What’s In a Name

Have you ever thought about your last name? Where does it come from? What does it mean? How does one really live up to the name(s) given in this earthly realm? After presenting at a planning conference an attendee asked about my last name…”Wakan”, and wanted to know if it has any special meaning or significance (she previously learned I was Native American from the Sioux Tribe). In fact it does I told her, Wakan in the Sioux language has reference to spiritual, holy or sacred things, the opposite of how I felt about myself I joked. Wakan Tanka in Sioux translates to “the great mystery” referring to deity or God. She then continued to ask about my professional interests in urban planning and the source of my passion. I continued to explain to her about the human scale and why it’s important to design cities and places for people rather that for a car moving at 45 mph. I explained how people connect to parks, open space, trees, and architecture, which if done properly, creates a unique vitality that enlivens the soul. I told her it was my intention to help people make those connections through better planning and urban design. This woman then told me something that I will never forget, that indeed I was living up to my last name, that everything I did was spiritual in nature!



One of the prominent Native American figures (who also happens to be Sioux), was Crazy Horse. He received his name from a vision he had as a young man, “He went into the world where there is nothing but the spirits of all things. That is the real world that is behind this one, and everything we see here is something like a shadow from that one. He was on his horse in that world, and the horse and himself on it and the trees and the grass and the stones and everything were made of spirit, and nothing was hard, and everything seemed to float. His horse was standing still there, and yet it danced around like a horse made only of shadow, and that is how he got his name.” Black Elk Speaks.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience…but spiritual beings having a human experience.” The natural and built environment impacts our senses, which lead to us to engage or detach from our surroundings. As an example, consider the car culture, and how industry marketing would have us focus on a vehicles sleek leather interior highlighting the bells and whistles that make driving “an experience”. In reality, most of us when stuck in traffic, have an overwhelming feeling of frustration, which often leads to road rage or contemplation of an early retirement. As a young child I can recall a conversation I had with my dad as we sitting in traffic on what was at the time, the longest strip mall development in the US.  As we were driving along this seven-lane roadway, I remember asking him, why things had to be so ugly!?! In contrast, when I walk through a park or historic neighborhood, I interact with my surroundings by sitting, playing, people watching, or meditating.  When done right, the collision of the natural and built environment can truly create memorable and dare I say spiritual experiences. I encourage us all to consider where we feel connected to our surroundings, and identify the characteristics or patterns that make this happen. When we feel connections, our souls are most likely ‘dancing in the world behind this-one’.

Duane Wakan is a new senior transportation planner with Nspiregreen LLC a community, multimodal, and environmental planning firm based in Washington, DC. He received his Masters in Urban Planning from the University of Utah. 


Vision Zero: Less Talk More Action

Crossing the street in the nation’s capital shouldn’t be a death sentence. Unfortunately, for far too many, it has become just that.

How many more people will be injured?

How many people will have to lose their life before we see real change?

When Nspiregreen led the development of the District’s Vision Zero Plan, I was excited about the opportunity to prioritize vulnerable users such asvzpedestrians, cyclists, and disabled individuals in transportation planning and engineering. What surprised me as I talked to hundreds of residents in all eight wards of the District was the number of people who had either been hit themselves or knew someone who had been hit by a car while crossing the street. I have definitely encountered my share of reckless and impatient drivers but listening to the experiences of others was both eye-opening and humbling. What I didn’t know then, is that I would witness an accident just as tragic.

By 9:00 am, I am usually in my office downtown; but, as the universe would have it on this bright and sunny morning, I was taking my son on a long walk to daycare from his morning Doctor’s appointment. We were crossing eastbound on the southside of 15th St. and H St. NW paying attention to the heavy traffic around us and people who like me just wanted to get to their destination. As soon as we crossed the street, I looked immediately to my left and saw a man jumping out of his truck. He was distressed and yelling something. My eyes went from him to the road in front of him and that’s where I saw the body of someone laying in the road. I immediately dialed 911. I wasn’t on that side of the street, but I knew it was bad because the person wasn’t moving. As the operator asked me what seemed like a million questions, I made my way across the street to see a woman lying there – Starbucks cups laying on the ground – with no movement. Things were happening so fast. There were some men assisting her and someone checked and discovered that she did have a pulse. There was blood and she wasn’t conscious. I couldn’t believe the scene unfolding before me. We were crossing the street at the same time (with the walk signal) but someone made a left turn and hit her. How did this happen? Why did this happen? Where in the hell are the police? The ambulance? My mind was racing. I was anxious. But mostly my thoughts were on her.

