Monday, December 27, 2010

The Stars of New Hanover County

StarNews recently revealed that New Hanover County is ranked sixth in the state for the number of teachers with National Board Certification for 2010.

This is exciting news and on behalf of the Cape Fear Future Team, I want to offer a huge congratulations to our newly certified teachers!

This article caught my eye for two reasons: Cape Fear Future is committed to improving our region’s educational system and this is an extraordinary achievement that should be highlighted at great length. Secondly, this certification process hits home for me because my mother, a former art teacher of Roanoke Rapids, NC, was one of the first teachers to qualify for the National Board Certification in the early 1990s. After reading the StarNews article, I called my mom to ask about her personal experience.

“The National Board for Teacher Certification was the most grueling experience of my professional life. But once accomplished, the experience changed everything about the way I saw my teaching and my students. The National Board is voluntary: a challenge where one must be fiercely committed to being the best you can be. As in any worthwhile endeavor, to be better, to step beyond what is expected or ordinary, one has to take risks. It was such a remarkable experience. New Hanover County must be very proud of their newly certified teachers.”

I remember this time period well. Aside from losing almost every one of her hair follicles and the diversion of copious amounts of blood away from her vital organs, she made it through. The certification process is akin to that of a lawyer preparing to take the bar...not easy. The applicants prepare extensive portfolios related to their field of expertise and are assessed on their current teaching methods, as well as their comprehension and expertise on those subjects as evaluated by their responses to a series of exercises.

The interesting, and probably most valuable takeaway of this process is the requirement that a candidate’s lesson plans make an impact outside of the classroom. My mom described this as throwing a pebble into a still pond. “Every lesson should have a ripple effect in which the lesson’s content of experience affects not just the student in that classroom, but also involves other teachers, and extends into the community at large, as the content of the lesson also exists in the context of the community.”

Teachers voluntarily undergo huge self assessments and practice their craft looking for ways to expand knowledge and critically assess their strengths and weaknesses. Teachers are improving the quality of their teaching to produce a superior learning environment that consistently supports the student’s knowledge.

This process is a great parallel for start-up businesses/entrepreneurs who are essentially doing the same thing—consistently reevaluating their craft, their expertise, and their impact (in their case, profitability and number of items sold to community). Starting something new is tricky and the New Hanover County teachers really took a risk to do this. Achieving national board certification is in a way being the ultimate entrepreneur.

This intense self-examination and performance appraisal process should be widely encouraged across the region, state, and nation. We should be proud that New Hanover County has produced such a high number of recipients as this marks an important achievement for our school system, and an important milestone in terms of community and economic development.

See the following link for StarNews article:

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Peeling Back the Layers

In his fight against the joke-slaying villain, Batman said: "The Riddler's mind is like an artichoke. You have to rip off spiny leaves to reach the heart!" Now that is strategic crime-fighting.

While the Cape Fear Future Leadership team isn’t unraveling brain teasers, they are actively pealing back those layers that are the primary causes of crime in downtown Wilmington, as the issue has garnered the attention of several community groups.
CFF chose to first concentrate on crime because it is a secondary issue associated with one of the main initiatives under CFF’s Quality of Life Task Force: promoting a vibrant downtown. Research overwhelming shows that a strong downtown is fundamental to the strength and vibrancy of an area’s regional economy; therefore, the task force wanted to solicit feedback from community members on those issues most pressing in terms of downtown revitalization. At the Cape Fear Future Commission meeting on September 1, attendees unanimously expressed their concern about crime in the central business district.

Since the meeting in September, CFF leaders have hosted and participated in several focus groups and roundtable discussions in an effort to develop a clear understanding of the effects of the problem and the means required to resolve it.

In one roundtable discussion hosted by PPD’s CEO General David Grange, attendees heard about the General’s experience with tackling crime through his work at the McCormick Foundation in Chicago. General Grange explained how violence is inextricably linked to civic health. Again, the idea of peeling back the layers surfaced as General Grange suggested our community “look below the water line” and identify the root causes of the issue.

So what do we see when we look below the water line? The most prevalent concern is the surplus of bars in the area. Compared to most cities, the density of bars in Wilmington is overwhelmingly disproportionate to the geographic zone of the CBD. Because those bars close at the same time, weekend party-goers exit onto the streets en masse, many intoxicated. Fighting and assaults often result.

