+ transportation

Whether you are commuting to work or traveling for leisure, transportation is a major aspect of our daily lives. Disparities in transportation related issues can adversely impact black urban spaces. Despite the challenges, new solutions are invigorating hope.

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Oonee: The Next Cool Thing for Urban Transportation

Byron A. Nicholas, AICP - May 9, 2019

An Interview with Oonee’s Co-Founder Shabazz Stuart

Black + Urban had a wonderful opportunity to interview Shabazz Stuart, Co-Founder of Oonee. During an exclusive tour at one of Shabazz’s Oonee pods in Downtown Manhattan, we were given an inside look at how Oonee provides a unique and innovative service to urban transportation while providing additional public amenities complimented by a stellar aesthetic to the urban realm.


Racism in Transportation Policy is Inconvenient, Unjust and Can Have Deadly Effects

Byron A. Nicholas, AICP - August 1, 2018

Today we see the effects of historic U.S transportation policy that has proven to be disadvantageous to Black urban spaces. 


Does Race Matter When Giving up Your Seat to Someone on Public Transit?

Byron A. Nicholas, AICP - July 15, 2018

Perceived crime and negative media portrayal  may be factors that induce public transit racial Micro-aggressions that is related to increased stress and anxiety on victims. This article takes a look at what the MTA and other transit agencies can do to reduce racial prejudices on public transit.

+  S O C I A L U R B A N I S M

Amazon Played Y’all - Part 1

Coretta Mondesir - November 14, 2018

Long Island City, Queens -  “N” Train Heading into Queensboro Plaza’s Station amongst the neighborhood’s new highrises.

Long Island City, Queens - “N” Train Heading into Queensboro Plaza’s Station amongst the neighborhood’s new highrises.


All year, we saw major cities across the country acting like kids trying to be picked for a game of dodgeball, to become the hub for Amazon’s new headquarters. Amazon is a powerhouse of a company, it has millions of consumers, hundreds of thousands of employees, and Jeff Bezos’s wealth makes the President seethe at his $156B net worth. (Yes billions)


On its grandiose hunt for a new headquarters, cities laid out the red carpet to attract Amazon’s newest headquarters. It was quite a spectacle as billions of dollars in incentives and subsidies were thrown at the feet of Amazon in an effort to court the company. NYC, unnecessarily, participated in the contest offering short of a blood sample to get the tech giant’s attention. Even Governor Cuomo jokingly suggested changing his name to Amazon Cuomo if that is what it takes to win Amazon’s heart; all while not disclosing how much of the city’s wallet he was willing to open up to the company.


Ultimately, NYC runs the risk of Amazon being the guest that eats all your food, and uses your hairbrush; while your left broke, tired, and with an empty fridge.


J-O-B-S. A single word has the country going wild for Amazon. Employment is usually the main ingredient that brings the depth, the flavor, and adds to the presentation of the plate. Employment, especially jobs with higher wages, means greater tax revenue. Greater tax revenue gives the city more money to play with to allocate towards policies that matter. It also means assumes consumer spending, which in turn means more revenue via things like sales tax.


That all sounds great, so what is wrong with Amazon in NYC? Giving tax breaks to corporations to earn tax revenue on its employees makes you question who the government represents. Re-directing valuable and limited resources to a single company is terrible economic policy that can do more harm than good. Especially for low to middle income constituents, and people of color.


Amazon promises 25,000 jobs, which sounds incredible since low to middle-income New Yorkers need diversity in workplace options with opportunities for a living wage, and social mobility. But how many of those jobs will be given to actual New Yorkers? Especially New Yorkers of color? NYC already is a hub for transplants, and telecommuters across different industries such as finance and fashion. Bringing e-commerce to NYC will definitely add to the sexiness of the city; but not if we have to pay for it and not if we cannot demand a commitment to minorities.


With a name like Amazon moving in, there’s the potential for an influx of people willing to move to NYC too. This can further exacerbate NYC’s housing crisis. Simply, more people require more housing; in which the latter is something NYC just does not have. The city already is in desperate need of creative solutions to combat the umbrella problem of lack of affordable housing, and its spokes of homelessness and gentrification. All which disproportionately affects people of color.


Additionally, the strain on New York City’s transportation system will be overwhelming. Ask any New Yorker their biggest gripe of the city, and the first thing may very well be the MTA”. Between DiBlasio and Cuomo playing divorcees who don’t want to accept responsibility for the failing transit system, adding more people will add to the congestion and frustration of commuting in the city. More people on the same resources will put a stronger strain on the system. Adding more people in Long Island City, will put a greater burden on the G line which may already crack under the pressure of the L line the MTA plans to take down. All while placing a cap on ride-sharing.


They say, you have to spend money to make money, but what’s the price of the livelihood of current constituents? Amazon is a giant, but NYC is the Big Apple; greater negotiations could have been made to ensure New Yorkers actually won something from this deal.


#Amazon, #NYC, #Cuomo, #DiBlasio, #Economic development, #Minorities, #Low

Income, #Middle Income, #Affordable Housing, #MTA, #Jobs, #Employment





+  S O C I A L U R B A N I S M

Amazon Played Y’all - Part 2

Coretta Mondesir - January 26, 2019

Newark, New Jersey - One of Amazon’s Top Contenders for their New Headquarters -  Photo by  Michael Moloney  on  Unsplash

Newark, New Jersey - One of Amazon’s Top Contenders for their New Headquarters - Photo by Michael Moloney on Unsplash


Imagine a game where all the players are asked to show their best cards, and then the dealer selects who would help him take the pot. Would you play?

Cities across the countries showed their best hand and Amazon selected the one that best served their very own interest. Let's face it, Amazon can thrive in any city it chooses to be in, and it had the opportunity to be on the right side of history and make ground breaking news by choosing a city like Detroit, who has been struggling to overcome the blight of the auto industry. Or if East Coast was where it was at, Newark, NJ should have received the bid. Newark has the potential to be an anchor for a major industry and the capacity for growth, as it has the space, with unused or underdeveloped land; and the people, with reputable colleges and universities like Seton Hall and Rutgers Newark Campus.

