Transpo Camp was, like, a month ago. This past week, I finally got around to assembling notes from my session, on marketing transportation and planning.
I didn’t plan this session. I didn’t have an agenda or a list of things to talk about. But I do feel frustrated with my work, sometimes, because I, effectively, have to market WABA and feel like I don’t really know what I’m doing. And: Marketing is so traditional, can be quite boring, and encompasses way too much for people to find it an interesting, useful, and important part of the transportation field, which is so wrong. It was in that spirit that I pitched this session at the last minute.
I was very pleased with how the whole thing went. The room was mostly all people who do public-facing communications in some capacity, and I was able to moderate a lot of very smart comments on the trials and tribulations of a type of work that is basically throwing it at the wall and seeing what sticks, over and over and over and over and over again—until something sticks, and can then be justified in the future. No sweeping theories were presented here, just some ideas that might help us all tighten our communications work.
I tried to get at all this with this (month-out, so take it with a grain of salt) write-up of the session. It’s below the jump. Read the rest of this entry »
Nearly three years ago, I wrote this, about Jan Gehl speaking at the National Building Museum. Gehl and his associate at Gehl Architects, Birgitte Svarre, have a new book out—How to Study Public Life—so he was back at the Building Museum, with Svarre, to talk about designing cities for people.
Nothing Gehl and Svarre presented is new. Everything they tout—studying human behavior and designing around it, which necessitates easing dependence on cars—has been used and proven as the best way to design and manage public space since Jane Jacobs wrote The Death and Life of Great American Cities. But there were a few interesting takeaways:
Copehagen has a department of public life, apparently: Gehl quipped that Copenhagen’s department of transportation keeps cars happy, but the department of public life is designed to keep people happy. The department of public life grew out of a long legacy of academic research, at the University of Copenhagen, on public life; the city ultimately took over the role of studying how people interact with the built environment and makes design decisions and recommendations based on that research. We often lament the lack of good data on how people use bikes (seriously, if you ever read a statistic on bike use in the U.S., it’s likely American Community Survey data, which is not bad, but not good, either—more on that later), and something like a department of public life, that’s research-heavy with the intent of making design recommendations, just sounds…really wonderful. I need to look into this further.
Studying public life is not weird: Svarre’s presentation had an image of an Italian news article from the ’60s about Jan Gehl, this oddball posted up with a notebook and sketchbook in Italian public plazas, watching how people moved around. We still think that observing human behavior is weird, evidently, because we don’t do enough of it in planning. But it’s not weird! Holly Whyte and Jane Jacobs and Christopher Alexander—all Americans; how weird is it that the U.S. blows at public spaces in comparison to Europe (see this recent Atlantic Cities piece by local guy Ralph Buehler on reasons the U.S. is more car-dependent than Europe), but so many great public-space thinkers are American?—provide plenty of reasons why good design stems from understanding how people use whatever it is that you’re designing.
Children are an indicator species: If kids can safely walk to school, everything is A-OK. Children can be mobile, safely and healthily, if we plan for them to be mobile. There’s nothing wrong with a 4 or 5-year-old riding a bike for transportation if there’s safe infrastructure in which they can ride.
The things we say we want in cities—livability, safety, accessibility—are not possible if everyone is driving: They aren’t. They just aren’t. You can’t have a healthy, safe population if all its members are behind the wheels of cars. Gehl insisted that cities designed to keep people from moving (by designing for cars, not people) are worse than smoking. Bold statement, that, but I don’t disagree. Even the most windowshielded car defender will admit that they like the charm of walkability. But you don’t get it both ways. You can’t have walkability, authenticity, and a healthy city and parking spaces for an entire populace of drivers.
I bought a copy of How to Study Public Life. What convinced me to buy it in this year of not buying stuff is that it’s a collection of studies on public life, so it’s part guidebook, part nicely designed annotated bibliography. I’m looking forward to getting into it and seeing what I have and haven’t read. I also think it will be useful to explore the connections between urban planning, human behavior, and UX design, a nexus that I am particularly interested in lately (more on that later, I think!).
Many thanks to Allie for the invite. This was not on my radar, though it should’ve been—the National Building Museum’s programming is consistently excellent.
