In March, Amplify Philly activated a house in Austin, TX for SXSW and invited the world to learn about Philly tech, entrepreneurship, music, culture & more.

On April 4, we gathered back at Pipeline Philly in Philadelphia with REC Philly & Witty Gritty to debrief. How did it go? What are other ways we can practice urban diplomacy & share Philadelphia stories around the world?

Some takeaways from City Lobby with Amplify Philly:

1. Keeping efforts like Amplify Philly collective & communal are key to include more voices and a truer representation of what Philly is and looks like.

2. There is definitely some "special sauce" in Philly — an organic feeling of community and family that can't be fabricated. 

3. We need to better support and lift what is already happening in the city. We don't necessarily need a SXSW here. 

Watch the video of the conversation here:

Interested in getting involved in future opportunities to showcase the city? Follow Amplify Philly on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram.

Interested in more urban diplomacy & exchange? We're cooking up some ideas and would love to hear yours.



Entrepreneur & data analyst Alok Sharma is concerned Detroit is missing an opportunity with artificial intelligence. "We're going to master the defining technology of the 21st Century—and use it to sell cars?"

Are there higher, better uses for A.I. than moving metal from point A to B? Healthcare? Education? What else should Detroit be developing?

On March 21, Sharma joined us in the parlor to share Detroit's bizarre & fascinating history of innovating new industries—and then reverting to cars. (See some examples in his presentation below.)

"We have a history of birthing an industry, and then it disappears," said Sharma. "We always keep going back to auto manufacturing. I'm not sure why—might be capital?"

"A.I. is the electricity of our generation. Whether we like it or not, it will be ubiquitous. And we are singularly focused on auto, with a track record of missing out." 

Watch the video by MILO Digital here:

About Our Guest

Alok Sharma is founder of Sharma Analytics, a technology management consultancy based at TechTown that uses data to rationalize, select, plan and manage technology projects for small to mid-size organizations. As a longtime city booster, trend trafficker & political wonk, Sharma has contributed to a number of civic campaigns & initiatives, including Council by Districts, National Day of Civic Hacking, Detroit Startup Drinks, Detroit Synergy & more.

About the Consulate

Urban Consulate is a network of parlors for urban exchange. A winner of the Knight Cities Challenge, the Consulate has hosted over 150 conversations in Detroit, Philadelphia & New Orleans to bring people together and share ideas for better cities. Join us on FacebookTwitter & Instagram @urbanconsulate.



On February 1, 2018, Michael O'Bryan (@misticquest) of the Village of Arts & Humanities in Philadelphia joined us at the Urban Consulate in Detroit for a parlor talk titled “Community Building in the 21st Century: Exploring Trauma, Healing, and Inclusive Growth." Hosted by Orlando Bailey of Eastside Community Network & Kayana Sessums of Osborn Neighborhood Alliance, O'Bryan presented his work and research on youth & community development.

Afterwards, several guests inquired about the studies & scholars cited, so Michael generously shared his research and we compiled in the syllabus below.


  • Watch the Facebook Live video here.
  • Read our Twitter thread here.
  • Read more about Michael here.





Michael O'Bryan is an Urban Innovation Fellow at Drexel University's Lindy Institute and Director of Youth Programs at Village of Arts & Humanities in Philadelphia. He consults locally and nationally, exploring the intersections of trauma-informed practice and community well-being. Much of O'Bryan's work has centered on amplifying the voices of marginalized populations, touching the worlds of performance art and public health.

In 2014, O'Bryan was awarded “Child Advocate of The Year” by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, and Innovator of the Week in 2016 by Urban Innovation Exchange. In 2017, he was selected as an Emerging City Champion by Knight Foundation & 880 Cities and named one of the People Changing Philly.

Urban Consulate is a network of parlors for urban exchange. A winner of the Knight Cities Challenge, the Consulate has hosted over 150 conversations in Detroit, Philadelphia & New Orleans to bring people together and share ideas for better cities. Follow @UrbanConsulate on FacebookTwitter & Instagram.



"How can we make sure people designing cities are representative of the places they serve?"

DETROIT — This was the question for Tiffany Brown's parlor talk on January 31, 2018 at the Urban Consulate about her exciting new project, 400 Forward.

The backstory: Earlier this year, the 400th African-American woman was licensed to be an architect in the United States. With over 110,000 registered architects, that makes just .03 percent.

