+ 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.