I Storified my tweets and others. See that below the jump. Read the rest of this entry »
Because no one wants to squander a sunny, 50-degree day in January, and because a few of us (ahem, me) haven’t ridden our bikes any reasonable distance in awhile (well, there was that long haul to Lost Rhino in December but, you know, I can do better), Kevin, Ryan, Brian, Mary, Ed, and I took off on the Leesburg loop on Sunday.
It went: Attack Custis at maximum possible speed (for me, anyway), headwind, headwind, headwind, headwind, coffee, headwind, headwind, consider feasibility of napping, pizza, highway, ferry, hills, coasting, hills, hills, hills, coasting, Capital Crescent, limp along Rock Creek, meander through the zoo, curse the stub of a bike lane on Adams Mills Road, painfully urge bike up Kenyon Street, showerbeer, collapse.
I had a really lovely Sunday. Many thanks to Mary and Ed for allowing Brian, Ryan, Kevin, and I to crash their ride, since clearly all of us wanted to get out on our bikes but didn’t want to plan anything—and for taking photos! M&E are the best ride photo-takers. Great company, great coffee, great pizza, great weather, and a great way to spend a nice January day.
Oh, also, I rode clipless and didn’t fall or crash. So, that’s going well.
Route on Strava here.
I’m part of what is apparently General Assembly‘s first D.C. user experience class now. I am paying $4,000 for the privilege (more about my issues with tech and equity…later). The first session was tonight, and I’m looking forward to the next three months.
As with most first sessions, this evening was an orientation: about how the course will work, what UX is, General Assembly’s backstory—I really, really do not buy into General Assembly’s guru crap, which puts forth all this stuff about transcending education and learning in a nimble environment which is valid, sure, but kind of annoying, like, I’ve already paid my tuition so no need for the hard sell—and introductions. We went around the room and gave our names, what we hoped to get from the course, and our favorite app (and then had to do that brutally embarrassing name-all-the-names-of-the-people-who-went-before-you exercise).
For posterity, I’d like to record my answers here.
I hope to get from this UX course:
- The ability to tell someone to shut up when they say I need to learn to code in order to do something. (I chose UX, not General Assembly’s front-end design course—which would be equally useful for where I am, career-wise—because just reading about UX baffles me more than trying to teach myself to code and I figured that meant I could use some formal instruction.)
- A way to combine my interests and experiences. I have two liberal arts degrees, and when I read that UX heavily utilizes ethnography as a testing method, I was all, “Oh, I get this because I did ethnographic research as an American studies undergrad.” Professionally I, in a very broad sense, market transportation; the better I can design marketing materials, the better job I’ll do in that regard. And, I’m doing this GIS thing. I’d love to be able to combine UX with GIS in some capacity.
- A foot in the door into tech. I don’t know if tech is the world I want to be in—I prefer transportation or planning—but the meshing of tech with the worlds I do want to be in is what interests me most.
- Some real-world experience while redesigning WABA’s website. My timeline for the website redesign is shorter than the course and I’m working with other people to pull it off, but I do think I’ll be able to augment my classwork with what I’m doing at work-work.
I said that my favorite app was Wunderlist. I don’t always make lists but when I do, I like the act of crossing things off to be accompanied with the sound effect of chalk striking a chalkboard. I also said that I’ve rediscovered my love for InDesign in the process of redesigning my resume and making some fun biz cards; InDesign is a great place for me to work out my need to move objects one pixel to the left, repeatedly, until I am satisfied. I thought I wasn’t a particularly app-y person, and I think comparatively I’m not, actually, but as I listened to others share the apps they used, I thought of some more that I like:
- Strava, duh, QOM, get like me (more accurately, Strava combines my love for self-competitiveness, personal achievement, and maps).
- VSCOcam and Instagram have become my preferred combo for editing and sharing photos.
- Spotify has become so prominent in my life that when I bought a new laptop, I didn’t transfer any music files onto it and instead just use Spotify. The mobile app is great, too.
- Untappd, because God knows I am not actually capable of remembering the beer I am drinking—so when I remember to use Untappd, it’s just wonderful. Chris is my only friend on Untappd, which I love and kind of want to maintain forever.
- Candy Crush. I am only human.
- Digg is the absolute best Google Reader replacement and you cannot convince me otherwise. I also get a lot of my reading material from the Digg front page, and enjoy it thoroughly.
- Google Maps, now with biking directions for iPhone users, is the best.