The tech giant had a chance to be philanthropic; simply because they can afford to. Granted, they don’t have to, but surely one can remember how they managed to not only survive, but grow, back when they weren’t even making a profit. They missed a chance to pay it forward; and once they become too big for their britches, they risk Americans canceling them almost as fast as Black people canceled Kanye.

But if their sights were set on NYC, as it is the greatest city in the world; (Say otherwise to any New Yorker, and see what happens); they had the opportunity to make a great city even better. Because with greatness comes major flaws. NYC is in critical condition when it comes to poverty, lack of affordable housing, and disparaging transportation.

That’s why NYC should not have entered the contest. If Amazon wanted to choose NYC on nothing other than its greatness, it could have been a win-win for both parties. While a company like Amazon setting up a headquarters or even a large satellite location is likely to cause disruption anyway, it’s the granting of incentives that makes this deal so much worse.  

At first glance, sacrificing 1.5B in revenue for a $10 billion return sounds, well, smart. Without even calculating the multiplier effect, surely the benefits will be the gift that keeps on giving.

However, $10 billion, over the course of 20 years, in projected tax revenue is not enough . New Yorkers need solid economic policy to promote social mobility. People of color need real opportunities for advancement. Amazon should not be and would not have been the answer to all of NYC's problems, but it could have created a pathway and set the standard of philanthropic behaviors for large corporations.


What deal(s) should have been made?

Commitment to Education

There should be a partnership with CUNY for apprenticeships to include on-the-job training. Many middle-class families cannot afford to have college students taking on post-graduate internships. An apprenticeship would allow for concurrent work and school and create a pathway for a technical trade. All apprenticeships should be combined with free-tuition assistance for participants that do not qualify for the Excelsior scholarship.


Commitment to Diversity

Amazon should not only employ, but commit to having Leadership positions for people of color and minorities. Having diverse people at the table not only grants opportunities to those that need it most, it also ensures that all points of views are considered before decisions are made. No company wants to encounter issues like H&M or Starbucks because of a lack of diversity and inclusion.


Commitment to Economic Development

Long island City is already stressed with high rises and real estate at astronomical prices; especially since the rezoning efforts under the Bloomberg Administration from manufacturing to mixed-use. This deal could have been a great opportunity to bring large companies back into suburbia, and lessen the concentration of high paying jobs being in proximity to Manhattan. Shorter commutes would mean for happier and more productive employees. Other neighborhoods to consider could have been College Point, or Jamaica, Queens; neighborhoods in East or South Brooklyn; or areas in the Bronx.      

NYC did not secure the bag

Ultimately, NYC signed up to lose $1.5B before it was even earned. $1.5 billion dollars in subsidies may very well be peanuts to a company that values at a trillion dollars. But 1.5 billion in lost revenue means the world to a city that lacks affordable housing, struggling transit, and a wide wealth gap.

Parting thoughts…

How could $1.5 billion in tax revenue help NYC now?


  • Circumvent or delay the planned MTA fare hike of 2019 and 2022.

  • Expedite the projected $477 million repairs on the L train that will displace residents and small businesses alike.

  • Fix the signal problems commuters experience daily, especially during rush hour.


  • Create more affordable housing units for the hard-working New Yorkers that pay more than 40% of their income on rent, or put up with the roommate that forgets to buy toilet paper.

  • Programs to assist New Yorkers through home ownership

  • Sustainable pathways to curb homelessness.


  • Provide free after-school for all children who attend public schools from kindergarten to 12th grade.

  • Increase in pay for teachers.

  • Additional funding for school supplies, so parents don’t have to buy tissues and hand sanitizers for classrooms

Prison Reform

  • Release folks held on bail for minutia dollar amounts

Share your thoughts! How could NYC spend 1.5B? #NYC1Billion

#Amazon, #NYC, #Detroit, #Newark #MTA, #AffordableHousing, #Education, #Diversity, #Inclusion, #EconomicDevelopment



+ H O U S I N G 

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+ T R A N S P O R T A T I O N

Racism in Transportation Policy is Inconvenient, Unjust and Can Have Deadly Effects

Byron A. Nicholas, AICP - August 1, 2018

Traffic on the Kensington Expressway Leading to Downtown Buffalo, N.Y.  - Courtesy of Michel G. via  Flickr

Traffic on the Kensington Expressway Leading to Downtown Buffalo, N.Y. - Courtesy of Michel G. via Flickr


Racism in Transportation Policy is Inconvenient, Unjust and Can Have Deadly Effects

Historically, transportation policies have not been kind to black spaces. Local, state and federal transportation related laws and regulations have relentlessly sabotaged or neglected Black communities. It a complete myth to believe that segregation leading to the Civil Rights movement was only unique to American southern states. The historic Black migration of the mid 20th century has created a major shift in race relations throughout U.S cities. Black communities in northern states were subject to both open and subtle racist transportation policies just as much as the south. To this day, Black spaces are trying their best to recover from the inconvenient, unjust and deadly transportation policies instated by government.

Cynthia Wiggins

Most Americans are familiar with the story about Rosa Parks and her heroic role during the Civil Rights era.  However, the fight for racial justice in transportation did not end with her. Cynthia Wiggins has sparked a local victory in the Buffalo, NY region but, unfortunately, has not lived to reap its benefits.  Cynthia was on her way to work at Walden Galleria Mall, located in Cheektowaga, NY, a small Buffalo suburban town. She was then hit by a dump truck after departing from a public bus on Walden Avenue, a major arterial road, and trying to cross 6 lanes of traffic. At that time, public buses were not allowed to enter the mall to prevent “rowdy kids” from entering. Testimony provided insight that the mall acted to discriminate against African-Americans and people with low incomes. Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. received praise in the high-profile lawsuit which ended with a $2.5 million settlement to the Wiggins family. The bus route is now allowed to pass through the mall’s property to pick-up and drop-off passengers.


