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.

Friday, April 20, 2012

WTF continued: DC Public Schools -- schools as fundamental building blocks of vibrant neighborhoods

Page about children building play cities from a reading instruction book
Schools are fundamental anchors which build and maintain quality neighborhoods and communities. Therefore to maintain communities we need to maintain the schools located within them.

Earlier this week, a new "5 year plan" (where's the document or the planning process) for the DC Public Schools was announced to great fanfare ("DC chancellor announces new 5-year education plan, warns of closures" from the Post) in advance of the Chancellor receiving an honorary doctorate from Georgetown University, her alma mater.

While I understand the _fact_ that since enrollment has dropped from the public schools so significantly, as a result of the creation of a separate category of public schools, called charter schools, and so the traditional public school system has "too many schools" relative to enrollment, at the same time if you want healthy, connected, thriving, vibrant neighborhoods, "public" schools are usually the key element to community building and community cohesion, especially because in most neighborhoods, other than parks, the public elementary school is the only prominent civic asset that is located there--as not every neighborhood has libraries or fire stations.

See the past blog entries, "Rethinking community planning around maintaining neighborhood civic assets and anchors," "One way in which community planning is completely backwards," and "Missing the most important point about closing Clifton School in Fairfax County" for more on this general point. (If I do say so myself, this set of entries is very good as it relates to this topic.)

So the City Council should step in and ensure that planning for neighborhood vitality is a key element in the DC Public Schools rightsizing process.

And it's an indicator that utilizing charter schools as way forward for educational improvement is maybe positive, but if the same energy had instead been unleashed on the traditional school system, instead of the system failing, it would be thriving, and we wouldn't have the various unintended consequences of the loss of successful elementary schools--that children can walk or bike to and that serve other neighborhood-supporting goals and objectives--in a majority of the city's neighborhoods.

Instead, we have public charter elementary schools serving citywide populations, generating daily, thousands of extra motor vehicle trips and at night, sitting empty, because the school and its social capital is for the most part, disconnected from the neighborhood in which it is located.

(Note that parks/recreation centers, elementary schools, libraries and fire stations are the civic assets most likely to be present in neighborhoods, as they are planned for at the scale of neighborhoods/multiple neighborhoods. Junior and senior high schools, police precinct offices, public health clinics, and senior centers are planned at the scale of Wards and districts. Most other civic assets (central library, museum, courthouse, public hospital, agency headquarters) are planned at the scale of the entire jurisdiction and are usually present in the central business district.)

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