NARPAC CONTRIBUTES TO THE FENTY 'PRE-TRANSITION' EFFORT
In the middle of October, 2006, the Fenty "pre-transition" team set up a series of blogs in which interested parties were invited to submit their comments on how to implement the various elements of the presumptive Mayor-elect's "Vision for DC". NARPAC elected to contribute to virtually all of the elements, if for no other reason than to go back through the last eight years of analytical work and try to summarize its views on these issues. They are reproduced here in the order they appear in Fenty's Vision Statement on his campaign web site:
o Making Education Our #1 Priority: The Process
o Ensuring Fiscal Discipline (no blog)
EDUCATION: The Process
The Education Process Is the Root of All Progress
Potential Near-Term Actions
1. Recognize the full complexities of the public education process, and avoid leaping at "jiffy" solutions solely within the Education "stovepipe";
2.Differentiate DCPS infrastructure problems from the separate and far more complex problems of a comprehensive educational process;
Putting Education Into A Larger Context
a. education is more than an end in itself:
NARPAC applauds the mayor-elect for couching his opening arguments for excellence in education as a matter of national importance. We would like him to go several steps further.
o the sources and breadth of education:
Factors contributing to the transfer of knowledge obviously go way beyond the capacity and control of the public/charter school system. The ability of the teacher to impart knowledge (teaching) and the receptivity of the student to absorb it (learning) stem from very different sources and there are a very large trade-offs between the two. A young kid, never read to at home due to parental illiteracy, will surely require better teachers than a kid already anxious to learn. NARPAC believes that the condition of the schoolhouse is probably secondary. A young adult can get a PhD from the back of a rusty pick-up truck if the urge to get it is strong enough.
The educational subject matter to be absorbed is far broader than the schoolhouse "3 'R's" and vocational skills. An impoverished home (and community) environment can also stunt acceptance of basic societal needs, from ethics and courtesy to independence and self-assurance. Two-parent families can provide their kids an enormous advantage over single-parent households,and today's expectant parents need to be taught the considerable skills of both motherhood and fatherhood.
We do not accept the oddly socialistic challenge (recently attributed to Martin Luther King in a Washington Post editorial) that public schools should be able to overcome all failings in any kid's home environment. One might as well challenge the police to stop the bullets in mid flight from one poor kid's gun to another poor kid's body. There is clear evidence that kids' educational success is related to both the number, age, and educational achievement of their parent(s).
o the cohorts that need additional education:
Unlike the rest of the DC metro area, DC's population of inadequately educated adults almost certainly exceeds the current student population. DC cannot afford to focus too much on improving public school room performance and appearance, while ignoring the poverty-stricken young adult drop-outs already "produced" by that same school system. It is, after all, those parents that will perpetuate the embarrassing cycle of poverty. Two particular groups need special, if not mandatory, attention: the very young, often teenage, single moms who drop out due to often-unintended, often-multiple, pregnancies; and the young, often teenage, lads who drop out, commit crimes, serve time, and return with counter-societal proclivities and no productive skills. Both represent serious blights to DC, not shared by the rest of its metro area. US prisons are filled with young, poor, uneducated, single-parent men. DC welfare roles are largely filled with young, poor, under-educated, single moms (64%), and DC schools with their progeny..
o the consequences of failed education among DC adults
Most of the city's root and nationally-embarrassing problems can be traced to various outward manifestations of poverty. There is hardly an unfavorable socioeconomic statistic that is not directly related to household income (a far better measure than individual income). Census-based statistics directly correlate household income to household education. For instance, 67% of DC's poor have at best high school degrees: in Maryland it is 68%, and in Virginia, 71%.
Once poverty is firmly tied to failed education, the local costs to DC of NOT "recycling" these drop-outs can be estimated: they are enormous. DC's major budget elements (and workforce) are largely attending to poverty. If 90% of the Human Services budget, 20% of the Education budget, and 50% of the Public Safety budget are allocated to on services related to poverty, then DC's FY06 budget includes about $40,000 per household below the poverty line. This puts DC at a major fiscal disadvantage to other regional jurisdictions . Adding the "opportunity costs" of lost tax revenues (income, property, and sales) from these households, the costs grow substantially higher. NARPAC's crude guess is that for each poverty household replaced by an "average" taxpayer household, annual DC revenues would increase by $10,000.
o the consequences of failed parental education on their kids
NARPAC does not doubt that the costs of educating the "normal" kids of poor and missing parents is higher than for those educationally enriched in their home environment. Everything from dietary balance and adequate sleep, to attention span and parental health is affected by a substandard home situation. The high and growing number of single-momt households presents more problems. There are roughly twice as many "parents per kid" in the suburbs as in DC, and an even better ratio of "fathers per kid". DC's "household income per kid" is even more disparate. The absence of fathers at home and male teachers in the younger school grades leave DC's boys at tremendous risk, seriously raising societal and budgetary costs to DC.
