Since 2010, the Arkansas Times has solicited suggestions from readers and a variety of experts on how to make Arkansas a better place to live.
See editions from early 2010, late 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and below, 2014.
Establish an intra-state legislator exchange program
By Ellie Wheeler
State legislators, by definition, represent the narrow interests of their individual constituents, but they're also responsible for passing laws that reflect the diverse interests of the state as a whole. There's a big difference between the ultra-affluent parts of Arkansas and the areas where poverty is prevalent, and those differences are reflected in many of the laws that get passed. But what if we could change that? What if we could show a representative from a rich district what it is like in a poor Delta school? What if a senator from a majority-white district could see the world through the eyes of someone who represented a majority-black one?
Let's institute a legislator exchange program. Each legislator would be required to spend a week in another area of the state at least twice each year. They would meet with the people there to learn about their unique needs, resources, strengths and limitations. During the week they would visit coffee shops, hospitals, schools and businesses. They would gain first-hand knowledge of the unique challenges other areas of the state face. They'd run into people who come from different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. It's one thing to hear about such issues, but it's another to talk with people and share thoughts about how those challenges change lives.
Our legislature has 135 members — 35 senators and 100 members of the House of Representatives. Each district covers a lot of ground, but because of population differences, more than half of our legislators come from just 9 out of Arkansas's 75 counties. The needs of the state's rural and underpopulated areas are not equally represented. If we really want state laws to address statewide issues equitably, let's expand our horizons a bit. Who knows what might come of it? Here's hoping for fairer tax policies, education reform aimed at eliminating inequities, or maybe just the knowledge that not everybody's got it as good as you may have.
Ellie Wheeler is a senior policy analyst with Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families.
Build a planetarium in Little Rock
The size of Kevin Delaney and Dr. Tony Hall's idea is astronomical: A planetarium for the River Market district downtown. Delaney, the Museum of Discovery employee who's appeared on the "Tonight Show" with his feats of science, and Hall, the astronomer at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, would like to do it right, build it from the ground up with state-of-the-art equipment — maybe not in league with the Hayden Planetarium, but something decent. "If you are going to put kids on the path to science and engineering, you've got to impress them," Hall said. The projectors that beam the images on the dome now use computers; "anything you can do on a computer you can do on a dome," Hall said, including taking the audience undersea or into cell structures. "We feel like, given the amount of STEM education happening all over Arkansas, the absence of [a planetarium] is noticeable," Delaney said. There's plenty going on in space right now, with the European Space Agency's landing of little Philae on a comet and NASA's Orion flight test, and there is plenty going on in Arkansas's science museum community, with the Amazeum going up in Northwest Arkansas, the Mid-American Science Museum renovation and the Reynolds Foundation-launched Arkansas Discovery Network. So what's it going to take? Maybe around $1 million for the building and the projector. There are grants available from the National Science Foundation that could help operate the planetarium. And though Hall wouldn't mind seeing UALR's own planetarium refurbished (its projector crashed and burned a while back), he thinks downtown makes more sense. "The more we looked into it, the more we felt it wasn't really practical [to build on campus]. College campuses aren't meant to have kids running around ... and we love the idea of having it in downtown," Hall said, especially if it could reach Little Rock's underprivileged kids. The planetarium could also give meteorite collections of UALR and the museum "a permanent home," Delaney said. Plus, Delaney said, the Central Arkansas Astronomical Society could use the planetarium "as a hub for space geeks."
-Leslie Newell Peacock
A Regional Food Innovation Center for Central Arkansas
Tremendous attention has been paid to the potential for a new technology-based economy in Arkansas. There's a palpable urgency to mentor entrepreneurs and create foundries for biotech and nanotech inventions.
Now, Arkansas's traditional economy — farming — is being invited to join the revolution, with the creation of what's being called a Regional Food Innovation Center as a companion to the Argenta Innovation Center maker/mentor/art space in downtown North Little Rock.
The idea came from forward-looking folks at the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub, the state Agriculture Department, the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service and the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance. Their idea is to create a place for farmers and others to develop new foods, strategies for marketing and packaging, better access to nutritious food in "food deserts" and new agricultural technologies. The idea has already borne fruit: The partnership was one of just 26 in the nation selected by the federal "Local Foods, Local Places" program to win its assistance in improving economic opportunities for farmers and increasing access to healthy food.
