As is annual tradition, the Arkansas Times recently solicited suggestions from readers and a variety of experts on how to make Arkansas a better place to live. We present their ideas here and hope you find them as inspirational as we do. If any especially strike a chord with you, help make them happen. Many are works in progress; those that aren't only lack the right collection of advocates to be realized.
Encourage youth entrepreneurship
By Lindsey Millar
Last summer, while his peers were lifeguarding and waiting tables, Josh Moody started a company. Accepted into the highly competitive ARK Challenge startup accelerator in Fayetteville, the 17-year-old Catholic High School student developed Overwatch, a mobile application that brings features of combat video games to live Airsoft, paintball or laser-tag shoot 'em ups. By the end of the four-month ARK Challenge, Overwatch had signed a marketing agreement with Cybergun, the largest manufacturer of Airsoft guns in the country, and secured $150,000 in funding as one of ARK's three winners.
Josh has a lot of things going for him. He's a tech wunderkind, a self-taught coder and tinkerer whose creations include a custom Xbox, a modified PlayStation Portable that controls TVs and a waterproof speaker that streams music wirelessly through Bluetooth and can float or be sunk. His father, David Moody, is an active investor and mover and shaker in Arkansas's startup scene. The elder Moody introduced his son to Bentonville developers Michael Paladino and Joe Saumweber, cofounders of the digital products startup RevUnit. Out of respect for David Moody and despite their initial skepticism, Paladino and Saumweber took a meeting with Josh and were sufficiently impressed with his vision for Overwatch to agree to team with him to develop the company. Without them and the support he got at the ARK, Josh couldn't have moved from idea to prototype — or at least not as as quickly as he did.
Josh and his circumstances are unique, but if a number of new Arkansas initiatives gain traction, there will be more young people starting businesses soon. "I think it's the new sports," said Noble Impact cofounder Chad Williamson of youth entrepreneurship. Even if a kid isn't a prodigious talent like Josh — who, to extend Williamson's metaphor, might be the Lebron James of the Arkansas youth startup set — the experience of trying to build a company has value, Noble CEO Eric Wilson said. "Entrepreneurship is a medium where kids can learn about teamwork and critical thinking and problem solving, so they can be more adaptive in a 21st century economy."
Earlier this year Williamson cofounded Noble Impact with fellow Clinton School alum Trish Flanagan and Steve Clark, a cofounder of Rockfish Interactive and Fort Smith supply-chain company Propak. They're working to develop an education model that encourages public service while teaching entrepreneurship. The Clinton School is a partner. Williamson and co. have been developing its curriculum in the field, with a class called Noble Impact 101 at eStem High School. It seems to be getting through to the students. In November, six eStem students won a prize at Startup Weekend in Fayetteville (see below).
Meanwhile, Little Rock's Matt Steely wants Central Arkansas "to become the summertime youth innovation mecca." Steely, who has 25 years of experience in startups and technology, recently worked with the Arkansas Capital Corp. to develop and implement a four-hour program on innovation and entrepreneurship for students across the state. "We could take a kid who knew nothing, and get him to have an understanding of what it means to be innovative." But the program didn't allow for crucial follow-up, and when the federal grant money that supported the project ended, Steely decided to create Sparkible, an education startup focused on hosting events and mentoring engaged young people, while it develops a tool that'll pay for its good works. David Moody, Josh's dad, is working with Steely to develop the company.
Steely thinks Arkansas is especially well positioned to grow young entrepreneurs because of how eager established entrepreneurs are to help.
"The community supports this so well. We may not be the wealthiest or biggest state, but if we have an opportunity to mentor or work with someone, especially a youth, to help them grow something, we have people who'll come out from all industries. That raises the level of potential of success that we can have."
Josh Moody can speak to the power of mentorship. Early in the ARK Challenge, he said he was "incredibly intimidated." But as he worked with his peers — in this case, many of whom were decades older — and began meeting with business connections the ARK supplied, his confidence grew. Today, he says proudly, "I am a legitimate business person. I may not have all the book knowledge. But I know how to run day-to-day operations and manage a team. Whether they're six years older or 10 years or 30 years, being able to communicate with someone is the most vital part of business."
