderings–I am neither an architect nor a photoshop master. And nobody would plop Hadid on top… just to illustrate the point.

Autoprogettazione? / Self Design

If someone actually tried to build something, they would probably learn – Enzo Mari

Enzo Mari’s 1974 book was written to help regular people better understand the objects around them. Since there’s no better way to learn than by doing, the book was a free DIY instructional on how to build 19 different pieces of furniture from rough cut lumber and nails. 

“The quality-quantity ratio is central to the whole of industrial production: quality is determined when the shape of a product does not ‘seem’ but simply ‘is’. This statement, anything but a paradox, is not understood by most people. And this makes it difficult to execute projects of real worth . . . In 1974, I thought that if people were encouraged to build a table with their own hands, for example, they would be able to understand the thinking behind it.”

Buy Autoprogettazionenzo here. 

Observations from Wandering Cities

In 2015, I attended the Growing in Place conference in Raleigh, NC to address how children can learn and play in urban environments:

“How can urban design expose and restore urban nature so children and youth engage with compelling, equitable places for creative play and learning? How can nonformal education in nature enrich playful learning in the arts and sciences in the city?”

Jay Walljasper was one of the speakers. He used to be journalist and described himself as a “hunter-gatherer”. He wrote The Great Neighborhood Book chronicles his observations from wandering cities.

Here are my notes from his talk:

  1. Give people a place to hang out. It doesn’t have to be beautiful or expensive. This is where people make connections and get to know each other.
  2. Give people something to see like street buskers, public art, etc. Public art doesn’t have to be great, it has to be a tool for community building.
  3. Give people something to do. Toronto has public bread oven in park (big Portuguese community).
  4. Give people a safe pleasant place to walk. It promotes health and creates a strong sense of community. Many cultures have a ritual of post dinner walk, like USA promenade.
  5. Give people a place to sit.
  6. Give people a safe and comfortable place to bike. Protected bike freeways spur development.
  7. Give people reliable and comfortable public transit. There is stigma involved. Bad bus stops reinforce the stigma.
  8. Make the streets safe. The safest communities have the most people on the street. Organize walking groups to eliminate crime. Put people on the streets.
  9. Make streets safe from traffic. The streets belong to all of us. “If you widen the streets, my world will shrink.”
  10. Don’t forget about older folks. When we plan, non-drivers don’t exist. To lose driving almost makes you a non person.
  11. Don’t forget about kids. Kids live under house arrest because they can’t walk anywhere. Less than 10% of kids walk to school. We need safer routes to school programs, like a walking school bus.
  12. Let your community go to the dogs. Dogs want what we need- indicator spieces.
  13. Reclaim your front yard.
  14. Make a village no matter where you are. A city is a bunch of villages stitched together.
  15. Keep in mind that people like people. Are we building the slums of the future right now?
  16. Don’t give up hope.
  17. Build on what works to make things better. Have a vision.
  18. Remember the people of the people. Social capital.
  19. Never underestimate the power of a meal.
  20. Plant flowers.
  21. Take time to enjoy your community.

There’s a lot that ordinary citizens can do to engage their neighbors and make their block a better place to live. The Tactical Urbanism guides can help you “implement short-term, low-cost, and scalable interventions to catalyze long term change.”Short term projects are great because they change perspective, leading to new policy and physical change.

Think street furniture made out of discarded pallets, intersection repair with leftover paint, and reclaimed setbacks with benches and libraries. These can end up as new plazas and parks, complete streets, and community gathering spots.

The only thing I can add is: How can we do all this and keep it affordable and equitable for everyone?

Mobile Device dependency

My smartphone is a curse and I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. Take the test to see if you have a problem relationship with your mobile device: CAGE Mobile Device

What’s your score?

Swap out “Mobile Device” with “Alcohol” and that’s the same test medical professionals use to screen for alcoholism. And look at the similarities:

I blame myself for lack of discipline, but this thing is addictive. Take the “nomophobia” quiz here.

Now What?

At one point I bought a piece of plastic shaped like an iPhone, except the upgraded version with “selfie” capability. It worked for awhile, then I forgot about it.

Now I’m doing 2 things: 
First, I changed my phone to greyscale. In iOS: settings > general > accessibility > display accommodations > color filters > toggle color filters on

Then, I moved all of my apps into the dock. I’m forced to use the search function to find anything, making my iPhone use more focused.

So far it’s working. My iPhone is now boring and hard to use.


“Don’t Break the Chain”

Jerry Seinfeld wanted to be better comic. Better comics have better jokes, and better jokes come from writing every day. To motivate himself to write everyday, he put a calendar on the wall and made a big red X each day he wrote jokes.