W.E.B DuBois’ Double Consciousness and its Effects on African American Commuters

For over 50 years, during America’s Jim Crow Era segregation in public spaces including public transit was legal and was upheld on the grounds of separate but equal by the Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). Until the Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education (1954), African Americans were forced to occupy the rear of transportation areas for the convenience and comfort of white passengers and utilize inadequate public facilities such as water fountains and restrooms. This idea of being separate, but clearly not equal, which promotes inferiority, likely had devastating mental effects on African American’s self-esteem and confidence to this day.  W.E.B Du Bois first coined the term “double consciousness” which originally referred to the psychology of "always looking at one's self through the eyes of others". Considering the volatile state of race relations in this country and the portrayal of African-Americans by corporate news media, I would not be surprised if many African-Americans would agree that they fall victim to double consciousness while commuting.

Highway Construction in Predominately Black and/or Low-Income Neighborhoods

Highways splitting black neighborhoods throughout the country was nothing out of the ordinary in the mid 20th century. Below are three examples of how highways were strategically designed through Black communities. Generally speaking, properties occupied by Black families and businesses were considered low in value and their locations were prime to link suburban living with downtown jobs. Some communities felt major socio-economic impacts by the physical split of highways in their communities as it either disrupted prosperous Black communities or exacerbated the effects of poverty in others.

  • The Cross-Bronx Expressway, Bronx, NY

Conceived, designed and coordinated by Robert Moses throughout the 1940s and 1950s, the Expressway divided north Bronx from south Bronx.

  • Humboldt Parkway Conversion into the Kensington Expressway, Buffalo, NY

In a campaign to "alleviate traffic blight", city planners and officials overpowered, at the time, predominately working-class Whites to construct the Kensington Expressway. The demolition of homes started in 1958 and 10 years later near the completion of the expressway, bottleneck traffic occurred and traffic accidents worsened.

Local politicians and community leaders have lobbied for the Governor and the New York State Department of Transportation to study the restoration of the Humboldt Parkway. If the project is moves form the planning stage to the construction stage, it would provide an opportunity for Buffalo's Black neighborhoods to restore more trees, reduce air and noise pollution and increase property values. Check out the study on NY DOT's website by clicking here.

  • Interstate-95 in Overtown, Miami, FL

Although an alternate route proposed by Miami City Planners would have preserved Overtown, in 1956, the Florida State Road Department created plans that routed Interstate-95 (I-95) through central portions of Overtown to better allow for the westward expansion of the Central Business District.

Check out the slideshow below for more information on how the construction and presence of the Interstate-95 and Kensington Expressway have impacted the people living in the Bronx, Buffalo, NY and Overtown, Miami, NY.


What are some of its positive and negative impacts of massive highways running through your neighborhood?

What can city planners and government officials do to help alleviate the negative impacts from these highways on Black communities?


+ T R A N S P O R T A T I O N

Does Race matter when giving up your seat to someone on public transit?

Byron A. Nicholas, AICP - July 28, 2018

Commuters on a NYC train during rush hour.  Courtesy of Aldon Photos

Commuters on a NYC train during rush hour. Courtesy of Aldon Photos


The City of New York is known for its diversity by socio-economic status, age and of course race. One can find a myriad of different dialects, accents and languages during the duration of a single subway ride. Much of the city’s recent population boom and increase in mixed neighborhood demographics can be attributed to the Bloomberg administration’s rezoning policy that has spurred housing development in low income minority neighborhoods. This mixture of people now contributes to unique encounters between different races, particularly Black and White, in public spaces including public transit. As a daily workday commuter, conscious of the racial climate throughout the country and the cultural changes in New York, I constantly ask myself “are people of color, particularly African Americans, treated differently when it comes to comfort and courtesy on the city's buses and trains?” Let us take a look to see how mainstream stereotypes affect the way African Americans are perceived on the city's mass transit system and how greater cultural acceptance can be achieved for all cultures within NYC’s public transit system.

During my workday commute on the E train in Queens, I frequently ponder how other African-American commuters are perceived by White commuters. I also wonder if other African-Americans are as race-conscious as I am on the City’s bus and trains. For example, am I perceived to be a robber or thug depending on my clothes because I fit a depiction created and perpetuated by corporate news media? African Americans are constantly prejudged in various places including school and work, as the hit HBO TV series Insecure portrays, but often too, we are branded by strangers in public settings. This may suggest underlying micro-aggressions leading to feelings of insecurity, inferiority and inadequacy. In the article, Racial Micro-aggressions in Everyday Life, the writers, Derald Wing Sue, Cristina M. Capodilupo, et al., explain that racial micro-aggressions are “subtle, stunning, often automatic, non-verbal, exchanges which are ‘put downs.’ The article continues to explain racial micro-aggressions as “subtle insults, verbal/non-verbal, and/or visual directed toward people of color, often automatically or unconsciously.” Therefore, the snubs, tightly clutched handbags, dismissive looks, shifty eyes, and gestures are usually dismissed as normal behavior by White commuters, but can be harmful to the victims which are usually people of color.

Upon observation, depending on circumstances, it seems as though some African Americans may constantly try to uphold their existence as a person of color in the presence of White commuters while others may engage in feelings of inferiority to compromise their comfort for that of white commuters.  

The Perception of Crime and its Effects on Black Commuters

In my opinion, there is no doubt that the media's perception of young black individuals plays a role in the generalization of young African Americans on public transportation. The deaths of Tamir Rice (12) and Michael Brown (18) are examples of how police officers react in fear when encountering African American children.  The American media portrays little boys and girls of color as hyper aggressive.  This perception perpetuates the idea that African-American boys and girls are more violent and more mature for their age than their white counterparts. The critically acclaimed Netflix documentary "13th" directed by Ava DuVernay does a brilliant job explaining the chronological events of how African-Americans, particularly black men were perceived as ultra-sexual, aggressive and dangerous from the antebellum years to contemporary time.

