C L A I R E   N E L S O N


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


TEDxDetroit (2014)

Model D Interview (2018)

Model D Interview (2018)

Model D Publisher Column (2011)

Model D Publisher Column (2011)

Change & The City (2016)

Creative Exchange (2016)

Creative Exchange (2016)

Michigan Municipal League (2015)

In Detroit, Claire opened three spaces — Bureau of Urban LivingModel D House and Urban Consulate — to connect people who love the city. She co-founded Open City to promote a stronger local economy and co-drafted the Detroit Declaration for civic engagement & political action. She served as Publisher of Model D and Urban Innovation Exchange to tell the stories of changemakers in Detroit & other great American cities.

Over the last decade, Claire has curated a number of programs for civic learning & exchange, including IdeaLab, On the Ground, The Next Big Thing and The Detroit Story. She has co-hosted talks & dialogues in partnership with Aspen Institute, PlaceLab, StoryCorps, Urban Land Institute, Congress for the New Urbanism, SXSW, Detroit Innovation Fellowship and the Global Entrepreneurship Summit.

Claire has served on advisory boards for Hatch Detroit, Invest Detroit Urban Retail Loan Fund, D:hive (now Build Institute) and contributed design for several community campaigns & initiatives, including Canfield Street Market, Park(ing) Day, Mind the Gap, Preservation Detroit, Motor City Pride, Pure Detroit & Archive Design Studio. A proud moment: When Mayor Kilpatrick bought her “Escape from the Suburbs” poster to taunt the late L. Brooks Patterson.

A Chicagoland native, Claire studied architecture & urbanism at Smith College and Columbia University with The Shape of Two Cities: New York/Paris Program. In 2014, she was a Visiting Scholar at the American Academy in Rome

Before moving to Detroit in 2002, Claire worked at Van Alen Institute, where she helped coordinate the Creative Cities: Renewing New York conference at P.S.1/MoMA just weeks after 9/11. As Director of Development & Special Projects, she contributed to public design competitions, exhibitions, forums & publications to advocate for better design in the public realm. At The Skyscraper Museum, she worked closely with founding director Carol Willis to grow her pop-up exhibitions into a permanent home in Lower Manhattan. She interned with the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. and Amnesty International’s HQ in Chicago.

Claire’s work has been featured in the book For the Love of Cities, The New York Times, USA Today, CityLab, Next City & more. She has presented at TEDxDetroit, Meeting of the Minds, Creative Cities Summit, Knight Cities Summit, Mackinac Policy Conference, Detroit Policy Conference, and Municipal Michigan League.

Claire has lived in Brooklyn, Harlem, Gramercy Park, Dupont Circle, the Latin Quarter, the French Quarter & the Cass Corridor. She loves them all. She is deeply indebted to the people of Detroit for helping her learn & grow.


(Pardon my dust)


Figuring out this pluralism thing. Bringing more humanity to urbanity. Reducing segregation & sprawl.


Jane Jacobs, James Baldwin, Nikole Hannah Jones, David Simon

Thinking at the scale of:

Rooms, storefronts, parks, squares, alleys, sidewalks of people

Thinking at the speed of:

Conversations, relationships, questioning, learning & exchange

Working on:

Critical racial analysis. Recognizing power disparity. Reckoning with history. Reconciling patience & urgency.

Striving to live up to:

Abolitionist ancestors in The Anthony Family, including Susan B., whose Rochester farm served as a meeting place for activists including Frederick Douglass.

Favorite Urban Consulate talks:

Putting Equity into Practice (Maya Wiley)

How to Enter Black Space (Yodit Mesfin Johnson)

Just Say Hi: The Gentrification Blues (Marsha Music)

James Baldwin Hour (Devita Davison)

Favorite talks attended:

Jane Jacobs, Samuel Mockbee, Bill Strickland, Gloria Steinem, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Barack Obama, Adam Gopnik, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Cornel West, Dr. Mindy Fullilove, Theaster Gates, Cory Booker, Candy Chang, Nikole Hannah-Jones


Never stop learning.


(On my bookshelf)


The Death & Life of Great American Cities (Jane Jacobs)

The 1619 Project (Nikole Hannah-Jones)

The Fire Next Time (James Baldwin)

We Were Eight Years in Power (Ta-Nehisi Coates)

Cities and Songs (Adam Gopnik)

Here is New York (E. B. White)

Harlem (Langston Hughes)

The Big Sort (Bill Bishop)

Bowling Alone (Robert Putnam)

The Cost of Segregation (Metropolitan Planning Council)

The American Dream Starts With Neighborhoods (Harvey Milk)

An Incomplete Manifesto for Growth (Bruce Mau)

Principles for Ethical Redevelopment (Theaster Gates)

Universal Declaration of Human Rights


The Problem We All Live With (This American Life)

Lower 9 + 10 (This American Life)

Drum Major Instinct (Martin Luther King, Jr.)

22nd Century (Nina Simone)

Grounding Virtues (Krista Tippett)


Show Me a Hero (David Simon)

When They See Us (Ava DuVernay)

The Ghastly Tragedy of the Suburbs (James Howard Kunstler)

The Danger of A Single Story (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)

We Need to Talk About An Injustice (Bryan Stevenson)

What Racism Is (Toni Morrison)

The Disturbing History of the Suburbs

Won’t You Be My Neighbor (Morgan Neville)