“After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain. Don’t break the chain.” – from Brad Isaac

I’ve used this technique to work out more, stop drinking, and to build other habits.

The only problem is that it’s hard to find a simple, dedicated calendar to track it on. First I used a little at-a-glance calendar to track things in 2014 (but I made it too complicated). Then, I made a dedicated one for 2016 and 2017.

This year I got tired of re-creating it every year to fit the correct dates/days. So here’s the evergreen DON’T BREAK THE CHAIN calendar in pdf and jpg:


Networking isn’t Sales

The goal of networking is to build relationships and facilitate connections between others. It is not to sell products or services. 

Too often in my formal and informal networks, a coffee meetup suddenly turns into a sales pitch, a loose circle folks of is pushed into a sales funnel, or an online group is bombarded with promos. This is why networking has such a bad reputation.

I love supporting other freelancers and small business owners, but I want to do it on my own time, in my own way. Often, that is through connecting people or offering resources and advice when asked. It is rarely through purchasing goods and services.

The right way to network:

  1. Focus on learning: ask a question, and listen.
  2. Find collaborators: find common interests and tackle a shared problem.
  3. Give: connect people, give recognition and advice, share resources, and include others.

Help make networking suck less. 

Photo: Mrs. W.K. Vanderbilt (LOC), The Library of Congress 

No More Amazon.

My 2018 Resolution is NO AMAZON.


To all the “urbanists” who think an Amazon HQ2 would be awesome for their city — you’re wrong. The richest man in the world is treats his employees like garbage, manipulates cities into giving away a much-needed tax base, and is waging a scorched price war. It’s terrible for people, for local businesses, for cities, for employees.

Unless your city is a leader in affordable housing, sustainable zoning, alternative and public transportation, and enforces a living wage, Amazon HQ2 and the new businesses and people it would attract to your city would drive up housing costs, overload your terrible road infrastructure and create car wars, and deepen income inequality. I don’t think any city in the US has the social, political, and policy structures in place to fully accommodate HQ2 in a sustainable and equitable way.

Do you want to be the next Seattle? or San Francisco? Nah.

Furthermore, Amazon is already proving they care more about the bottom line by shopping this opportunity around for the biggest public subsidies (tax breaks, zoning breaks, and sweetheart deals) every region in the US can muster. And that’s public money that will only benefit the upper end of socioeconomic ladder, arguably the people that need it the least.

I want my dollars to stay in the local ecosystem. I want to buy products made in America, with American jobs. I want less cars and trucks on the street (on-demand home delivery is so unnecessary!). I want to support businesses that support women and minorities. Amazon does none of this. 

How can I buy Amazon and also claim to be an advocate for VisionZero, climate change, and American manufacturing? How can I buy Amazon and also claim to be concerned about the influence of corporations in public policy and space?

My spending has to align with my principles, and Amazon doesn’t fit.   

Source: Amazon



Philly Monuments

I added my voice to Philadelphia’s monument conversation in PlanPhilly’s “Eyes on the Street” segment, which is discussing “What is an appropriate monument for the current city of Philadelphia?”

My essay here:

Mural Arts’ Monument Lab wants to know, “What is an appropriate monument for the current city of Philadelphia?”

It’s a great question, but I want to suggest a few more to guide the city as it conducts this research phase of what could one day become a great public design project, and to help us understand the challenges of erecting a truly meaningful monument in Philadelphia.

A monument is a lasting evidence, reminder, or example of someone or something notable or great. But I like the Latin root better: moneo means “to remind”, “to advise” or “to warn”. So, this beginning raises the question: Are these monuments intended for us, the current citizens of Philadelphia, or are we building them as a warning to (or guide for) our future citizens?


Rizzo aside, what else is going on in the Philadelphia Monument Ecosystem? Should we take more care when accepting and displaying monuments gifted by private groups? Should we wait ten years after a person’s death or an event’s occurrence before they can be immortalized as a monument? Should we actively uncover people and events that have been ignored until this point?

Our current monuments are monotonous. Around ten percent of monuments depict women, and only ten of those monuments are of actual women, not religious or mythical figures. The remaining twenty-two are mythological or biblical figures, and fifteen of those are of Mary. Sharon Hayes’ participatory Monument Lab sculpture, If They Should Ask, collected the names of women who should be recognized. I urge everyone to dive into this list and explore the possibilities, like Carolina LeCount, a civil rights leader and Octavius Catto’s’ finance. And let’s be sure to remember Winnie Harris in ten years.

