2017 in Review: Travel, Teaching, and Taking Risks
This year was tough in more ways than one, but also rewarding both personally and professionally. As my first official year as an independent consultant I had the pleasure of working on a variety of projects, took some unexpected trips that were really incredible, and spent more time than expected developing my major project for 2018. For the sake of record-keeping, here are a few personal and professional highlights from 2017 as we move into the new year…
January 2017: Women’s March on Washington
2017 started off with a bang. I had just moved to Philadelphia from NYC and that same week hitched a ride with friends to attend the Women’s March on Washington. It’s hard to overstate the impact this had on me as we were transitioning from depression to action after the election. This would set the tone for 2017 and inspire me to find a project to dig deep on —to focus on women — and to make a difference where I’m best suited to do so.
Spring 2017: A company is formed
I am very pleased to attribute my first consulting contracts under THINK.urban LLC to Copenhagenize Design Co., a bicycle urbanism consulting company that helps drive cities toward the 21st century through the genius of the bicycle. Working with their newly established Montreal office was incredibly rewarding and I’m proud to have helped the City of Long Beach, California, create a research plan and strategy for implementing bicycle infrastructure projects from an evidence-based and human-scale perspective. (Yay applied anthropology!)
Summer 2017: Third Wave Urbanism
One of my ongoing projects this year was the revitalization of my podcast Third Wave Urbanism, co-hosted with Kristen Jeffers, to regular weekly episodes with an intersectional urbanism perspective. We were so lucky to have a partnership with Next City for part of the year, highlighting their content and interviewing authors as guests on the show. We were also stoked to be featured in a few other publications throughout the year, including an interview with Alissa Walker of Curbed for her piece “Mansplaining the City”.
Summer/Fall 2017: Open Streets X2
It’s no secret I’m basically happiest when streets are given over to the people. It’s a sad privilege we as citizens are afforded only rarely at the discretion of our urban homes. Being so close to NYC I just had to make the trip to my old home to bike the length of Manhattan again (and check out their new seasonal car-free section of Broadway as well!). Here in Philly, it was exciting to attend the second annual Philly Free Streets event in October, this time on a different route (though with some suggestions for improvement).
Fall 2017: All the things
I can honestly say I hope the way this past October went never happens again. Three countries, four conferences, and one live podcast performance was a thrill to be sure — but I was shocked that nothing went wrong with all of the logistics and risks of exhaustion.
Stockholm > Amsterdam
As a self-identified Scandifile (no shame) I was thrilled to be able to travel to Sweden again for the third time to conduct independent research on feminist city planning for my upcoming project, The Women Led Cities Initiative (WLC). After a quick and busy stay, I hopped over to Amsterdam for Placemaking Week where I was honored to have been accepted to host a WLC meet-up as a kind of precursor to the project at large. This was my first time in Amsterdam, and it was a great experience reconnecting with (lucky) expats and riding a bike with the dignity that should be afforded all human beings in our cities (and yes, also saw a windmill).
Almost immediately after coming back, I had the pleasure of attending the first half of the Gehl X Public Design conference here in Philly with urbanists from all over the world. A quick family reunion on the other side of the state later and I was contributing to a two-day intensive workshop with one of the new fellows at the Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation at Drexel to kick-off their projects. And to top it off, I went from this to jumping on a plane to Chicago to put on a live Third Wave Urbanism episode at NACTO’s Designing Cities Conference! (Whew!)
Still seriously not sure how I made it through, but let’s just say I was happy about a calm November…
Fall Semester: A return to higher ed
One of my goals for the year as an independent urbanist was to dip a toe back in academia. I jumped at the opportunity then to become a thesis advisor for the MS Design Research degree program at Drexel, working with a student on an exciting project around women and cycling.
I was also thrilled to have the opportunity to return to Stockholm in December, so shortly after my previous trip, in order to lecture for two full class periods (read: 9 to 5) to Masters of Urbanism Studies students at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH). I loved lecturing on urban anthropology, our earliest cities, and women-led cities as a new way of thinking about our urban environment.
December 2017: Capping it all off
After months of work, independent research, interviews and advice (and a ton of edits), December saw the publishing of my article Urban Planning has a Sexism Problem in Next City. The piece is a sort of soft launch for the Women Led Cities Initiative — and the first part of an argument toward why this is an important thing to focus on in the urban conversation. Over the past year this has become my major focus while not working on other projects, and I can’t wait to get it off the ground in 2018.
Looking forward to 2018
2017 was actually kind of a mystery to me — I didn’t know that the Knight Foundation would support my “crazy” women-led cities idea, nor did I expect to make two (let alone any) trips to Stockholm. I feel incredibly lucky for being considered an “expert”, for being asked to be on stage, and for being published for the first time in a major urbanist publication (along with all the rest).
But make no mistake — there were also denied applications, financial struggles, and yes, a fair bit of stress, as I got this off the ground. Let’s be honest, starting a business is hard. And while I will say I was unprepared for the risks to some extent, I learned a lot and I’m looking forward to year two as an independent consultant. (I also started meditating regularly which I highly recommend.)
While I had hoped to apply urban anthropology a bit more in my professional practice, I’m looking forward to more opportunities to do so next year thanks to becoming a collaborator to two different firms, Fifteen Architecture and Design and Hive Public Space. I think that embedding research into urban design and planning is crucial — including not only quantitative, but also the qualitative human experience of what our cities are and should be. I’ll be continuing to speak up on this issue (read: scream into the void) and putting it into practice as much as I can next year as well.
Otherwise, in 2018 I’m looking forward to a year of what I hope will be more evenly spaced travel and some really exciting developments, including: a Women Led Cities meet-up at the SXSW Cities Summit (boom!), hosting WLC working conferences across the US (starting in Philly), my first keynote in Halifax, and returning to Stockholm for more lecturing at KTH (and more). Stay tuned!
So, while I’m glad to be putting 2017 behind me, it was an important year of development for what’s to come (the good and the bad). Cheers to everyone who helped make that possible, and I hope you all have a happy new year! I think 2018 is going to be great. ❤