Brown wants to change that. As an architectural designer born & raised in Detroit, she recently won a $50,000 Knight Arts grant to launch 400 Forward with Urban Arts Collective, which she co-founded with two fellow designers from Detroit.

The objective? To build a more accessible road for the next generation, through multi-point contact starting at K-12 levels through licensure.

Brown's resume is impressive. She works for SmithGroupJJR, one of the oldest firms in the U.S., with over a thousand employees and nearly a dozen locations in the U.S. and China. She is Vice President of NOMA Detroit and serves on the K-12 Working Group with The American Institute of Architects. She holds both an M.Arch and MBA from Lawrence Tech, where she is also an adjunct professor.

Working with school counselors, teachers & administrators, Brown is passionate about finding the next 400 Black women architects in the same urban public schools where she started. To do this, she needs all hands on deck—including help raising a match for her Knight Arts grant (so stay tuned for opportunities to contribute!)


Suggested reading & viewing:

* * *

Urban Consulate is a network of parlors for urban exchange. A 2016 Knight Cities winner, the Consulate has hosted over 150 conversations in Detroit, Philadelphia & New Orleans to bring people together and share ideas for better cities. Follow @UrbanConsulate on FacebookTwitter & Instagram.

Photo: Orlando Bailey, Urban Consulate



Check out our Host Emeritus Chase L. Cantrell as guest columnist in the Detroit Free Press today, with his piece, "How to Achieve One Detroit for All."

An excerpt—

"From 2016-17, I had the privilege of leading the Urban Consulate's weekly public conversations regarding the state of our city. More than 50 guest speakers and countless audience members expressed their views on Detroit’s history and its evolution. From police brutality in the era before Detroit’s 1967 rebellion to age-old stories of loss of life and land, their narratives were heavy with the weight of dispossession.

But time and again, I found that Detroiters felt a sense of release at being able to freely share their stories with other Detroiters. Far too often, however, they remarked on how unique such an informal space was in Detroit.

Creating more spaces for frank dialogue recognizes that those closest to the problem are closest to the solution. Providing Detroiters most affected by trauma outlets to share their stories and ideas not only fosters relationships and solidarity but also restores a sense of agency to the most marginalized."


Stephen Henderson, Detroit Today, WDET—

"In his final State of the State speech Gov. Rick Snyder used Detroit as an example of the success of his two terms in office. 'Detroit’s transformation has been incredible,' he said. “Remember what Detroit was like 10 years ago, or maybe you may not want to. The progress has been incredible.”

But not everyone has seen and felt the progress in Detroit.

So what is the state of the city of Detroit? Specifically, what is the state of the city for black Detroiters, who make up more than 80 percent of Detroit’s population? 

Chase Cantrell, executive director of Building Community Value and host emeritus of Urban Consulate in Detroit asked himself, and attempted to answer, this question in a recent parlor talk at the Urban Consulate: 'What role should Detroit play as a national model for black culture, investment, development & thought?'"


"What role should Detroit play as a national model for Black culture, investment, development, and thought?"

This was Chase L. Cantrell's question after hosting over 50 conversations at the Urban Consulate in Detroit. On January 17, 2018, he delivered his own capstone parlor talk to reflect on what he's learned over the last year—and where to go from here. (To watch the full Facebook Live video, click here.)

  Click image to download Powerpoint (PDF)

Click image to download Powerpoint (PDF)

To a packed house, Cantrell started with some city history — and ended with recommendations for the future. In between, he wove in memorable quotes, stats and insights he'd heard from Consulate guest speakers, including Lauren Hood, Marsha Music, Nancy Kaffer, Jerry Paffendorf, and Dr. Joneigh S. Khaldun.

As Cantrell traced the long history of dispossession of Black property and collective trauma, he quoted Malcolm X (who lived and worked in Detroit for a time, in 1953):

"Land is the basis of all independence. Land is the basis of freedom, justice and equality."

To this end, Cantrell started his own nonprofit Building Community Value, which won a Knight Cities grant earlier this year to offer more real estate classes for Detroit residents to grow local property ownership.

With a high city poverty rate of 36-40%, Cantrell underscored that this is 200,000 people — 35,000 of whom receive an eviction notice each year. Imagine "the trauma of not knowing," he said.