- When I figured out I could push Gchats to my phone through Google Hangout, I was by turns furious (I had to re-activate Google Plus, the most worthless social networking platform in existence) and thrilled (I will never miss a Gchat again!).
- Seamless! I love not talking to people. Not talking to people is the best.
We get into actual UX ish on Thursday.
No promises that I’ll sufficiently blog what we do in this class. I have overloaded myself like crazy for the next few months (the plan is: redesign WABA’s website, complete a second GIS course, kick ass in this UX class, ride a bunch of miles/go to yoga at least four times a week/hit up a few core classes to decompress, all while applying to jobs so that I can move into San Francisco by, like, May), but I’ll do my best. At the very least, expect to see some sort of final project.
Last week, I was on Atlantic Cities, writing about Spike Jonze’s new film, Her. The atmosphere and setting—future-ish L.A.—is really lovely and depends heavily on the use of public transit. I haven’t written about pop culture in awhile, and I’m really pleased with how this turned out. Read it here.
Thanks to the many people at Transportation Camp and in my life who said nice things about the piece. I understand traffic, the Internet, and what kind of writing gets traction, but I’m still amazed that it’s been as widely read as it has. I hope to do more of this stuff!
Transportation Camp is great. It’s just…great. I’ve been disappointed by the American Planning Association conference and its surrounding events so many times that by the time Transpo Camp rolls around, I forget that it’s possible for something referred to as an unconference not to suck. As an experience, Transpo Camp is enjoyable and does an amazing job of not prioritizing tech or transportation over one or the other, but it’s also phenomenal networking: It’s a great way to talk to everyone you want to meet that’s attending the Transportation Research Board meeting, especially if TRB is too pricey for you to attend.
Also, a bunch of people I really, really like personally are guaranteed to be there, and what better way to spend a Saturday than hanging out with friends who share all of your niche interests?
I proposed a few sessions and got looped in on another, ultimately presenting at two. I’m very pleased with how both went. I’ve got some follow-up to do on my marketing session—I collected emails and have some notes and comments to get to that group, so please stand by—but I’m so, so proud of it. I’ve run sessions, discussions, and presentations at various events before (including Transpo Camp; last year, I did a thing on women and bikes) and am generally OK with speaking in public, but I felt really confident in moderating this discussion and making sure everyone who wanted to got a chance to speak, and I think I brought some good content to the table. There’s absolutely ways I can improve,* but no one walked out (which is incredible, because sessions at Transpo Camp are basically structured to be walked out on so that attendees can maximize their time) and everyone in the room was able to share their grievances and successes.
Jaime Fearer, Matt Johnson, and I ran an afternoon session on blogging with policy goals in mind. Jaime and Matt talked about Greater Greater Washington, and I talked about the WABA blog. We were able to answer a lot of really smart questions about blogging, from some of the technical aspects (what CMSes we use, how we source content, how we schedule posts) to the more conceptual stuff (how we approach the digital divide, how we word things, why we use blogs instead of websites or social media). If you have any questions about anything related to this stuff, I’m happy to answer them; making the WABA blog into something legitimate was a goal of mine when I started, and I’ve achieved it. I don’t know everything, but if it’s helpful, I’d love to share what’s worked for us.
I attended Ashley Robbins and Andrew Austin‘s session on making buses sexy (I’ll post my notes in a subsequent post), and a session dedicated to visualizing connections and turning them into concrete actions, i.e., networking. It was a great opportunity for me to tell everyone that I’m looking for a job, particularly in transportation, in San Francisco. It was also terribly embarrassing, because I didn’t have any business cards. So, hey, are you based in San Francisco and hiring? Hire me! My resume’s here, my LinkedIn’s here, and you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.**
I’ll be at Andy Palanisamy‘s tweetup at Open City tomorrow (it starts at 5 p.m.), and then I’m headed to the Transit Oriented Beer happy hour (part of the San Francisco Bay Young Professionals in Transportation), this time with business cards. If you want to get in on some of the TRB action without going to TRB, I suggest stopping by those events or figuring out what else is going on around the conference and dropping in. Transportation is a field that I can’t say enough good things about: Everyone I’ve met that works in it just kicks major ass professionally and is a genuinely wonderful person personally. Maybe next year I’ll be in a position to attend TRB itself.
