Cities Without Suburbs – A Book Review

14 01 2010

Cities Without Suburbs - By: David Rusk

I recently finished reading a book by David Rusk called “Cities without Suburbs.” I highly recommend this book to everyone. The book argues in support of regional cooperation and/or consolidation of suburbs with their historically central cities. Going beyond your typical benefits of regional cooperation, this book explains, with evidence, that there are many benefits for regional consolidation of services. He thoroughly identifies the problems facing inner cities today including, increasing poverty rates, decreasing tax revenues, and the inherent problems with solving complicated social, transportation, housing, economic, and budgetary problems when cooperating with a number of municipalities. Using census data, he explains why cities that have expanded their boundaries to encompass their own suburbs have historically done much better than cities that are unable to expand their boundaries.These locked-in cities lose revenue, resources, and opportunities in the long run to their independent suburbs. This same reason is also why suburbanites fight consolidation/annexation. They believe that their suburbs are doing well and that they don’t want to take on the inner city’s problems. There are a couple of problems with this philosophy, however. First, history and statistics have shown that suburbs that are independent from their central city do not grow as fast as suburbs that are connected to their city. In fact, the average income for the entire region is lower for regions that are segmented versus those that are not. Second, when connected to their suburbs, central cities have fewer problems and the region as a whole has a lower crime rate and a better quality of life.

While I have always felt that a regional Hampton Roads would be a good thing, this book got me thinking that it should go further than that. It is certainly a step in a positive direction to have regional organizations. Certainly don’t get me wrong. Our current institutions such as HRT, SPSA, HRPDC, HRTPO etc all have their problems but when it comes down to it, they make certain things simpler for our area. Imagine if each city had to run its own bus service. You would have to transfer to another bus every time you crossed a city boundary. What if each city had to compete individually for transportation money from the state and federal government? You think we get shorted our share now? Despite current and planned or possible future regional entities, we still need to go further.

Let’s look at one thing that our region does. It may seem minor but think about it. Tourism. Our region has many great tourist attractions. From the Virginia Beach Oceanfront and Ocean Breeze to Colonial Williamsburg and Busch Gardens/Water Country and everything in between such as Nauticus and the Wisconsin, Hampton Roads has a lot to offer. Each city spends millions a year in tourism advertising money to attempt to attract visitors to patronize their respective city. While places like Virginia Beach and Williamsburg spend money to directly advertise their attractions, other places such as Chesapeake advertise to attract visitors to stay in their hotels, hoping to capture tourists’ shopping dollars at Greenbrier, etc. The reason this has to be done is because otherwise, Chesapeake makes no money off of Virginia Beach’s tourists. If our cities were one jurisdiction, however, things would be much different. We could combine our money to advertise for our regional attractions and the whole area would benefit. The area of Chesapeake would benefit just as much from tourists that came to Greenbrier as from those that never shopped west of Lynnhaven.

The same goes for transportation. Think of our major projects. The HRBT is a good example. As it stands, Hampton and Newport News want an expanded HRBT. Norfolk, however, is against it because the outcome on our side of the water would be destroyed properties. If we were one city, though, we would be much more likely to support it. An expanded HRBT would almost certainly be a catalyst for a better business climate on the Peninsula. Norfolk doesn’t really care about that. Hampton voters can’t vote for Norfolk’s City Council. As one city, the Peninsula’s economic climate would be Norfolk’s economic climate meaning that the expanded HRBT would benefit the city. Same goes for the Dominion Blvd. project. Peninsula, Norfolk and VB leaders can see how it is important to Chesapeake and the region overall. Secretly, though, they also know that Chesapeake residents are not their constituency. They can support Chesapeake’s project but at the same time they are obligated to do what is best for their constituency.

We can look at social issues. Public housing for example. First, current housing projects were built in Norfolk, Portsmouth, Newport News, and Hampton simply because the cities were there. Chesapeake, Virginia Beach, Suffolk and the counties of Hampton Roads did not have the capacity to support large scale housing projects at the time. Current housing policy no longer supports concentrated ‘projects.’ Studies have shown that everyone does better when the poor are dispersed throughout the middle class housing areas. This dispersion keeps the poor from feeling hopeless about their situation. Their income rates increase as does the pass rate for their school children. College attendance and graduation rates increase. Despite the objections by some middle class areas, the property values do not decrease and crime does not increase. In cities that are serious about this policy, overall crime rates tend to decrease and overall income averages go up. In our area, however, due to our segmented cities and therefore our segmented housing authorities, the residents of the current projects cannot be transferred to other cities using funds from their home city to pay the rent. This condition severely limits the ability of our housing authorities to successfully assist the poor residents of the housing projects. As one city, the authority could move residents freely around the region to make sure that they have the best opportunity to advance their situations.