The life-styles of poorer, less educated parents can also lead to greater needs for special ed. City leaders should follow the latest scientific discoveries in the field of "epigentics". There is new evidence that proper development of humans and their offspring can be strongly influenced by: what the parents eat; what medicines and drugs they have used; how well they have nurtured their kids; and even how their grandparents lived. Our genes are all the same, but there apparently can be big differences in how effectively these genes set to work to produce sound minds and bodies.
NARPAC concludes that mastering and extending the educational process for all those crying for better knowledge and skills under unfavorable socio-economic conditions is more than enough challenge for DCP/CS and all other city agencies with major supporting roles . Trying to dig out of an oversized, over-age, collapsing school system infrastructure at the same time adds a needless and counterproductive burden to the intimidating academic/societal task ahead.
e. free plugs for NARPAC:
EDUCATION: The Infrastructure
City Facilities Are City Facilities
Potential Near-Term Actions
1. Call for independent long-range projections of future DC public/charter school enrollment;
2. Announce the intent to eventually consolidate all DC city-owned and operated facilities under a single new management agency including the current Office of Property Management;
3. Defer the contentious issue of taking over the school system: Give the new School Board and Council Subcommittee a set time to show what they can do with the education process. Decide then on a total or partial (infrastructure only) take-over at some later date certain.
4. call for a regional summit on enhancing opportunities for common educational practices and specialized facilities, possibly also leading to establishing an NCAIT;
a. Issues of School Facilities and Property:
NARPAC fully agrees with the Fenty position on using "surplus" school facilities for education- related and public services activities, and would further expand their use for all aspects of poverty-reduction. We would also use school assets for a partial return to the earlier "settlement house" concept where live-in needy families were helped to get on their feet by local residents. It would involve a kibbutz-like approach where drop-out moms are schooled in motherhood and vocational skills by affordably-housed live-in teachers and nurses, with assistance in kind from nearby school personnel and assets. Male-staffed units could also help re-claim male drop-outs.
This Fenty vision seems to sidestep the issue of future student enrollment in DCP/C schools. Of the 90,000 kids under 18 in DC in 2005, 55,000 are being raised by single parents. Of the 8800 babies born in DC in 2004, 4200 were born to never-married moms, and 5000 of them are below the 200% of poverty line. We have no data on how many of these babies were unwanted, but suspect that newly available, over-the-counter, day-after contraceptives like "Plan B" could significantly reduce annual births and subsequent DC school enrollments. We believe that future school enrollment should be projected by experts outside the school system.
Just how many DC schools are already "surplus" depends on often-biased judgments about best class and school size. DC's average school enrollment is well below most metro area schools with far higher educational performance. Disadvantaged kids may well need smaller schools and classes. Reducing parental poverty could hence reduce total facility demands. There are also opportunities to better utilize school properties. Densities must increase throughout the city to accommodate growth, and school yards are not exempt. New York claims success in dividing up large facilities. into separate "schools" sharing the same property. DC could do this too with their many oversized properties. Furthermore, most schools devote a significant portion of their land to surface parking. It should be practical to build school-related functions above them, ranging from basket ball courts and exercise facilities, to affordable housing units and adult learning centers.
b. Issues of Other DC Government Facilities
NARPAC helped DC's Office of Planning decide to add a separate "element" (Chapter 11) to the new Comprehensive Plan for "community facilities". A new Chapter 12 now treats educational facilities. Broad similarities exist in problems, policies, and planned actions for both. DCPS operates almost 150 facilities with some 15 million sqft of floor space. DC's Office of Property Management (OPM) manages about as many (some rented) with over 10 million sqft. DCPS operates far more parking lots but OPM has a monopoly on communications towers (7).
OPM's facilities include municipal office buildings, police and fire stations, libraries, hospitals, clinics and care centers, vehicle maintenance facilities, child care, senior citizen, recreation, and drug rehabilitation centers. These "social infrastructure" facilities are just as bad off as the school buildings, and many residents now using the former dropped out of the latter. NARPAC would find it difficult to prioritize their needs, and sees little reason to segregate them. Why have two agencies with different biases, planning, budgets, specifications, contractors and suppliers?