Cantrell noted that the word "gentrification" comes up over & over again in Consulate conversations — but Detroit gentrification doesn't look like other cities, such as New York or San Francisco. It looks like a different kind: "We are seeing an astronomical level of displacement due to evictions, foreclosures and water shut-offs."

For this reason and more, "The state of our city is not strong," admitted Cantrell. "But it is resilient. The first thing that makes me hopeful is cooperation."

Some more key quotes:

"I want us to learn from the past, not long for the past. It was a community that was stressed and traumatized."

"Without talking about where we've been, how can we be aspirational for the future?"

"As our communities are fractured, how do we transfer knowledge to the next generation? In informal spaces, like the Consulate."

"Detroiters need to know that development is not a bad word. WE can also be developers."

To these points, Cantrell offered four ways to move the city forward:

  • Cooperative economics — encouraging & empowering Detroit residents to pool resources to establish & enhance business & development projects (Examples: Cooperative CapitalCentury Partners)
  • Space equity — focusing not only on preservation of black cultural spaces, but the intentional ownership and development of land as a method to build and reinvest wealth locally (Example: Building Community Value)
  • System collaboration — ensuring that leaders across domains (eg, governance, business, education, technology) are actively collaborating toward defined community goals (Example: New Detroit, Inc.)
  • Knowledge sharing — building platforms that permit dialogue, training or mentorship across domains and across generations (Example: Urban Consulate)

In his parting words, Cantrell suggested five everyday action steps for Detroiters who are passionate about creating a more just and equitable future:

  • Learn all you can
  • Raise your voice
  • Reach out to others
  • Activate collectively
  • Don’t wait for government

To watch the Facebook Live video of the full talk, click here. To stay engaged with Building Community Value, follow @bcvdetroit on Facebook & Twitter.

Urban Consulate is a network of parlors for urban exchange. A 2016 Knight Cities winner, the Consulate has hosted over 150 conversations in Detroit, Philadelphia & New Orleans to bring people together and share ideas for better cities. Follow @UrbanConsulateon Facebook, Twitter & Instagram for future events.

* * * 


"We have more parking now than we've ever had in the history of downtown Detroit. EVER," says urbanist and public policymaker Francis Grunow. "And it's still not enough."

Herein lies the problem: The combination of surface parking lots, and insufficient transportation alternatives, has created a downtown full of holes and gaps that undermine the walkability and density the city needs to compete globally (not to mention improve public health & environmental quality).

So on a January night in the Motor City, on the eve of the North American International Auto Show, Grunow challenged a full room to think differently.

The inspiration? Donald Shoup's 2011 book The High Cost of Free Parking—which Grunow donated to the Urban Consulate library and promised to buy for any guests who pledged to read. (He swears it's less wonky & more enjoyable than it sounds!) 

Grunow himself has a long history of advocating for transit, walkability and historic preservation in his native city. As former Director of Preservation Detroit, past board member for Transportation Riders United, drafter of the Detroit Declaration and co-founder of the Corridors Alliance (among other initiatives), Grunow is well-known for nudging his hometown toward greater sustainability and a healthier relationship with its chief export, the automobile.

This is personal for Grunow, who believes that cities are society's best hope for figuring out how to best live together in the age of climate change. He shared how he has experienced both wins & losses on this front—including a 2005 lawsuit against the City of Detroit to stop the demolition of the historic Madison-Lenox Hotel.

He lost that fight, and the site remains a surface parking lot to this day.

"The right to have access to every building in the city by private motorcar in an age when everyone possesses such a vehicle is the right to destroy the city." 

—Lewis Mumford, "The Highway and the City" (1964)

So we invited Grunow to speak on Detroit's progress on this front—and where we can push further. His parlor talk was peppered with data, including these alarming superlatives teased in Curbed Detroit:

  • Metro-Detroiters drive further to work than their compatriots in any other American city
  • 40% of land in Downtown Detroit is devoted to parking
  • Downtown has 60,000+ parking spaces—and growing

To put this in context: Grunow points out that 60,000 spaces is almost 7 Empire State Buildings worth of space. What more could Detroit do with that land if we changed our commuting habits?

More affordable housing? Parks & gardens? Other higher, better uses?

After all, when we talk about parking, what we're really talking about is auto storage. "Cars sit 95% of the time," shared Grunow. "How much are we spending for that?"

"Do we think of parking as a privilege or a right? 99% of Americans who drive to work have free parking all day long. That's how much we subsidize parking."

