Saturday, February 28, 2009

Downtown Excitement, Wonder and Belief in the Power of our Youth

This afternoon, I attended the Robotics Competition at the Wolstein Center at Cleveland State University for High School students throughout the country. A friend of mine, son and his team, built a robot, and believe me, this was a very serious, engaging event---where technology, science, math, and everything else in-between were showcased. The stands were packed, the crowds roared, and robots were everywhere.

Celebrating the multi-faceted gifts of your youth is something to champion everyday. Or own, East Technical High School of the Cleveland Municipal School District was a major team as well. We all know and the challenges of urban schools districts, yet in spite of the challenges, graduates of the CMSD go on, to stellar achievements. Check out the link below.

Monday, February 23, 2009


How do you attempt to answer questions in a public forum for residents that are actually asked in criticism, and pain borne of decades of failed and irresponsible government?

How does one listen to the passion and pleas of making choices over condemned and abandoned homes and neighborhoods where schools are located?

How do we respond to decades of pain-etched faces and hearts broken by neglect of government institutions, and the people that sold the hope and vote of the citizenry decades ago?

Where and when did our failed leadership suck the heart and soul of democracy out of our region?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Kauffman Foundation Launches Entrepreneur-Training Program to Spur Job Creation

The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation has announced a new $1 million effort to offer entrepreneurial training programs in communities that have been hit hard by layoffs and the recession.

In partnership with the Deluxe Corporation Foundation, which provided $500,000 in funding, Kauffman will roll out its FastTrac LaunchPad business-development program in New York City in March, with cities in other states, including Kansas, Missouri, Colorado, and Minnesota, to follow. The FastTrac program, which was established by the Kauffman Foundation fifteen years ago, provides training and education for individuals who have lost their jobs and entrepreneurs whose businesses are struggling in a tough economy. To help emerging and struggling entrepreneurs get a quicker start, the ten-week program will be offered on a truncated schedule.

According to a recent Kauffman-funded Census Bureau study, startup companies are a major contributor to job creation, and although the number of business startups tends to decline slightly during cyclical downturns, the number of existing startups remains robust even in the most severe recessions.

"Entrepreneurs will be the foundation of our nation's economic recovery because they start and grow businesses that create jobs," said Kauffman Foundation president and CEO Carl Schramm. "The Kauffman Foundation is dedicated to providing practical tools for entrepreneur training and development to fuel this recovery. The FastTrac LaunchPad initiative offers an incredible opportunity for communities across the nation, local entrepreneurs, and small business owners to build businesses and create jobs."

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Small, Green and Good by Catherine Tumber

Small, Green, and Good

The role of neglected cities in a sustainable future

Growing up in a small town, I regularly took bus trips with my mom and little sister into “the city”: Syracuse. Like most middle-class families in the 1960s, we had only one car, which my dad drove to work. So we would buy our tickets at the village pharmacy, board the Big Dog, and barrel though miles of farms and sparsely developed land until we reached the highway. Nearing the final stretch, we had to endure the stench of the Solvay chemical works to our right, and the creepy mint green of polluted Onondaga Lake on our left. But we would disembark in Syracuse’s vibrant downtown, all glittering lights and vertical planes, filled with department stores, jewelry and candy shops, theaters and movie palaces, “ethnic” food, and people who were interestingly not like us.

Smaller American cities, places like Syracuse—and Decatur, New Bedford, Kalamazoo, Buffalo, Trenton, Erie, and Youngstown—were once bustling centers of industry and downtown commerce, with wealthy local patrons committed to civic improvements and the arts. In the ’70s they began a decline from which they have not recovered. Today, most are scanted as doleful sites of low–paying service jobs, with shrinking tax bases and little appeal to young professionals or to what urban theorist Richard Florida calls the “creative class.” In Syracuse itself the center of gravity has shifted northward, toward Carousel Mall, leaving a ghostly downtown where Rite–Aid, now the largest store, presides over parking lots and abandoned buildings.

Historians and economic demographers generally attribute the decline of small–to–mid–size cities of 50,000 to 500,000 souls to deindustrialization, since many sit in the Midwestern Rust Belt or the Northeast. But the history of smaller–city decline is more complex than that. Smaller cities were also victims of post–war development policies better suited to large cities—or rather, that were painful, but less disastrous, for large metropolitan areas.

Extraordinary mid–twentieth century changes in transportation, zoning, housing construction, mortgage financing, and domestic taste facilitated the creation of wide swathes of “bourgeois utopias” that now ring our cities far out into the exurbs. They are the products of a radical transformation of land–use policy that extended supply chains with vast highway systems, further separating people from their workplaces, energy producers from consumers, and farmers from their markets. Large cities survived the changes and the resulting onslaught of suburban shopping malls—itself a reaction to extended supply–chains—in the late ’70s. In smaller cities, malls decimated what was left of retail districts already damaged by massive downtown highway systems that choked off commercial centers from surrounding urban neighborhoods.

