Michelle Young: Entrepreneur, Professor

February 06 2016

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MICHELLE YOUNG 

Meet Michelle Young, a former fashion merchandiser turned start-up entrepreneur and Columbia University professor. She spent time traveling around the world after working in fashion, then pursued a graduate degree in urban planning, and ultimately founded two companies of her own. Her work and expertise in architecture and urban planning even led to a recent interview with the New York Times around her thoughts on NYC locales featured on the popular show, "Master of None."

Read her story below.

Where are you from?
I’m originally from Setauket, Long Island (hometown of the first American spy ring, as shown in the AMC show TURN!). At around 12, I started also living in Manhattan because I was attending the Juilliard School’s Pre-College Division for cello. 

What do you do?
I’m the founder of the online publication Untapped Cities, which unearths New York City’s most unique and surprising places, stories and events. Our motto is: Rediscover Your City. I’m also a professor of architecture at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, and the author of a few books: Broadway from Arcadia Publishing and New York: Hidden Bars and Restaurants from Jonglez. I’m also the co-founder of the company Stiklab, a Macbook sticker accessories company.

How did you build Untapped Cities?
It was important to me that Untapped Cities grew organically, from people who shared a common passion about cities and seeing them differently. Readers and residents took the time to contact us, to share the amazing things they were discovering, and we created a platform to enable that. As a result, we have a very dedicated community of readers and contributors, and we’ve been able to retain our original message despite growing. Staying true to the mission often means business sacrifices, but we wouldn't change how we’ve built Untapped Cities.  

What's the biggest risk you've taken?
Leaving the corporate world and forging my own path. I was a fashion merchandiser for brands like J.Crew, Calvin Klein and Abercrombie & Fitch, and when I left that world I didn’t really have a game plan. I went backpacking through Southeast Asia and South America, did earthquake relief work and decided to go back to graduate school to study urban planning to satiate my love for cities. That led me to create Untapped Cities, which is probably the biggest risk I’ve taken since then. I aimed to create a new type of publication that could bridge the gap between the academic study of cities and the ground-up model of journalism, and I think we’ve proved that you can have smart content for the masses and build a real community around it.  

Biggest piece of advice given to you?
Quit fast, and often, if it’s not right for you. 

What does time mean to you?
It sounds cliché to say that time is relative, but it really is. Most of the time, it feels like there’s never enough time but that is purely a function of how we live today. Every year, my husband and I spend a few weeks on an island passed down through his family in Brittany, France where there’s no electricity or running water. There’s a big stone house but you live everything else at the rhythm of nature–the sun rising, the tide coming in and out, the food that’s available from the sea. Living like that, you realize how different time can be.

How would you describe your style?
I tend to mix classic and trendy, high and low. I like clothing that’s architectural but comfortable–and I believe style should reflect who you are. I worked with a Paris designer named Laurent Kapelski to create my wedding dress, which was one of the best experiences I’ve done with fashion. 

Do you have any style secrets or tips?
Some of my favorite pieces come from vintage stores while on road trips across America, and the kids section of vintage stores–navy blue blazers, coats, dresses, skirts. 

How do you accessorize?
A great bag, a simple statement necklace, a watch. I keep things simple. 

When do you wear a watch?
When I got my first Leonard & Church watch, I wore it mostly to events as a style piece. But now I wear it all the time, dressed up or down. Plus there’s something so nice and old school now about wearing a watch when there are screens everywhere to tell you the time.

What is your favorite city and/or place you've travelled to?
Bolivia 

What is your favorite book?
Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen

What is currently on repeat on your music playlist?
The song Wandering Song by the band I used to be in, Kittens Ablaze.

What food can't you live without?
My husband jokes that I’m a functional eater with a binary code of good and bad. But I think chocolate ice cream is my major weakness. 

What is your favorite thing about NY?
That it’s constantly changing and evolving, and what it becomes is always a balance between the people that live here, the people that arrive here, and what the government is pushing. But the balance shifts over time and the people are intrinsically feisty! 

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