More important than acknowledging that "buildings are buildings", is the wise new plan to co- locate these functions for the convenience of those needing them. Several DC schools are now earmarked to provide the gamut of social services for kids and/or their parents. There is no better public use for the huge "surplus" in DCPS floor space (NARPAC estimates six to eight million sqft., DCPS claims less). Hypothetically, we visualize all of OPM's "requirements" could probably be satisfied on existing DCPS property, if not its floor space. Obviously, salt domes should not be placed alongside school playgrounds, but under-utilization of DC-owned property. is substantial. DC activists who complain about excessive federal presence should begin to look closer to home.
c. changing public education oversight:
NARPAC sees little progress in the education domain by current leadership at DCPS, the School Board, or the Council. We favor the city taking over the DCPS physical infrastructure and facility management, but keeping away from second-guessing the academic side. Fenty could move too fast into these controversial areas, make some freshman mistakes, and spend the rest of his first administration digging out. He should hone his arguments, plans, bureaucratic prowess, and "alternatives" before welding himself to a lightning rod and prodding this dark amorphous cloud..
d:developing a regional context:
As in many other local government functional areas, substantial benefits can be reaped by seeking regional cooperation among neighboring school districts. They could share specialized facilities (music studios? Chem labs?), instructional materials, and even procurement programs or athletic facilities. Given the sorry state of DC's special ed schools and staff., why not pay neighboring districts their going rate (generally lower than DC's) to help many of DC's problem kids?
Fenty's proposal to establish a DC Institute of Technology seems overly ambitious given the prospective DC student pool. Why not propose a National Capital Area Institute of Technology (NCAIT) and benefit from the region's combined resources, and expertise?
e. free plugs for NARPAC
Affordable Housing Is a Mixed Obligation
Potential Near-Term Actions
1. call for a region-wide summit on affordable housing
2. call for DC agencies to focus on expediting the elimination of substandard/empty/abandoned properties suitable for replacement with affordable housing units
Putting Affordable Housing Into A Larger Context
a. affordable housing structures are not an end in themselves:
NARPAC believes that future actions to provide (subsidize, really) affordable housing should be subsumed in some larger context. Surely it is not an end in itself to underwrite permanent residences for what are generally "unaffordable households" (i.e., the revenues produced by the households do not exceed the expenditures they consume). A more fundamental objective might well be to "assure that a reasonable share of moderate income working householders who contribute constructively to the city's future be able to find convenient living accommodations within the capital city". This could open up a somewhat larger choice of acceptable, if not preferable, solutions such as a) favoring higher density locations near public transportation nodes; b) providing direct housing subsidies to desired classes of residents; c) designing semi- independent multiple-unit dwellings; d) providing accommodations on the land of, or within the buildings of, their workplaces; or e) evolving some 21st century version of "settlement houses" in which some subsidized householders provide "services in kind" (public service hours) to assist the transient needy (such as, perhaps, destitute teenage moms, or returning unskilled first-offenders).
b. addressing root causes:
The main reason that there are insufficient affordable housing units in DC is not because there are too many rich taxpaying households preempting the market and available land, but because there are too many tax-consuming households below the poverty line using up scarce urban land. The more fundamental approach to restoring some sort of fuzzy urban demographic "inclusiveness" or "diversity", is to focus or reducing DC's abnormal number of very poor residents. It should be one goal of DC's (non-existent) "Urban Growth Management" objective. Lift the poor one or two notches up the economic success ladder, and they become affordable householders. This in turn relates to priorities within the city's education domain (see NARPAC comments there.)
c: developing a regional context:
Only in socialist states and/or dictatorships (all currently failing) around the globe does the government decide where its people will or will not live. The (now well established) US socio- economic entity in our democratic, free market society is the metro area: not our struggling inner cities and not our existing, largely outmoded states. Most of DC's glaring and nationally embarrassing problems would disappear if there was a more even socio-economic distribution within the metro area. The lack of suitable region-wide burden-sharing (not simply wealth- sharing) contributes to many of DC's poverty-related troubles. The city sorely needs to stimulate, greater voluntary cooperation in resolving affordable housing problems regionally, particularly when the current housing density outside the District is a tiny fraction of that in the "core city" itself, and when there is no point in DC more 3-4 miles from a suburb. Better relations with Congress could result in greater federal incentives for such cooperation. (See NARPAC comments on Democracy and Voting Rights Blog, for lack of a more appropriate place.)
d. free plug for NARPAC
SAFETY and JUSTICE
Cities with High Poverty Aren't "Safe"
Potential Near-Term Actions
1. Announce the mayor's intention to establish an independent Capital City Program Analysis Office (well beyond "CapStat" per se, and surely not under CFO!) to explore municipal agency productivity compared to other relevant jurisdictions, and to challenge budget/program allocations between interdependent city functions.
