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.



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 hosted talks & dialogues in partnership with Aspen Institute, PlaceLab, StoryCorps, SXSW, Urban Land Institute, Congress for the New Urbanism, Meeting of the Minds, Detroit Innovation Fellowship and Global Entrepreneurship Summit.

Claire has served on advisory boards for Hatch Detroit, Invest Detroit Urban Retail Loan Fund, D:hive (now Build Institute), participated in a mayoral committee or two, and has contributed design to a number of community campaigns & initiatives. For the first Detroit Design Festival, she created an ideas competition called Mind the Gap. For her neighborhood, she created a shop local campaign & directory. She’s hosted Canfield Street Markets and Park(ing) Days, created postcards to protest building demolition for parking lots, and designed branding for Preservation Detroit, Pure Detroit, Archive Design Studio & more. The Mayor 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 in New York City, 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 in Wall Street bank lobbies into a permanent home in Lower Manhattan. At the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., she conducted research in the office of the Exhibitions Director.

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, Municipal Michigan League, and SXSW.

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

TEDxDetroit (2014)

Model D Interview (2018)

Model D Interview (2018)

Michigan Municipal League (2015)

Change & The City (2016)

Creative Exchange (2016)

Creative Exchange (2016)

Model D Publisher Column (2011)

Model D Publisher Column (2011)



(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

Working at the speed of:

Conversations, relationships, questioning, learning, exchange

Working on:

Critical racial analysis. Recognizing power disparity. Reckoning with history. Reconciling patience & urgency. Unearthing my implicit biases & blind spots.



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

The Problem We All Live With (This American Life)

The 1619 Project (Nikole Hannah-Jones)

The Fire Next Time (James Baldwin)

The Cost of Segregation (MPC Chicago)

Urbanized (Gary Hustwit)

Cities and Songs (Adam Gopnik)

An Inconvenient Truth (Al Gore)

Here is New York (E. B. White)

The Wire (David Simon)

Treme (David Simon)

Show Me a Hero (David Simon)

27 rue de Fleurus (Gertrude Stein)

Harlem (Langston Hughes)

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

The Big Sort (Bill Bishop)

Bowling Alone (Robert Putnam)

The New Jim Crow (Michelle Alexander)

When They See Us (Ava DuVernay)

The Ghastly Tragedy of the Suburbs (James Howard Kunstler)

Drum Major Instinct (Martin Luther King, Jr.)

Letter from a Birmingham Jail (Martin Luther King, Jr.)

Model City (99% Invisible)

Lower 9 + 10 (This American Life)

Do The Right Thing (Spike Lee)

Won’t You Be My Neighbor (Morgan Neville)

The Cruise (Bennett Miller)

A Great Day in Harlem (Art Kane)

Citizen Jane: Battle for the City (Matt Tyrnauer)

Root Shock (Dr. Mindy Fullilove)

The Disturbing History of the Suburbs