Neglect of the smaller city, as both place and idea, continued through the rest of the century. As large–metropolitan real estate values skyrocketed in the 1990s, big cities attracted millions of dollars in capital improvements and large–scale development. “New Urbanism” among designers and architects, though not in theory intended only for big cities, attracted funding for pedestrian–friendly thoroughfares, mixed–use building, open spaces, and the preservation of historic architecture that enhanced the metropolitan boom. Now, with the call for reducing the urban carbon footprint, cosmopolitan living is going green. Two recent books proposing models for a low–carbon economy—Thomas Friedman’s Hot, Flat, and Crowded, and Jay Inslee and Bracken Hendricks’s Apollo’s Fire—speak throughout of “villages” and “large cities.” Not a word for the distinctive role smaller cities might play in a low–carbon world.

That is too bad. Smaller cities have idiosyncratic charms of their own–worthy of sustained attention and renewal. And, fortuitously, they have a distinctive and vital role to play in the work of the new century: small cities will be critical in the move to local agriculture and the development of renewable energy industries. These tasks will almost certainly require a dramatic rethinking of land–use policy, and small cities have assets that large cities lack. Their underused or vacant industrial space and surrounding tracts of farmland make them ideal sites for sustainable land-use policies, or “smart growth.”

Yet current urban planning models offer little guidance on how we might begin to make those changes. Nor, until recently, has there been a national forum that matches smaller–city renewal initiatives to national needs. The Revitalizing Older Cities Congressional Task Force, formed just last year, held its first national summit (organized by the Northeast–Midwest Institute) in mid–February. Local governments and advocates of eco–sustainability must build on this new conversation for they have a shared stake in the future.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Jewel on Euclid Avenue

The next time you are driving past 140th and Euclid; please stop at one of the most exciting library facilities, I have visited--and believe me, I have been in tens of libraries across the country.

The East Cleveland Public library cannot be compared to anything because it is unique--imagine the meeting space at the Cleveland Clinic--that seats over 200 combined with the New Jersey Arts Performance Center or the Oberlin College Conservatory Hall--you get the picture.

Now envision hundreds of books, new computers, meeting spaces, children's room, and much, much more.

While you are visiting, say hi to the Executive Director, Greg Reece, a champion and torchbearer for African Americans in the library industry, who raised close to 3.9 million dollars by himself to achieve a spectacular community space.

All that happens, and is happening in the City of East Cleveland is not poverty, crime, single moms or grandmothers.

What is happening in the City is the illumination of bright minds, inquisitive souls, and hungry people, sharing and appreciating, a treasured community asset.

I'll let you in on a secret, the Great Lakes Theater plans a series of performances at the library, and guess what, the Cleveland orchestra has performed in this space that has a cutting edge concert space and 50,000 Steinway piano.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Cisco's Intelligent Urbanisation Initiative

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Our Greatest National Shame- Nicholas Kristof

Our Greatest National Shame

Published: February 14, 2009

So maybe I was wrong. I used to consider health care our greatest national shame, considering that we spend twice as much on medical care as many European nations, yet American children are twice as likely to die before the age of 5 as Czech children — and American women are 11 times as likely to die in childbirth as Irish women.

Skip to next paragraph
Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

Nicholas D. Kristof

On the Ground

Yet I’m coming to think that our No. 1 priority actually must be education. That makes the new fiscal stimulus package a landmark, for it takes a few wobbly steps toward reform and allocates more than $100 billion toward education.

That’s a hefty sum — by comparison, the Education Department’s entire discretionary budget for the year was $59 billion — and it will save America’s schools from the catastrophe that they were facing. A University of Washington study had calculated that the recession would lead to cuts of 574,000 school jobs without a stimulus.

“We dodged a bullet the size of a freight train,” notes Amy Wilkins of the Education Trust, an advocacy group in Washington.

So for those who oppose education spending in the stimulus, a question: Do you really believe that slashing half a million teaching jobs would be fine for the economy, for our children and for our future?

Education Secretary Arne Duncan describes the stimulus as a “staggering opportunity,” the kind that comes once in a lifetime. He argues: “We have to educate our way to a better economy, that’s the only way long term to get there.”

That’s exactly right, and it’s partly why I shifted my views of the relative importance of education and health. One of last year’s smartest books was “The Race Between Education and Technology,” by Claudia Goldin and Lawrence F. Katz, both Harvard professors. They offer a wealth of evidence to argue that America became the world’s leading nation largely because of its emphasis on mass education at a time when other countries educated only elites (often, only male elites).