As he finishes college applications and hunts for scholarships, Josh is keeping his hand in every stage of Overwatch's development. He built and designed the product's website, overwatchapp.com. Last week, he and the team launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise $50,000 to finish some of their app development, but more importantly, Josh said, to create a community of supporters invested in Overwatch's success.
As the efforts of Noble Impact and Sparkible — not to mention those of similar programs like Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub's Art Connection and the Arkansas Economic Acceleration Foundation's Youth Entrepreneur Showcase — take hold, their supporters predict a sustained impact on Arkansas's economy. When a reporter expressed mild skepticism that new Joshes could be fostered, his father said, "It's the age-old conversation: 'Are entrepreneurs born or made?' And the answer is, 'Yes.' "
Start a business in a weekend, Arkansas high schoolers
By Lindsey Millar
The idea behind Startup Weekend is pretty simple: Put a bunch of creative people together over a weekend, have them pitch business ideas, form teams around the best ideas and present a fleshed-out presentation of their business Sunday evening. Along the way, folks with a track record starting up businesses serve as mentors. At the end of the weekend, a panel of judges, made up of business people with startup understanding, select winners.
The Startup Weekend idea seems to be flourishing. More than 45,000 people in more than 500 cities — including in Little Rock and Fayetteville — have participated. Almost 40 percent of the startups that are created over the 54-hour weekend continue to progress three months after they were created, according to organizers.
Now, the global network is expanding into a new demographic. In March, Arkansas will host Startup Weekend's first high school-only session. Fifteen teams of four to six students will come from around the state to the Clinton School. Noble Impact, the Little Rock organization working to develop an educational model that teaches public service through entrepreneurship, persuaded Startup Weekend to expand its ranks after CEO Eric Wilson and cofounder Chad Williamson took six students from eStem who take Noble's pilot class on innovation to the Fayetteville Start Up Weekend. "The judges didn't water down their questions," Wilson said. "These kids competed with entrepreneurs 10-15 years older." They ended up winning the best team award, which came with a 3D printer. For info on the Arkansas High School Startup Weekend or to register, visit arkansashs.startupweekend.org.
Build a gateway to Little Rock
By Leslie Newell Peacock
Bob Callans, a landscape architect in business in Little Rock for 38 years, has a big idea he's been working on "only since the 1980s." As it turns out, the idea is actually 100 years old, which Callans discovered when he read John Nolen's "Report on a Park System for Little Rock." Great minds think alike. Nolen conceived of a 5th street that would provide a sight line for the state Capitol on the west and an important building — his idea was a relocated Choctaw train station — on the east. Like Pennsylvania Avenue, the ceremonial street would state the importance of the city and welcome people to it.
Callans finally found the right vehicle, at the right time, to move his and Nolen's idea from words into design. The chairman of Keep Little Rock Beautiful approached the building and landscape architects' collaborative StudioMain with his notion, and the Envision Little Rock 2013 Ideas Competition was born.
Nolen's ideas "are as relevant today as they were then," Callans said. James Meyer, with StudioMain and an architect with Witsell Evans Rasco, loved the idea for a gateway into the city, something that would capture the attention of travelers as they "fly by on Interstate 30."
Announced in February, the Envision Little Rock 2013 group met with amateurs and professionals on site at I-30 and Capital to elaborate on what they wanted. In the end, 11 groups entered the competition, producing ideas that ranged from replacing parking lots with gardens ("AgriCity" by Maury Mitchell) to building a tall "Silver Spire" east of I-30 that would reflect city lights and when ascended provide a clear view west to the state Capitol and beyond.
Callans sees a lot of potential for the development on the east side of I-30, whether the continuation of nonprofits to complement Heifer International or as a transportation hub. Metroplan has considered the east side of I-30 as station for a light-rail terminal. Whatever the path, Callans hopes Nolen's vision figures in. He quoted from "Report on a Park System": "A certain complement of fresh air, of open space, of touch with nature, proves in the experience of cities vitally essential for wholesome development."
