This fall, I’m applying to PhD programs in sustainable urban development. I’ve identified three programs that are a good fit for me, but I’m not waiting to be accepted to begin my work. I’m starting now, today, since I already have my broad thesis question: how do we turn New York City into the most sustainable, healthy, clean, and equitable city in the world?
I’ve outlined my next ten months of study while I wait to see which programs accept me. Each month, I’ll be researching how all of the New York City agencies within each city agency category work. Those categories are: Business, Civil Services, Culture and Recreation, Education, Environment, Health, Housing and Development, Public Safety, Social Services, and Transportation. Every day I’ll spend some time doing this research and carefully cataloging all of my learnings to use in my thesis, and in my life’s work.
I can’t say that I came up with this plan alone. I often call my friend, Alex, and say something like, “I’ve got a crazy idea.” I love Alex because her response is always some variation of, “Oh great! What is it?” Alex and I were talking two weeks ago and we both said we felt like we were in a little bit of a low point. We needed to do something to get ourselves out of that. I wasn’t sure what that would mean for me, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot ever since our conversation. Now I know. If you find yourself in a funk, get yourself a friend like Alex who is unwaveringly supportive and constantly encouraging me to be better.
“What do you do for a living?” an elderly neighbor asked me.
“I’m a writer.”
“And how does a young writer feel about the end of America?”
It was an abrupt question, but I chose to not show my anger (even though I was angry) and also to not walk away.
“I’m worried about America, and hopeful.”
“Not possible,” he said. “You can’t be worried and hopeful at the same time.”
“I can be, and I am. My worry actually makes me work harder to do better. I’ll always be hopeful about America because I’m confident in my abilities to make a difference here.”
He argued with me a few minutes more but I was unrelenting in my light and optimism, refusing to let him tell me how I should feel about a country that is my home and always will be.
I’ve seen this man numerous times over the 3 years I’ve lived in this building. I’ve never done more than say hello. I’m not sure why he stopped me today or why he chose such an inflammatory topic. But I immediately saw this as an opportunity to practice optimism in the face of pessimism.
As I now embark on this new branch of my career in sustainable urban development, there will be hundreds, thousands, maybe millions of people who will think I’m wasting my time, that our situation is hopeless, particularly in this country and in my city of New York. They will say what I want to do, what I know to be the right and just thing to do, cannot be done and certainly cannot be done by me. There will be as many roadblocks as there are naysayers. I’ve already had to face that, sometimes from good friends.
It’s possible to understand why someone else feels hopeless and to not take that on myself, to continue to move forward without allowing others to drag me down and still understand the feelings of those who don’t share my optimism. It’s a delicate balance; it takes practice and patience but it’s the only way to continue to put my best self out into the world. And that is something I must do, for my own sake, the sake of my community, and for the planet.
This weekend I decided to start taking nonviolent protest training with the U.S. Institute of Peace. There were more protests in New York City over the past two days. These were specifically focused on showing solidarity with the protesters in Portland demonstrating against the federal troops occupying that city. Though the president has reversed course and said he will not send them to New York, the situation looks more tenuous each day.
Nonviolent protest training is becoming an essential skill in large cities, and its teachings can have a positive impact in many areas of our lives, not just when we’re out in the streets. Now that John Lewis has passed, it will take all of us to carry on that work. He was a strong supporter of the U.S. Institute of Peace, and it’s through his website that I found out about their trainings.
The courses are as introductory or as extensive as you’d like them to be. They’re free, online, self-paced, and short video-based. They also have transcripts and audio-only for accessibility. I’m incorporating watching a portion each day as part of my meditation practice. If you’re protesting, they will help to keep you and others as safe as possible while also helping you to get into Good Trouble, Necessary Trouble. Learn more and sign up at https://www.usip.org/education-training.
I watched the documentary, John Lewis: Good Trouble, and then immediately watched it again. In times of violent hopelessness, he refused to give up on America because he believed in his power to make a difference, to create change through love by standing up and speaking out “as long as I have breath in my body”. He gave up all fear, and so he always lived free.
