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.

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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


Click here for more toolkits.


“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


"What do mass incarceration, criminal justice reform and prison abolition have to do with urban planning and economic development?"

On Thursday, February 2, the Urban Consulate in Detroit was standing-room-only for "Building A Just City," a conversation led by Amanda Alexander, founder of the Prison & Family Justice Project at University of Michigan Law School, with visiting guests Deanna Van Buren and Kyle Rawlins of Designing Justice + Design Spaces in Oakland, California. 

"We cannot build an inclusive Detroit without addressing mass incarceration," said Alexander. "So what would that mean in practice?"

"I think we can borrow something from our colleagues in the immigration movement who thought about the elements of a Sanctuary City. What does a 'Just City' look like? What would it mean to truly welcome people coming back from prison?"

Alexander offered some ideas.

"A Just City would:

  • Promote access to opportunity through Ban the Box ordinances;
  • Lift conviction-related bans on public assistance;
  • Foster a prison-to-higher education pipeline instead of a school-to-prison pipeline;
  • Build up restorative justice infrastructure and high-quality public defense;
  • Link people to transitional and affordable permanent housing; and
  • Stop depending on revenue from ticketing and fining their poorest residents."

What else would a Just City Agenda include?

Three takeaways for consideration:

1. Court-Related Costs to Families

"Incarceration costs poor, disproportionately Black and Brown families thousands upon thousands of dollars. That's money not going toward food, investment in education, keeping lights on, transport, or paying rent. If we're not talking about this hemorrhaging of money and resources out of households, then we're not having a full conversation about inclusive economic development." -Amanda Alexander


2. Priorities for Community Reinvestment

"Our national team for the Who Pays? report interviewed nearly 1,500 formerly incarcerated people and their families to learn how much families spend on prison visits, collect calls, and all the other costs associated with a loved one's incarceration. We also wanted to hear their dreams for alternatives. How would families like to see the U.S. reinvest the $80 billion that we spend on 'corrections' each year?" -Amanda Alexander


3. State Policy Drives Mass Incarceration

"Most of the rise in incarceration has happened at the state and local level. These are state laws driving the expansion of the prison population. You should find that empowering, I hope. We often think of 'mass incarceration' as something that happens 'out there' or 'in D.C.,' but much of it happens at the state and county level. Despite how bleak prospects are at the federal level, there’s still much that can be done locally." -Amanda Alexander


Amanda Alexander is a racial justice attorney who has worked at the intersection of economic development, law, and community-based movements in Detroit, New York, and South Africa for over 15 years. She is an Assistant Professor and Postdoctoral Scholar in Afro-American Studies and Law at the University of Michigan, and a member of the Michigan Society of Fellows. As a 2013–2015 Soros Justice Fellow, Amanda founded Michigan Law School's Prison & Family Justice Project, which serves families divided by incarceration and the foster care system.

She has worked with the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing in Sao Paulo, Brazil, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Detroit Center for Family Advocacy, and the Centre for Civil Society in Durban, South Africa. Amanda serves on the steering committee of Law for Black Lives, a national network of lawyers committed to building the power of the Black Lives Matter movement. Amanda received her JD from Yale Law School and her PhD in History from Columbia University. 



The Urban Consulate is a network of parlors for city dwellers & travelers seeking urban exchange. Our parlor talks in Detroit are hosted by Chase Cantrell, founder of Building Community Value and made possible thanks to support from Knight Foundation. For future talks, follow us on Facebook, Instagram & Twitter at @UrbanConsulate.



Photo: Pete Souza

Dear President Obama:

Thank you for representing the best of our country at home and abroad. You made us proud.

We will never forget your anniversary address at Selma, your historic visit to Havana, and your moving eulogy in Charleston.

Thank you for your leadership on climate change, criminal justice reform and marriage equality. Thank you for your commitment to science, research & innovation. Thank you for championing women’s equality, black excellence and cross-cultural understanding.

We will carry these ideas forward in our lives & work.