I stood around a while hoping that I would get some signal that she would be okay. By the time the paramedics arrived, I decided to get my son to daycare and come back. I was moving but I was so unsettled. Throughout the workday, my thoughts were with her. The next day I found out the unfortunate news that Mrs. Carol Tomason a wife, mother, grandmother and lifelong educator didn’t survive the hit. I can only imagine what was on Mrs. Tomason’s mind that morning – enjoying her vacation spending precious time with her children and grandchildren. Like many of us in the District she was looking forward to enjoying her coffee drink and getting on with her day. Unfortunately, she wouldn’t get to live out this day. Her family is now left to mourn her death caused by an accident that should have never happened.

This is only one of the regrettable stories of tragedy that have become all too common on DC streets. In her obituary, Mrs. Tomason’s family asked people to support DC Vision Zero. Without swift action and accountability, DC Vision Zero is just a plan with pretty graphics. We developed it with policies and enforcement mechanisms that should be implemented. It is a tool to address what has become all too common behavior in the District. There should be less talk about Vision Zero and its possibilities and more actions that prioritize the District’s most vulnerable users. While getting to zero may seem ambitious if everyone does their part it is attainable.

Update: As I write this blog, I was sent a link to Mayor Bowser’s new Vision Zero announcement. I won’t go into the details of the announcement here; but, I will say that I hope these new changes significantly reduce the number of tragedies that we have seen in the District.

 Chanceé Lundy Russell is the Co-Founder of Nspiregreen LLC a community, multimodal, and environmental planning firm based in Washington, DC. The Selma, Alabama native received her BS in Environmental Science from Alabama A&M University and her MS in Civil Engineering from Florida State University. She is passionate about environmental justice issues and works to create healthy, livable communities for all.



A Taste of Amsterdam: I Took the Streetcar!

European cities are always good examples for urban planners. It was always my dream to see how those cities are developed. I was lucky to have a chance to travel to three European cities, (Amsterdam, Brussel, Paris) and experience the distinct culture of each place. One aspect I was impressed by was their public transportation system. Veronica O.Davis, wrote about her previous trip in Amsterdam (A TALE OF THREE CITIES – AMSTERDAM: I DIDN’T DO THE THING YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO DO), and this was a trip planned from her previous experiences.  


Speaking of Amsterdam, this was my favorite city to visit on this trip. There were such beautiful and colorful architectures, and the organizational street layout was impressive. The city is under sea level and is composed of several canal networks. The name “Amsterdam” came from canal Amstel and the Dam Square (home of the Royal Palace).  The layout of the inner-city canal ring was their city’s signature pattern. Originally, those canals functioned as the fortification.


Amsterdam Old Map


Present Amsterdam Map

The public transportation system mentioned in this article is not solely limited within inner city transportation but also inter-city transportation.


Inter-city transportation

We took Thalys train from Centraal station in Amsterdam to the Paris Nord station. Then from Paris Nord to Brussel Midi station. The Centraal Station in Amsterdam was large, spacious, and easy to access. Thinking about how we usually catch the metro to go to work, that is how easy to catch a train in Amsterdam. What’s more convenient is that they can use the same transit card on almost all public transportation systems. There are many lines in the station that ran every 20-30 minutes. Impressively, the train will leave at the exact scheduled time.


Amsterdam Centraal station

Inner city transportation

As we all know, the bicycle is the primary mode of transportation for people live in Amsterdam, and I have never seen so many bikes in the city like that.



Interesting details:

  1. They have a trash can that builds specifically for bicyclists.


  1. This pole design really solves a lot of problems in dense trains or for those who lean on the pole.



It was hard to ignore the streetcar system in Amsterdam, which could be found in almost every street. We bought an “IAmsterdam” card, despite the fact that almost all the public transportations are free (from the bus/streetcar to subway) during a certain time. It was very easy to get around thanks to their developed transit network.

  • Frequency:

Every time I waited for a bus, my waiting time was no more than 12 minutes


  • Punctuality:


There was a screen by every bus/streetcar stop and shows the time when and which bus/streetcar will arrive.


  • Easy Read Signage:


As a non-Dutch speaker, walking around and looking for places is not hard for me at all. I was able to always spot the sign and tell me the direction.


There also some part that I am not used to in this city, such as people biking so fast that I almost bump into several bikers.


After all, Amsterdam is an amazing city with a great transit system, I will talk more about the city in my next blog.


Mei Fang, who is an urban planner with a strong passion for urban and landscape design, she also enjoys looking for the variety culture inside of the city.



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