Now is the time for this film. There’s a lot of understandable hopelessness in our country today. Embracing the teachings of John Lewis, I’ve chosen to not fall into despair, to not think that this is the end of America but the end of an old America and the beginning of a new and better one. Birth hurts. Growth is painful. We cannot become who we want to be by hanging on to who we were. John Lewis’s life embodied that principle. He showed us that if we want better, then we have to be better. He was fully and forever committed to being better, and with his example, so am I.
Cast your vote for Brooklyn Bridge Forest by July 30th for the Reimagining Brooklyn Bridge Challenge: https://www.vanalen.org/projects/reimagining-brooklyn-bridge/
This is exactly the type of sustainable urban development work I’m so passionate about studying & bringing to life in New York.
The “Brooklyn Bridge Forest,” uses sustainably harvested wood to benefit local communities in Guatemala while safeguarding 200,000 acres of rainforest, and is a finalist in a competition to Reimagine the Brooklyn Bridge.
The competition, held by the NYC Council and the Van Alen Institute, calls for rethinking the iconic Brooklyn Bridge, improving walkways on the bridge that are often crowded with bicyclists and pedestrians. As made even more clear by recent events, our streets and shared spaces must foster equitable, accessible, and sustainable transportation options, creating a healthy and safe environment for all New Yorkers.
In response to this call, the Brooklyn Bridge Forest project reimagines the bridge as an icon of climate action and social equity, improving mobility while respecting the landmark structure. The historic wooden walkway is expanded using planks of FSC-certified wood sustainably sourced from the Uaxactun community in Guatemala’s Maya Biosphere Reserve that protects a 200,000-acre rainforest. A dedicated bike path and reclaimed traffic lane create new space for cyclists and low-carbon transit, while biodiverse “microforests” at either end of the bridge bring nature to New York City and serve as green spaces for underserved communities.
The Brooklyn Bridge Forest project will also help NYC meet its commitment to an “80×50” plan, to cut its emissions by 80% by 2050, an ambitious goal that will require very creative and far-reaching strategies.
Said Jeremy Radachowsky, WCS Mesoamerica Regional Director: “The Brooklyn Bridge Forest not only reimagines the Brooklyn Bridge; it reimagines humanity’s relationship with nature and our global climate, using the Brooklyn Bridge to lead us there.”
The project is a collaborative effort between the Wild Life Conservation Society (operators of NYC’s zoos and aquarium) Pilot Projects Design Collective LLC, Cities4Forests, Grimshaw Architects, and Silman DPC.
This is a stunning 10-minute speech filled with courage in which Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez stands up for all women everywhere who have been disrespected again and again just for being women. The behavior she calls out is too common, and deemed acceptable by far too many people. Please watch.
Today Civil Rights leader C.T. Vivian will be laid to rest. The minister of the movement, he passed just hours before John Lewis, albeit having lived 15 years longer. For over 60 years, the two of them fought side-by-side, shoulder-to-shoulder, in the same direction toward equality.
The example of their lives is a blueprint for us now in this great moment of change. This Civil Rights Movement was strategically and meticulously planned with an end goal and the steps to get there. The leaders and activists were committed, not just for a day or a month or a year, but for a lifetime. Rosa Parks didn’t just decide in the moment to sit down on a bus. Rosa Parks was trained in resistance. She had picked, planned, and was prepared for that moment, and a lifetime of backlash for it. The Montgomery Bus Boycott didn’t just happen because of her courageous action. They studied their opponent. They had a goal, and were dedicated and determined to reach it.
This is true for the Civil Rights Movement. It’s also true for suffrage and for social changes like reforms in the mental healthcare system driven by people such as Nellie Bly. They were purposeful and plotted step-by-step. Systemic change needs a plan. It takes unwavering commitment on many fronts by many people. Do we have the commitment for it?
