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Urbanites are a powerful tribe -- if only they would talk to each other

The skyline from Upper Darby

LeMeridian Lobby

Claire Nelson

Urban Family

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 Americans?"

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.) The stork delivered me to a sleepy country town, where I saw just two worlds -- urban and non-urban. From the moment I could form my own opinions, I knew I wanted to live in that first 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, 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 fast enough.

Two decades later, though that romance has aged into something more complex, 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, 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," wrote  Jane Jacobs. It's not just a place, it's a mindset. It's an openness to different people, perspectives, 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 and who we want to be.

That's the dialogue we look forward to hosting at the Urban Consulate, a new experiment launching in three great American cities: Philadelphia, Detroit and New Orleans. The fundamental premise 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.

Won't you join us? On Friday, April 1 we're kicking off the Urban Consulate in Philadelphia and Detroit with evening gatherings. Philly will be the first city to host City Lobby, a series of pop-up parlors for urban exchange, debuting in May at Le Meridien (1421 Arch Street) 5 - 7 p.m.; it will recur on the first Thursday of every month. Check out our calendar for upcoming dates and locations.

Whether you're religiously urban, or even just "urban curious," we invite you to join the conversation. As Bob Hicok wrote in his 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. Follow Urban Consulate on Twitter & Instagram @urbanconsulate for news & updates.
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