Complete neighborhoods offer families good options for housing, access to employment, social networks, a thriving public realm, viable infrastructure, and critically, quality education. In the United States, there is a widespread sense that urban public schools are failing to educate the students they serve. Even among people who think that schools are doing a good job overall is a recognition that in certain schools, conditions are abysmal. These perceptions, reinforced by some serious data and also broad informal information-sharing, are a primary driver for family location choices in housing. In fact, in many regions of the country, the perceived (or real) lack of high-quality K-12 education in central locations is a primary contributor to suburban growth and an obstacle to infill development that serves families with school-aged children. At the same time, factors external to educators’ control– like housing and neighborhood stability, socioeconomic inequality, transportation access, and cultural amenities—are increasingly recognized as important factors in students’ educational outcomes.
In June, the 2013 Charles Shaw Forum brought together practitioners from the public and private sectors to address the correlation between urban school performance and the prosperity of urban neighborhoods. Held in Chicago, IL with support from the ULI Chicago District Council, participants explored how catalytic capital investments can help align policies and people to ensure high-quality education and neighborhoods, and examine creative ways that school districts, private developers, charter schools, cities, and other institutions have engaged in these issues.
Throughout discussion, attendees agreed that the quality of neighborhoods also provides a competitive advantage for attracting businesses and employees. Yet, often, land use and economic decision-making at the local level is too infrequently performed in relation to public education policy and capital investments.
The repeatability of the case studies raised many questions about what the key ingredients of success are. In each of the cases reviewed, the process was complicated, often too reliant upon a single-source of leadership, or a highly localized in community engagement, thus making delivery of these innovative practices difficult to prototype. Also, creating a development protocol for school investment has hazards. Processes can be too complex and intellectualized to a point that loses sight of the goal – to create better community connections and value. Simpler solutions allow for each community to design an approach of investment that accounts for availability and flexibility of local resources – both of human and financial capital.
Participants of the 2013 Shaw Forum identified four key principles for municipal innovation and partnership for transformative impact of school quality and neighborhood value:
- Define the neighborhood school in terms of joint-use and as an asset management strategy.
- Joint use calculator available online – 21st Century School Fund & Center for Cities & Schools School Facilities Joint-Use Cost Calculator
- Create a vision based on needs and shared values.
- School sites are community assets
- Rebuild trust, relationship, and capacity with neighborhoods
- Seek out program partners for in-class and out-of classroom activities.
- Community engagement beyond the school day
- Integrate community design elements in the structure or land use plan.
- Integrating community elements – gardens, park/recreation space, etc – can connect parents and create a culture to support change in the neighborhood.