Hotels.com for college courses
By David Koon
In addition to working as a reporter for the Arkansas Times, I've been a part-time college professor for going on 15 years now. Since moving back to Little Rock with my family in 2001, I've taught two courses per semester, and sometimes one in the summer, at my alma mater, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. It's a fulfilling — at times awe-inspiring — job, especially given that I teach in the arts: creative writing and film. I spend two nights a week, fall, spring and summer, selling people on the idea that even if they aren't rich, famous, well-connected or even particularly brilliant, they deserve to have a voice in the conversation. Sometimes, they even tell me I've helped change the way they see the world. That's a hell of a good time.
One thing that gets on my nerves, however, is empty seats. I have a few empty chairs some semesters, as many profs do, and it always strikes me as something of a waste: I'm supposed to teach 25, but I wind up only teaching 23 or 24. The reasons for that are many, of course. (Feel free to insert your "maybe you're a crummy teacher and word gets around" joke here.) Some are bound to be financial. College is incredibly expensive these days, and some people, as much as they might want to take a course, just can't afford to attend.
So then, a Big Idea not just for Arkansas, but for everywhere — one that could have the added bonus of putting at least a little money in the pockets of community colleges and universities at the same time: Somebody needs to come up with a kind of Hotels.com approach to college courses.
The website Hotels.com sells unsold hotel rooms for drastically reduced prices. Instead of an empty bed for a night, the hotel gets a percentage of what they might have made and a filled room, the principle being that even a little something is better than nothing.
The same thing could be done with empty seats in college-level history classes, film classes, creative writing courses, welding courses, painting classes, Internet technology classes, and every other discipline taught today. No credit, no grade, no student activities fee, just a drastically reduced rate for the course ($20-$25 per credit hour sounds like a nice, round number) a filled seat, and a purely educational opportunity for someone who might not have been able to afford it otherwise. The state already does this for older folks, allowing them to pick up empty seats in college courses for free. If we truly believe in education, why not do something similar for everyone? As an added bonus, once you get people on campus and let them see what attending a college course is like, maybe they'll take the leap and sign up for real.
Yes, the idea is a little cockamamie, and doesn't take a lot of issues into account. How, for example, would you allow for the mad shuffle of paying customers dropping and picking up classes the first week of any semester? Also, if you're not looking at high school GPAs and entrance exams and personal essays, how would you know the person who wants to be in a given class has the intellectual stuff to avoid gumming up the works for those who paid full price to be there? Maybe the biggest drawback is that it would potentially put more work on already beleaguered college professors, many of them (like me) lowly adjuncts. The idea of being paid the same amount to grade 25 essays every week instead of 22 probably wouldn't appeal to a lot of folks. Still, we're not talking medium-sized ideas here. It's BIG Ideas. And Big Ideas almost always involve challenges like these.
Romantic fool that I am, I tend to believe in the grand, classical idea of the university, that it's a place that exists not to ring cash registers and sell team jerseys, but to expand minds. The paycheck is nice — and thank God it isn't my only source of income, or my family would be eating a lot of ramen noodles — but money isn't the point of why I teach and never has been. My thinking is, if I can fill a seat in my class that would otherwise be empty, especially if the person filling it wants to be there for no other reason than to learn, that's a definite win.
Give permanent residents who are legal non-citizens the right to vote in local elections
By Sabine Schmidt
I'm a permanent resident with a green card, and I've been here for a long time, but I'm a non-citizen. Through my activities with Fayetteville Underground and Art Amiss, and now as a teacher at Fayetteville charter school Haas Hall Academy, I've been really interested in participating in anything arts-related in the city. There are a number of committees and commissions like the Fayetteville Arts Council that I'm interested in only persons who are registered to vote may serve. I can't because I'm not a citizen. That got me to thinking, obviously I'm not the only one in that position. Especially up here in Northwest Arkansas. There's a significant community of people up here and other places in Arkansas who are residents but not citizens and therefore can't participate. For me, I would love to be able to be more involved because of the arts. For other people, there are other issues important to them that they can't weigh in on because they can't vote. I'm originally from Germany and all European Union countries have alien suffrage [all EU member countries extend the right to vote to people from other EU countries; some extend the right to non-EU foreigners in certain circumstances]. If you are a citizen of Spain, and you live in Germany, you vote in the German election. I would love to see that in Arkansas — start it on the local level, just allow people in Fayetteville or Springdale or Rogers to be able to participate as non-citizens but residents in local politics.