On a trip to business accelerator programs in Chicago last April, Warwick Sabin, executive director of the Hub, met the creator of an electronic device that plugs into a combine harvester and collects data on crop and soil composition. The startup, 640 Labs, has since been acquired by Monsanto. It made Sabin wonder, what could the Hub do to address farmers' needs? "The more I dug into the idea, the more I learned about these efforts going on around the country," he said, and not just for farmers, but all involved in the food industry.
Sabin got with Zack Taylor, marketing director at the state Agriculture Department. Taylor brought in Amanda Philyaw Perez of the UA Cooperative Extension Service. The Hunger Relief Alliance, which wants to create a food "gleaning" facility where donated fresh food is collected for redistribution, got on board. The timing was just right: Perez was aware of the "Local Foods" initiative, which put out requests for applications in July.
Modeled on programs at Ohio State University, Oregon State University and the Rutgers Food Innovation Center in New Jersey, Arkansas's Regional Food Innovation Center, to be built adjacent to or near the Argenta Innovation Center, will have a certified kitchen to develop new food products, a labeling and packaging area, a greenhouse and garden for instruction, and a gleaning center. With access to the Innovation Center's Launch Pad for inventors and Silver Mine business accelerator, food industry entrepreneurs can explore new business models. "I have a lot of friends who are farmers," Sabin said, "and they are some of the most technologically adept people I know."
The North Little Rock location of the center would make access convenient for the state's food industry community.
The "Local Foods/Local Places" award provides the services of consultants that will work with the Innovation Center over a period of months to produce a plan; expect the first public hearing in February. When the plan is complete, the Food Center project will be eligible for funding from the partner federal agencies; agencies here will raise funding from local sources. Sabin said the partners are now working to expand the group, calling on others in the food industry to join in. "We want to cast a wide net to make sure we don't leave anybody out. Everybody from restaurant owners to St. Joseph's Farm," Sabin said. The group does not want to replicate other programs or compete. "We want to make sure it's value-added."
-Leslie Newell Peacock
Teach minority youth to hunt and fish
By Jonathan Wilkins
We live in a state where too many residents of urban, economically depressed neighborhoods don't have access to the natural world and all of the benefits that exposure to it provides. That's PC code language for: Poor black and brown folks from the cities don't ever go in the woods. They don't hunt, they don't fish, they don't forage. They suffer from a lack of meaningful physical activity, poor diets and the medical issues that result from not moving enough and eating crap food.
What would happen if some of the young people in these communities were introduced to hunting and fishing? Not a fishing derby at a stocked pond in Little Rock, but being mentored for the long haul in the woods of Arkansas and on its lakes and bayous.
Take an average 10-year-old with no exposure to guns except in media, and perhaps instances of human-on-human violence. (We'll use a boy for this example, but a girl would work just as well.) Bring him to an Arkansas Game and Fish Commission gun range and teach him how to safely and responsibly shoot a .22 rifle, under strict supervision. Transform the idea of a gun from a status symbol into a tool to hone a meditative skill. Find the target, steady your aim, let out half a breath, hold it, and slowly squeeze the trigger. Let the bullet going off surprise you.
Upon mastering the rifle range, take that child on a squirrel hunt at Wattensaw Wildlife Management Area. Let him hear the woods wake up in the morning and see the palette of colors that a sunrise produces in an oak grove. Show him how to walk with intentional, methodical, carefully placed steps, punctuated with long pauses of stillness and silence and breathing and listening. On a hunt, there is no bravado, only competency. Maybe he gets a squirrel, and maybe he doesn't. Teach him that there is always value in listening and learning from the woods.
Let these lessons build on themselves year after year. How to fish, how to swim and how to work with dogs. How to find food in wild places, how to process it and how to cook it. Link the privilege of participating in such a program to academic performance. Make kids earn every bit of it.
I hazard to guess that the result will be a child who absorbs skills that will help him succeed in living anywhere, whether in the city or in the country. There will be personal triumphs of harvesting deer and putting food on his family's table, but there will also be lessons derived from failure. And, the health benefits of walking and climbing and running will become evident.
You'll end up with a 16-year-old who has learned valuable skills and developed relationships with people he might not otherwise have ever met. Maybe the older gentleman who taught him how to gut a deer needs help this summer at the warehouse he owns. Perhaps the skeet instructor from last year is on the board of a local college. Or maybe none of that happens, and you just end up with a person who is able to live a healthier lifestyle, provide organic, free-range protein for his family, and pass on these skills to his own children.