The greatest example of this is the story of Emmitt Till, a 14 year old African-American boy, murdered in 1955 in Mississippi after allegedly whistling at Carolyn Bryant, a White woman, although decades later Carolyn confessed that her testimony was fabricated.  We all hear about people of color followed by store clerks and law enforcement, and many stories of women clutching their handbags when around African Americans on city trains and buses.  If this is due to crime rates in African-American communities it does not give one the right to generalize and prejudge a person based on statistics about an entire race. Unfortunately, this generalization comes with consequences on public transit systems where a white person may have a racial preference when choosing to sit next to African Americans or in extreme cases White commuters’ faces filled with disgust for sitting in proximity to some African American commuters, or in extreme cases.


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Does Race matter when giving up your seat to someone on public transit?

New Yorkers rely on the city's vast public transit system not only to commute to  school or work, but as an alternative for drunk driving, and to run daily errands, especially for mothers who may need to transport their kids to and from school, doctor visits or simply for leisure purposes such as trips to a park or a museum. I have seen White, African American and Latina women of all socio-economic backgrounds on the city's trains and buses. But are these women with their children treated differently based on their race/ethnicity? Do commuters perceive the health, welfare and safety of a white child to be more concerning than that of an African American child? The answer to this question based on my observations is yes; African American and Latina mothers and children seem to be less likely offered a seat than white mothers by their fellow commuters. Similarly, MIC News reported on a study by Portland State University and the University of Arizona, which has found that African-American pedestrians face worse treatment than White pedestrians, including 32% longer wait times by drivers while walking in crosswalks. This reverts back to the issue of subconscious racism.

I have also observed on many occasions that African Americans were quicker to give up their seats to white women and their children than to those of other minorities, almost as though the latter were an afterthought. It almost reminds me of "Driving Ms. Daisy", where some African-Americans have been programmed to provide service to White Americans during the country’s Jim Crow era.  This erroneous stereotype feeds into other false stereotypes such as African Americans being genetically stronger than their white peers; further perpetuating the false perception that African American mothers and children are able to stand longer without discomfort.

Education and Awareness is Key!

Although federal regulations such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the American's with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) has tremendously aided the safety and welfare of public transit commuters throughout the country, education and awareness combatting racial prejudices is often left to American values. Prior to social media platforms, African Americans and other minority ethnic groups relied on a few mediums such as magazines and TV shows to affirm their culture and identity in society, particularly in public spaces. Now, Tumblr, Instagram and Twitter allow platforms for people of color to help eliminate the stereotypes and the double consciousness that may contribute to minority’s discomfort in public spaces including public transit.

NYC's Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has lead a strong gender neutral campaign and can do the same for racial tolerance.  Here is where the MTA’s Diversity Committee and the State of New York have the opportunity to promote racial and ethnic inclusiveness and acceptance on transit by celebrating the cultural diversity of passengers through advertisements and announcements. An MTA educational campaign has the potential to inform patrons that it's okay to look different while riding public transit with the goal to reduce racially induced biases and prejudices. Click here to leave a comment on MTA's Customer Support Team application to hold the agency accountable to increase ethnic inclusiveness. (In the MTA Service drop-down box click MTA Corporate Office -Suggestions- and Policies, Rules and Regulations.) Don't forget to leave a comment suggesting that the MTA make a racial and ethnic inclusive campaign comprised of announcements and advertisements for zero-tolerance of racial micro-aggressions and stereotypes, which has no place in our subways and society. 

If you live outside the New York City region you can lobby your local transit authority to enact similar diversity campaigns.

So the next time you ride alongside someone with differences in skin color, language, or religious wear - i.e, a hijab, a kippah, a kufi or a turban – just remember that you and them are just simple additions to the unique cultural fabric of New York City and/or the United States of America.


+ T O U R I S M 

How Tourism Can Help Boost Black Urban Spaces

Byron A. Nicholas, AICP - August 1, 2018

Kings Theater, Flatbush, Brooklyn -  Courtesy of Garrett Ziegler via  Flickr

Kings Theater, Flatbush, Brooklyn - Courtesy of Garrett Ziegler via Flickr


Tourism is a viable source of income for millions of people around the world. Although the United States has the largest travel economy in the world, at $488 billion, people in communities throughout the world rely on the revenue from tourists to make ends meet. The World Travel and Tourism Council has found that the tourism industry consists of 10% of the world’s GDP and 1 in every 10 jobs are supported by the industry.

In America, cities and towns invests millions of dollars to lure tourists to their destinations. Most of those investments go towards downtown streetscape improvements, sport arena rehabilitation projects, wayfinding, crime prevention tactics, public transportation and improvements. The goal of these investments are to create an ultimate user experience for visitors. 

In contrast, little investments from government go towards communities of color and specifically Black spaces. If low-middle income communities can utilize tourism as a meaningful source of income in other countries then the same logic can be applied to low-middle income black communities in the United States.  

There needs to be a larger interest to increase tourism in Black urban spaces throughout America. Advocating for more black tour guides and bringing tourists to Black urban spaces can have many positive impact ranging from economic to social and cultural benefits. Some advantages for tourism in Black urban spaces can:

1: Increase business for the local economy through local mom and pop stores. 

2:  Provide a primary or secondary source of income for Black tour guides.

3: Introduce people from other cultures to foods that represent Africa and its diaspora. 

4:  Raise awareness of Black history in a community. 

5:  Raise the level of compassion understanding and respect for black spaces and communities. 

Cities such as Atlanta, New York and the Washington D.C/Alexandria V.A regions offers great opportunities to experience African-American history and culture. Visitors in Atlanta, GA can experience Dr. Martin Luther King's legacy from his birth place to the many cultural centers he has inspired. D.C/Alexandria VA offers a series of museums, theaters, houses and restaurants owned by prominent Black owned figures and Howard University, a Historically Black University that has paved the way for many successful Black leaders including Zora Neal Hurston, Carter G. Woodson, and Thurgood Marshall. In New York,

Harlem is known to be the prominent quintessential African-American neighborhood with unique cultural sites and amenities. Over time other note-worthy African/Caribbean-American neighborhoods throughout Brooklyn and Queens such as Flatbush, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Jamaica have surfaced, offering unique cultural experiences.