Based on the looks people give me when I mention it, this may seem like a wild idea. But Arkansas allowed foreigners to vote until 1926 [alien suffrage was common in the United States in the 19th century; Arkansas was the last state in the nation to end the practice]. So it wouldn't be something that's never been done before. You could have a requirement for legal residents that they have to live in the city or county for X number of years, and they have to prove residence here. These are people who are part of the community. A lot of people don't seem to know that there's a difference — there's something in between being a citizen and being an undocumented immigrant. If people like me could participate in local elections, we would feel more like a member, like our voice is important. That would strengthen our ties to the community.
Sabine Schmidt is a writer, translator and photographer. Originally from Germany, she currently teaches at Haas Hall Academy in Fayetteville.
Establish a public-private urban rehabilitation partnership
By Jennifer Carman
Our downtown neighborhoods are special places, rich with diversity, important history and dedicated residents. Despite some 40 years of reaping the benefits of private preservation efforts, the city of Little Rock still falls far behind in helping those who want to invest in the future of central Little Rock. As noted sustainability expert Carl Elefante has said, "The greenest building is the one that's already built." Changing city policies such that they encourage rehabilitation rather than demolition is not only decades overdue, it is crucial to the stability and future of our city.
Since 2009 Little Rock has spent more than $2.3 million dollars demolishing residential properties throughout Ward 1 deemed "unsafe and vacant," despite the fact that there are often tax credits of up to $25,000 available for their rehabilitation. This demolition derby has created a staggering number of weed lots throughout our core communities. Unfortunately, these neglected weed lots will be every bit as unsightly as the neglected houses they replace, stripped not only of their homes, but also of any financial incentives for improvement. A weed lot inevitably becomes a dumping ground for bags of trash, mattresses, discarded tires and used condoms. Once the bulldozers pulls away there's little chance that existing residents in surrounding homes will ever have neighbors to befriend or a reasonably attractive property to gaze upon. If nobody was buying the lot with a house and tax credits, why is it logical to think that a weed lot with a $5,000 demolition lien and no tax credits would result in any chance of progress? While current city policy appears to consist of tunnel vision towards hasty demolitions, I believe that these core communities matter, and their existing infrastructure needs to be built up, not torn down.
One way the city could collaborate with citizens to improve these central communities would be through the creation of a public-private partnership with a revolving urban rehabilitation fund. In one scenario, private investors with a proven track record of certified historic rehabilitations could borrow from the fund free of interest, provided that the money will be used to rehabilitate eligible properties on the city's list of "unsafe and vacant" properties, with the commitment that every penny borrowed would be returned. In exchange for creating this interest-free pool of money, the city would benefit by saving tax dollars that would have otherwise been directed toward demolition and landfill fees, while simultaneously growing the tax base and seeing our fair city's core transformed before their eyes — all without spending a single taxpayer penny!
The potential snowball effect of such a fund is incalculable. Its presence would spur new investors to prove themselves by cultivating a track record to become eligible for the funds, and the blossoming rehabilitation of vacant properties would inspire existing long-term residents in these blighted areas to take the plunge and invest in their homes, without fear that unsightly weed lots will be popping up next door. In a city that is not known for thoughtful or sensitive infill of weed lots, such peace of mind would be priceless.
On Tuesday, Dec. 16, after this issue went to press, the city board was expected to approve an ordinance allocating $45,000 for the demolition of 13 homes in Ward 1. This money would be better allocated paying the salary of an individual who could serve as a liaison between owners of "unsafe and vacant" properties on the demolition list and prospective buyers. Such an individual would need only to create one successful seller-buyer relationship each month in order to fund her own salary with the saved taxpayer demolition dollars, and such a position would dovetail nicely with the presence of a revolving fund.
City directors and staff, I know your intentions are good, and I know you get complaints about the neglected houses, but take a lesson here: Downtown residents hate the burden of weed lots far more than they dislike houses awaiting rehabilitation. Demolition should not be a policy, but a last resort, as it is not the only (and is rarely the best) solution. Downtown Little Rock is a marvelous place to call home, and I eagerly look forward to developing and nurturing ideas that will enable more Arkansans to experience its joys.