—Francis Grunow

People always complain there's not enough parking—but that happens everywhere, in every city. Grunow shared a study that shows people complain about cars more than anything:

Nation’s Top Consumer Complaints

  1. Auto
  2. Credit/Debt
  3. Home Improvement/Construction
  4. Retail Sales
  5. Utilities

(Source: Consumer Federation of America)

Distance is another deterrent. As a general rule, "people won't walk more than 800 feet from a parking space," explained Grunow, who once worked for the NYC Department of City Planning.

But this is not even close to a problem in Detroit.

To illustrate how Detroit's parking proximity and availability compares to other major cities, Grunow made maps of Urban Consulate event locations in Philadelphia and New Orleans, and counted how many parking spots were within 800 feet. Surprise, surprise—Detroit took the cake.

So what are the culprits?

  • Excessive off-street parking requirements, written into zoning, which Grunow calls "a figment of planners' imaginations."
  • No economic disincentive to curb the dependency.

In fact, the morning after Grunow's talk, the Detroit Free Press delivered a perfect illustration of this in an investigative report on the Ilitches' favorable parking rulings and revenues near the stadiums.

"When we say we want walkable cities, but we continue current policy, there's a high level of cognitive dissonance."

—Francis Grunow

So what can Detroiters do to tip the scales in favor of higher, better land-use? 

  • "A lot of this is education about existing transit & mobility options," says Grunow. "It would cost zero for downtown companies to just pull together & promote what we already have."
  • "Be mindful about how you get around everyday. Using different modes [walking, biking, bus] will help you understand what we have and what we need."

In closing, host Chase Cantrell asked Grunow to describe the "feeling of freedom" he said he experienced living in New York City for a decade without a car.

Grunow said one day it clicked to him: "I could move FORWARD through the city without ever going back. I didn't have to double back to retrieve a car." He was lighter, freer, unencumbered.

To watch the Facebook Live videos of Grunow's parlor talk:

To read more notes & quotes, click here for Twitter thread.

To download his Powerpoint presentations, click the images below:

  Francis Grunow: Detroit Parking - Powerpoint 1 (Click image to download PDF)

Francis Grunow: Detroit Parking - Powerpoint 1 (Click image to download PDF)

  Francis Grunow: Detroit Parking - Powerpoint 2 (  Click image to download PDF)

Francis Grunow: Detroit Parking - Powerpoint 2 (Click image to download PDF)

Urban Consulate is a network of parlors for urban exchange. A 2016 Knight Cities winner, the Consulate has hosted over 150 conversations in Detroit, Philadelphia & New Orleans to bring people together and share ideas for better cities. Follow @UrbanConsulate on FacebookTwitter & Instagram for future events.

* * * 


DETROIT — After a remarkable year hosting over 50 community conversations at the Urban Consulate in Detroit, Chase L. Cantrell is passing his baton to friend & colleague, Orlando Bailey.

Orlando will work with founder Claire Nelson to bring people together & share ideas for better cities, thanks to support from Knight Foundation.

We couldn't be more grateful for Chase's smart & thoughtful leadership over the last year, and we will continue being big champions of his work with Building Community Value. For more reflections on Chase's tenure, read on below.

We are delighted to welcome Orlando Bailey of Eastside Community Network as the Consulate's new host in Detroit. Orlando will continue his work at ECN while leading Consulate events in the evening.

Chase will deliver a special farewell talk, "State of Our Black City," on Wednesday, January 17, 2018 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Urban Consulate, 4735 Cass Avenue in Midtown Detroit. Reflecting on ideas he has explored in the parlor over the last year, as well as his own evolution in thinking about the city, he will share some personal observations & offer recommendations for the future.

The talk is free & open to the public. Locals & travelers welcome.

Thank you, Chase Cantrell

A Note from Consulate founder Claire Nelson


I had never met Chase before he was a guest in our parlor in Detroit. He came to one of our first talks, and soon became a regular — inviting new guests and posting smart takeaways & insights from Consulate conversations on social media.

In the summer of 2016 he led his own parlor talk titled "Disparate Narratives and the Power of Storytelling." That fall, he became our host.

There are many things I love about Chase, but perhaps most is that he possesses a beautiful mix of local pride & global curiosity. His heart is deeply rooted in Detroit, but he soaks up ideas, writing, research & perspectives from everywhere.

