How To Be A Conscientious Urbanite
Being a conscientious urban dweller is complicated. It’s no simple task to balance a carefully acquired collection of concerns, hobbies, and prepared conversational contributions that effectively communicates to others how thoroughly involved you are in what’s going on in your city. Your city, which you love, and which is changing in ways that constantly threaten to ruin everything that’s great about it. You know better. You, progressive, engaged, young urbanite, are the pulsing heartbeat of this town. And this is how you go about being such:
Be concerned with “spaces”
To affirm your thorough awareness of and concern for a neighborhood, be sure to talk a lot about the “spaces” in it, which is the preferred way to refer to any building, or room in a building, (or yard or alley, which are referred to as “outdoor spaces”.) Empty spaces are the best. They should be your favorite. They fill you with the dream of what is possible, which should be your stated reason for getting up in the morning. Empty spaces give you exhilarating opportunities to demonstrate your knowledge of what used to inhabit the space, what you’ve heard will soon inhabit it, and how that business fits into the overall neighborhood trend towards gentrification (which you should lament emphatically at all times), or preservation (which you should be wildly in favor of.)
Mention what you’ve always imagined you might do with this space if you leased it, which you should definitely have thought about, and definitely intend to do (here is a good place to talk about all the “projects” you are involved in that presently prohibit your space development aspirations.) Compare all spaces to other spaces you’ve seen used in better or worse ways. If someone talks about a gallery or restaurant or venue they recently visited, interrupt them to comment on what a great or terrible space that is they went to. You really need them to know that you are a person with real awareness of the place they’re talking about before they proceed to talk about it.
Advocate from progressive transportation
Your city does not have enough bike lanes. Enough cannot be said about this travesty. Anytime someone mentions having a near-calamity with a car while riding a bike (this will happen often), seize the opportunity to launch into a rant against your city’s government, which clearly favors car-driving people, most of whom probably live in the suburbs anyway, whose interests take priority in direct correlation to the amount of tax dollars they contribute. Angrily discuss systematic socio-economic oppression. Talk about a concern for investing in the overall livability of urban communities, of which suburb-dwelling car drivers have none, and of which you have lots. Talk about sustainability. If you don’t say “sustainable” at least 8 times per day, you aren’t advocating hard enough. Talk about an inescapable future (which only forward-thinking, enlightened people of your ilk are aware of) where city planning based on oil dependency is going to result in everyone being utterly screwed. Be aware of all public meetings pertaining to public transit and proposed taxes that would benefit progressive transportation initiatives (you don’t have to actually go to these meetings. But you should tweet their time and location because this stuff is, like, really relevant to all of us, you guys.)
Ride a bike
With the aforementioned in mind, you absolutely ride a bike. Talk about how rewarding it is, how connected you feel to your surroundings. Make half-hearted attempts at articulating the heightened degree of awareness for your city that only biking can yield, but stop halfway through and say, “well, you get it”, which will be met with a hearty nod by your fellow bike riders. Scoff at the people waiting in traffic as you dart past them. Your bike also makes an excellent leaning post when you are standing outside a vacant building talking about the impact the business who is about to move in there is going to have on your neighborhood. Talk about a local bike collective. Bemoan how woefully undervalued they are, and how often you visit. Attend Critical Mass every month. If you have to drive a car (sometimes necessary to transport materials for a “project”), it’s Prius or bust.
Be loyal to your neighborhood
Have specific reasons for liking your neighborhood, not the least of which should be how unchanged and “real” it is compared to other neighborhoods. Talk about gentrification again. Express a willingness to continue fighting it, but also a zen-like resignation to its inevitability. Talk about having lived in a lot of other neighborhoods, and what was good and bad about each of them. When talking to someone from another, comparably credible neighborhood, talk about how much you “really do love it over there” and declare your intention to “re-explore it soon”. Have a favorite brunch spot. Have a coffee place and a bar that are “yours”, whose employees know what you drink. Drink the same thing every day. You aren’t trying to impress anyone. Talk to others about what awesome people those employees are, and how the same staff has worked there “forever”. Mention that you refuse to visit these places on Saturdays when it’s nothing but tourists from the suburbs.
Know your local representatives
End every discussion of national politics by dismissing their importance in favor of being involved in local political activities. Know which district you live in, and know the name of your representative. Occasionally mention a non-specific intention to request a meeting with that person to make sure they are properly backing the “real” concerns of their constituents, who you feel very qualified to speak for. You have a lot of ideas, many of which occurred to you while riding your bike to a pop-up art event in an undeveloped space. Talk about how much better or worse a current official is compared to their predecessor. Have a general interest in running for office one day.
Projects: have lots of them
You shouldn’t have a “job” so much as a “bunch of projects going on”. At any given time, you should be involved in at least one of each of the following varieties of projects: a public art project; a project relating to the development of a necessary institution like a community garden or LGBT center; a project relating to the preservation of a functionally useless, structurally decrepit, but “historically significant” building; a project involving a new business that does anything through “sustainable means”; a project that has a Kickstarter; a project that benefits a charity that Alec Baldwin supports; a project that has a fundraiser event this weekend featuring 5 relevant local bands and is sponsored by Whynatte that you should totally come to; a project for which you are curating a lecture series.
A | A | A
If you’ve been looking for a chance to say something then this very well could be it.
I wish to God I’d had a list like this when I was 23.
Answer phones better than anyone else has answered phones before. Relay messages so brilliant, they bring people to tears. Turn the coffee run into the choreography of Swan Lake. Become best friends with every intern and every underling and every taxi driver you encounter.
I remember taking the pen and notebook from that woman outside the courtroom, flipping to a clean page in the book, and writing, JESSICA IS SAD in big, bold, uncoordinated letters. “My sister is going to be a good writer someday! Look at how nice her lines are!”