Jennifer Carman is the president of J. CARMAN Inc., a Little Rock fine art advisory and appraisal firm based in Little Rock. She's also behind the Facebook community page, facebook.com/StopTheDemolitionsLittleRock.
Make interacting with elected representatives easy enough to encourage grassroots activism
By Lindsey Millar
One night, several months ago, David Hudson found himself reading the Arkansas Constitution. How he came to be reading it and what in particular he was reading, he won't say. "I really want to tell you," he told the Times. "But if I tell you what the issue was, I'm afraid people will pin me in one direction or another." In any case, the issue so upset Hudson that he was compelled to write to state legislators. But by the time he'd found stamps and envelopes and crawled the web for addresses, he hadn't put pen to paper and 30 minutes had already passed.
That's when Hudson, a website developer whose credits include a tourism site for the state of Texas, said to himself, " 'I bet there's a website that does this.' Being a tech guy, I just assumed someone had solved this problem." No one had. Two-months later, with the help of designer/co-founder Arlton Lowery, Hudson had built a solution: WriteGov.com, a service that automates the tedium of writing to elected representatives. With a clean, intuitive interface, users can craft a message and, by merely selecting a few checkbooks, choose to send a letter, email or fax (or all three) to their entire state legislature, the U.S. Congress, the president, the vice-president and the U.S. Supreme Court — or any subset thereof. No basic civics required. Enter an address, and the site tells you who your state and federal representatives are.
That's all handy if you're of the activist bent and consider the opportunity cost of lost time greater than what WriteGov charges — $1.75 per letter, $1 per fax, 25 cents per email. But where the service really gets interesting is how easy it allows users to go from writing notes themselves to broadening their message into a cause supported by others.
The site's campaign feature allows users to create a message and share it publicly on WriteGov, like a digital form letter. The moment another user chooses to employ a campaign, the campaign's message becomes private and the user is free to customize the language as she sees fit.
"I want to make your voice heard and amplify it," Hudson said, noting that he sees the massive budgets and sophisticated software special interest groups have at their disposal as competition. In the coming weeks, he plans to add a feature that could further empower grassroots activism. Users, including organizations, will be able to create public profiles other WriteGov users can follow and receive alerts every time they update their profiles with new campaigns. If WriteGov's user pool grows large enough, public profiles could be a way for low and no-budget activists to crowdsource massive lobbying efforts.
Hudson describes WriteGov as "vehemently non-partisan," and said, "I would never accept investment or sell to another company that would make this partisan." For now, the project is "bootstrap hardcore," Hudson said. "We're running on passion right now, not money."
The Central Arkansas Library System should contract with the Department of Human Services to administer social services out of the library
By Benji Hardy
As in any city, homeless people are a fixture of the main branch of the Central Arkansas Library System. This should be encouraged. Libraries should be re-envisioned as the venue for providing social services to people in need of aid. The mission of CALS should be expanded to provide addiction treatment, mental health services, child care and assistance with finding housing and employment. Not just for the homeless — for anyone.
People down on their luck like the library for the same reason we all do: It's a nice place to be. It's a safe, warm, quiet space that belongs to everybody. It doesn't discriminate or preach or demand you buy something in order to stay. In fact, libraries are pretty much the only truly public indoor spaces our society allows (malls do not count). And there are magazines!
Why not build on that? Construct a major addition to the Main Library that functions as a community living room, both a clearinghouse for public aid and a place to just hang out. Instead of shunting away social services inside the geographically marginalized bunkers of DHS offices, bring them to the center of the public square. Another reason everybody feels welcome in libraries is that they don't emit the vibe of charity — we don't stigmatize free books as a handout. Nobody feels ashamed for borrowing "Game of Thrones" instead of buying it, nor should they be made to feel ashamed for applying for SNAP or Medicaid.
Of course, it's still the library, so we should make education the centerpiece of all of this: job training, adult literacy, tutoring for kids, English-as-a-second-language classes. Partnerships with colleges and universities and workforce development programs are highly recommended. Corporate sponsorships aren't allowed, sorry. We need one ad-free space.