They show that America’s educational edge created prosperity and equality alike — but that this edge was eclipsed in about the 1970s, and since then one country after another has surpassed us in education.

Perhaps we should have fought the “war on poverty” with schools — or, as we’ll see in a moment, with teachers.

Some education programs have done remarkably well in overcoming the pathologies of poverty. Children who went through the Perry Preschool program in Michigan, for example, were 25 percent less likely to drop out of high school years later than their peers in a control group, and committed half as many violent felonies. They were one-third less likely to become teenage parents or addicts, and half as likely to get abortions.

Likewise, the KIPP program, the subject of a fine book by Jay Mathews, has attracted rave reviews for schools that turn low-income students’ lives around.

There are legitimate questions about whether such programs are scalable and would succeed if introduced more broadly. But we do know that the existing national school system is broken, and that we’re not trying hard enough to fix it.

“We have a good sense from the data where there are big opportunities,” notes Douglas Staiger, an economist at Dartmouth College who studies education.

The hardest nut to crack is high schools — we don’t have a strong sense yet how to rescue them. But there’s a real excitement at what we are learning about K-8 education.

First, good teachers matter more than anything; they are astonishingly important. It turns out that having a great teacher is far more important than being in a small class, or going to a good school with a mediocre teacher. A Los Angeles study suggested that four consecutive years of having a teacher from the top 25 percent of the pool would erase the black-white testing gap.

Second, our methods to screen potential teachers, or determine which ones are good, don’t work. The latest Department of Education study, published this month, showed again that there is no correlation between teacher certification and teacher effectiveness. Particularly in lower grades, it also doesn’t seem to matter if a teacher has a graduate degree or went to a better college or had higher SATs.

The implication is that throwing money at a broken system won’t fix it, but that resources are necessary as part of a package that involves scrapping certification, measuring better through testing which teachers are effective, and then paying them significantly more — with special bonuses to those who teach in “bad” schools.

One of the greatest injustices is that America’s best teachers overwhelmingly teach America’s most privileged students. In contrast, the most disadvantaged students invariably get the least effective teachers, year after year — until they drop out.

This stimulus package offers a new hope that we may begin to reform our greatest national shame, education.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Greater Cleveland Habitat for Humanity: Reweaving Communities

Yesterday, I had the unique and inspiring blessing to have met Jeff Bowen, the Executive Director of the Greater Cleveland Habitat for Humanity (HFH).

HFH, describes itself as a "Christian-based organization, that develops opportunities for all of God's people to act out their faith. By working in partnerships to eliminate substandard housing, we enable families and volunteers to improve lives. We create hope building homes, strengthening neighborhoods and reweaving communities".

Jeff is an inspirational, passionate, and living witness to partnering with community residents who are low-income, but whose spirits sing powerful songs. HFH provides the opportunity through housing and home ownership, to eliminate impoverished spirits and assists individuals to identify personal and community assets to enrich themselves and the communities in which they live.

Over the course of decades of work in urban and rural communities across the country, rarely have I heard someone describe a process of "reweaving communities". When I think about weaving I think about people I know that weave baskets, blankets, and other fabrics into gloves, blankets, hats, and socks.

Maybe, creating the context for community change involves "reweaving" the assets within neighborhoods; taking different, disparate, and dissimilar pieces of a community and bringing them together. Maybe, its remapping how we think and act, and how we engage, people on the ground. Or, better yet, maybe its how the people on the ground; neighborhood residents engage us.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Envisioning A Futurist City

By envisioning and working towards cultivating the assets; ground and physical space, people and their ingenuity; imagination, hope, and experimentation with the unseen, and untested, but, willing to be wrong, and occasionally right, but still trying.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

FIghting Home Foreclosure

End Homelessness

Join the Fight Against Foreclosure

Published February 04, 2009 @ 09:09PM PST

If you're like me, this foreclosure crisis makes you sick. Every time I read a story about a family losing their home or see pictures of piles of possessions on the side of the road, my stomach aches.

Not only is the foreclosure process inhumane, it's bad for the economic health of our communities. Vacant properties, neighborhood blight, increased homelessness, and declining property values are just a few of the problems we're left with after the onslaught of sub-prime lending.

Indeed, bearing witness to the decaying of our neighborhoods and the suffering of our neighbors can conjure up some serious feelings of being, well, powerless to the foreclosure storm. Not to mention downright furious about how irresponsible and illogical our nation's response has been to this housing mess.

Now don't start slumping and/or seething in your seat just yet. This week, ACORN is rolling out Home Defenders, a program that uses the power of people like you and me to keep people off the streets and in their homes:

ACORN members are launching a Homesteading effort as part of ACORN's comprehensive foreclosure campaign. ACORN is working with its membership and activists around the country to build "Home Defender Teams." These teams will be prepared to mobilize on short notice to peacefully help defend a family's right to stay in their homes until a fair solution to the crisis is put into place by the new Administration. We are recruiting allies and elected officials to support our efforts and call for a full and comprehensive solution to this crisis.