Could we do a pop-up parlor on Six Mile in Detroit? (Sure, why not?) So on a snowy evening in December, we joined our friends at Live6 Detroit & Model D to transform a storefront on Six Mile into a speakeasy for urban exchange, per the vision of Ms. Lauren Hood. We packed up our parlor in Midtown, and we invited some friends in Chicago & Philadelphia to join us. They shared their work, and we took notes

Thanks to our friends at PlaceLab Chicago, Little Giant Creative & Witty Gritty for flying to Detroit for the occasion. And thanks to our partners at Live6 Detroit, Model D, Patrick Thompson Design, Detroit Collaborative Design Center, Detroit Sip, Axle Brewing Company, Detroit City Distillery, Knight Foundation & Kresge Foundation for their support. 

Photos by Bree Gant for Model D.


{Scroll through slideshow above}

Theaster Gates

We've been following the work of artist Theaster Gates for a long time now. His Dorchester Projects first caught our eye back in 2010. Since then, we've made multiple trips to the South Side of Chicago to visit the Black Cinema House, Stony Island Arts Bank and Arts Block. And we've learned a lot from his visits to Detroit.

So naturally, our ears perked up when he formed Place Lab Chicago to help turn his earned wisdom on arts-driven, neighborhood-based development into a philosophy for mindful city-building. 

In Spring 2016, Place Lab published their 9 Principles for Ethical Redevelopment. The goal, as they tell it, is to "shift the value system from conventional, profit-driven development practices to conscientious interventions in the urban context."

We're listening...

To help shape and share these ideas, Place Lab invited a group of city builders from across the country to participate in a series of salon sessions. Thanks to support from Knight Foundation, a dozen of our friends & colleagues from Detroit & Philadelphia have been participating.

Eager to hear what they are learning, we invited the Philly fellows to share insights at City Lobby, our monthly parlor for urban exchange. A group of 45 city planners, artists, nonprofit leaders and neighborhood advocates gathered at Le Meridien in Philadelphia on October 6, 2016 to discuss.

The slideshow above offers some key ideas & takeaways from that conversation, as shared by Place Lab salon members Tayyib Smith, Little Giant Creative; Akeem Dixon, New Kensington CDC; Keir Johnston & Ernel Martinez, Amber Art & Design; Lindsey Scannapieco, Scout Ltd; and Jennifer Mahar, Fairmount Park Conservancy

We will also post their thoughts on Instagram & Facebook. Look out for them there, and please share.

We look forward to continuing the conversation in Detroit in December. In the meantime, make sure you're dialed into Place Lab's work as it evolves. Check out the video. Download the PDF. Watch Theaster's TED talk. And follow @PlaceLabChicago on Facebook & Twitter.

Urban investment need not always mean gentrification. You, too, can be a voice for more ethical redevelopment in your city.


Posted by Claire Nelson, with special thanks to Michelle Freeman, Jermaine Jenkins & Leah McGlone at Witty Gritty for hosting & recording; Carson Poole & Isis Ferguson at Place Lab for collaborating; and Knight Foundation for their support.

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Philadelphia has enjoyed some serious spotlight this last year. From the Pope's visit last fall, to this summer's Democratic National Convention -- and continuing even now, as both presidential candidates vie for Pennsylvania voters -- Philly's all over the news.

Seems a good time to check: Any gaps in the city's media narrative? What do we, as Philadelphians, want our story to be?

On September 1st, we gathered for our monthly City Lobby series to ask this question. 

Not surprisingly, many guests emphasized the city's deeply-rooted spirit of cooperation and camaraderie. “That’s one thing I love about Philadelphia," said guest Katie Monroe, "its openness and accessibility." 

Here are some other things we heard:

“It’s exciting to be in Philly. You come here and want to make things happen, but you can’t do anything alone. So you find people with the same interest. You find someone with a similar problem, and work together, and then both of your businesses succeed. All of the work I’ve done since I’ve gotten here has been surrounding that.”

--Heather Marold Thomason, Primal Meat Supply and EatRetreat

“One of Philadelphia’s greatest jewels and tools is its independent artists and underground arts scene. I think every time we talk about anything that we’re doing in any of these creative outlets -- the strength of Philly, honestly, is building off of effort and stability before we personally came into that space. And we need to keep that energy going. That’s what inspired me, because I’m not originally from here.” 