It is not fair to solely blame the bar owners, property owners, bar-patrons or the police. It is fair to say, however, that there is a dangerous concoction at work: numerous bars, high number of college students, and the proximity in which all these dynamics take place is (about 12 blocks: Red Cross to Castle Street). But there may be strategies available that can help reduce the incidents of crime during these hours. The Department of Justice suggests two specific responses to reducing assaults in and around bars: the first recommendation is to implement responses to reduce how much alcohol patrons drink, thereby reducing aggression and vulnerability to assault; and implement responses to make bars safer, regardless of how much alcohol patrons consume.

What is the next step? CFF has been approached by several groups to aid efforts in exploring long-term options that include collaboration and policy development. CFF plans to act as a supporting unit and assist both community groups and local representatives in creating crime prevention strategies and policies that lead to long-term community success against crime.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Unpave Paradise…and Put Up a Park

Enhancing quality of life can encompass improving education, developing the arts, stimulating local business creation, or improving the physical amenities of an area…just to name a few. But one idea that has taken off across the globe is the creation of green space. In an effort to attract and retain residents and skilled workers, cities are using parks and open space to leverage investment into their local economies.

In the 1980s, Chattanooga, Tennessee suffered an economic recession due to the closing and relocation of factories…not to mention the area was wrought with air pollution from towering smoke stacks. Due to the increasing unemployment rates and the declining quality of life, residents were quickly moving elsewhere. As a result, the local government, businesses, and community groups came together to explore ways in which they could improve Chattanooga’s quality of life. They decided to purchase land for parks and open space, and, as a result, things began to turn around.

In their case study of Chattanooga, the Trust for Public Land found: “the environmentally progressive redevelopment of Chattanooga’s downtown riverfront [there is a 75-mile network of greenways and trails located along river] involved $356 million in public and private investment. In eight years between 1988 and 1996 the number of businesses and full-time jobs in the district more than doubled, and assessed property values went up over $11 million, an increase of 127.5 %. Over the same period, the annual combined city and county property tax revenues [in the downtown riverfront area] went up $592,000, an increase of 99%.”

Chattanooga’s success is one of many. People want to live in areas that are adorned with open space and that are visually appealing. Countless studies have shown that corporate CEOs and small company owners alike equate parks/open space (ie. quality of life) as the highest priority for choosing a new location for their business.

The Cape Fear Future Quality of Life Team understands this rationale and is currently exploring/supporting efforts to create green space. Other efforts are also already underway: the newly sworn-in New Hanover County commissioners wasted no time, voting unanimously to purchase approximately 63 acres near Castle Hayne Park in an effort to create a multi-use park. In their list of prioritized initiatives, the Vision 2020 Committee has also endorsed ways in which we can create more waterfront parks and green corridors.

There are, however, other “green” projects that improve an area’s quality of life. While traveling in Europe this summer, I had the fortune of seeing multiple projects that were pioneering, creative, progressive, and downright sensible. There were few new large-scale development projects, but instead, revitalization and improvement efforts that enhanced the unique infrastructure already in place. For instance, the European Environmental Agency in Copenhagen launched their “Europe in Bloom” campaign which built on the concept of façade improvements- a brilliant idea. The project puts a twist on the traditional ideas of green space, gardens, and external building improvements. Several agencies came together in Copenhagen and designed a vertical garden, the first outdoor green façade in Denmark. It serves multiple purposes: acts as a home for animals, produces food, insulates buildings, absorbs urban noise, reduces dust (improving air quality), and improves the overall aesthetics of the area (see the link below for photographs and more detail).

The European Environmental Agency explains: “The EEA Living Façade wants to illustrate the significance of vertical gardens as urban green areas. These areas represent a backbone for human health, biodiversity and ecosystem services in cities. For most urban dwellers, the perception of "greenery" in or nearby their cities is an integral part of what constitutes the 'quality of life'.”

In closing, the acquisition of land and redevelopment projects like the aforementioned are not always feasible… in large part this is a result of the current economic state and reduced budgets. But it is important to remember that conservation and open space have overwhelmingly proved to have incredible return on investment. If we want to improve the quality of life in the Cape Fear Region we must formulate strategies that are sustainable and innovative, but that represent our regional brand and satisfy the community as a whole.