This would all take a huge expansion of CALS workforce and facilities, but with persistent long-term unemployment, there's plenty of labor available. In fact, I expect some of the potential future staff are looking for work on Craigslist at the Main Library right now.
Benjamin Hardy is a writer for the Arkansas Legislative Digest and a contributor to the Arkansas Times.
Open up space for more River Market development
By Steve Strauss
The Second Street/Cumberland Street exit off of southbound I-30 also includes a circular exit ramp to Ferry and Second streets. This branch carries very few cars off of the freeway. The off-ramp is bounded by Sherman Street, President Clinton Avenue and East Second Street. Tearing it down puts a piece of property back on the tax rolls and allows more development in the growing River Market area. More and more cities are removing underused portions of freeways and restoring their street grids.
Steve Strauss is a former Arkansan with more than 30 years working on transportation issues. He currently works in District of Columbia Department of Transportation.
Give companies who hire ex-felons tax breaks and preferential treatment in bidding for city contracts
By Ken Richardson
Ward 2 City Director Ken Richardson has been a staunch advocate in recent years of being more welcoming to ex-felons coming out of prison as a strategy for paring back Little Rock's crime rate. As he told us a few months back for a story about the state's parole system: Those who work a double shift for a paycheck usually don't have a motive or the energy left over to rob a bank after quitting time. That's his way of saying that most crimes find their roots in poverty — desperation, not deviance. We called him and asked for a Big Idea, and a digest of his comments appears below.
For me, it would be a Big Idea if the city could adopt positive, supportive policies for the employment of ex-felons. Give tax incentives on proposals by companies that hire ex-felons, or incentives on their bids.
I proposed an ordinance a couple of years ago that essentially gave incentives for companies that sought contracts with the city if they employed a certain percentage of people who are classified as disconnected adults and youth — those folks who fall into the category of unemployed or under-employed because of felonies or lack of education.
We've talked about this a lot: What's driving the crime in our city, most of it, is just financial hardship. This is something we can't "program" our way out of. So, Little Rock needs to adopt more supportive or positive policies that would help with our prisoner re-entry efforts. All this economic development we tout in our city, it's a sad joy for me — it's an oxymoron. I'm always under the assumption that the lion's share of these jobs go to people who don't live in this city.
For the most part, most ex-felons and under-employed people end up getting pushed into certain parts of our community, and most of those parts are blighted. The city's done a wonderful job of redevelopment downtown, a wonderful job of development out west, but you've got this hole in the middle. Most of the folks that are ex-felons, who are unemployed or underemployed, live in the middle. We could develop some policies or a policy to employ ex-felons, and then actually employ them to rebuild the inner part of our community. We could tie that to our revitalization efforts.
With the new police station on 12th Street, I pushed that idea with the contractors and the subcontractors, and I'm happy to say we were able to get 10 or 12 folks who fit in that category hired on. But just imagine if we had a policy in place to hire ex-felons. That number could easily multiply times 10.
That's the kind of thing I'm talking about. When you're doing those redevelopment efforts, if you're employing the people that live in that community, then the redevelopment is something that's done with them, instead of to them, or for them.
Provide a la carte legal services
By Amy Johnson
The right to legal representation in criminal matters has been recognized since a 1963 U.S. Supreme Court decision. There is not, however, a categorical right to an attorney in civil matters — even those affecting such basic needs as access to safe and habitable housing, protection from domestic violence and economic security. Most Americans of modest means cannot afford the cost of attorney's fees needed for representation in civil matters. The result is an enormous gap between the general expectation that everyone has access to the courts to resolve their civil disputes and the actual reality — that justice in most civil matters is available only to the well-to-do. Poor and middle class Americans are for the most part unable to obtain counsel to seek justice in the courts, or to defend themselves against legal actions brought against them — for instance, in eviction, debt collection, and foreclosure actions. Dissolution of marriage and allocation of parenting rights and responsibilities for children of unmarried couples can only be accomplished through a court order; persons unable to afford a lawyer often have to go without necessary court orders in dividing jointly owned property and in obtaining services for their children.
