Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Philadelphia center city schools initiative

Philadelphia has launched an initiative to improve (and better market) city schools in order to retain higher income residents, according to this article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, "Selling schools - to families. A new campaign touts 20 Center City sites. Its aim: Retain the middle class."

Philadelphia Inquirer  08-22-2005  Selling schools - to families.jpg

From the article:

The Philadelphia School District, along with an economic-development group, is trying to make Center City schools more attractive to middle-class parents who flee the district - and often the city - when their children hit school age.
The "Center City Region" will serve 20 schools in the tony neighborhoods of Society Hill and Rittenhouse Square, as well as parts of South Philadelphia, Northern Liberties and Fairmount. Some changes will be cosmetic, such as catchy Web sites and improved lighting and landscaping to give the schools "curb appeal," as one executive calls it. But new educational programs and community partnerships are also in the making.

"This is looking at capturing and preserving and creating a middle class in Center City Philadelphia," said School Reform Commission chairman James Nevels. The 10,000-student region, which is bound roughly by Poplar Street, Washington Avenue, and the two rivers, will reach out to businesses and cultural institutions to help schools develop special niches, said Janet Samuels, its superintendent. For example, Benjamin Franklin High, which serves Chinatown, will add the teaching of Mandarin Chinese; this year, it will house the ninth grade of a dual-language "Chinese American" High School that the district plans to convert into a charter.

This is similar to my concept proposal to create an arts cluster schools concept for the schools in the Greater H Street neighborhood, complementary to the developing arts district at the eastern end of H Street. The idea is to include a variety of "arts" -- performance, visual, English language, literature and writing, foreign language and culture, design, media and computing. Each school could have a different language focus. Artists-in-residence could live on the school grounds. Ideally, underutilized public assets such as the Firehouse on the 1300 block of Maryland Avenue NE or the old school building on the Miner Campus (which is slated to be used by the Police Department), eventually Prospect School (Old Goding) could be used as part of this initiative.

People frequently make the point that once middle and higher income people stop consuming municipal services, the quality declines. To be successful, city schools must be able to serve all residents. Only this way can families with children be retained in the city.

KENTLANDSSuburban idyll? Walking in Kentlands. Photo by Bill O'Leary, Washington Post. Some people refer to new urbanism as "new suburbanism."

This article from the Post, "Walk of the Town: The New Urbanist Mystique" about new urbanism in the suburbs, in particular Kentlands, makes the point indirectly. The author pines about living in Kentlands, when you can get these kinds of living experiences in Washington neighborhoods, in Alexandria, Arlington, etc. But at least in DC, the public school system isn't that great, which all-too-often drives people to leave the city.

7th Street SE, Eastern Market7th Street SE. Photo courtesy Keith Stanley.

Dupont Circle Street Recital and FundraiserDupont Circle Street Recital and Fundraiser. Photo courtesy Keith Stanley.

To paraphrase the Bill Clinton campaign, "It's the schools, stupid."

(Of course, it's also "It's public safety, stupid" and "It's quality municipal services, stupid.")


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