2. Applaud current regional and federal cooperation in DC crime prevention and emergency care, but propose to explore additional areas for common practices and facilities to benefit national capital metro area safety and health.
Accepting the Broader Context:
a. On the Plus Side:
This is the only vision area that recognizes that the solution lies outside the purview of the agency devoted to the controlling the problem. We agree that DC's (somewhat) above urban average crime statistics are largely caused by high poverty and high male school drop-outs. Elsewhere, we refer to this nationally-embarrassing reality as "the war between the drop-outs". The solutions clearly lie in increasing success in improving education and health, thereby decreasing poverty. NARPAC strongly believes that "Poverty Reduction" is one of the four or five major overarching goals that should underpin the current, somewhat disconnected, "Fenty Visions."
b. On the Minus Side:
We believe, however, that this vision statement only addresses "Reducing Current Crime Rates" and ignores other aspects of the overall safety and justice problem area, such as:
o the compounding effects of repeat offenders magnifies the impact of so many juveniles entering the world of crime so young. Reducing recidivism is the subject of a recent Neil Pearce (citistate) article and bears serious consideration;
o the importance and apparent inefficiency of DC's FEMS efforts must be addressed. It is closely related to DC's failing image in health statistics, the overlap in fire and ambulance functions, the misuse of emergency transportation and facilities, etc. All are related to the larger poverty issue;
o police and FEMS workers are frequently cited as among those needing and deserving more affordable housing within DC. This is another "cross-cutting" issue deserving further attention. These dedicated people are often singled out as potential role models for aimless youth, and it might be possible to exchange affordable housing for after-hours contributions of time and effort with the target young population. There is, of course, an active Police Boys & Girls Club, but there are other areas involving teenagers' spare time that deserve expanded participation by the S&J community. [On the Education blog, we proffer the idea of "settlement houses" or "kibbutzes" as means of "recycling" wayward youth, partially staffed by willing city workers].
c. Increasing Workforce Effectiveness, Efficiency, Accountability, Etc.:
The Fenty "Fiscal Discipline" Vision (not now supported by a blog), proposes an initiative by which he hopes to "root out waste and discover (in)efficiencies". This Capital Accountability System (CapStat) is an outgrowth of similar map-based data presentations used in Baltimore (CitiStat) and New York (CompStat) to improve management allocation of resources. Similar systems are now used in other cities, and are described on the web. Early versions of this "high- tech" system were featured in the TV series about the brief of police in "The District". Many viewers thrilled at the thought of such a splendid management panacea. Fenty proposes to use this technique across many municipal agencies, and reap millions in cost-avoidance.
NARPAC has no objection to such high-tech initiatives, and would particularly support them in the (bad) health arena. However, these "current event" tracking and display systems are not likely to catch DC's basic failures in workforce productivity. DC clearly has way more MPD/FEMS personnel than comparable urban jurisdictions even excluding the several thousand additional law enforcement officers in DC from other agencies, ranging from the Park Police and GSA, to Metro and the 2300 (!) members of the Capitol Police. The nation's capital city is awash in costly starched safety/security uniforms, and awash in juvie criminals just the same.
NARPAC firmly believes that Fenty should establish an independent program analysis group to compare DC personnel and performance levels to those of other relevant jurisdictions, and to challenge budget allocations among municipal agencies devoted to attaining the city's same overarching goals. This office could easily manage (and expand) the CapStat system as well.
d. developing a regional context:
DC's MPD and FEMS(?) are somewhat ahead of other DC agencies in seeking out and accepting both regional and federal assistance in their duties, recognizing that neither crime prevention nor emergency care can afford to be compromised by jurisdictional boundaries. Such obvious steps as interoperable communications and ER use are no-brainers. We believe there are more significant opportunities to share facilities and functions whereby DC could benefit from the relative wealth and expertise of nearby jurisdictions, and federal agencies as well. These could range from training and data storage/analysis facilities, to morgues, "CSI" labs, and specialty trauma centers.
e. free plug for NARPAC
We took an extended look at DC's MPD and FEMS workforce compared to those of other cities
in our response to the finally-fading, originally- flawed GAO report trying to "prove" DC's
supposedly enduring "structural imbalance", which we consider a hoax. Here is our analysis.
