Hot Spot: Travelers Welcome at Urban Consulates in Detroit, Philly, New Orleans

    UrbanConsulate2When you visit a new city on business, it is custom to check in with either a local guide or a center that is designed to welcome travelers. Recently, Detroit, Philadelphia and New Orleans gained a new space for just that purpose: The Urban Consulate.

    The Urban Consulate is designed as a network of parlors for city dwellers and travelers seeking urban exchange. You can use the space for meetings, for working, for conversation, for a respite. Organizer Claire Nelson wants this place to serve as a spot for debate, discussion and more.

    Claire Nelson
    Claire Nelson

    Q: Who is the target market for The Urban Consulate?

    A: I was new in Detroit once too, so I have a soft spot for newcomers. I remember how much I didn’t understand when I first came to Detroit! It’s kind of embarrassing, actually. I owe a lot to patient and merciful teachers. I think I first heard that term “urban curious” from Brian Boyle or Toby Barlow, and it stuck. People are interested in how cities are reimagining their futures, and that curiosity isn’t going away anytime soon. It just needs to be steered in the right direction. “Be not inhospitable to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise.” (Yeats gets credit for that, but I think it appeared in the Bible first!) And listen, cities everywhere (not just Detroit) are feeling the tension between old and new. It’s part of why we started the Consulate. It’s not really about whether you’ve been in a city a day or a lifetime, the question is: Are you open to learning? Are you willing to have your mind changed? To me, that’s what being “urban” is all about. It’s a curiosity and wonder, and a willingness to dive into the complexity that makes cities interesting.

    UrbanConsulate_ParlorTalkQ: Why did you feel cities including Detroit and Philly needed such a space?

    A: Well, we all know Detroit is a “curiosity” to many. And not always in a good way. The interest can feel voyeuristic or opportunistic sometimes, yes? So we wanted to create a place for deeper conversations between people across cities and neighborhoods. And we wanted to learn from other places, too. We’re intentionally old-school – old building, intimate gatherings, analog dialogue — ala the salons and parlors of yesteryear. We all can stand to slow down and share space and listen and ask questions and learn. The Green Garage has already done a lovely job establishing this vibe next door, so we’re following their lead.

    Q: Why did you create this original programming? How might it change over time?

    UrbanConsulate_DetroitA: There are so many meaty questions to chew on: What should be protected and preserved, and what is open for rethinking and redesign? What are ways we can develop cities more equitably? These are challenging questions, and we’re suspicious of easy answers. We hope the Consulate will be a place for really smart conversations and not just about the shiniest new ideas, but the fundamental ones we sometimes forget. We’re experimenting with lots of different formats to see what people enjoy. To be honest, I’m tired of panel discussions where people are talking AT an audience, so we’d like our gatherings to be more conversational and convivial – a true exchange. So far we’ve hosted teas, dinners, parlor talks, book clubs, walking tours, co-working hours – and we’re open to other ideas. I’m sure we’ll mix it up over time!