It’s Not OK, But Maybe It’s Enough

I left D.C. nearly two months ago, on April 22. I’ve started and stopped half a dozen posts about living in San Francisco since then.

TL;DR I stand by everything I said right before I left.

Driving across the country was amazing. I couldn’t have done it without my best buddy in snacks and X-Files, Matt.

I miss real summer weather. I miss biking home at 2 a.m. in jorts, buzzed and listening to whatever anthemic song I’ve turned into a security blanket (currently, all of these; oh my God, they are perfect). I miss my friends. I wrote about more things that I miss on Tumblr.

But the job was worth it: I’m learning things, there are resources at my disposal, I get to deal with really compelling content, and I feel as if I’m appropriately compensated. Do you want to work for Gensler? We are hiring about a bazillion people right now! Corporate life is pretty sweet.

I’m on the board of Young Professionals in Transportation, which is amazing. I am hoping to do some work with and for Trace and Storefront Lab. I should be pitching and writing more, but we have Chromecast (and Chris bought a hulk of a router), so I’m really just watching a lot of Netflix.

I have a lot of thoughts about San Francisco as a city—how it’s a “worse” D.C., how gentrification is manifesting itself here, how from a top-down level it just doesn’t take care of itself. I have a lot of questions about why the East Bay hardcore scene didn’t grow into something analogous to the current D.C. punk scene. Riding a bike here isn’t fun, not because of the hills but because of the drivers. Maybe someday I’ll write about these things.

Left and Leaving


My going-away party (via Jenna)

You tend to talk a lot about moving when you’re, um, moving. Everyone wants to hear how things are going, and everyone has wisdom to impart. Which is good—I need to keep hearing that D.C. will be here, that New York will be here, that I can always come back. Everyone wants to know if I’m excited.

At the risk of sounding like a total asshole, I’m skeptical about San Francisco.

I say this all the time, but it’s true: I have the life I never knew I always wanted in D.C. Sixteen-year-old me would be in awe of the fact that my going-away party was at Black Cat’s backstage, and present-day me is unendingly grateful for the relationships I’ve established here. I’m comfortable, but not bored. I like my neighborhood, I like what I do on weekends, I like my yoga studio, I like the bars I go to, and so on. I like that I don’t need to experiment; I still try new places and new things, but I know what works for me. I appreciate this.

I know those things will come in time in a new city. Given that I don’t have friends from high school or college, I’ve already made friends as an adult, and I’m confident I can do so again. But I really, really like D.C. I’m not moving because I want a change, or because I want the experience of living in a different city. I’m moving because I got a job that I believe will position me well in the future, and because I did not earn a similar opportunity in D.C.


Matching Fryes (via Anqi)

San Francisco is fine. I get why people like it. It’s naturally beautiful, but there’s only so many times you can bank on natural beauty making up for social experiences, you know? (I woke up looking at snow-covered mountains every morning in Boulder. It is still one of the prettiest places in the world to me. But I didn’t want to live there after nine months, so I left.) There’s stuff everywhere—like, even the far-flung neighborhoods have stuff (because density). The dining scene is great. All issues with gentrification in the Mission aside, Craftsmen & Wolves makes a baller salted chocolate chip cookie. You can bike to Sausalito. It’s a very livable city, and the day-to-day costs are lower than in D.C. or New York.

But at the end of the day, I am a tightly wound East Coast exceptionalist, and I would not feel as if I missed out on anything if I lived at 16th and Newton streets NW for the rest of my life. Seriously! I have lived hard here, in a great way—it’s why I don’t have a D.C. bucket list, which is another thing people like to ask about when you are planning to move across the country. But my “bucket list” is getting as much time in with my friends as possible. I’ll miss them infinitely more than Ben’s Chili Bowl, or the cherry blossoms, or the free museums, or even Friday nights at Smoke & Barrel. Sure, there’s stuff I’d like to do: ride my bike, try new restaurants (I haven’t made it to Roses’s Luxury), return to old favorites (Daikaya), sit on my balcony and read a book. I’m devastated to be missing a summer of Fort Reno.What will I do without Black Cat? I wish I had spent more time on the waterfront, in Meridian Hill Park, in Anacostia. I will miss being so close to New York, to Philly, to Atlanta, to Boston.

And all those things and places and events are great because they are filled with great people. I know that I can go to, say, Fort Reno alone, but that I’ll see friends and acquaintances that I genuinely enjoy. It is stability in relationships and confidence in my social life that I’ll miss the most, and no bucket list can give me enough of that.


Walking home from Black Cat with Justin (via Kate)

The Chapter In Your Life Entitled

I was in San Francisco for nearly three weeks, from mid-February to the beginning of March.

Now, I’m moving there.

Last Thursday, I accepted a job with design megafirm Gensler, with its San Francisco office’s marketing team. I’m terrified; excited; panicked about moving myself and my stuff across the country; worried about saving money; happy to know that in less than a month, I’ll be in the same city as my boyfriend; and thrilled to be working for a company I’ve had eyes for since I did that one-year stunt in architecture school.

Things have been so crazy that I haven’t had time to finish the giant post I started about my visit. I’ll revisit that later and likely repackage it with my observations from living out there once my life calms down.(Short notes: lines everywhere; cash-only places everywhere; surprisingly few Google Glass sightings; Free Gold Watch is the coolest; everything is naturally beautiful; it’s stupid-easy to enjoy San Francisco and I get why people fetishize it there.)

I’ve been in D.C. proper for four years, in the immediate metro area for five, and—save for my freshman year at University of Colorado—in the region for my entire life. I don’t take leaving here lightly, and wouldn’t be going if it weren’t for what I believe will be an incredible career experience. D.C. is the best place in the world. The people in my life are the best I never knew I was allowed to ask for. The thought of losing the closeness and easy social flow I’ve established here is devastating. But this move is a net good, I think—and who knows what might happen to you then?

Marketing! at Transpo Camp 2014


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 »

Jan Gehl at the National Building Museum, 2014 Edition

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 »

January Leesburg Loop Ride Report

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.

Ferry!, via Ryan

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.

UX For the First Time

A UX manager’s brain, per Adaptive Path

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.


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