The Centerpiece of DC's Future
Potential Near-Term Actions
1. Announce intention to immediately start a 6-month review of DC's new Comprehensive Plan to resolve some of the "big picture" issues sidestepped by the last administration;
2. Take on an immediate survey to more accurately determine the number and extent of DC's current skill-limited workforce, separating it from other reasons for not being employed;
3. Press for greater regional cooperation in, and federal support for, major projects that reflect the region's plans for world-class economic development;
a. The Big Enchilada
NARPAC believes that the future of our nation's capital city depends more on decisions made in the broad economic development domain than any other. At one extreme it can strongly enhance the city's image by attracting growing and globally-important businesses. At the other, it can help develop local neighborhood satisfaction, and provide employment at resident skills levels. But the mayor needs to make trade-offs and other decisions within the broader objective of "Managing Urban Growth". He has not yet assembled his individual "visions" into a more coherent over- arching framework, and risks making early ad hoc decisions inconsistent with a later unified long- term citywide, region-sensitive, capital-specific comprehensive plan.
In fact, many major economic development opportunities for the next decade have already been made by the Williams administration, and deserves great credit for them. Even while its "public face" was smiling at neighborhood sanctity and community development, off-camera DC has taken a series of bold steps that will forever change the city's landscape and do much to assure its future fiscal soundness. But additional basic, and controversial, questions about the directions of future city growth need to be addressed in the near future before more dies are cast.
b. Twenty Questions re Urban Growth Trade-offs:
Since land area is limited by city boundaries, excavation depth is limited by the cost of digging, and construction height by seriously outdated "historic" limitations, DC must make more and tougher decisions than the usual urban trade-offs to keep growing. Growth will almost certainly require "managed" increases in density of all land use, involving these questions:
o How fast should DC's "Gross State Product" grow relative to the rest of the metro area?
NARPAC contends that none of these fundamental issues are satisfactorily addressed in the new Comprehensive Plan, which the current DC Council expects to sign before adjourning. The plan seems more like an endless laundry list for every local advocacy group in town, surrounded by attractive graphics. It has almost no references to special capital city obligations, and a total void in reaching out for regional cooperation in even the most obvious areas. It needs reconsideration.
c. free plug for NARPAC
We have raised many of these issues in our comments on:
the new DC Comprehensive Plan,
PROVIDING QUALITY AFFORDABLE HEALTH CARE
Healthy Cities Require Smart People and Smart Governments
Potential Near-Term Actions (too late?)
1. The mayor should make it abundantly clear that health issues are directly related to educational deficits and the poverty that results, and that solutions will involve strong cross-agency efforts;
2. ...and call for greater regional cooperation in solving the region's common health problems;
a. Necessary but Not Sufficient:
NARPAC is very impressed by the thoroughness of the Fenty health care plan, and agrees with virtually all the recommendations it understands We are also pleased to see the concept of a new National Capital Medical Center ignored. But we still see room for improvement:
o We were sorry not to see any reference to the blot on our national image as the US capital city brought on by all the unfavorable health statistics. Some of them come much too close to Third World standards, and some of them are for the same reasons.
o We are always disappointed when we see no mention of the role of "faith-based institutions" in helping "reach" some of those who are hardest to reach, and most in need medical attention and/or changes in their life-style. In a city where there are so many churches and so many pastors determined to insinuate themselves into local political processes, why shouldn't they accept some responsibility for the physical health of their flocks, as well as their spiritual and political health?
o NARPAC sees the same imbalance here as in the public education domain: too much emphasis on making better health care available (the teaching side) and too little emphasis on the patient- receptivity side (the learning side). Here, however, it is not just a simple matter of parental encouragement. While uninspired students are young, the chronically sick are most likely far older and far more likely to be on their own. Who, then, will push these needy toward their salvation?
o A few minutes of "googling" identifies any number of reports linking poor health and illiteracy. Fenty highlights the serious education problem associated with DC's embarrassingly high number of "functionally illiterate", frequently quoted at one-third of all DC adults. Those who cannot read about their illness, read about how to get help, fill out insurance forms, or read the instructions their doctors have provided are surely not likely to be highly motivated or capable of getting well.
o Poor health is evidently linked to poverty (and illiteracy), but it is also likely associated with living alone, being the only adult in a household, or having no concerned employer. There is probably no stronger interest in one's health than his or her live-in partner, relative, or spouse. Here again, DC is at a strong relative disadvantage. DC has a far higher (and growing) share of lone householders than the rest of this metro area, and a larger share of one-parent family households as well. Finally, DC has over 90,000 people over 45 yrs old that are either "not in the work force" or "unemployed". Almost two-thirds of them are women. These older generations are clearly at greater risk, with an increased likelihood of being both poorly educated and alone.
o The misuse of DC's (rather inefficient) emergency medicine capabilities has also drawn our attention in the past. Like it or not, more attention needs to be paid to the budgetary impact of trying to provide health services to a large population that does not really understand its health problems, how it got them, how it can get rid of them, or who would pay for it.