Art commissions and boards tend to be positions reserved for members of the community holding “respected” positions, access to capital through fundraising or connections, and the ability to influence public opinion. While many of these boards are diverse in gender and race, they often still fail across the class spectrum.

And who are the artists? Are we giving women and people of color the creative and financial opportunity to create their representation of a person, event, or abstract concept? By my rough count, women make up less than 20 percent of the artists listed on, poet Christopher William Purdom’s index of the city’s public art. It’s safe to say that the number of artists of color similarly falls short of reflecting Philadelphia’s population.


This is a great time to step aside and see what others have to say. I’d love to hear who my longtime black neighbors view as local heroes, the events that defined their generation, and the chain of events that brought Philadelphia to this particular crossroads as  a majority-minority city, the poorest of all big U.S. cities, and undoubtedly the most historic.

We need monuments that reflect the diverse backgrounds of our citizens, such as our growing Middle Eastern population, our large Jewish communities, our West African and West Indian communities here in West Philadelphia, and our Hispanic communities. Let’s explore their histories within the context of Philadelphia and celebrate those stories. Who are the de facto leaders in these communities, and how can we collect and share their stories with the rest of Philadelphia?

As a city that tries to serve as a refuge from nativism, we should ask immigrants like Javier Flores Garcia: What would a monument to sanctuary look like? As a minority-majority city struggling with structural inequity and systemic racism, we should ask activists like the Black and Brown Workers Cooperative: What would a monument to the struggle for racial equality look like?”


How can we co-opt the Mural Arts model of placemaking, expression, and public contribution for our city’s enduring monuments?

Digital tools are great, but they can’t be the only method of data collection. According to a 2013 survey by the Pew Charitable Trusts, both Philadelphians making less than $30,000 per year and residents over the age of 65 are less likely to have internet access than the rest of the population. Additionally, only 16 percent of city residents get their local news from the internet, while almost 40 percent get it from TV.

So, how should we reach out? Not everyone is going to read PlanPhilly, or follow Monument Lab, or pass by workshops in Rittenhouse. There are gathering places around the city can be utilized to reach people: churches, rec centers, schools —  even the local watering hole. It will take time to reach out in an one-on-one manner but the due diligence will pay off, and the citizens will appreciate the effort.


Philadelphia is so historic that it’s easy to overlook the history. I rarely stop to reflect upon the statues all over City Center, and I’ll give the 2,500 blue and gold historical markers a cursory glance. So, my final questions is: What could a monument be?  As benchmarks, the historical markers cost about $1,400 each, while  newly-built monument to Octavius Catto at City Hall cost $2,000,000 . With that range in mind, let’s reimagine what a monument could be:

  • What if the monument could travel so that all sections of the city could experience it, host it, make it their own?
  • What if the monument was participatory?
  • What if the monument was sensory?
  • What if the monument was a trust to fund a scholarship or job creation program?
  • What if the monument was digital?
  • What if the pedestals of all existing monuments to men who owned slaves were converted to a supporting foundation created by sculptures of the all the black men, women, and children they enslaved?
  • What if the monument used all the discarded tires in Philadelphia? What if the monument pushed us to consider the people and resources used to get us here?
  • What if…

I don’t know what the next monument should be, but I know it should celebrate people we don’t want to see forgotten and a collective history we don’t want to see erased. What stories are hiding in plain sight, and what advice do they hold for future generations of Philadelphians? If we want to move forward as a city, and to develop equitably and sustainably, our monuments must guide us toward those progressive goals.


Disaster Capitalism and Gentrification

Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Jose will forever change the trajectory of Houston, Key West, and other coastal towns. Disaster paves the way for radical capitalist economic policy, from development to war to charter schools. Don’t you know what happened in New Orleans after Katrina?

As you think about the cost of recovery, policy implementation, and government subsidies, remember that the Department of Defense 2017 budget is $582.7 BILLION. That is $582,700,000,000. Houston’s $50 billion recovery effort is 8% of the DoD’s 2017 budget. 

There is no such thing as a “natural” disaster, because who’s in harm’s way, and the kind of harm they face, is a product of human choices. – Andy Horowitz

Here are a few articles + highlights to get you up to speed

Bleakonomics, New York Times – book review of “The Shock Doctrine” by Naomi Klein.

  • 100,000 less black people live in New Orleans in 2015 than in 2000
  • most of the city’s public schools have been replaced by privately run charter schools


Katrina’s Silver Lining by David Brooks – a primer on how NOT to think after major disasters. This is a dog whistle for the “ambitious and organized” to remove anyone who can’t “culturally integrate”… what Brooks fails to discuss is the underlying systems that created racial inequality in the first place and allowed Katrina to wreck so much destruction on impoverished neighborhoods–racism and the new jim crow.