--Erica Hawthorne-Manson, Small But Mighty Arts

“If you have a good product, whether it be the guys who opened up the bagel shop in Fishtown, or a food cart somewhere, people come. Philadelphians come out and support you. So if you’re an entrepreneur, this is the city to come to.” 

--Avram Hornick, FCM Hospitality

“I think [accessibility and collaboration] has to do with our Quaker roots system. There’s more collaborative action and community here. It’s one of the reasons Philadelphia isn’t a showy city. It’s literally the city of brotherly love and sisterly affection.”

--Heather Blakeslee, Red Flag Media

“There is an openness and an ability to speak to people on a grassroots level.” 

--Michelle Nelson, Grey Dolphin

“Accessibility is what makes Philly great. Encourage people to show that to others, and lead the way for everybody else to follow, whether that’s in big ways or small ways." 

--Heather Marold Thomason, Primal Meat Supply and EatRetreat

And one of our favorites:

“When I moved to Philly, I lived on 52nd Street and my neighbors told me, ‘Look, we sit on the porch here. We talk to each other.' So I think the personality of Philadelphia is, when coming into spaces, honoring what existed there."

--Erica Hawthorne-Manson, Small But Mighty Arts


Does this reflect your Philadelphia experience? What do you want the world to know about Philly? 

Help us shape and share the story using hashtag #PhillyStory


Special thanks to Leah McGlone for reporting.


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Have we shown you our home? This is our Detroit home. So many stories in this building, where to even begin? We know someone who rode his tricycle through the hallways as a child. We know someone who ran a shop in the basement. We know musicians who performed in the parlor. We don't know anyone who was around when it was Leong Hand Laundry, but an old photo at The Bronx Bar reminds us that yes, it was once that, too.

Let's throwback to the 1990s. When it was the legendary Zoots Coffeehouse and Space 19.

In this piece for Model D, Walter Wasacz interviewed Adriel Thornton, Greg Baise and Joel Peterson about those halcyon days:

"Me and Clark (Warner) and Aaron Anderson (later of Zoots management) began doing ambient rooms at parties," says Thornton, who by then was running a shop called Space 19, featuring his clothing line Visual Laundry, in the basement of the Zoot's house at 4470 Second Ave. "We moved those to Monday nights at Zoot's and it just took off. We had Scott Zacharias, Carlos Souffront, Derek Plaslaiko (some of the best young, up-and-coming DJs in the city) playing every week."

"I remember seeing live sets by Ersatz Audio artists that Adam Miller (of Adult.) brought in," Baise says. "I was playing Trivial Pursuit with some people when (glitchcore innovators from Sheffield, UK) Autechre played there. We didn't know it was them and we seriously heckled them, hahaha."

"That was the nature of the night. People could play whatever," says Adriel.

"I was there too, haha, it was March 1996," Baise says. "They were awesome. I just didn't know it was them (at Zoots)."

"It started to become a thing around then," Thornton says. "Not just our friends were coming. We started charging $1 cover. The fury over that has never been matched by anything I've done since. People said I was like the greediest motherfucker on the planet, hahaha." 

Around the same time, a party that Thornton was involved in at 1515 Broadway was raided by Detroit Police, who were accompanied by news reporters. The raid has long been considered a low point in the underground party scene. Trust for media eroded, then largely disappeared. More raids, more media attention, now by television crews, had a stifling, corrosive effect on local rave culture.

"It was on the front page of the Free Press. Channel 7 showed up to talk to us at Zoots," Thornton says. "We had a meeting -- I was with Sam (Fotias of Paxahau) and Richie Hawtin -- we said we weren't going to talk to the media after that."

Zoot's was branded as home to "Detroit's illegal rave scene," which Peterson, Baise and Thornton say was ridiculous.

"No one even danced there, except when the TV cameras showed up, hahaha," Baise says.

"The media said it was the place to get 'secret passwords' to find out where the raves were," says Peterson.

Read the full story here.

And the neighborhood? So much history. On Saturday, April 2 at 1pm we are pleased to offer a special Cass Corridor Walking Tour led by Armando Delicato, co-author of Detroit's Cass Corridor. Take a stroll back in time to learn about the social & architectural history of this storied community. Join us.

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