As anyone who has dared to create a platform that challenges the status quo knows, there is a sea of people who want things to stay the same, and will go to great lengths in order to maintain this entrenched homogeneity. Even as a small-time urbanism advocate, I could fill a book with the harsh, brutal and vulgar negativity I have received in response to my content. And still, I could fill another book with people who don’t resort to name calling, but rather tout the flag of unchecked “freedom,” free-market capitalism and privilege denial, all without acknowledging or attempting to understand that these have all been distributed in a highly stratified and inequitable way in our country.
I’m not gonna lie, it’s not easy. I’m not a public figure by any stretch of the imagination, but my commentary has enough circulation that I am regularly the recipient of the worst kind of human behavior. In 2022, I have had someone threaten to sue me, I have been called a fraud, a clown, unqualified, an assf#*k, and have had dozens of people wrongly confuse me with an urban planning expert.
For the record, I am always quick to correct the last criticism…. Never, in all my commentary have I referred to myself as an “expert” in urban planning. My degree is in psychology with a minor in sociology. And while I have literally consumed City Planning textbooks with an insatiable hunger, I have no formal degree in urban planning. Instead, I project myself as a megaphone for far smarter people than me. The Urban Phoenix has never masqueraded as an academic standard for urbanism… rather it has profiled as an advocate of, and promotor for, the proven data and common sense ideals that guide us toward a more prosperous, sustainable and equitable urban future.
Recently I was told by a reader that one of my pieces had interesting content, but they did not appreciate the “snarky” opening paragraphs. She was obviously new to urbanist content and was even-handed in her constructive criticism. I very much appreciated the feedback, and responded by thanking her.
And she wasn’t wrong… I opened the piece with a “we all know how this goes” commentary on what happens when you introduce a city or community to Complete Streets for the first time. I believe the line was “fire-scorched sense of logic,” eluding to the common and often verbally violent rejection of repeatable data with regard to road diets and healthy communities.
Yes, like so many urbanists, I have become a bit jaded by the public battles in an effort to move the needle a hair. Presenting ideas that fly in the face of 100 years of investment and influence in the other direction is tiring and frustrating, and I am one of those people who really doesn’t like to fight. The aforementioned “snark” is the result, a sort of salty acknowledgement that no matter how hard I try, most of the people who read my content are going to think it’s ridiculous. And it’s not just me… it’s every urbanist. And everyone who has ever spoken out of step with the status quo for that matter.
Before introducing this “frustration disguised as wit” approach to my writing, I wrote for the average reader, attempting to introduce them to the concepts of urbanistic ideas and their inherent benefits. And to some extent, I still try to help everyone understand that we can see our communities differently. But the even-handed criticism above made me realize that along the way, I stopped writing for the masses and started focusing my content toward people who are fighting the same battles as I in an attempt to say “I see you, and we are doing this together.” The Urban Phoenix began as a positive-only blog about communities I visited, followed by a generalized commentary on Urbanism across Upstate and Western New York. Today, I realize that most of my work speaks to others who think like myself, acknowledging that all of us need a reminder that we are in this together. It’s not easy, but it’s an ideal that we are passionate about and one that we share. Sometimes, that just means looking to our left, looking to our right, and seeing who’s with us.
The above paragraph is not intended as an insular manifesto. The most important piece of advocacy is the ability to effectively share a passion or an ideal with others, regardless of how many doors we have had shut in our faces. But I’d like to think that The Urban Phoenix is one of many “safe spaces” for urbanists who need a “snarky” nod that reminds us we are not alone, and motivates us to keep moving.
I will continue to write for a variety of readers. But more and more, I write to remind a growing number of us who understand urbanistic ideals that we are doing the right thing, and that our cities are better as a result.