Setting up such a program would require an investment of time and money from volunteers, schools, the AGFC, local chefs, business owners, land owners and others in the statewide community. But, it would be worth it to create an environment where people are more responsible for others and the world around them, a world that is a little bit more like the one most of us say we want to live in. Let's put our money and our time where our mouth is.
Jonathan Wilkins is an avid outdoorsman who lives in rural Pulaski County. He is a sales manager for Arkansas Fresh Bakery in Bryant.
Build a real workforce education system
By Sen. Jane English
My goal for a very long time has been to find a way to build a system for workforce development. Right now we have a lot of silos: K-12 education, two-year colleges, higher education and business all live in their own world. For me, though, education is "K through career." Even when you're in a career, there ought to be education and skills training that helps people move up in their jobs.
For the past 20 years, we've said the only way to be successful is to go to college, and there's only one path to go to college. But fewer than 40 percent of Arkansas students seeking a bachelor's degree graduate within six years of starting school. What good does it do for someone to go off to college and flunk out? Where do they go with the rest of their lives? We've got to have things in place to make sure folks can have a career.
There are not a whole lot of 18-year-olds who know what they want to do with the rest of their life when they get out of high school. We must get the business community to help us begin introducing different types of job opportunities to kids in the sixth, seventh, and eighth grades. We should create technical programs where kids in the ninth through 12th grades can take classes that teach them applied skills, whether it's in information technology or manufacturing. They can earn a certification along with their high school diploma and are able to get a job right out of high school.
In Lonoke, the school district has had a problem with students dropping out in ninth grade. The superintendent asked some kids why, and they told her, "Because there's nothing here for us." They said they wanted to learn how to weld. So, she set up a welding program in the high school. Now kids are learning math and science and English — all the things they're supposed to be learning — but they've also got something that catches them and holds on to them. It's a reason for staying in school, like football or basketball. Ninety-six percent of the kids who are in career and technical education programs graduate from high school, which is far higher than the average. They have something that has enticed them to stay.
We also have to get companies to help us understand what jobs are out there and what the skill requirements are. Other states have figured this out long before we have. We've had an Arkansas employer tell us that they can't hire computer science majors because some of the things the students learn at the university aren't relevant. We have a manufacturing company on Interstate 40 that's been without two or three management positions for years. We've got a data company that can't find the data people to come and work.
There are good things going on as well. For example, the University of Arkansas Community College at Morrilton has formed a partnership with local businesses to teach people the skills they need for one high-demand field: heating and air conditioning. In Paris, Cloyes Gear is working with the local Chamber of Commerce, the school superintendent and Arkansas Tech University to train workers.
We also need to do more to help workers learn new skills and earn certifications. We have many people here in the state who dropped out of school to work; they're good people but they don't have basic skills, and employers recognize that. We have a program right now where employers can utilize state-funded adult education teachers to help employees learn basic skills — say, reading, or math — because the employers want to keep them.
This is why talk about the minimum wage is misguided. Who in the world wants their child to end up in a minimum wage job? Nobody! It's a good start, but only a stepping stone. There has to be a career pathway for that person to advance.
We've got to make sure that K-12, the colleges and the business community — this whole line of education and training — is hooked together. Education is a product, and we have to make sure that the product we're delivering to students is a good one.
Jane English is a Republican state senator who represents District 34. She lives in North Little Rock.
Use private capital to effect social change
By Eric Wilson
Innovation always carries risk, but the complexity and scale of challenges facing society require us to take that risk. Eighty-five percent of the economic growth in the United States comes from private-sector innovation. How do we direct that innovation toward society's most pressing problems?
Arkansas should join an increasing number of states in employing Social Impact Bonds (SIBs) — also known as "Pay for Success" — to mitigate the public's financial risk of innovation and access untapped private capital to invest in performance-based programming in social sectors.
First implemented in Great Britain, the first SIB in the U.S. was announced in August 2012 with the goal of reducing recidivism among 16- to 18-year-old males at New York City's Rikers Island prison. Here's how it works:
Goldman Sachs loans $9.6 million to the nonprofit MDRC, which manages the intervention program.
To offset the risk, Bloomberg Philanthropies guarantees $7.2 million of Goldman Sachs' investment.