None of these movements were perfect. Not by a long shot. The Civil Rights Movement often marginalized women; Rosa Parks was one of the few people in the room when that planning was happening and she was given the role of secretary because that was women’s work. Suffrage marginalized women of color to a terrible degree. In recent years, this has been written about more often but not enough. Even John Lewis’s speech at the March on Washington was changed at the last minute, not because he wanted to change it but because the other senior leaders of the March asked him to change it for fear that the anger in his words would upset President Kennedy and decrease their chances of success. Congressman Lewis wouldn’t publicly discuss these changes and his feelings about it until many years later. You can read the initial draft and the final, and hear him discuss his feelings about it, at this link.
History will often wash over the details of these movements. I’m not sure why. Maybe because in the details we lose a bit of the romance, serendipity, and drama of it all. Or maybe it’s because we don’t have the patience to really study and understand them. Their lessons take resolve to learn, embody, and put into practice.
Lasting change is difficult, painfully and sadly slow at a times, and expensive in terms of time, energy, and real dollars. We can best honor and continue the bravery and thoughtful actions of our elders now by wrestling with and answering the difficult questions before us:
Who and what needs to change? How and at what cost? And who pays? Do we have the lifetime commitment for it? Do we have the resolve and decisiveness that C.T. Vivian, John Lewis, and so many others had? Are we willing to come together and collaborate rather than divide our energies and efforts? Will we embrace one another and lift up each other in this work?
Because without that, nothing and no one changes. Systemic change takes systemic solutions, and it needs many hands, hearts, and minds. Change doesn’t happen by accident; it’s made by design. We must now be those designers as the torch passes to us. What will we do with it?
I spent the morning finishing another edit of the first four chapters of my second Emerson Page novel. Some writers love writing a first draft. Me? I love the editing—the molding, shaping, and crafting of a whole world I created out of my imagination.
One of my big goals this year is to commit to a plant-based diet—better for my health and the planet. I’m also passionate about fighting food waste and promoting justice and equity. This is why I’m so happy to be a customer of Imperfect Foods. This is a post about all the reasons I love them. I’m not being paid by them to write this. I just wanted to share it with all of you. I do have a friends and family link that you’re welcome to use if you’d like. To give Imperfect Foods a try, use this link to get $10 off your first box: http://imprfct.us/v/christa_580.
They mitigate food waste with their own line of products and rescue food from producers who would otherwise toss it into a landfill.
40% of food in the U.S. goes uneaten even though 1:5 people experience hunger on a daily basis. $218B in food is thrown away every year. 21% of our water is used to produce uneaten food.
Their prices are better than my grocery store.
They have a huge variety of products including fruits, veggies, baked goods, snacks, dairy, and meat and meat-alternatives. You can completely customize everything in your box each time so you don’t end up with anything you don’t want & skip a shipment if you don’t need it.
They’re committed to food & social justice. They walk the walk with their money, time, and efforts.
Even though people can’t use SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits to buy Imperfect, the company gives a 30% discount to anyone receiving SNAP.
Their podcast, Unwasted, is fantastic with a wide variety of topics related to food including climate change, food justice, and community gardening. Their social handles are also fun and informative.
Their drivers keep you up-to-date on your delivery status and they’re awesome people.
You have a 48 hour period to shop for the coming week’s delivery, and their online experience is easy and fun.
Everything I’ve gotten is delicious and I’m now using them for almost all of my groceries. It’s making me a more creative cook and eater.
Their beautiful new website, The Whole Carrot, is loaded with recipes, food tips, & everything you’d ever want to know about Imperfect Foods.
Their packaging is made of recycled content and it’s either recyclable, compostable, reusable, or returnable.
I don’t know who needs to hear this but it’s 100% okay to explore an opportunity, decide it’s not the best use of your time & talents, & walk away. You’re a marvelous, gifted person & deserve to have a life you love. Just putting the truth out there in case you need a reminder.