Also great about Chase: He's not just a thinker & talker, but a doer — committing his energy to support emerging leaders, candidates & entrepreneurs who share his passion for creating more equitable communities. He truly wants to see both his peers and his city succeed.

When Chase won his own Knight Cities Challenge grant in 2017 to help more Detroiters become real estate investors, we couldn't be more excited. Ditto when he was selected for a Salzburg Global fellowship in Austria. With more leaders like Chase, Detroit's future is bright.

Even through a year of heightened political & social anxiety in America, it has been an absolute joy working with Chase to amplify Detroit voices and push the envelope to ask hard questions & share daring ideas for the city. Chase has brought great intelligence & care to his role as host & diplomat and left an indelible mark on the Consulate's mission & vision for the future.

Thank you, Chase. 

Welcome, Orlando Bailey

Meet our new host of the Urban Consulate in Detroit


Born & raised in Detroit, Orlando grew up just down the road from where he now works.

As Director of Community Partnerships for the Eastside Community Network, he is passionate about civic engagement and youth development to shape the city's future. 

In 2015, Orlando was selected by 880 Cities and Knight Foundation as an Emerging City Champion, traveling to Toronto to learn & exchange. In 2017, he joined the Detroit Delegation of PlaceLab Chicago's Ethical Redevelopment Salon Series with Theaster Gates.

When the Consulate hosted visiting guests from Philadelphia in the fall of 2017, Orlando was a generous tour guide & great ambassador. He also gave his own Consulate parlor talk in April with Ezekial Harris. The topic? Letting new leaders have a seat at the table. Indeed.

Through Orlando's studies in media & journalism, he understands the value of being a great question-asker & active listener — qualities we cherish at the Consulate. We look forward to the conversations he will host!

About The Consulate

Urban Consulate is a network of parlors for urban exchange. A winner of the Knight Cities Challenge, the Consulate has hosted over 150 conversations in Detroit, Philadelphia & New Orleans to bring people together and share ideas for better cities.

For future events, follow us on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram @urbanconsulate.

For more about who we are, what we do & why, read more here.


Reading up for our December 13th conversation about Race & Public Space in Philadelphia, we came upon these quotes. Food for thought:


For a recap of the conversation, click here. For video, click here. For tweets, click here.



"How can white people assimilate into Black communities with respect & honor?"


This was the question posed by Detroit champion Yodit Mesfin Johnson at her parlor talk at the Urban Consulate in Detroit on December 6, 2017. 

A daughter of Detroit and respected community leader, Mesfin Johnson is a passionate advocate for equity and access for people of color.

But stepping back for a second, in case you're unfamiliar with the city:

Detroit is a majority Black city. Not just by a hair, by a wide margin82%. And not just for a minute, for nearly a half century.

If you're new & white in Detroit, one of the first things you will learnif you listenis that you need to start right here: Understanding the city's demographics & history. How did Detroit come to be a Black city?

Read about Jim Crow laws and the Great Migration. Read about decades of white flight & investment. Read about redlining and housing segregation in the city & suburbs. Also read the current news, including the very real economic datadollars & centsof racial inequity, both locally & nationally.

Why does this matter? Because if you are entering a new communityany community, reallyit is your responsibility to know the story of the place.

Many newcomers understand this; still many are learning. If you are a white American, it's quite possible you have never experienced being a minority before. This may be a new experience for you? That's okay. Welcome.


So this is where we begin.

The question for Mesfin Johnson's talk, she said, was inspired by Ms. Davis, a longtime resident of Detroit's North End.

The North End neighborhood is now seeing a new wave of interest due to its proximity to the greater downtown area—locally known as the 7.2—which has received the lionshare of new Detroit investment & development in recent years.

In her conversation with Ms. Davis, Mesfin Johnson heard something that moved her:


"Baby, we've always welcomed folk in our neighborhoods. It's not THAT they're coming, but HOW they're coming."


"In her statement I heard something different," said Mesfin Johnson. "Not analysis, research or academic views of gentrification. I heard a different perspective on the prevailing 'us and them' discourse and I latched on. I heard wisdom and history and courage and power. Resilience and love. A challenge to our generation to grab hold and do better. To challenge change and call it what it is. Not big systems change, but everyday just do a little effing better change."