An independent evaluator monitors and determines the results of the program. New York pays MDRC based on the associated cost savings from the reduced number of reincarcerations.
For Goldman Sachs to break even on its investment, the program needs to produce a 10 percent reduction in recidivism. If the program fails, the taxpayers pay nothing.
This model provides a platform for the public, private and nonprofit sectors to come together, leveraging their different strengths to solve a social problem.
With only five SIB projects underway in the U.S., both advocates and critics are anxiously awaiting the results of this new financial instrument. However, the U.K. is already reporting progress on its first SIB. While the national average of reconvictions for adult males serving sentences less than 12 months rose 10 percent, the SIB pilot intervention program at a prison in Peterborough, England, saw an 11 percent decline over that same period, putting investors on track to recoup their loan and possibly make a return.
The Social Impact Technical Assistance Lab at the Harvard Kennedy School works with governments to foster social innovation, and played an important role in designing the first SIB projects in the U.S. Based on its experience, successfully implementing an SIB starts with "enthusiasm and commitment among leadership."
We saw an indication of this during the 2013 legislative session when Rep. Warwick Sabin (D-Little Rock) presented his public-private partnerships bill (HB 1251) to support major infrastructure projects. While the legislation ultimately failed to pass the Senate, it started the conversation about how the private sector can invest in public sector projects and share in the risks and rewards.
Cost-saving preventive services in government-funded sectors like prisons and early childhood education offer investment vehicles for the private sector to participate and offset the risk of innovation for taxpayers. SIBs have the potential to create a new social services marketplace in Arkansas to pilot and scale solutions that have a clear and measured impact. Pursuing this innovative model now is an opportunity to showcase our state's strong entrepreneurial heritage.
Eric Wilson is CEO of Noble Impact, a new high school education venture in partnership with the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service. You can follow him at twitter.com/eric_wilson.
Welcome the future wave of Gulf Coast refugees
By Benjamin Hardy
Let's develop a 50-year plan for the Little Rock metropolitan area to deal with the very real possibility of a massive influx of displaced humanity from New Orleans and south Louisiana as ocean levels rise.
The truth about climate change is that nobody knows exactly what's going to happen in the coming decades, not me or you or James Inhofe. Maybe catastrophe will be avoided — or maybe, as indicated by the geological record and our best predictive modeling systems, higher concentrations of atmospheric carbon will incrementally dial up global temperatures, triggering feedback effects that accelerate the melt of polar ice caps and imperil coastal cities from Mumbai to Miami.
Obviously, what we most urgently need right now is prevention. We must implement global, national and state-level strategies to drastically scale back our use of fossil fuels (as Arkansas is contemplating doing). But we also need a state and local plan for what to do if business as usual continues and catastrophe comes to pass. Because they know the threat is real, coastal cities like New York, Chicago, and London have crafted long-term plans for dealing with rising seas and extreme weather events.
Inland states like Arkansas face a different challenge: migration. About 14 million people live in coastal counties along the Gulf of Mexico, and if the ocean threatens to overwhelm their homes in a generation, they'll have to go somewhere. Look at a map. Austin, San Antonio and Dallas would likely absorb refugees from Houston. Florida's huddled masses would stream toward Southeastern cities like Atlanta. And the residents of Greater New Orleans and south Louisiana will head north, to Shreveport and Jackson and points beyond.
Why not encourage the future New Orleanian diaspora to resettle here in Little Rock en masse?
We'll need a massive, rapid development of new housing and civic infrastructure. I suggest building along the banks of the Arkansas River, east of present-day downtown (the Arkansas is a lesser echo of the Mississippi, to be sure, but it's also a more manageable companion for a city). Since Little Rock so badly wants its own streetcars, development can center on a public transit system designed to mimic the look (if not the efficiency) of the St. Charles and Canal lines.
We'll need huge investments in social services and public education. We'll need to craft a workforce and economic development plan in collaboration with every major business interest in the region. I have high hopes that the Walton Family Foundation will feel some responsibility to pitch in a few billion dollars for resettlement costs, since they've invested so heavily in the charterization of New Orleans public schools in the past.