How to Stop Gentrification by Colin Kinniburgh – a look at disaster, the citizens, the developers, and the government’s role in gentrification across the US

  • New Orleans has “become the second-least affordable city to live in nationwide”
  • “In 1976 alone, the city of New York shut down thirty-four fire stations in poor, largely black and Latino neighborhoods; by the end of the decade, seven Bronx census tracts had lost virtually all of their buildings, and another forty-four tracts had lost more than half.”
  • “Economic isolation and the fraying of the social safety net contributed to record levels of crime in inner cities, with public housing complexes hit particularly hard. Policy elites’ response was to blame the buildings themselves….”
  • “black wealth was decimated in the 2008 housing market crash…In 2007, the average black family had a net worth of one-tenth the average white-family’s; by 2011, that number had dropped to one-sixteenth”
  • and keep learning…”it is important not to lose sight of the ways that personal attitudes and actions daily aggravate the crisis of gentrification”


Get Ready for Trump’s Diaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein – how the government, Trump, and contractors can exploit diaster for personal and political gain

  • after Katrina, Pence (as chairman of Republican Study Committee) suspended wage labor laws, regulation, and zoning, and made “the entire affected area a flat-tax free-enterprise zone”, repealed environmental regulations, and gave permission for new oil refineries (duh, global warming) –> will be used by Trump to court the labor movement
  • top contractors from Iraq were hired by the government to provide mobile homes to evacuees just 10 days after the levees broke. Their contracts ended up totaling $3.4 billion, no open bidding required.
  • Emergency workers and local volunteer morticians were forbidden to help clear bodies because it impinged on a contractor’s “commercial territory” –> bodies rotted in the streets for days
  • a religious group was paid $5.2 million to build an emergency worker base camp, which was never built – the group had only organized religious youth camps


North Carolina denied 99 percent of federal recovery funds for Hurricane Matthew by Michael Rios – here’s what happens when everything is destroyed but you’re not a big “brand” like New Orleans or Houston.

  • in 2016, Hurricane Matthew ripped through Eastern North Carolina, leaving the state with $1.5 billion in damage and 80,000 households to register for FEMA. FEMA is only allocating $100 million.


The Transformative Vision of Community Land Trusts by Aaron Tanak – we need to rethink the concept of land

  • we should recognize that land is not just the square feet that we live on but the source of the natural resources that we depend on
  • land in a CLT is owned by the nonprofit and leased to home and building owners at an affordable price.


2 ways to fight gentrification by Adam Hengels – the forces behind gentrification aren’t what we think they are

  • The mechanism of gentrification is not development. It is zoning.
  • The battlefield is in the more wealthy neighborhoods where empowered residents fight to keep new people out.
  • The enemy is the rich people who use their influence to thwart development in their neighborhoods.

PARK(ing) Day in Philadelphia, Roots in San Diego

I love PARK(ing) Day because it showcases how quick, cheap, and mobile solutions can vastly improve our quality of life. By reducing vehicle speeds and reclaiming streets as people spaces, these temporary parklets build community and prove that a tiny respites from city life is welcome.

Philadelphia’s PARK(ing) Day includes 52 businesses, designers, and organizations co-opting asphalt for tiny parks. You can see their google map here or download their printable guide: Park(ing) Day Philadelphia 2015_Map.

This strong showing is just another notch in Philly’s belt. There is a history of activating underutilized spaces with community initiatives as seen through the work of the Philadelphia Horticultural Society, Grounded in Philly, the Mural Arts Program, and the Philadelphia Orchard Project. If you know of any more organizations, please comment below!

Here are a few parklets seen on my morning walk:

IMG_4467 copy
Zipcar has a pumpkin-painting station and real turf

Continue reading “PARK(ing) Day in Philadelphia, Roots in San Diego”

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”

Ten Principles for Good Design from Dieter Rams


Dieter Rams is a German industrial designer whose design approach is “Less, but better”.
He believes good design:

  1. Is innovative – The possibilities for progression are not, by any means, exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for original designs. But imaginative design always develops in tandem with improving technology, and can never be an end in itself.
  2. Makes a product useful – A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy not only functional, but also psychological and aesthetic criteria. Good design emphasizes the usefulness of a product whilst disregarding anything that could detract from it.
  3. Is aesthetic – The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products are used every day and have an effect on people and their well-being. Only well-executed objects can be beautiful.
  4. Makes a product understandable – It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product clearly express its function by making use of the user’s intuition. At best, it is self-explanatory.
  5. Is unobtrusive – Products fulfilling a purpose are like tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should therefore be both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the user’s self-expression.
  6. Is honest – It does not make a product appear more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept.
  7. Is long-lasting – It avoids being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated. Unlike fashionable design, it lasts many years – even in today’s throwaway society.
  8. Is thorough down to the last detail – Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the consumer.
  9. Is environmentally friendly – Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It conserves resources and minimizes physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the product.
  10. Is as little design as possible – Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity.