A generation of efforts to provide adequate legal representation to those who need it, either through legal aid or through pro bono representation, has failed to make substantial progress because there is no way that legal aid and pro bono can possibly scale to the tremendous unmet need. More than half a million Arkansans (nearly 20 percent) are income-eligible for free civil legal aid. Many more have incomes that exceed the eligibility threshold, but still aren't enough to pay for an attorney without sacrificing some other basic need. Legal services for routine matters are therefore increasingly beyond what average Arkansans can afford or are willing to pay for.
Meanwhile, legal publication and the mainstream press have made much of a number of negative trends for lawyers in the United States. As many as 45 percent of law school graduates are not able to find jobs requiring their new law degree. Lawyer income is falling in many parts of the country. Although most Americans cannot afford prevailing attorneys' retainers to commence or defend civil matters, they are regularly paying hundreds of dollars to online legal services providers such as LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer.
There is a way for persons to get assistance in representing themselves for reasonable hourly rates. Arkansas Rule of Professional Conduct 1.2(c) authorizes Arkansas attorneys to provide this form of representation. Often referred to as "limited scope representation," "unbundling" or "a la carte legal services," this model of delivering legal services has been implemented in other states — including Alabama, Mississippi, and Montana, to name a few — but few Arkansas attorneys have actively utilized this business model. Unbundling allows clients (who would not otherwise go to a lawyer at all) to seek out and pay for the legal advice they want and need for aspects of the case that require legal expertise, and otherwise handle the more simple, routine aspects themselves.
Unbundling also opens up to lawyers a market that has previously been nonexistent or unprofitable. Many clients who are unable or unwilling to pay $1,000 for a guardianship can afford $150 for an hour of an attorney's time and, as a result, be adequately equipped to effectively represent themselves. The attorney will be able to provide a valuable service and be paid his hourly rate, without ending up with an account receivable.
Unbundling is not and cannot be a substitute for full representation in cases where the legal issue is simply too complex or the client is incapable of understanding or participating in the representation. Rule 1.2 explicitly requires the attorney who accepts a limited scope engagement to do so only if "it is reasonable under the circumstances and the client gives informed consent." These are the cases where pro bono representation or legal aid will be a necessity.
By fully implementing and promoting unbundling in Arkansas, we can substantially increase meaningful and efficient access to our civil justice system while opening a potentially profitable new market for attorneys.
Amy Johnson is executive director of the Arkansas Access to Justice Commission.
Make Arkansas's scenic byways bike friendly
By Sam Ledbetter
The state Highway and Transportation Commission should adopt a master plan to designate our scenic byways as bike friendly. This may entail the addition of shoulders to those highways designated as scenic byways that don't have them. Colorado has a "bike the byways" program through its Department of Transportation and all scenic byways are designated for cycling with "share the road" signs and other amenities to make them bike friendly. Arkansas would be an attractive destination for cyclists in spring and fall if we took steps to make our most beautiful highways bike friendly. For some of these roads, like Hwy. 7 north from Russellville, that don't currently have adequate shoulders for cyclists, it may be a long-term project with securing funding and upgrading the roads to add shoulders. Others may already have shoulders and it would simply be a matter of adding signs, sharrows and taking other steps to make these highways bike friendly. Then they could be promoted through Parks and Tourism.
Sam Ledbetter is a former state representative, current member of the state board of education and attorney with McMath Woods.
Teach English with a foreign language in elementary school
By Kathryn Birkhead
Research indicates that children are much better language learners than adults, yet in Arkansas we're squandering a wonderful opportunity to help our children learn a second (or third or fourth) language during that critical childhood period. Many immigrant families provide that opportunity to us in the form of their children who are fluent native speakers of languages other than English.
Current state law keeps schools from being able to take advantage of the skills that those children bring. Arkansas prohibits the use of any language other than English in school classrooms.
There's another approach, though, called English Plus, which uses English plus another language in the same classroom for instruction. It's important not to confuse English Plus, which is a dual-language approach, with a bilingual education program that pulls students with limited English skills out of their regular classrooms. In this program, everyone stays together, so they can learn from each other.
There are scores of young people all across the state who are bilingual, but we are missing an opportunity to let them share their language skills with their peers and to help them build reading and writing skills in their native languages.
A major focus of English Plus is the broadening experience we could provide to children from monolingual English-speaking homes by building their skills a second language. By allowing instruction in a foreign language and in English in elementary school, we could help our children develop skills and cultural perspectives that many adults can only dream of.