Pulaski County should welcome displaced New Orleanians with open arms partly because they're our neighbors and partly because every American bears the collective guilt of all those tons of atmospheric carbon. But we also stand to reap great benefits from their arrival, since (as was often said post-Katrina) the essence of New Orleans is contained in its people, not in a few particular square miles of Louisiana. The second lines and Carnival, the roast beef po' boys and the drive-through daiquiris, the brass and the bounce and all the more ineffable things that comprise the most beautiful and culturally complex city in America — that's what we'll welcome. What we're really talking about here is trying our best to move what will remain of New Orleans itself, salvaging whatever we're able in the face of unthinkable loss and transporting it to Arkansas.
Little Rock as we know it would be transformed, even subsumed — but hey, that's history for you. Like it or not, we'll probably inherit NOLA's climate as well. At least we'll have live oaks.
I know what some of you are thinking: Yes, there's a lot to love about New Orleans, but what about its unsavory elements? I hear you. Along with all the working and creative classes of the city, we'll also inevitably have to deal with a number of troublemakers and freeloaders. I'm talking about New Orleans' oil industry executives, financiers and old money scions — the people, in short, whose wealth and moral inertia will enable the climate crisis in the first place. I have my qualms too, but listen: We have to be charitable. If they reform their ways, they'll be welcome here in the new Little Rock as well. We believe in second chances.
Benjamin Hardy is an associate editor at the Arkansas Times.
Unlock the gate on the State Street overpass to connect historic West Ninth with Philander Smith College
By Chris Hancock
Some call it a bridge to nowhere: the State Street overpass that leads from historic West Ninth Street to the campus of Philander Smith College, or at least it would, if not for the gate that closes the street to all vehicular traffic, making bicycle and pedestrian traffic impossible.
As a former employee of the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, I heard several complaints from visitors, students and professionals after thwarted attempts to walk the short distance between historic West Ninth and Philander Smith.
There are often lectures, screenings, exhibit openings and other events along West Ninth at MTCC and Dreamland Ballroom and in various locations on the campus of Philander Smith College. It would be mutually beneficial for each of these cultural venues to allow visitors to walk or ride between Philander Smith and West Ninth.
Wesley Chapel, a historic church founded by the father of Charlotte Stephens, is located just inside the gate. Wesley Chapel would surely benefit from being more accessible to its congregation as well as visitors interested in its history. A closed gate isn't welcoming to the visitors — families, reunions, tour groups, researchers, jazz aficionados — who visit West Ninth and Philander to explore the rich history of the area.
Once known as "The Line," Ninth Street was a bustling east-west thoroughfare with a trolley line. It was a vital community with a thriving urban fabric of mixed-use development that was largely black-owned.
Booker T. Washington spoke at Ninth and Broadway in 1913. Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong and others performed at the Dreamland Ballroom and other jazz clubs along Ninth. Daisy and L.C. Bates ran their Arkansas State Press there, and, from the present location of MTCC, the Mosaic Templars operated a politically and financially influential headquarters.
The campus of Philander Smith once spanned north to West Ninth before Interstate 630 tore through the social and economic fabric of the district. As Philander Smith welcomes a new president and continues to attract competitive faculty as well as prospective students by hosting dynamic programming, this is an opportunity to envision the entrance at the State Street bridge as a gateway rather than a barrier.
Bicycle and pedestrian traffic are among the most vital signs of a thriving community. While we attempt to make other areas of our city walkable, why prevent it here?
It is pragmatic to allow pedestrian and bicycle traffic between Philander Smith and the burgeoning cultural corridor of Historic West Ninth Street, and it's poetic to bridge the divider that dismantled the district: I-630.
There are many potential compromises that will prevent unwanted vehicular traffic while allowing bicycle and pedestrian traffic, such as a side-gate, removable traffic poles or simply opening the gate and using a temporary traffic barrier.
A bridge is a terribly expensive thing to waste. One of the goals of the 2015 Pop Up in the Rock project, Pop Up West Ninth, is to use the bridge for community development in the burgeoning cultural district. Pop Up in the Rock, a joint volunteer project of studioMAIN and Create Little Rock, is a community development organization that creates temporary demonstrations (pop ups) of what is possible on a block with under-developed potential. These short-term demonstrations have lasting impact by illustrating what is possible when businesses, cultural institutions and communities come together.
A Pop Up West Ninth in the fall of 2015 is proposed to span from the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center at Ninth and Broadway to Dreamland Ballroom at Ninth and State and across the State Street bridge to the campus of Philander Smith.
Chris Hancock is co-chair of Pop Up in the Rock 2015 and a City Beautiful commissioner.