Based on the foregoing, NARPAC seriously doubts DC's very serious health-related problems will be solved within 10 years, unless there is more emphasis on adult education and poverty alleviation (or re-distribution). It will not help much to build and fill a larger water trough if the horse can't be lead to water or made to drink.
b. developing a regional context:
As in our other blog inputs, we find it strange that there is virtually no reference to the possibility of developing greater regional approaches to many of these health problems. There is no place in DC further than three miles from a neighboring jurisdiction, and no neighboring jurisdiction that does not share the same health problems, albeit to a lesser degree. Someone in the extensive health care advocacy world should take on the basic issue of identifying specific opportunities for expanding regional health solutions for the benefit of the whole national capital metro area.
c. free plugs for NARPAC:
o We dissected the DC FY00 Human Services budget
several years ago but have not returned to it since;
ACHIEVING DEMOCRACY AND VOTING RIGHTS
Putting Voting Rights in a Broader Content
NARPAC quite obviously has no objections to the quest for voting rights for all qualifying Americans. Nevertheless, in the absence of a broader "Vision for DC" than has been put forward so far, we would prefer to couch this goal within a larger context of "Federal and Regional Government Relations". And into that broader sweep, we would add (at least) two other elements which could bring the city greater concrete benefits, though they might fall short in the "feel good" category:
a. Change Congressional Oversight to a Joint Committee::
We see little future for statehood, but we find the current Congressional oversight by four junior- member Congressional subcommittees (once called "dregs" assignments by a senior Senator) not only demeaning, but focused on the wrong objective (annual budgetary control). We doubt the reality or the wisdom of trying to eliminate Congressional oversight, constitutionally mandated, and we don't simply want to raise DC to the equivalent of 50 other states. We would prefer to have DC treated as a unique national asset, and overseen by a Joint Congressional Committee on the National Capital City, using senior Congressional members, and focusing on DC's large and unfilled infrastructure needs. The objective would parallel Adrian Fenty's desire to make DC "the best city in the world, the national capital of the United States of America".
b. Expand Regional Cooperation on Common Regional Problems:
NARPAC sees no way for DC to compete successfully with the other metro area jurisdictions in either growth or modernization as long as it holds about 12% of the region's wealth, and about 40% of the region's households in poverty. Rather than try to squeeze the suburbs with a dubious "commuter tax", we would prefer to see DC take the lead in strengthening regional organizations in all the region's Class I problems: poverty, education, health, crime, transportation, etc. We think that if DC could get higher-level Congressional oversight (above), then Congress could provide substantial incentives for strengthening regional organizations, perhaps by greater use of regional grants for regional problems.
c. Initial Fenty Priorities:
If a) and b) above are added to your preferred Voting Rights initiative, we find issue a) above to be the only one that is truly time-sensitive. Any changes in Congressional Committee structure are made prior to the opening of the next session in January. Voting rights has no such tight deadline, and b) above might better wait until higher level Congressional oversight can be brought to bear.
We recognize this could deflect some attention from your own long-established goals in the near term, but we have found no other reliable avenue to get this suggestion considered quickly.
Response to the Pre-transition Team Leader Questions:
NARPAC suggests that Mayor Fenty seek higher level Constitutionally-required Congressional oversight for our nation capital. Here are the answers to your four questions:
1. What e-x-a-c-t-l-y are you proposing?
We advise Mayor Fenty to announce, preferably immediately following his election, that he will seek a more appropriate relationship with Congress. Ask Congress to a) get away from tinkering with DC's annual budget through four "dregs" subcommittees; b) form a Joint Committee on the Nation's Capital City, populated by senior House and Senate committee chairmen, to help develop the world's finest capital city; and c) start helping DC with x) its very costly infrastructure needs; y) its tough two-state, ten-county regional relationships; and z) its valid demands for better representation in Congress.
2. How long to implement your plan?
Congressional Committee re-arrangements are generally decided before each new Congressional session opens, and the membership assigned. If this proposal doesn't "grow legs" by early December, 2006, you can forget it for at least two years..