So Mesfin Johnson posed this question on Facebook, which turned into a parlor talk. The response was overwhelming, with nearly 600 responses for a space that can hold 60.

"How can we resist oppression while simultaneously extending grace?"


Extending grace is exactly what Mesfin Johnson did, generously sharing her time & perspective on her changing hometown, weaving in anecdotes from elders, statistics from recent studies, input from the audience, and some recommendations for newcomers, too.

"About gentrification," she said, "the things we are doing to solve for it—the kinds of things we talk about at Mackinac—those are TACTICS. I want to talk about root causes."

"What does respect mean to you?"

To start the conversation, Mesfin Johnson invited the room to turn to their neighbors to answer this question. After huddling for a few minutes, guests shared out:

  • "Listening before talking."
  • "Looking people in the eyes and saying hello."
  • "Appreciating difference, even when you don’t agree."
  • "Reciprocity."

Seem simple? They are. As has been noted in past Consulate talks, these are basic, universal ideas that we all seem to learn when we are young, but sometimes forget when it comes to "adult" matters of urban revitalization and community change.

"I worry we use community engagement as an insurance policy, not as a central tenet of design."


Alongside happy memories of popular Black places & spaces past, Mesfin Johnson also shared concerns—including this one that has been echoed in many Consulate talks.

No doubt, we have seen the design & planning community awake to the need for greater stakeholder engagement & participation to make places successful. But are their projects really driven by the communities they serve? 

As R. Steven Lewis, Kimberly Dowdell, Lauren Hood, Tya Winn & other Consulate guests have asked in both Detroit & Philadelphia: "Who is it built by? Who is it built for?"

These are questions worth asking—not just once, but ongoing, for any & every new community project.

"So what's the right way to enter black space?"

Mesfin Johnson made clear she does not speak for everyone, but shared four thoughts:


  • You have to be willing to share power & resources—recognizing that systemic racism and privilege have robbed people of color and our communities of both.


  • You have to acknowledge oppression—and not just name it, but act upon dismantling it. The realities of oppression and exclusion are real and inherent in the DNA of our society, as well as what's happening today in urban neighborhoods throughout America, not just Detroit.


  • You have to check your entitlement—recognizing the deep impact that being systematically locked out of power tables, opportunity, resource, investment, housing and jobs has had on people of color. Pause before acting out of your power to deeply consider and understand the lived experience of people in the communities you are entering. "To whom much is given, much is required."


  • You have to be intentional about being in relationship with one another—not just 8-5 at work, but in life. Where do you spend your money, your time? Who is in your vendor pool, your hiring? If everyone at the table (decision-making, design or otherwise) looks like you, you're missing key and important stakeholders. Transform your "Trusted 10." This is head, heart and hand work—so if you want to make a difference, it begins not with doing, but being in right relationship with your neighbors.


Mesfin Johnson concluded the evening by opening the floor to questions & answers—including an exchange about the call for "inclusion" and why it's not as simple as it may seem. (Again, who's including whom?)

  • To watch the live video feed, click here.
  • To read a recap in Model D, click here.
  • For more pre & post-event dialogue, check the Facebook event page here.




"Hope is a passion for the possible," said Maya Wiley, quoting Søren Kierkegaard. "That's our charge in dark timesto be passionate about the fact we can have light."

These were Wiley's parting words after an expansive conversation at the Urban Consulate on November 29 in Detroit with community leader Lauren Hood

A nationally renowned expert on racial justice and equity, Wiley has had a remarkable and diverse career advocating for social change, both inside and outside of government.

It was her work to expand digital access with Mayor Bill de Blasio in New York City that brought her to speak at the Knight Foundation's annual convening in Detroit earlier in the day. But it was her larger experience advancing civil and human rights, and expanding support for minority and women-owned businesses, that drew a standing-room crowd of community advocates & officials for her evening parlor talk at the Consulate.

As guest host for the evening, Hood came with questions—and dove right in:

  • What does racial equity look like in practice?
  • How do you measure & communicate the "lived experience" of urban residents?
  • How does a socially-conscious practitioner push back while maintaining their place inside the system? 
  • How do you advocate for organizing in a space where government doesn't necessarily value community input?
  • Given the challenges associated with "playing both sides" (inside/outside the system), what does self-care look like for you?

Wiley was generous with her time, sharing stories and lessons from her work—not just in New York, but in Louisiana and Arkansas, too.

