For Kristen Jeffers ’07, the places in her life have played a significant role in the development of her interests, her education and ultimately her career. With an innate curiosity about cities and communities, Jeffers began publishing a blog in 2010 entitled “The Black Urbanist”, which has allowed her to explore her passion for urban planning, or “placemaking,” as she calls it.
The original intention of Jeffers’ blog was to provide an outlet for her thoughts on urban planning and, if she was lucky, attract the attention of potential employers in the field. However, even with such a strong passion for community affairs, Jeffers didn’t focus her studies in this area until graduate school at UNC-Greensboro. At NC State, she pursued a degree in communication and worked toward a Spanish minor.
“This blog was a hobby that started as an inspiration when I went to grad school doing community development studies and I began reading other urban planning blogs,” Jeffers says. “The voice of African American females wasn’t there. The southern perspective on urban living and planning wasn’t there.”
Jeffers tries to post on her blog at least once or twice a week, but her current position as a public affairs officer at the North Carolina Humanities Council allows her to put her ideas into action.
“My blog achieved my goal in a weird way with my position at the Humanities Council,” Jeffers says. “When we grant money to communities, it’s a community effort for some sort of rebirth in old neighborhoods. My day job is becoming relevant to the things I’m writing about.”
From her time at NC State, as a student without a car walking across campus and around Cameron Village, Jeffers has drawn inspiration for her blog and her own definition of community.
“I loved the idea of having that community and all I had to do was get on my two feet and walk,” she says. “I miss having all the things I need clustered together.”
The experience Jeffers gained at NC State with the surrounding community served to build upon memories of her and her father exploring her hometown when she was younger.
“My dad and I would take maps and plot places to go around Greensboro, which helped me have a good read of being on the ground,” she says, and each of these experiences has shaped the direction of her blog.
Even more influential in her writing are the different places Jeffers has lived. “It depends on the day, but my favorite city is D.C.,” she says. “I keep coming back to the historical architecture – it’s all of our history in one place. D.C. is also the nucleus of public policy and it has an element of African American culture there that makes it a really special place.” Jeffers also concedes that both Raleigh and her hometown of Greensboro hold soft spots in her heart.
Perhaps the central focus of her blog is the concept of placemaking, a term Jeffers uses to refer to the process of deciding where a community’s infrastructure will be built and how the people within that community interact with that infrastructure and with their neighbors.
“So much is encompassed by a focus on thinking about how things are placed and put,” Jeffers says. “Many people don’t realize that what you do has something to do with where you live and the infrastructure around you. If you erase roads and buildings there’s not much left in a community.”
Urban planning, or placemaking, is a way to enhance the basic needs of people so that they can continue to gather, build and innovate, Jeffers says. However, even as she attempts to bring attention to the idea of placemaking, she has also had to address several misconceptions about her ideas and the field of urban planning.
“A lot of people equate the word black and urban and that’s why I named the blog the way I did,” Jeffers says. “That euphemism for saying black needs to go away. As people we are not a type of community.”
In addition, Jeffers contends with the misconception that she is against suburban development. “I’m only against it when it hurts the people it’s meant to help,” Jeffers says. “With suburban developments, folks lose services and opportunities – there’s more than one paradigm for urban planning.”
Recently, Jeffers has explored the idea of turning her writing medium toward a long form book, told as a memoir organized by cities she has lived in or visited. Jeffers was encouraged to expand her ideas outside the blogosphere by the positive feedback she’s received on her posts.
“I used this blog to say ‘This is who I am and this is how I choose to label myself and this is something people need to pay attention to,’” she says. “I’ve had a lot of people who say ‘Yes, this makes a lot of sense.’ It’s just about being aware of what community means – the physical and the people parts.