These cities and a few others across America have large Black cultural influences that can offer a unique taste to a visitor's palette. Equally as important, there are American historic and cultural sites that are situated in Black neighborhoods throughout the country that are worth seeing.  

Black spaces and neighborhoods have interesting stories to tell, compelling people to meet, taste-worthy foods to and riveting cultural institutions that can all be successfully curated from a Black cultural perspective. 

The benefits of tourism in black communities are endless.  

Check out Steps on Becoming an Independent Neighborhood Curator (Tour Guide) to find out more on the ins and outs of being a Neighborhood Curator including how to get your start in the industry and pointing out some of its limitations.



Bon Appétit: Changing the Way We Grow and Eat Produce 


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+ T O U R I S M 

Travel to Black Destinations

Byron A. Nicholas, AICP - June 2, 2018

Cruise Ship Docking in Fort-De-France Harbor, Martinique, France

Cruise Ship Docking in Fort-De-France Harbor, Martinique, France


One of the greatest opportunities afforded to mankind is the ability to travel and experience different places and people throughout the world.  When it comes to tourism, Black spaces are not treated the same as white Spaces. A vast majority of predominately Black destinationas are known to exhibit Heaven on Earth comfort levels. However, there are some uniquely Black destinations that are often overlooked by tourists due to stereotypes and perceived danger. For one, negative prejudices looms around Black communities and spaces which, in effect, contribute to avoidance and neglect by tour companies. Depending on the context, tourists either do not get the full experience of Black spaces or in some cases in the Caribbean, tourists via cruise companies are able to take economic advantage of local businesses.

For example, the Caribbean hosts the largest market for the cruise ship tourism industry.  large million dollar cruise ship companies tour the Caribbean isles where the cruise ships raise social impact concerns and economically disadvantage many local businesses and public infrastructure. According to The Impact of the Cruising Industry on Local Destination there are three major concerns about cruise tourism in the Caribbean:

1. Local merchants and tour operators earn considerably less than the cruise liners for the products they provide

2. Improper usage of infrastructure – sewage and water systems, roads and paths and;

3. People pollution that may have adverse social impacts. 

Thoroughly Research Your Destination

If you travel by plane to your destination, tourists are often warned and deterred from exploring certain neighborhoods. No matter how unique the place may be, most tourists will not want to travel to a particular community if they perceive it to be unsafe and dangerous. I mean, can we really blame the tourists? Safety comes first, however, always remember that perceived crime is different from actual crime. This is why it is very important to do research on your destination before traveling and booking accommodations.

Find a Local Tour Guide

It is highly recommended to find a legitimate local tour guide from the country's tourism website or travel agency to explore neighborhoods tucked away from most visitors. This way, you would build a trustful relationship with the tour guide and boost the local economy by spending money on food, activities and transportation the locals have to offer. 

Some tour companies have the right idea. A more local example takes a look at a bus touring company. Gray Line  New York’s Sightseeing offers uptown loop tours to Harlem, a predominately Black neighborhood in uptown Manhattan. Tour buses allow passengers to view this historic black neighborhood with stops to many notable sites in Harlem which, in effect, maximizes tourist to local business transactions and social interactions. 



+ S O C I A L U R B A N I S M

Meet Chadd Roberts: A True Bicyclist of New York City

By: Chadd Roberts and Byron A. Nicholas, AICP - February 1st, 2019

Chadd in Rockaway Beach, Queens, N.Y.    - Courtesy of Chadd Roberts

Chadd in Rockaway Beach, Queens, N.Y. - Courtesy of Chadd Roberts


If you have studied urban planning in school, you probably came across the book: Bicycle Diaries by David Byrne. It is a collection of Byrne’s thoughts about the urban realm, the good, the bad and the ugly.

When we think about bicycling in New York, we often think of Citibike used in the streets of Manhattan for short trips. It is rare that we picture bicyclists using this form of transportation throughout the extensive outer boroughs.


Who is Chadd Roberts?

Chadd’s pictures and videos proves that New York City is far from Homogoneous.

With approximately 700 square miles of residential, commercial, industrial, public Chadd identifies as Afro-Caribbean. He was born and raised on a little autonomous island in the Caribbean called Grenada where he has spent his adolescent years in Grenada Boys’ Secondary School and then T.A. Marry Show Community College.

After leaving Grenada , he then became a U.S Navy Corpsman with 6 years of tenure.

Some of his main hobbies includes playing billiard, video games, hiking, swimming at the beach, recreational photography and biking right-of way, and waterfront space, the City is truly like no other.

Bicycling for a Living

There is a rising bicycling population due to the expansion of the shared economy, increased safety by installing bicycle infrastructure and less dependence on automobiles, Chadd uses his bicycle for work and leisure. His pictures provides a bicyclist’s experience not only in Manhattan, but also the outer boroughs. Chadd works as a server at a Korean restaurant called Bann,but also work as a courier - using his bicycle - for Postmates and Uber Eats. By using Google Map’s timeline Chadd was able to record his bicycling routes within 24 hour periods. Below, you would see the distances Chadd has taken. In one day, Chadd has bicycled for an amazing 52 miles within 7 1/2 hours traversing throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn. In another trip, Chad has bicycled between Far Roackaway, Queens, Brooklyn and Midtown, Manhattan for 35 miles and walked another 5 1/2 miles for a total of 4 hours. During his third trip, he has bicycled for 28 miles within a 3 1/2 hour period during the West Indian Day parade on Labor Day 2018.

Urban Art

I love the independence of being able to pedal and get places by my own effort, seeing life unfold while I’m on the road and experiencing new things every day.
— Chadd Roberts

Chadd’s journey throughout the streets of New York displays a vibrant public art gallery that expresses the characteristics of everyday people. Whether it is the love for Dragon Ball Z, Puerto Rican patriotism, humanity, mysticism, Black pride, or simple warm color palettes to brighten a neighborhood.