Three key takeaways from the evening—

1. Listen to Residents—And Believe Them.

"Data is more than numbers," said Wiley. "There is not just quantitative data, but qualitative." When you hear the same concerns over and over again in a neighborhood or city, that is data—patterns of people expressing their lived experience. This means there is a "community-based" lived experience.

"Poverty is trauma," she continued. "People are angry for a reason. They have the right to be angry. If you're sitting in a civic leadership role, you have to de-personalize that anger if you're on the receiving end. You have to allow the expression of pain. You have to know 'this is not about me'—it's the system—and you have to get underneath the anger. Why is that? What is causing the pain?"

Wiley advised city officials to listen, acknowledge and be honest. "That is respect in communities—to be honest about your limitations." You can say: "I hear you, you have a legitimate concern. I can't do XYZ because XYZ limitations, but here's what I can do."

"Our communities have been disinvested, traumatized, ignored," said Wiley. "That experience is real."

2. Set GoalsAnd Track Them.

Working with Mayor Bill de Blasio, Wiley helped shift $1.6 billion of city spend to women and minority-owned businesses—a 62% increase.

She said they achieved that by setting goals, tracking goals, and holding people to them. Quarterly meetings with department heads helped create accountability.

"Models exist everywhere—but no city should be arrogant, no one has figured this all out," she said. "What mattered in New York City was there was a commitment to trying."

3. Find Your Allies—And Protect Them.

What do you do when city hall considers community organizing antagonistic? Wiley's advice to organizers: "Don't squander your human capital. Period."

Be strategic. Find your allies inside, and make sure they can't fail. "If you're not protecting your allies in government," said Wiley, "then you're undermining your own power."

In exchange, city officials must be honest and responsive to earn the trust of community members. If you're on the inside and fall short, accept responsibility. Keep the communication lines open—say "let's talk about it." Activists can still disrupt or call-out leadership for shortcomings, but have the conversation about why you need time and space to achieve your shared goals.

Wiley concluded with some bigger picture thoughts on the state of the national political landscape—including the frustrating paradox that many Americans vote against their own economic self-interest. Examples of solidarity among low-income white and black Americans are rare, she acknowledged—but they're there. Public education was one place she had seen common ground.

How does she stay strong and practice self-care in such challenging times? Through friends and allies, Wiley said, both inside and outside of work. She said she has spent a lot of time asking the simple question—"What do you need?"—and being ready to answer it back.

Interested to learn more about Wiley's work? Read here.

Thanks to Maya & Lauren for the conversation, and to Katy Locker at Knight Foundation for making the introduction.

* * * * *

The Urban Consulate is a network of parlors for urban exchange, thanks to support from Knight Foundation. For more on who we are and what we do, read here.


We've been collecting toolkits & research for having better conversations, building community, and promoting civic engagement. We thought we'd put them in one place here to share with anyone looking to start a conversation or bring people together in your community:

Conversation Toolkits:

Civic Engagement & Diplomacy:

Community Events:

Community Planning & Development:

Civil Rights & Racial Justice:

Community Research:

What are we missing? Any toolkits, curricula or guides you've found helpful? Let us know.

Also see our blog post: Why Conversations?


It's hard to measure the "impact" of a conversation. Sometimes it doesn't translate to immediate action -- but sinks in over time, expanding our awareness and altering our behavior. Sometimes the takeaways are more instantaneous -- we meet a new contact, learn something practical, or make a commitment to act. Here are some quotes & statistics about why community conversations matter:

1. Fostering Belonging & Resilience

“It used to be that people were born as part of a community, and had to find their place as individuals. Now people are born as individuals, and have to find their community.” -Bill Bishop, author, The Big Sort (Source: The Atlantic)

"Know thy neighbor — it's not just a creed to live by, turns out it can save your life. Vibrant, tight-knit communities could fare better in a disaster.” -Steve Inskeep, New York University (Source: NPR)

2. Reducing Conflict & Prejudice

“We found that a single, approximately 10-minute conversation with a stranger produced large reductions in prejudice.” -David Broockman, Stanford University & Joshua Kalla, UC Berkeley (Source: UC Berkeley)

"Face-to-face encounters have become increasingly rare—and because they are rare, they may be more memorable and impactful.” -Kenneth Sherrill, Hunter College (Source: Scientific American)

