Wednesday, February 23, 2011

'City-Suburban Smackdown' and other news

Cities v. Suburbs: The Carbon Smackdown: The in "New Study: Suburbs Can Pollute More Than Cities" reports on a new study that may set some conventional wisdom on its ear: "When blame is assigned for greenhouse gas emissions, big cities typically receive more of it than smaller cities and suburbs. But a new report in a recent issue from of Environment & Urbanization suggests casting a more nuanced net of responsibility. In fact, contrary to popular wisdom, cities can have a per capita rate of greenhouse gas emissions that’s astonishingly lower than rates in their surrounding suburbs."

Schoolyard Fight – Green V. Urban: This article from the Boston Globe, "Green Building," is making the rounds among landscape architects, urban designers and related folks. New Urbanist leader Andres Duany (a graduate of Princeton and Yale) is picking a fight with Harvard's Graduate School of Design. When Duany was in Charlotte earlier this month he told me one reason he was kicking up dust was to energize young New Urbanists. It's a movement, he said, that needs people with the energy to enjoy Sisyphean tasks.

Ex-mill town nurtures its downtown. Kannapolis, a one-time mill town built and dominated for decades by the Cannon family and Cannon Mills, was for years the largest unincorporated town in North Carolina. It finally incorporated in 1984. It's an interesting place, especially if you're keen on N.C. history, because many of the mill houses, built for the textile workers, still exist. So does the Williamsburg-style brick downtown.

Cannon Mills became Pillowtex, which abruptly closed in 2003, sending thousands out of work. The former Cannon Mills Plant No. 1 was demolished to make way for the still unfinished N.C. Research Campus. (I'm leaving out a lot. For more, see the N.C. Research Campus site here.)

Kannapolis is working on a new downtown plan. Here's a link to a draft of the plan. And here's an article from the Independent, by former Observerite Karen Cimino Wilson. A big problem: Since the huge mill closed the downtown stores have suffered. Among the proposals: Transforming Dale Earnhardt Boulevard/Loop Road from a suburban highway to an "urban boulevard." Building a City Market building. Creating better gateways to the downtown area.

K-12 Transportation Costs: Charles Marohn, New Urban Network writes about what he sees as school transportation policies that subsidize inefficient development patterns. In the New Urban Network, he writes: "Door-to-door transportation for K-12 students may seem to be a compassionate policy from a society that values both students and education. That may be the intent, but the transportation mandate ultimately takes money from classrooms to subsidize our inefficient, post-WW II development pattern. In the end, it also devalues traditional, neighborhood schools in favor of the remote, campus-style we now build."

Be forewarned. Marohn makes explicit that he's not considering the considerable issues of race and school integration: "Again, I'm not trying to get into a broader discussion on race. I'm not thinking that big," he cautions.

With Gov. Bev Perdue proposing making counties, not the state, responsible for buying school buses – one gigantic unfunded mandate – and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools for all practical purposes resegregated anyway (I'm not supporting that, but acknowledging reality) it's past time for CMS and the city and county local governments to work together to make it easier for kids who do live within a mile of schools to be able to walk there safely. And for CATS and CMS to figure out better ways to collaborate. And for parents to stop being afraid that putting a 10-year-old on a city bus is a huge risk, when in fact the much bigger risk is putting a kid into a private auto. Remember, car wrecks are the leading cause of death for Americans ages 1-35.


Anonymous said...

CMS could start by actually using their properties in the highest walkscore neighborhoods as neighborhood schools.

For example, my home is within a 5- to 10-minute walk of Elizabeth Elementary, Piedmont Middle, AND Midwood High. Yet somehow my house is entirely assigned to elementary, middle and high schools each over a mile away.

therestofthestory said...

4:10 PM, while I agree with you, McElrath and Tate will fight you tooth and nail for this kind of approach to school assignments.

Anonymous said...

I say take a compromised approach. Switch to more neighborhood schools. But be careful not to draw any neighborhood school boundary that exceeds 30% free/reduced lunch kids.

And in cases where you can't draw a reasonable boundary about a school per that 30%-max. principle, then and only then, is that a candidate school for magnet or other program.

The likely result would be neighborhood schools about the Lake and South Charlotte being drawn more widely to diversify their student bodies. Schools in the "inner-ring about Uptown" may have to be re-opened. And schools in the "middle-ring crescent" of West-North-East Charlotte may have to go magnet.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 3:06 PM:
It would be pretty difficult to draw boundaries that require schools have no more than 30% FRL, as FRL rate in CMS overall is now over 50%. And once you start stretching boundaries to try to do that I believe we would be back to what is called "busing". Give that a year or two and there will be even fewer non-FRL kids in the school system.
I continue to be amazed that those who bash the suburbs for not being walkable seem to love the concept of busing.

Jack said...

“…it's past time for CMS and the city and county local governments to work together to make it easier for kids who do live within a mile of schools to be able to walk there safely.”

Yep, I strongly agree that kids within a mile should walk to school. I’m 66 and walk four miles a day. Surely younger legs can do at least a mile at an even slower rate. And nowadays they have these amazing things called raincoats to use in adverse weather.

But the solution doesn’t require more government intervention. All it takes is common sense on the part of parents to teach kids to (1) move those God-given legs and walk, and (2) walk facing oncoming traffic, regardless of whether a sidewalk is present. That will get you there safely, cheaply and healthfully! Tell them you don’t stop and chat with strangers. Give the kid a whistle or an aerosol air horn and tell them to use it – to thwart possible villains, not as a toy.

But regarding the school bus thing, just like buses in general, the only thing that will get a significant number of suburban kids and adults to ride school or CATS buses is government intervention. No, you can’t tell someone what type of transportation they must use, and when, but you can certainly entice them with incentives. As the Observer recently pointed out, there has been some discussion nationally about eliminating or reducing the mortgage interest tax deduction and similar “housing support” programs. All it ended up doing in the long run was creating a false economy that resulted in a major recession.

Instead of a mortgage interest deduction, how about a tax incentive to lure folks onto buses – school or otherwise – especially given the rising price of fuel and its soon-to-be-realized impact on the economy?