When asked, which neighborhood stands out the most, in terms of character, history, architecture, and culture, Chadd replied “ I enjoy bike riding through all the neighborhoods, but so far, mostly for the art and food, I love riding through Bushwick.”

The placement of the above various murals and graffiti art was just as interesting as the art itself. Distractions can prevent many of us from engaging with our surroundings. Much of the art are in conspicuous locations while others were in high building facade elevations, engulfed entire facades or were simply mobile like on trucks. Chadd’s Instagram page provides a great collection of all the public art and murals he comes across during his trips. You can see more at: @supersaiyan_aaron


In a city where 56% of commuters take public transit, 26% drive, 10% walk. 4.1% work at home, 1.2% bike, and the remaining either carpool or taxi to work, courtesy of the U.S Census, the City of New York has attempted to accommodate safety, mobility and accessibility for all modes of transportation throughout the 5 boroughs. A lot of steam and attention has been picking up for the loud minority of bicycle riders. However, every year, the city is investing time and effort into protecting cyclists. In fact, according to NYC Department of Transportation the city continue to implement 50 lane miles of bicycle facilities a year, including at least ten lane miles of protected bicycle lanes and create or enhance 75 lane miles of bicycle facilities in Priority Bicycle Districts by 2022.

Do you think the city has done a good job promoting the safety and welfare for bicyclists?

Chadd agrees the city is doing a great job to protect cyclists. “I think we can see this by the addition bike lane miles, Vision Zero program (including free helmets, bells and lights), and the city’s collaboration with the Ghost Bikes campaign to raise awareness for bike safety.” Chadd also mentioned, “ ever since the terrorist truck attack that mainly affected cyclists on the West Side highway, the city added bollards, and other protective barriers at vulnerable areas to separate vehicular traffic from bicycle and pedestrian traffic.

What recommendations would you make for the city to improve bicyclist's safety?

Chadd believes its up to cyclists, drivers and pedestrians to stay alert, mindful and aware of other modes of transportation. “I think the city is going in the right direction when it comes to safety we can’t be overly dependent on them for it. As long as people are being vigilant and aware of their surroundings whether as a pedestrian, motorist or the cyclist themselves, they’ll be better off prepared to avoid mishaps.” Afterall, a little compassion goes a long way.


+ T O U R I S M

Steps on Becoming an Independent Neighborhood Curator (Tour Guide)

Byron A. Nicholas, AICP - September 1, 2018

A walk over the Williamsburg Bridge  Courtesy of Aldon Photos.

A walk over the Williamsburg Bridge Courtesy of Aldon Photos.


One may think tour guides are only unique to exotic destinations with warm weather, unfamiliar plants and animals not native to the American mainland.

The fact is, everyone, over the age of 18 has the potential to be a tour guide, or as I like to call it a travel connoisseur, or better yet, a neighborhood curator.

A neighborhood curator is defined as a person who creates unique experiences from the assets a neighborhood has to offer. If your town or city have notable places of interests, including galleries, museums, restaurants and eateries, an art scene, or anything unique from other places, you are able to create an experience for tourists. 

Creativity in Curating

We were all shocked and saddened by the apparent suicide of Anthony Bourdain. He has left a remarkable legacy on both the food and tourism industry. His show, Anthony Bourdain, Parts Unknown was widely successful due to his willingness to showcase not-so notable places. Some of his show's selected locations have opened our minds to sections of the world and parts of cities that no one cared to explore. He understood that different cultural perspectives were important and Black spaces in particular, were worth exploring. Bourdain has catalyzed the potential of the tourism industry by exploring the social, economic and cultural aspects of places through food.

Bourdain used food as a medium to link cultural similarities and differences between the places he visited. Art is another medium that can be used as a medium to tell a story of a neighborhood or city. Museums, cultural centers and many other amenities can be used as a focal interest to showcase the culture and history of a neighborhood or city. The point is that a well curated tour can compel a visitor to fully engage in  unique aspects of what cities and neighborhoods have to offer.

Some urban tours feature the art of graffiti and murals as the basis of their tours. Modern graffiti was first considered a nuance in urban areas such as Philadelphia and New York, affiliated with the early hip-hop movement. But now, modern graffiti and tagging has popped up in trendy neighborhoods and art galleries all over the world.

There is creativity in designing your routes, stops, locations and even means of transportation to show tourists around.

As a business entrepreneur, a neighborhood curator either work full time as their main source of income or work part time on weekends to supplement their current income. You can create individual tours or group tours, it really depends on your comfort level. 

Here are a few things to keep in mind when becoming a neighborhood curator:

1. Find out if your city or town requires a certification to become a tour guide.

Some municipalities  require a permit or license to conduct tours. For example, New York, Washington D.C require tour guides to be licensed.

If your municipality does not require any license or certification, then that is one less step to worry about.

2. Tourists Want to Hear Interesting Stories

As a neighborhood curator, you would be able to tell a story of your neighborhood. Here are some important questions to ask yourself:

Who or what are important people, places or things in your neighborhood? I.e- famous parks, eateries and public spaces.

Who were the first to do what and where? 

What interesting buildings were erected?

What movements were started here?

When did the neighborhood endure its ups and downs?

What are some of the neighborhood's future planning prospects? I.e - such as a new subway station.

3. Tourists Will Be Hungry

One of the best things that can link cultures, support local businesses and engage conversations is food. Local food spots are prevalent in large urban areas and are usually unique to each neighborhood. A great example to do this is by curating a food tour around cuisine unique to Black populations. For example, you can bring tourists on a food tour to sample Afro-Caribbean cuisine in Flatbush Brooklyn via places like Mangoseed Restaurant, as shown in the 4 pictures above.