As designers we have a great responsibility. I believe designers should eliminate the unnecessary. That means eliminating everything that is modish because this kind of thing is only short-lived.
–Dieter Rams – interview with Icon Magazine

A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.
–Antoine de Saint-Exupery

845738113db339d7910ad5955cc0c14a tumblr_mqci1erNXp1qjfk8po1_1280 t2_product_1323561865 350 braun-watch-collection-by-dieter-rams-04

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.

Screen Shot 2015-02-19 at 3.58.48 PM


Uber Can Do Anything As Long As We Buy What They Sell

Uber is a private company. They set pricing, company values, and customer service. If a company run by a pretty awful bro turns a blind eye to assaults, has no respect for consumer privacy, and touts a price-gouging (dynamic) business model, then make the decision to not support them. Like every other private company, they will only be around as long as they have customers. It can be inconvenient, but every rider has the option of calling a taxi, which is simple with a smartphone.

Furthermore, I have 3 points in response to the Triangle Business Journal’s article on the NC Attorney General’s involvement after Halloween:

  1. Uber made the entire dynamic pricing model very transparent. I received several emails and notifications from Uber leading up to Halloween and how to avoid costly ride. Also, Uber required the passenger to confirm they understood the “multiplier” on 2 separate prompts.
  2. It seems that most of the complaints are coming from people leaving bars between the hours of 12:30-2:30am who knew planned on drinking and wouldn’t be able to drive home. It’s not Uber’s fault they were drunk and made a bad financial decision.
  3. Every Uber rider had the option of calling a traditional cab company and paying a price determined by city policy.

You can protest Uber by not giving them your money. It will send a powerful message.

Photo by

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,

Who Wore It Better–Art Edition

While looking for some type of link for the Who Wore It Better reference in Tuesday’s Post, I found– an art edition on tumblr comparing very similar concepts and executions. In some instances, it is an homage or reference, or in others genders or cultures have been swapped. It’s an interesting perspective.

There’s some theory about the collective unconscious and how certain concepts pop up worldwide, at the same time, totally unrelated to one another. Maybe it is the same for art–reacting to pop culture and politics and injustices.

Anyway, here are a couple of my favorites:

Screen Shot 2013-12-10 at 9.52.15 PM Screen Shot 2013-12-10 at 9.48.40 PM Screen Shot 2013-12-10 at 9.47.19 PM Screen Shot 2013-12-10 at 9.47.42 PM Screen Shot 2013-12-10 at 9.50.43 PM

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?

Screen Shot 2013-12-10 at 9.05.37 PM 3ee83cb0-533b-11e3-87f3-c9b8d1388c56_large 8e09a850-55c6-11e3-b2ee-ff6d237bab5f_large 86dc5600-5548-11e3-86ec-d702a89255b3_large


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.

Cai Guo-Qiang: Explosive Art

Cai Guo-Qiang is a Chinese artist best known for his fireworks and explosions, notably the 2008 Beijing Olympics but I like the animals best. It reminds me how safe we think we are in our built environment. These would look AWESOME suspended outside in a metro area. Now that I’m working with Raleigh Public Art, maybe I’ll give him a call.

more Google Images, a Smithsonian Mag article, and Cai’s Website and Blog (wordpress)

Cai – in his mid 50’s! 
Gunpowder works IMG_2335resize-1024x6822012_desirezerogravity_a3035_001ltr
Lot_517_CAI GUO-QIANG_Project No.143-The Mark of 92101-cai-guo-qiang-head-on-1
Head Oncai-guo-qiang-07I want to Believe mathaf-arab-museum-of-modern-art-cai-guo-qiang-saraab-n-flying-together-life-like-falcons-with-camelcai-pic-1-6002328557627_d3aea84ef9_o
Borrowing your enemy’s arrows chi06cai-draw2-001chi02Poster Final versionPicture 015Inopportune266900-970x600-1Da Vincis do Povo – currently in Brazil 

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