Kathryn Birkhead is director for diversity and inclusion for Northwest Arkansas Community College.
Disincentivize parking lot development
By Scott Walters
In 1964 Lewis Mumford wrote, "The right to have access to every building in the city by private motorcar in an age when everyone possesses such a vehicle is the right to destroy the city." We should have listened. Surface parking is the urban kudzu of too many cities. For a painful nearby example, more than 30 percent of downtown Little Rock is now set aside for parked cars.
Counterintuitive as it may seem, too much parking is a leading indicator in the wrong direction. Consider the stories and the tax policies of two rustbelt towns. In Pittsburgh, parking lots are taxed as if buildings were present. In Detroit, they are assessed as if they were vacant. So it's no surprise that parking lots cover 39 percent of Detroit. Pittsburgh has become the poster child for an industrial city turnaround. Maybe you've heard that all is not well in the motor city these days.
In recent memory several buildings have been demolished on Main Street, the heart of downtown and an area struggling for revival, and they were replaced with ... wait for it ... parking spaces. Just this year a historic building was torn down to make way for parking on Seventh Street precisely in a stretch that a recent pop up event highlighted as an area ripe with potential for new life and redevelopment. Choose your own examples. There are plenty to pick from.
My office is at Christ Episcopal Church on Scott Street, a historic building that sits between the Albert Pike Hotel and the Women's City Club building, now home to the Junior League of Little Rock. Between these fine old buildings are little wastelands of badly patched asphalt, one of which you can park your car in — I kid you not — for $2.25 a day. Show me a thriving city where you can park for $2.25 an hour, much less for a day.
We also know that significant, meaningful progress in public transportation needs pressure from below. The blunt truth is that parking needs to be a little more difficult and a little more expensive for us to push for the changes we know we need to be a more vibrant city.
Sensible, progressive policies about parking are good for downtown businesses and good for lives of the humans who live there. But they are also a matter of justice. As long as we keep designing cities assuming a car for every inhabitant and lots of cheap or free slots spread around for each car, we ignore and exclude the poor and the old. Lose your driver's license because of aging eyesight or work for too little to afford a vehicle and you're stuck. Better land use policies would be better for all of us.
So that's the bad news. Our municipal leadership doesn't even seem willing to slow this invasion of blank pavement. But let's implement a big idea. Start taxing surface parking lots as if buildings were present, and then use the proceeds to fund grants to convert some of them into living public places — small public parks and pedestrian plazas with strict codes for upkeep. Let's incentivize development that's good for the city and its people, not just for their vehicles. Let's make it pay to put something other than yellow stripes on the empty places in downtown Little Rock.
The Rev. Scott Walters is rector at Christ Church.
Embrace Restorative Justice
By DeeAnn Newell
Most modern justice systems focus on a crime, a lawbreaker, and a punishment. The Restorative Justice movement focuses on the harm done and how amends can be made. It brings offender, victim and the community together to find an appropriate consequence and restitution. The most well-known implementation of RJ was in the reconciliation process we all watched occur in South Africa with Nelson Mandela.
RJ takes a number of forms. Perhaps the most prominent is RJ diversion, which is effective at reducing recidivism. Typically, an RJ-trained facilitator meets separately with the accused and the victim, and if both are willing to meet face to face without animosity and the offender is deemed willing and able to complete restitution, the focus shifts out of the legal system and into a parallel process. All parties — the offender, victim, facilitator, and law enforcement — come together in a forum called a restorative-community conference or circle. Each person speaks, one at a time, about the crime and its effects, and the participants come to a consensus about how to repair the harm done with meaning for the victim. RJ offers a way to interrupt the spiral of over-incarceration, rising costs, and unfavorable outcomes for victims, communities, and those responsible for crimes. It is especially valuable in dealing with juvenile offenders — in New Zealand, for example, only 50 or so youths are in lockdown for the entire nation. Arkansas Voices for the Children Left Behind, which works with children of incarcerated parents, would like to see a restorative justice system used in schools in place of suspension.
DeeAnn Newell is director of Arkansas Voices for the Children Left Behind.