It is highly recommended that you find a few of the best eateries and casual restaurants in your neighborhood to share with tourists. Casual eateries or restaurants with take out menus are best for short waits and appetizers to eat on the go. Consider creating a deal with these restaurants through a MOU (mémorandum of understanding) where discounts can be provided to your tourists.

4: Which platforms allow you to advertise your neighborhood curating business?

Airbnb created an Activities platform on their website. In addition to booking places for accommodations, users can now book experiences from locals. In fact, Essence Magazine highlights some Black neighborhood curators that uses the Airbnb platform. 

Large cities may have a tourism and travel website where you can find a list of resources. It's highly advisable to utilize this resource for exposure and marketing.

Social media is a great tool to reach international audiences. Creating a hashtag can link a wide range of audiences to your local website for publicity. 

5: Limitations

Not all culturally rich neighborhoods are located in the heartland of cities.  New York for example features great Afro-Caribbean neighborhoods in Crown Heights and Flatbush located in Brooklyn, which can be a 30 to 45 minute subway ride from some parts of Manhattan in which tourists resides. Other ethnically rich neighborhoods are found throughout Queens.

It is not expected for a tour to visit every place of interest, but breaking up tours by geographic location would be helpful for big cities like New York. In other cities, like Miami, you may need a vehicle to access some places of interests between the culture rich neighborhoods such as little Haiti and little Havana.

 Say No to Slum Tourism!

The sole purpose of introducing, reinforcing and promoting tourism to African-Americans and for Black neighborhoods is to provide economic opportunities and raise positive cultural awareness about Black urban spaces.

BLACK+URBAN does not, in any form, support slum touring, which is defined as seeking joy, pleasure or entertainment from viewing people in abject poverty. It is highly encouraged to highlight positive historic, present and future prospects of a neighborhood. For example, If a neighborhood curator would like to highlight historic events leading to the present conditions of a neighborhood,  it is recommended to do so with great empathy, sensibility and for educational purposes.

Notoriously dangerous neighborhoods

Discretion and precaution must be considered while hosting a tour. Always remember that perceived crime is different from actual crime, however it is not recommended to tour notoriously dangerous neighborhoods. 

The number one rule of thumb for touring a residential neighborhood is this: stick to main attractions, cultural centers, historic homes and culturally rich food. Speak about the history of a predominately residential neighborhood in a common area, and not in front of someone's home.

Coming Soon

Be sure to follow the Brooklyn and Queens’ neighborhood curator journey.



+  H A B I T A T I O N   &  S U S T A I N A B I L I T Y

The Master Planners of New York: Inside Look at Brownsville, BK

Byron A. Nicholas, AICP - August 15, 2018

Livonia Avenue Elevated Train Station  - Courtesy of DeShaun Craddock via  Flicker

Livonia Avenue Elevated Train Station - Courtesy of DeShaun Craddock via Flicker


Dependent, defenseless, disenfranchised, disabled, and vulnerable to change are usually the characteristics of impoverished and distressed neighborhoods. Neighborhood changes are all about who possesses the power or authority to do what. 

Let's see who possesses the most power to influence Black urban neighborhoods, explore the effects of being powerless in your neighborhood and how you can assert power in your neighborhood through non traditional ways. An example will exhibit the effects powerful decision makers have had on Brooklyn's notorious Brownsville neighborhood. 

For nearly a century, powerful decision-makers used their ability to physically and socially alter Brownsville making it resistant to gentrification as other NYC neighborhoods endured. But for this neighborhood, resistance to gentrification comes with a price.

To some, gentrification is a blessing, providing safer streets, more public infrastructure, and cool new bars and eateries. However, to many others, gentrification is an epidemic: displacing thousands of people, closing hundreds of mom and pop stores and depleting neighborhoods of what was strong and unique cultural values. 

Within the past decade, neighborhoods throughout the City of New York and throughout America has undergone some sort of urban resurgence, with improvements to streetscapes, transportation centers, civic centers and opportunities for new restaurants, bars, and galleries businesses. These physical and social changes have significantly impacted everyday life in the city and revitalizing once seemingly abandoned parts of the city. 

Brownsville is one of Brooklyn's eastern most neighborhoods, surrounded by Canarsie to its south, East New York to the east, Crown Heights and Bedford- Stuyvesant to its North and East Flatbush to its west. Compared to the city's 41% completed college education attainment and 11 percent unemployment rate, Brownsville is notoriously known as one of the City's most challenging neighborhoods with a dismal 18% completed college education attainment, 16% unemployment rate, the highest in injury assault rates and the second highest incarceration rate in the city.

If the residents of a poverty stricken neighborhood such as Brownsville are generalized as powerless, then who are the ones in power and possess the following characteristics: Authoritative, capable, dominating, forceful, and persuasive. 


Robert Moses, the "Master Planner"

Ever since its conception, it seems like Brownsville has been plagued by the effects of poverty. According to Ginia Bellafante's Resurrecting Brownsville, the neighborhood was once a predominately Jewish neighborhood, consisting of poor and working class residents, with a sustainable local economy. However, in the 1940s, the neighborhood was transformed to a public house mecca after slum clearance policies by Robert Moses relocated thousands of Black families in undesirable areas of the city. Brownsville, - which currently houses more than 21,000 people comprising of 1/3 of the neighborhood's population.- was a dumping ground for the City's relocated Black and poor families from more desired lands in Manhattan. 

Robert Moses played a major role in the physical transformation of many New York City neighborhoods throughout the Bronx, Manhattan and  Brooklyn, including Brownsville. ... Moses was known as a "master planner", New York City's Park Commissioner from 1934 to 1960, and Chairman of the Triboro Bridge and Tunnel authority from 1936 to 1968, and was responsible for building public beaches, pools, parks, parkways, bridges, tunnels, and highways throughout the city. Unfortunately, many of his projects were not inclusive to most of his constituents, the poor and people of color, including Black Americans and Puerto Ricans, who were migrating to New York en mass. 