I think that this can be accomplished with the right amount of public support. This will not be easy, however, and will take careful consideration to make a thorough proposal to the General Assembly (required for consolidation in Virginia). This will require public education and public input to make sure that all issues are addressed. I know that not everyone will support this but that is typical of any major proposal. I also know that if we could consolidate our area so that the central cities encompasses 60-75 % of our regional population that we would be a force to be reckoned with at the state, federal, and economic levels.


Norfolk Public Schools: Who’s in ‘charge’?

8 01 2010

With all this talk of HRT and the apparent want to fire the one ‘responsible,’ I have to wonder… Why not now? I consider problems like those allegedly reported at LaFayette-Winona just as serious as communication failure at HRT. The school board apparently hadn’t heard about this problem until the Pilot started investigating. In fact, the Pilot story states:

“Although state investigators conducted their investigation in September and published their findings on Oct. 14, board members said they first officially heard of testing irregularities from school officials in a Nov. 9 e-mail. That e-mail from the school division informed them that The Pilot was looking into the situation but didn’t provide details”

If the school board hadn’t heard, I would put money down that says the City Council was in the dark as well. Where is the outrage here? Judging by the response to the HRT situation, shouldn’t the school board be calling for the Superintendent’s head? Shouldn’t Council? I will go out on a limb and say its about the money. Sad, i know, that apparently HRT’s money is more important than a school system with integrity. Its only our children. The future of Norfolk and all. In my opinion,  the children that we have in our schools are much more valuable than whatever cost overruns could have occurred with the Tide. As a resident of Norfolk, I feel that the city’s apparent uneven application of accountability should stop. Remember that fellow Norfolkians; the City Council is up for election this year.

How do Sex Offenders Vote?

3 11 2009

How can sex offenders vote in Chesapeake? Many voting precincts are located inside of school buildings while school is in session. Don’t get me wrong, most sex offenders are what they are for a reason: they were found guilty of a crime. They still, however, have the right to vote. Chesapeake Public Schools prohibits sex offenders from being on school property. The interior of the school is not always secured from those that are voting. Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Suffolk, Portsmouth, and Hampton all close their schools for Election Day. Why not Chesapeake? For a security standpoint, this is a very risky move. Is security not the top priority?

Norfolk Public Schools Grading Policy

11 10 2009

I support Norfolk’s new policy, but I must suggest that they present it differently. This new system is very similar to the system that many colleges and private schools use. Let me explain. First, disregard everything that you have heard about their new policy because they don’t know how to explain it right. The reason that they say not to give a zero but instead give a 61 is because the teachers still use a numerical based grading system. Pretend I took 4 tests over the course of the year. My grades are as follows:

  1. 96% – A
  2. 86% – B-
  3. 21% – F (E in Public School)
  4. 100% – A+

The letter grades assigned are based on the grading policy of Bishop Sullivan Catholic High School in Virginia Beach. Based on a numerical grading system, my average would be a 75% or a D+. For all intents and purposes, I was a good student that received A’s and B’s but I had one bad day and now average to a D+. Using a non-numerical, or Letter-based grading system, which is essentially what Norfolk has adopted but has explained terribly, I would average a B-, which is more inline with my overall performance.

Basically, a teacher grades an assignment as he/she would normally do. Instead of recording the numerical grade in the grade book, however, the letter grade would be recorded. The letter grades are then averaged at the end of the semester, similar to how the school figures out Grade Point Averages.  To test this for yourself, I will post the scale below, once again, from BSCHS’s grading policy

  1. A+ :  98-100
  2. A    :  95-97
  3. A-   :  93-94
  4. B+  :  90-92
  5. B     :  87-89
  6. B-   :  85-86
  7. C+  :  82-84
  8. C     :  79-81
  9. C-    :  77-78
  10. D+  :  75-76
  11. D     :  72-74
  12. D-   :  70-71
  13. F     :  69 and below
  1. A+  :  4.3
  2. A     :  4.0
  3. A-   :   3.7
  4. B+   :  3.3
  5. B      :  3.0
  6. B-    :  2.7
  7. C+   :  2.3
  8. C      : 2.0
  9. C-    : 1.7
  10. D+  : 1.3
  11. D     : 1.0
  12. D-   : 0.7
  13. F     : 0

Once its laid out in a simple format, it should be relatively easy to understand why it is definitely a more desirable system. It doesn’t make it so that you can’t fail, it simply make it so that correcting your actions will matter. If a student gets all F’s he/she will still fail. But if that student really decides to correct his/her behavior, it will actually matter. You should be able to see why it didn’t matter before. If you know somewhat that remains misinformed, please enlighten them.