3. How much will your proposal cost?
The only cost (or is it really a benefit?) is to force Mayor Fenty to get to know the new House and Senate leadership just as soon as he can arrange to meet with them, welcome them to HIS city, and ask 'em to set things right. (Can he give them "keys to the city"? Didn't Tony Williams have a new one designed?)
4. What would be the funding source?
4. NARPAC can pick up the costs of phone calls, taxi fares, and a couple of lunches if the city can't spend its own money on relations with Congress. We probably can't afford to pick up the cost of the symbolic "keys".
ACCESSING 21ST CENTURY TECHNOLOGY
Potential Near-Term Actions
1. call for a regional summit on enhancing high-tech educational opportunities (see NARPAC input to Education Blog when posted)
2. Though NARPAC feels strongly that the vast majority of DC's one hundred and thirty-nine (139)(CXXXIX) boards and commissions are little short of hidden patronage, the new mayor might promise to form a High Technology Advisory Board to counsel the mayor on opportunities to take the lead in applying emerging technologies to urban problems in DC, and in assessing their potential costs and benefits.
Putting Technology Into A Larger Context
NARPAC certainly has no objections to the notion of increasing the technological competence of DC residents, but embracing technology is a much broader area than encouraging more residents to use the Internet and the mayor-elect's Blackberrys. For many people, Internet is primarily a source of entertainment (of all kinds) and a distraction from real world connectivity. We believe the new administration should differentiate between understanding technology, using it, and making a living through it. We also believe there should be equal emphasis on the applications of technology by the DC government and by the private, educational, and commercial sectors.
a. embracing technology
Virtually all expanding businesses have a large high-tech component, and other than lobbyists, the area's highest paying jobs require well-educated, savvy employees. Given the sad state of DC's past and present education system, of so many of its enrolled students, and of its household demographics, we project that it will be many years before typical DC individual income, much less household income or even human interest, can rise to match that of the rest of our own metro area. (Clue #1: absence of contributions to this blog!) Education is the key, and high-tech competence requires a lot of it, well beyond a simple BS degree. This alone will continue to require acceptance of a large influx of commuters to staff DC's major tax-paying businesses.
(We have not followed the success of the new high-tech McKinley High School, but would not be surprised to learn it is so far falling short of expectations. Can someone check this?)
NARPAC has been disappointed by the city government's failure to apply new technologies, either well-established, or experimental. We think one aspect of our national capital's image should be as a test bed for new concepts. Instead, we are known for elaborate work-related computer programs that never worked, escalators that can't be maintained, and advocacy of returning to century-old, road-clogging trolleys.
We see many high-tech opportunities in the transportation area: from greater acceptance of the segway as an urban alternative to bicycles; to high-density robotic off-street parking, and to virtually all aspects of regulating and collecting fees for city vehicular usage, using existing RFID (Easy Pass) technology. Computer technology should also make possible great strides in bus utilization and rider appeal, as well as tighter headway between Metro subway trains.
There is no "Fenty vision" for transportation yet, but new technologies could help greatly in reconciling the current conflict between the pressing economic demand for transportation and the residential distaste for traffic. DDoT has shown no high-tech leanings at all. The current nationally embarrassing bickering over DC's baseball stadium parking is typical of the conflicting interests between minimizing near-term costs and adopting higher tech, higher cost, solutions such as robotic parking. This new technology can cut parking volume per vehicle by a factor of four, free up space and volume for commercial enterprise ,but will require a somewhat longer period for initial cost recovery. We see no reason why higher parking fees cannot be levied.
We see many opportunities in the education area for higher tech classrooms, as well as classroom substitutes for enhancing literacy, life-style, and vocational training. After all, such technologies are now available for children's toys! And typical kids' classrooms do not attract educationally short-changed adults.
There are also major opportunities in the health area for applying the latest evolving technologies in the understanding and treatment of chronic diseases, malnutrition, obesity, etc. These can make major contributions to the eventual reduction of poverty in some of its cruelest forms.
b:developing a regional context:
Technology certainly does not recognize local jurisdictional borders. While the suburbs have vastly smaller poverty problems, they have growing problems in finding skilled people to work in their expanding high-tech industries. This area should provide a golden opportunity for regional cooperation, possibly to include establishing a Nat'l Capital Area Institute of Technology (our suggested altenative to the Fenty-proposed DC institute, on the Education Blog).
