Better Know a Cultivator! – Jordan Clark Edition

 That's Jordan, the one with the sunglasses on.

That's Jordan, the one with the sunglasses on.

What are you most excited about accomplishing with Cultivate Collaborative?

I’ve lived in places with a lot of community and neighborhood activity, and in plenty more places without it. What excites me is I think we have the opportunity to help neighborhoods feel more like home. In my experience most people have a desire to feel like they’re part of a community, where people care about them, value their input and creativity, and have their back. We can help communities cultivate an environment that encourages neighborliness, inclusivity, artistic expression, and collaboration. By really involving community members and by building neighborhoods in an intentional and human-centric way, we can have an outsized impact on the way people experience their world.

What do you think makes Cultivate Collaborative different?

I think we’re good listeners and eager learners. We don’t take a one-size-fits-all approach to any project or community, because each place is unique, and because context (ALWAYS!) matters. I know we’re all in this because we have love for our own communities and our own neighbors—and we want to see cities and neighborhoods function in a way that is uplifting and welcoming to residents of all backgrounds. 

What trend in planning/development would you like to see die in the next five years?

Super-boring planning meetings in depressing rooms that only a select set people with means can make it to. If we’re talking about making important decisions that will have substantial impact on citizens, then we need to make a point of involving (and listening to) people that we typically leave out. And that probably means scrapping the old “come to this one-time 90-minute meeting” approach, and getting with folks where they are, in a way that’s comfortable for them. Because it’s hard to address people’s needs if you never hear about them—and it should be a lot harder to ignore them if you’re really learning about them.

What would like like to see becoming a trend in the next five years?

Neighborhood revitalizations that consciously serve and empower existing residents and local businesses. I’m seeing a lot of neighborhood turnover where I live in Dallas, and most of it is done without local input (from the typically underserved neighborhoods they’re changing). These neighborhoods can be improved in a way that’s much more inclusive; the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative in Boston is a great example of this.

Who’s out there doing work that you admire?

Strong Towns does a great job educating (and bringing together) folks from across the political and professional spectrum. I continue to learn a lot from the community that has grown up around that organization, and I am inspired by the prevailing attitude of humility, self-reflection, and respectful criticism I find there.

Otherwise, I’ve long been a huge fan of Big Car—an organization in (my hometown) Indianapolis that’s focused on creative placemaking and socially engaged art. They do an amazing job of bringing together people of all walks of life by empowering their creativity. On a hyperlocal scale, they’re making neighborhoods feel more like home. 

Also there’s just a lot of cool stuff happening in Indy these days—from the Reconnecting To Our Waterways initiative, to the Great Places 2020 program, to the Centers for Inquiry public schools, to the many awesome neighborhood programs that LISC Indy has going on to the Harrison Center for the Arts… I could go on. (I still ♥ you Indy!) As an aside, I would recommend everyone listen to the pair of interviews that Aaron Renn did with Joanna Taft (Harrison Center, etc.) and her husband Bill (who runs LISC Indy) on his podcast. And I should also mention Aaron Renn is someone whose work I’ve admired for years. His blog, The Urbanophile—which often focused, and still does, on Indianapolis and the broader midwest—is really what first got me interested in cities and how they work. He was also kind enough to meet up with me back when I was just some punk kid who emailed him back in the day. (I’m still probably sort of a punk, just less of a kid.) But Aaron’s writing is always thought-provoking and insightful; his podcast is worth a listen too.

Oh, I forgot to add that my most recent crush is the good folks at People's Liberty in Cincinnati. They give out grants and mentorships to local individuals who have good ideas that contribute to their neighborhood. I would love to see other cities pick up this model.

Way(s) your childhood predicted your current line of work:

I used to draw all the time as a kid, and I’ve always been kind of obsessed with maps and design of different sorts. But also—like Kevin—my family moved a lot when I was growing up, so I experienced life in a lot of different places. Midwest, Southern California, El Salvador (and then I kept up the whole moving every couple of years thing after college)… so, I wouldn’t exactly say that ‘predicted’ what I’m doing now, but it undoubtedly still shapes it. Because while there’s a lot to learn from reading (which I’m always doing), there’s no substitute for what you learn from lived experiences. 

 Most recent vacation (Columbus & Athens, OH, last month), with the reason for my next vacation (she goes by Jazmine).

Most recent vacation (Columbus & Athens, OH, last month), with the reason for my next vacation (she goes by Jazmine).

Where’s your next vacation?

San Francisco to get married! In November. And I might sneak in a trip to Grand Rapids, MI, for ArtPrize, a thing that is supposed to be cool. I haven't been to Michigan in a long time. 

What’s your all-time favorite podcast?

I probably listen to way too many podcasts, but for my all-time fave, I’ll call this a toss-up between On the Media (really good commentary on media coverage of, well, everything… I especially like their “Breaking News Consumer’s Handbooks”), This American Life (empathic and almost always entertaining storytelling), and 99% Invisible (a podcast about the hidden design work that goes into shaping our world… some favorite episodes include: Cul de Sac, The Pruitt-Igoe Myth, In and Out of LOVE, Lawn Order). My favorite discovery of this year is Chapo Trap House. It’s probably not for everybody, though.

Music you’re listening to a lot right now?

Lots of Jamila Woods and SZA and Chance the Rapper. So much good music coming out these days. I also play Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue probably 4-5 times a week, and have since high school.

What’s your favorite street in your city?

Probably Bishop Ave (in Dallas). Narrow streets, wide-ish sidewalks, good street trees, and plenty of life. Also a great mix of missing middle housing.

 Bishop Ave, Dallas  (Photo: Jordan Clark)

Bishop Ave, Dallas (Photo: Jordan Clark)

Your go-to weekend activity:

Bike rides and walks. I’m also really into cooking things and then eating them.

You’re at a backyard barbecue—what are you drinking? 

Beer. I like to support the local breweries, so probably something from Four Corners or Community. Also water. Gotta stay hydrated out here, man.

Best book you’ve read in the last two years:

Fiction: Crime & Punishment definitely stuck with me. Nonfiction: Back of the Napkin was really useful, and I’m re-reading it. I just started Capitalist Realism, though, which I’ve been wanting to read for a while.

What’s the first app you open in the morning?

I like to stay away from it as long as I can, but probably the weather. I’m turning into my dad. (Hi Dad!)

Who's playing you in 'CULTIVATE! The Movie'?

I guess I was kind of hoping I could. I was in a play once, you know.


Jordan Clark is a planner and storyteller at VERDUNITY. Learn more about him here. Follow Jordan on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn. Read other posts by Jordan.