Welcome to the first edition of Dispatches

Vol. 1, No. 1: Epiphanies | a.k.a., "Exploration" or "I forgot how long it takes to do one of these things"

Looking up at St. Charles Borromeo Roman Catholic Church from the No. 17 bus stop. Personal photo.

Hello, everybody!

According to the Christian calendar, today is Epiphany Sunday. This definition for the word epiphany may best explain why I’ve taken to re-igniting a regular writing habit:

An intuitive grasp of reality through something (such as an event) usually simple and striking

When I started my personal blog in 2005, I didn’t realize it but it was my first attempt at dealing with feeling alone. I’d been living in Birmingham, Ala. for nearly a year at that point and I wondered if I’d ever find my place there, much less my voice. I find myself asking the same questions 14 years later. Though I now accept the answers I seek may never come in the way I desire.

I’ve only been in Philadelphia full-time since October, but I find myself isolated again. I can’t think of a better excuse to reach out to people via electronic signals traveling along fiber optic wire to see what happens. It means eventually dusting off my personal blog too. It also means taking a moment and being more deliberate about getting certain things — and myself — out of my head.

My hope? More meaningful conversations with people and, perhaps, a focus. Sometimes I’ll write something that triggers a desire to respond. Other times, it may be something you think someone else may want to talk about with me. I can only feel more comfortable in my own skin when I get to talk with others. I’m not sure how this will work out, but it’s worth exploring...

The plan is to send these out every other week. If one or all of these things spark a desire for a conversation, just let me know by replying to this email. The personal mailing address in Philadelphia is also available at the bottom of this email if that’s more your speed.

The itch to explore:

I spent a significant portion of my Sunday on a joy ride up the Broad Street Line to the Fern Rock Transportation Center ( via SEPTA | Wikipedia), returning via the No. 4 bus (since I can't shake the habit of making time to explore a city, though I'm scared of getting too lost for my own good just yet). This follows my day-long excursion in early December that saw me exploring most of the major rail routes in Philadelphia.

I grew up knowing the world was a subway token away from exploration. Now it’s a SEPTA Key Card in my pocket (and its unnerving UX experience) serving as a passport to much of the Northeast corridor. My rides on the local transit system have me asking more questions about local development than I thought possible. I’m hoping to dive into Anthony Lombardo’s Blue Collar Conservatism: Frank Rizzo’s Philadelphia and Populist Politics in the coming days to help answer some of them. I actually stumbled upon a reading/Q & A session he was doing the evening of my initial romp through the city. I’d challenge people to be more aware of the types of advertising visible in communities other than your own. It’s an easy way to decipher how some may view the community from the outside. It can also tip you off to clues about an area’s future - if you take the time to let it. I’m also enjoying discovering Re-PLACE-ing Philadelphia, a project collecting a cultural history of the city from 2016.

I left Birmingham recognizing the types of conversations I wanted to explore there wouldn’t necessarily come easily if at all. This weekend’s decision by the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute to rescind its invitation to Angela Davis to accept the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award in February reminded me of those concerns. Ahmad Ward uses his words better than I can to talk about why the need to talk should’ve taken precedence in this instance via Facebook. The current situation also lends itself to helping people see what can happen as the city enjoys an extended close-up if it doesn’t feel like fighting its demons head-on. (Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin released this statement on the issue about an hour before I hit “send”.)

When I first returned to SCAD (Happy 40th!) to resume my academic career (20 years ago last week, yikes!), the first class I took was one called, “The City Square”. It included a session I ended up co-facilitating on the possible impact the Internet would have on public space. It’s telling I’m still basically having the same conversation two decades later - one that plays a central role in my current job. (More about that job shortly.) It dovetails in my head with a book I’ve pulled off my bookshelf: Maggie Valentine’s The Show Starts on the Sidewalk: An Architectural History of the Movie Theatre. “Place” still plays an important part in what and how we do things; it provides context and shapes perspective. We seem to forget that often (or do we?) as we let digital platforms define who we talk to and how they can share information. (That said, this list of spectacular U.S. theaters published by Curbed just last week makes me believe some still recognize the importance of setting the stage for people.) It’s a reason why the call for a designing a new public square via a commentary penned by Josh Stearns, Paul Waters, and Tom Glaisyer back in July is important. The public square is becoming increasingly digital, but the impact of the physical space from which its participants access it is becoming more recognizable.

About the job:

The New Year finds me working as the editorial director for the Lenfest Local Lab, a multidisciplinary local news product innovation team supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism. It's an opportunity to take personal and professional lessons from the last 25 years of my life and apply them in a meaningful way. It also means I get to think about how place and culture play a role in how a community defines news and information, building on what often occupied my mind during my time as a John S, Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University. There’s a balance between embracing the need to reflect on what’s in front of us with the need to move quickly. Creating structure without undue pressure helps me better think through what I’ve learned and how I can best apply it. When I haven’t been fighting off the flu like I did last week, it’s been fun. Our latest experiment is a location-aware app, HERE for Local Journalism. Our team leader, Sarah, describes it over on Medium.

The numbers:

One thing I did realize from thinking about the last twelve months: I traveled a lot. There’s still much to unpack from those adventures too. That said, here are some of the numbers:

  • Lived in 3 of the four U.S. time zones over the last twelve months;

    • Pacific (January - July)

    • Central (Augst - September

    • Eastern (October - present)

  • 32,530 miles flying

  • 37 hours in a Zipcar (322 miles traveled);

  • 55 Enterprise rental days (including 7,290 miles over 20 days for #mydrivetonowhere)

  • 66 Days without a car in Philly (and counting; it’s kind of nice.)

There was some train travel in there too, but it seems like cheating now that it’s accessible every day.

Other random things:

I contributed to The Morning News’s annual review of “The Year That Was and Wasn’t” and I found a way to sneak in a mention of the new Philadelphia Flyers mascot, Gritty:


Separate from the earlier conversation about “place” - the announcement of a new center for “transformative placemaking” gives me some hope for the future of economic revitalization strategies though I’m interested in seeing how they approach it:

I’m still excited Calypso Rose is performing at Coachella this year - even though there’s practically no chance I’ll be there. That said,

Here’s my favorite calypso of hers | Soca Tempo - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3GtQbXvxqpU

I’d keep typing/editing, but the goal was to get this out the door before the Eagles game started. They won, meaning people around here should be in a good mood during the morning commute tomorrow. Hopefully, the Golden Globes watch party happening upstairs won’t go too late either.

If y’all have any questions for me, just let me know.