Ah, peaceful disobedience... grassroots organizing... defending a family's right to their home. It's like music to my ears.

Fellow blogger and poverty guru Leigh Graham highlighted this movement earlier today. Together, we'll be bringing you lots of info and updates from ACORN and the Home Defenders program.

Just think: here we have the power to stand up for people in our communities. To prevent foreclosure displacement before it happens while making banks and government officials pay attention.

Here's the game plan:

The Home Defenders program is rolling out in two stages. The first stage will include eight "Tier 1" metro areas: Baltimore, MD; Contra Costa County, CA; Los Angeles, CA; New York, NY; Oakland, CA; Orlando, FL and Tucson, AZ. Initial trainings for people located in these metro areas will take place during the second week in February, with kick-off events scheduled to occur during the 3rd week of the month.

The second stage will include 16 "Tier 2" metro areas: Albany, NY; Boston, MA; Bridgeport, CT; Broward County, FL; Cincinnati, OH; Cleveland, OH; Dallas, TX; Denver, CO; Detroit, MI; Durham, NC; Flint, MI; Minneapolis, MN; Pittsburgh, PA; Raleigh, NC; San Mateo County, CA; and Wilmington, DE. Trainings and kick-off events will occur a few weeks after those in the Tier 1 cities.

New cities are continuing to join this campaign, so if you do not live near any of the metro areas listed above, you can still participate in actions to save the homes of families in your community as they come on-board. For people who live in areas that will not have local organizers helping drive this program, ACORN is creating Home Defender Tool-Kits that help you fight back against the crisis in your neighborhood.

I urge you: sign up to become a Home Defender today. Ask 10 friends to do the same. The effects of the foreclosure crisis are devastating to our neighbors and our neighborhoods to sit idly by.

A $10 Laptop

A $10 Laptop In India?

Published February 03, 2009 @ 07:54AM PST

The tech blogosophere is aflutter with news that Indian government officials are planning to announce a new $10 laptop as the centerpiece of an ambitious e-learning campaign to connect thousands of colleges around the country.

From the Guardian:

The computer, known as Sakshat, which translates as "before your eyes", will be launched as part of a new Rs46bn "national mission for education". This envisages a network of laptops from which students can access lectures, coursework and specialist help from anywhere in India, triggering a revolution in education. A number of publishers have reportedly agreed to upload portions of their textbooks on to the system.

The only specs they've released suggest that the laptop will have Wi-Fi and about 2GB RAM. Although Indian companies has a history of launching super cheap products (such as the Tato Nano $2,500 car) there are many who are skeptical that the computer can actually be produced as cheaply as is being suggested:

Rajesh Jain, managing director of Netcore Solutions and a pioneer of low-cost computing in India, said: "You cannot even [make] a computer screen for $20. And India does not build much computer hardware. So where will the savings come from?"

I hope that the Indian government is actually able to deliver on this. They only have a prototype and no manufacturing partner right now, but regardless, the downward pressure on the computer industry is a good thing. One Laptop Per Child hasn't been the magic bullet it intended, but it's certainly opened a conversation about cheap computing that is incredibly important. There need to be financially viable computing options for the developing world. And even though I think mobiles will get people online faster than computers, there are still serious advantages for people having a cheap, capable laptop.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Envisioning New City Blocks: Block by Block

Fact: Out of just three streets in East Cleveland, at least 60+ homes are abandoned and foreclosed. By the way, a few families live on these blocks.

Question: How would you envision and arrive at transforming these blocks into neighborhoods of prosperity?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Power of Asking in Turning Around City Government

Today, about 35 local and regional organizations, foundations, companies and banks came together to support and actively engage the City of East Cleveland in its strategy for revitalization and transformation. No, not three, but 35. It began with an extremely simple concept, but often hard to do. We asked. We invited individuals to attend. We asked for engagement and questions. We asked for people to envision new partnerships, not based on previous relationships, but new ones. We invited individuals in a personal way to participate in a discussion.

I am not implying that "asking" by itself, is a remedy or endpoint. I think it is a constant and often gets over shadowed by the need to get the results, and not as a primary method of authentic networks, and allowing potential partners to respond in a manner that allows for dialogue, shared points of view, and connection/collaboration.

Also, I am not arguing that asking can itself turnaround our nation's cities, but far too often, government operates without asking, without invitations, and just does. Whether in a cloak room or boardroom, under the glare of lights or behind closed doors, creating new visions for our region, demand asking, questions, challenging points of view, and ensuring that, as we create new democratic networks, that the people participate and lead. There is just no other way.