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We, the people, of the United Cities of America


 
You know that friend who sees rancor within her own political party and welps, "Come on guys, let's all come together! Aren't we all Democrats?"
 
Yeah, that's how I feel sometimes about cities. Or, more specifically, city people. Aren't we all part of the same urban family? If not, can we be? Please?
 
Sadly, I was not born in a city. (One has such little control over these things, you know?) The stork delivered me to a small sleepy country town, where I just saw two worlds -- urban and non-urban. From the moment I could form my own opinions, I knew I wanted to live in that urban one.
 
To me, the city was everything. It was culture and commerce, skyscrapers and stoops, museums and markets. It was all the romantic stuff -- the Left Bank in Paris, and the Harlem Renaissance in New York, Stonewall and Haight-Ashbury. It was bohemians and cosmopolitans, avant-garde and counter-culture, and every Martin Scorsese and Spike Lee joint I could get my hands on.
 
I couldn't get there, to a city, fast enough.
 
Two decades later, the initial romance has aged into something more complex and nuanced, but I feel more fiercely urban than ever. And I want my fellow city people, wherever they live, to feel this kinship, too. We are a "big tent" national party with a multitude of ZIP codes and local distinctions, yet bound together by a shared set of values. We say YES to diversity and shared public amenity, and NO to segregation and sprawl.
 
"The point of cities is multiplicity of choice," Jane Jacobs once wrote in what is probably the best definition of "urban" I've ever come across. It's not just a place, it's a mindset. It's an openness to different people and perspectives and histories and cultures. It's a sense of curiosity and mutuality.
 
When we're doing this right, the city is also a conversation -- an ongoing, never-ending exchange about who we are as a people, and who we want to be.

That's the conversation we look forward to hosting at the Urban Consulate, a new experiment launching this spring in three great American cities: Detroit, Philadelphia, and New Orleans.
 
The fundamental premise here is that we urban folk are more alike than we are different, and might benefit from listening and learning more from one another. Together, we can share the best ideas shaping urban life in the 21st century, and ask the hard questions about how to do better -- all in a relaxed and convivial setting, away from the pressures of productivity and outcomes.
 
Won't you join us? Our first space opens April 1 in Detroit, in the parlor of a historic house (also occupied by this very publication) located in the heart of the Cass Corridor. The same day in Philadelphia, we will kick-off City Lobby, a series of pop-up parlors for urban exchange, making its way to New Orleans in May.
 
Whether you're religiously urban, or even just "urban curious," we invite you to come join one of our gatherings. As Bob Hicok wrote in his beautiful poem, "A Primer":
 
"Let us all be from somewhere. Let us tell each other everything we can."
 
Claire Nelson is founder of Urban Consulate, a new network for city dwellers and travelers seeking cross-city exchange. Winner of the 2015 Knight Cities Challenge, Nelson is also director of Urban Innovation Exchange and past publisher of Model D. She splits time between Detroit and New Orleans, made possible only by cheap plane tickets and the guest bedrooms of generous friends.

Read more articles by Claire Nelson.

Claire Nelson is the founder of Urban Consulate, a network of parlors for urban exchange. Most days you can find her in Detroit or New Orleans.
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