c. free plug for NARPAC
VIBRANT, DIVERSE COMMUNITY
Inadequate Words for Fundamental Problems
Potential Near-Term Actions
Mayor Fenty has promised to work with the Washington Area's Women's Foundation to help "empower women and girls to lead full, successful, and productive lives". Well and good, but this organization appears to be simply an advocacy group for extending women's rights and equality. We think he must go must further than motherhood and apple pie, and focus on how to keep from overwhelming the city with unaffordable costs and the discouraging statistics that flow out of poverty and into all socio-economic performance measures. Start some "commission" on "Female Householders and City Finances".
a. A Matter of Definitions
From a practical management point of view, NARPAC finds both "vibrancy" and "diversity", to say nothing of "inclusiveness", to be impractical terms. While it may be possible to discern the total lack of any one of these, it seems implausible to determine a "best" level or to enforce it. Excuse our warped (?) sense of humor, but can you visualize any of the following headlines?:
o "Mayor Fenty Rushes Emergency Entertainment Equipment to Georgetown: city vibrancy meters drop below acceptable level for third straight night...."
o "Fenty's New Diversity Police Shut Down Ben's Chili Bowl: CapStat reports insufficient number of Asian-Americans ate there in October....", or
o "DC Moves to Expropriate Kalorama Heights Homes: City Administrator Tangherlini cites failure to attract homeless and single-parent families below poverty level as justifiable cause..."
From the standpoint of measurement and action, consider this: by ACS05 (Census Bureau 2005 American Community Survey), DC's racial diversity is 33% white, 57% black, and 3% Asian, while Maryland is 62%/29%/5% and Virginia is 72%/19%/5%. Who gets the National Diversity Award, and should the judges be swayed by the fact that the US as a whole is 75%/12%/4%?
Furthermore, while some may find these terms heartwarming, others find these terms either blatant political ploys, or inappropriate attempts to employ "social engineering". NARPAC strongly supports both racial equality and poverty reduction, but sees no point in trying to erase class distinctions that draw households of similar lifestyles together in empathetic neighborhoods..
NARPAC agrees extreme class segregation can be offensive at either end of the socio-economic scale. The Comprehensive Plan establishes the dubious goal of avoiding "gated communities", perhaps inadvertently denying community diversity at the upper end of the scale, and one of the best devices to improve household safety. But neither that plan nor this vision overtly raise the far more serious, but dangerously sensitive, issue of somehow "un-gating" the seriously blighted communities where the very poor congregate and feed on each other's despair. NARPAC agrees with those experts who, with one verb or another, urge "de-concentration" as a key means in reducing the generational perpetuation of their plight. Like another politically incorrect term"gentrification", "de-concentration" is an essential step in improving the national capital city's second- or third-class image.
c. Subordinating a Major and Welcome Recognition
Buried in this Fenty vision between Latinos (12% of city population) and Gays and Lesbians (anybody know how many?) lies the far more significant issue of Women and Girls. The vision correctly recognizes that "many" DC families are headed by women (but ignores that too many of them are only girls). The full extent of women's impacts on DC needs to be further elaborated.
o Women are a larger share of the population in DC (53%/47%) than in Maryland (52%/48%) or in Virginia (51%/49%), which matches the US "norm" (ACS05). Women are also a higher share of population over 65 than those other states. DC women are somewhat more involved in the workforce. Among the non-poor, DC's women are better educated than their male counterparts, but among those in poverty, less have finished High School.
o But the female head of household statistics are far more startling. According to ACS05 statistics, 41% of all family (i.e., with kids) households in DC are headed by women, compared to 21% in Maryland and 18%. Married couples head 50% in DC, 73% in Maryland and 76% in Virginia. But DC also has a far larger share of non-family households (56% vs 33% for Maryland and Virginia), So 49% of all DC households, families or not and poor or not, are headed by women with no male present, while Maryland's percentage drops to 32%, Virginia's, 30%.
o Finally, childbearing rates are substantially higher for DC women below 100% of the poverty line, married and unmarried. Somewhat more kids are born per woman in DC, and the number of kids born into poverty is a lot higher: 57% for DC v. 31% for Maryland and 36% for Virginia. . DC's leaders cannot overlook the greater responsibilities borne by DC women, or the greater number of kids they bring alone into the world of poverty, compared to the surrounding area.
d. developing a regional context:
It should be noted that the fuzzy issues of "diversity" and "inclusiveness" probably apply at the regional level as well as the neighborhood level. Our capital city is surely not obliged to become the region's poorhouse! Nor is it ordained to be the first American City Without Fathers, or America's Mecca for Affordable Housing As discussed on other blogs in this series, poverty must be accepted as a regional burden that cries out for regional solutions.
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This page was updated on Nov 15, 2006
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