Emperor Michael Bloomberg

Fast forward to the 21st century, Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration initiated a vigorous attempt to curtail homelessness and out-priced residents, but instead exacerbated the very same problems his administration tried to fix. During Bloomberg's 12 year tenure, NYC underwent a very apparent first wave of gentrification through housing and urban planning policies. The high disproportion between applicant to affordable housing was exacerbated by tens of thousand of affordable units went off-line as landlords exited subsidized programs and regulated apartments went market rate.

In addition, the administration was often blasted for poor management of the city’s public housing system, The city discontinued the "Advantage Program"  which gave homeless families priority for Section 8 vouchers, and cut funding to many rental assistance programs. 

The Bloomberg administration, under the Director of City Planning, Amanda Burden, re-zoned nearly 1/3 of the city's land uses to favor new residential and mixed use development allowing large development companies to participate in a land grab well into Di Blasio's Mayoral term. 


Bill Di Blasio 

Di Blasia's Housing policies are not that far from Bloomberg's. Despite the continuation of creating more affordable housing units, As part of the Mayor’s initiative to reduce the record level of homelessness in NYC, NYCHA completed the rehabilitation of 865 apartment to house homeless families from shelters into permanent homes.In addition, the city pays landlords more than $2,000 per month through the cluster-site program which incentivized landlords to push out low-income residents to house homeless men and women with guaranteed rent paid from the city. Anti-homelessness advocates criticize this policy as being wasteful and ineffective.

In attempt to curtail the homelessness problem in New York, Di Blasio has announced a plan to open nearly 100 homeless shelters throughout the City to reduce the number of homeless people who participate in the cluster-site program and reside in commercial hotels.  

These housing policies create new implications for a neighborhood like Brownsville, in which the City claims nearly 40% of residents live below the poverty level. Housing people without homes but need dire resources in an already low-income, poverty stricken community exacerbates the poverty level in the community and makes health and education resources become more scarce. Di Blasio, seems to have continued the same policy initiated by Robert Moses; concentrating the City's poor into undesirable neighborhoods.


Advancing a community-driven revitalization of Brownsville is personal to me; I was born in the community
— Eric Adams, Brooklyn Borough President


East New York Rezoning

Zoning is used as a tool to spur neighborhood economic redevelopment. The 2016 East New York rezoning Plan has sparked interest to investors and speculators after the City began investing nearly $100 million in public infrastructure projects. The neighborhood shares similar socio-economic demographics to Brownsville.

Some community advocates fear the rent and proposed amount of affordable housing units in East New York will not be enough to counter the effects of gentrification in the neighborhood, as tenants would still be pushed out by landlords to obtain higher rents.

To councilman Raphael Espinal Jr’s point, the rezoning will allow East New York to enjoy the neighborhood’s first state-of-the-art community center, 1,000 affordable housing unit,  a planned school, numerous park projects and streetscaping of Atlantic Avenue. To battle gentrification, under the Di Blasio administration and East New York’s councilman Espinal, the city has created a Homeowner Helpdesk for the borough and has invested nearly $93 million to provide free legal services for low-income residents facing anti-eviction legal services throughout the city.

Based on the East New York rezoning process, it becomes apparent that government intervention is necessary to prevent neighborhoods from collapsing or becoming exclusive to people who possess higher incomes. In addition, high standards need to be set from a coalition from neighborhood leaders including city council members who ultimately votes on rezoning plans. Can Brownsville benefit from a redeveloping plan that would put the current residents’ needs first?

Borough President Eric Adams is lobbying for the city to rezone the Livonia Avenue corridor in Brownsville in hopes to create equitable housing opportunities and catalyze economic growth for the neighborhood.

“Advancing a community-driven revitalization of Brownsville is personal to me; I was born in the community,...creating and preserving affordable housing that meets a diverse range of socioeconomic needs across Brooklyn is the top priority of my administration...,” said Adams in a press statement.


Neighborhood Power Players

The power players in Brownsville, soon became clear. Robert Moses has set a precedent to exacerbate Brownsville's poverty, and to Bellafante's point, it was out of mindful orchestration. In addition, the Bloomberg era did nothing to aid Brownsville, and other neighborhoods with high concentrations of public housing simply because it does not possess the characteristics of a neighborhood that can be easily transformed from the cookie-cutter policies that initiate gentrification. 

If the leaders of the city truly wants to improve the livelihood of those living in Brownsville, more drastic approaches needs to be taken. Although government should be held to greater accountability, power players should not always be politicians They can be residents of a neighborhood just like you and me. Providing positive impacts in your neighborhood can be done through both civic and community based engagement and participation. Once you positively  influence your local residents the bond and level of trust between residents will be greater. Only then can a coalition tackle the most prominent inauspicious political leaders. In fact, this is the true way to become a master planner of your neighborhood. Just ask Jane Jacobs!

If you feel overwhelmed by the challenges in your neighborhood, do not like the way your leaders are dictating policies that effect your neighborhood, or would simply would like to contribute someway to positively impact your neighborhood,  the best thing to do is participate. For example, there are many organizations that aim to improve the lives of local residents in Brownsville, but these two below are truly worth-noting:

The Brownsville Community Justice Center provides services to reduce crime and incarceration sentences. The program provides short-term social services, community restitution and other services as incarceration alternatives. Men and women with probation sentences are afforded GED and college assistance, internships, and professional training.  The Brownsville Community Justice Center  also provide positive youth development services part of their strategy to prevent young and men women from entering the criminal system. More information can be found on the program's umbrella organization website: Court Innovation which usually seek Case Managers, Counselors, Project Managers, Research and Data Analysts to join their team.

The Brownsville Community Culinary Center, is what we need to see more of in Brownsville and distressed neighborhoods throughout the county. Founded by Lucas Denton as a non-for profit organization, the Center provides a long list of benefits to the Brownsville neighborhood, including a comprehensive culinary arts education program,  preservation of Afro-Caribbean cultural foods and employment  eligible discounts for local residents. Don't forget to check out their eatery's menu on their website: Melting Pot Foundation USA