Tuesday, December 9, 2008

How To Make Rio Nuevo a Success

Tucson is a terrific place to live, but are we a great city? In all great cities, the development of an educational system that produces educated and prepared citizens is a critical component of their success. Recently, I was introduced to an initiative called "Tucson Values Teachers." Their slogan is "Education is Everybody's Business," and they are right. To become a great city, education should be every Tucsonan's business.

If we really believed that education was key to our future, we could trigger a boom downtown and make Rio Nuevo a huge success. Consider what would happen if we identified an Elementary School, a Junior High and a High School within the boundaries of downtown or Rio Nuevo and then offered every child that attended one of those schools and graduated with a 3.0 or better a four year scholarship to the University of Arizona.

Almost overnight, families would want to move within those boundaries. Parents would be very interested in the education process with a scholarship for a reward for their child's diligence. The designated schools would become excelling schools. To qualify families would need to move into the designated boundaries and the demand for housing would increase. Along with it, the need for stores and shops and restaurants would increase immediately. There would need to be recreational facilities - soccer fields, baseball fields, parks, and bike trails that supported families.

How much would it cost? About $50,000 per student for a full scholarship. Students that moved in at 6th grade would get a 1/2 scholarship and if they moved in at 9th grade they would get a 1/4 scholarship, etc. It could be funded with part of our Rio Nuevo tax money, some with private and business donations.

The result - a downtown with people on a waiting list to move in, business thriving and a fun place to go on the weekends if you live in the burbs. It has been done in other cities. Some have become great cities.

If you are interested in a good example you may want to check out a recent USA Today story that has tracked its progress in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The link is: http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2008-07-01-kalamazoo-inside_N.htm

If we took quality education seriously, it could propel our city into a great city.

1 comment:

Iron Viking said...

It's a good concept, but as someone who works downtown, I can tell you that living in the Rio Nuevo district will be a hard sell.

First, where's the parking going to be? People want free parking, and near their new homes. If they have to pay to park in a garage distant from their dwelling, the idea is DOA.

Existing housing close to downtown in pretty expensive, as it's mostly owned by absentee owners who rent to college students.

Second, downtown has a distinct crime problem and is awash with panhandlers. No one is going to put their children's safety at risk for a possible discounted college education.

Finally, presumably these scholarships wouldn't be available to charter schools, just public schools. Then the quality of the public schools in the Rio Nuevo area would have to improve. the highest-achieving high schools are not in the Rio Nuevo area.