"Research shows that technology has increased the 'asshole problem.’ People are much more likely to be mean if they don’t have to make eye contact." -Robert Sutton, Stanford University (Source: New York Magazine)

“The greatest single antidote to violence is conversation— speaking our fears, listening to the fears of others, and in that sharing of vulnerabilities discovering a genesis of hope.” -Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (Source: Archive)

"A lot of the trouble in the world would disappear if we were talking to each other instead of about each other.” -Ronald Reagan (Source: Reagan Library)

"If you're tired of arguing with strangers on the internet, try to talk with one in real life." -Barack Obama (Source: Farewell Address)

3. Building Understanding & Knowledge

“Society is a conversation scored for many voices. But it is precisely in and through that conversation that we become conjoint authors of our collective future, rather than dust blown by the wind of economic forces. Conversation — respectful, engaged, reciprocal, calling forth some of our greatest powers of empathy and understanding — is the moral form of a world governed by the dignity of difference.” -Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

"The most important thing in all human relationships is conversation, but people don't talk anymore, they don't sit down to talk and listen. They go to the cinema, watch television, listen to the radio, read books, update their status on the internet, but they almost never talk. If we want to change the world, we have to go back to a time when warriors would gather around a fire and tell stories." -Paul Coehlo


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“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.” -Mark Twain

Study, learning & exchange is transformative -- and can also be expensive. Travel fellowships do exist, but are often competitive and sometimes invitation-only through nominations & referrals. Interested in branching out or brushing up on your urban expertise? We suggest investigating which programs you might qualify for and putting dates & deadlines on your calendar. Never hurts to inquire & toss your hat in the ring:






What are we missing? Don't hesitate to let us know.


Informed voters are essential for a thriving democracy. (We know you know that!)

Detroiters, the Primary Election is August 8, 2017 and General is November 7, 2017. Do you know the people vying to lead your city? Our friends at Citizen Detroit have produced helpful candidate videos so you can do your research at home. Watch, share & vote:

For the full collection of individual videos, visit Citizen Detroit's YouTube page here.


The DIY public space movement is growing up. So what have we learned? On March 22, 2017, we joined 5th Square to host A Tactical Urbanism Guide to exchange insights on starting & scaling small neighborhood projects in cities, inspired by the new book from Street Plans Collaborative.

To a sold-out hall at Johnny Brenda's in Philadelphia, a stellar line-up of neighborhood lovers & leaders from Philly & New York shared their stories, tips & lessons learned. Wanna hear what they had to say? Video below. And one of our favorite excerpts below that.

Big thanks to our hosts & presenters:

And much gratitude to Knight Foundation for their support.


"I think when we talk about Tactical Urbanism, we shouldn't get so lost in the tactic that we forget what the urbanism means. Let's not talk about the "how" and lose focus on the "why." What is your urbanism? What are we building?

For a lot of people, it means play space for the hip or the affluent. That's what a lot of urbanism can mean & look like, right? It doesn't have to be.

It can be the place & program that challenges inequity in our city, that challenges & attacks the architecture of segregation that defines so much of our public space. The formal, regulatory city creates that, right? Space for some people over here, space for others over there. It's easier to manage if we kind of keep everyone in their own place. It's *hard* to put things together. It's challenging.

So that's the justification for breaking the rules. We don't just get to break the rules because we can. If you do the *right* thing, than you *can* break the rules. That's the reason you broke the rules, because the rules didn't allow the right things to happen.

You still might get shut down, but break the rules because it is right. And think about the space you're trying to achieve. How is it going to work for the people with the *least* access? That's your starting point. Then your "inclusion" is that everyone else can come, too."

—Justin DiBerardinis, Bartram's Garden

Interested in more conversations about the city?

The Urban Consulate is a network of parlors for urban exchange. For future events in Detroit, Philadelphia & New Orleans, follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and check out our event listings here.


Video by Meredith EdlowPhotos by Patrick Morgan.


We moved to a new home in Detroit! This is the historic Mackenzie House, longtime home of Preservation Detroit. We're now open for our weekly parlor talks and special meetings & events by appointment at 4735 Cass Avenue, Detroit, MI 48201 USA. Locals & travelers welcome. Thanks to Knight Foundation for their support.

For a peek inside, check out the feature in Curbed Detroit and our photo gallery here

Photo: Michelle and Chris Gerard for Curbed Detroit