ETA: This delightful photo is from the post-Transpo Camp #transitnerdherd dinner. #transitnerdherd is an ever-expanding squad of those of us who are friends and do transportation-y things. We first got together on a planned trip in 2011, riding the Capitol Limited back from Minneapolis (I blogged about that, but it’s disappeared), and the hashtag has taken off since. These are the people I’m very happy to see at Transpo Camp.
*Maybe by, um, preparing—I didn’t even have an outline. Or maybe that was for the best! I am still not sure. Kendra and Ashley were kind enough to stand up at the front of the room, because I was late, and were there throughout the session with me to fill in gaps in conversation while I was furiously scribbling stuff on the whiteboard (thanks to Mauricio for the major assist in procuring more markers).
**I am being completely shameless about this because being completely shameless about searching for employment paid off in the past. Anyway, I’m taking a UX design class through General Assembly that runs through April and it cost $$, so I’d like to get through that and be in San Francisco by May. Again, my resume’s here, my LinkedIn’s here, and you can reach me at email@example.com.
I babbled about stuff I want to do in 2014 on my Tumblr, but here’s a much more actionable list. (Last year, I tried to break my resolutions down by month and, of course, completely fell off that wagon by, like, March.)
Stop buying clothes: For me, buying clothes is throwing away money because my job doesn’t have a dress code. There’s no need for me to look professional on a regular basis; I can wear jeans and a T-shirt every day. Additionally, I now have enough technical gear for biking and other outdoor activities that I don’t need to stock up when there’s a great sale. The only purchases I should be making, clothes-wise, are replacements for necessary items (a pair of pants only lasts me about six months).
Use stuff up: Tangential to “stop buying clothes,” I have quite a bit of stuff—notably, beauty products and books. There is absolutely no reason for me to buy new shampoo, face wash, or contemporary fiction novels in 2014 when I can use or reread what I’ve got.
Read 52 books in a year: It is insane that I haven’t done this yet. I love reading and I’m a fast reader. In 2013, I kept better track of the books I read than ever before—and it turned out I only read 34. Reading 52 books in 2014 will help me in my efforts to reread books I already own, too.
Better professional positioning: I have not been quiet about talking about my boyfriend’s move to San Francisco. He’s leaving, like, now. I’m pretty miserable about that! It is an option for me to join him after he has had some time to figure out how his life there will work, but I’m not moving across the country unless I can find a job that makes sense for me financially and professionally. I have a great job at WABA and I’ve got a lot of cool stuff on my plate for the next year (website redesign!), but it’s a small nonprofit and ultimately, there will be a point where the lack of potential for mobility there will be an issue. I’ve worked high-intensity jobs in small offices since I’ve graduated college and I’ve gained a lot from that. I’d like to be in a more corporate setting, with potential for an upward trajectory, within the year. Ideally, I’d also be in San Francisco.
Dental health: I saw my dentist a few weeks ago and he said there was a measured improvement in my (already pretty good) dental health. I haven’t done anything differently, but last year, I resolved to floss daily and I did a pretty good job with that. This year: Use more mouthwash.
Fitness: I go to, like, a bunch of yoga classes a week. Last year, I was doing Crossfit sporadically and, once I stopped that, I signed up for krav maga. I like both a lot but my track record of regularly attending either has been miserable. I want a high-powered workout in my schedule—yoga isn’t enough—but I need to figure out and get over whatever is keeping me from doing it consistently (intimidation? Stress?). I get negative about my body when I’m not working out so, more than the potential to get stronger or more toned, the fact that I feel better about myself if I’m doing something physically difficult is a huge incentive.
Ride a century per month: This is separate from “fitness” because it’s a fun goal that I was close to achieving, until November and December got sad and stressful and I didn’t get my bike out for anything but riding to work. Last year, I rode seven centuries (some organized, some on my own), and it got to the point where riding 100 miles wasn’t painful at all! I’d like to do that again.
Save money: I have casually saved 20 percent of my paychecks when it’s not too much trouble, but I’m not strict about that so I spend more than I save for no particular reason other than laziness. If I diligently save 20 percent of my paychecks and 50 percent of my freelance income—I’m freelancing more now, and it’s stressful but great—then I should easily clear $10,000 in savings by the end of the year.
Get my eyebrow game on point: I still have no idea how to do this, but I am going to do it, and I’m going to love looking at my face every time I pass a mirror.