Honor local culture through grassroots organizing
By Meredith Martin-Moats
When most people think of community centers, they imagine a large, modern building with glass double doors and an indoor basketball court. Such recreational facilities are an important part of any town, but we also need other shared spaces in our communities that nourish local culture and civic life.
In early 2015, the McElroy House: Organization for Cultural Resources is slated to open a small community center in Dardanelle that will serve as an idea hub for Pope and Yell counties. It will be a home for small skill-sharing workshops led by community members, a living room for socializing, and a place for parents, elders and children (in both English and Spanish-speaking communities) to gather, share concerns and ideas, and learn from one another.
Back in 2006, I had the opportunity to work with Michael Morrow, the man behind the West Kentucky African American Heritage and Research Center in Russellville, Ky. Morrow and other members of his community researched the area's history and genealogies dating back to slavery and worked collectively to renovate and preserve structures dating from the 1700s. (White people often take for granted how easy it is to research our own histories. At the same time, we often forget the importance of knowing the everyday stories of our community's deep past.) As I watched Morrow turn near-dilapidated houses into places of fearless learning, I began dreaming of returning to my hometown of Dardanelle and exploring what it can mean to dig into the past with the goal of working toward a new kind of future. Together with Marie Williams, a Dover native who recently received her MA in history from Arkansas Tech University, we're working to create a community idea hub for our section of the River Valley.
The McElroy House is built on valuing our landscape and cultural resources, exploring how the past informs the present, and creating partnerships across generations, races and cultures. We work to find commonalities between working class communities in urban and rural areas across Central Arkansas. We believe in exploring the past for the sake of the future and the importance of deep listening and collective action.
So far, our work has focused on researching and documenting local oral histories and creating community-based media pieces for print and radio. Soon, though, we will open a community center in the house from which our organization gets its name. Built in the 1940s, this home once belonged to Lloyd and Golda McElroy, former tenant farmers and chicken plant workers who raised their family in Yell County. They were everyday people, living in a simple house, and their histories are similar to many others' in the community.
We've worked with the University of Arkansas Community Design Center to create a low-impact parking lot that will reduce water runoff, and we'll explore ways everyday people can rethink our relationship to this most important of resources. We'll cover the grounds in perennials donated from area gardens and native plants that attract bees and butterflies. We'll cultivate vegetables in partnership with a local heirloom seed saving group that is working to ensure our regional vegetable varieties are around for generations to come. We believe that even small amounts of food production can reduce food insecurity in low-income communities; in a largely low-income state, people in both rural and urban areas have been engaging in resource conservation and so-called "green living" for generations.
We plan to hold workshops on everything from understanding the local election process to making herb tinctures, from anti-racist dialogue to knitting classes to developing initiatives for creating locally based incomes. Community members will suggest topics, and our offerings will grow to reflect a diversity of needs and voices. We want to bring people together to explore history, even the difficult stories we all need to learn in order to work across divisions of race, class and culture. We don't know exactly where this will lead us, but that's the point. We want to create a space, both conceptually and literally, to bring people together so we all listen deeply to one another and find ways to learn from our past in such a way that plans for our collective future.
Our center isn't about acquiring big grants for sustainability initiatives or complicated programming. It's about starting where we're at, rethinking our approaches to living and working spaces, and honing the skills of our grandparents for our current needs. We want our center to be a working example of how even the simplest structure can be a place to harness rain, grow a little food and rethink local resources for the benefit of all.
Meredith Martin-Moats is a mother, organizer, folklorist, gardener, oral historian, freelancer writer and Arkansas native. She writes at boileddownjuice.com.
Create a safe place for Craigslist transactions
By Carlton Saffa
At first glance, this Big Idea might not seem so big at all. That is, of course, unless you were one of the two Little Rock men shot on a Tuesday evening last month while trying to kick the tires of a used car spotted on Craigslist.
The Little Rock Police Department ought to dedicate a few of the 44,000 square feet in its new 12th Street Station as an Internet transaction space. It would be a safe room (as well as a spot or two in the parking lot) from which a Craigslist seller and a Craigslist buyer could meet without shooting at one another.
Like most good ideas, this one is borrowed, inspired by a similar bazaar in Pennsylvania, but that in no way diminishes its potential impact on our city. Interestingly, Little Rock is perfectly poised to implement this plan, with 6,300 square feet of that new substation reserved for retail currently sitting vacant, and likely to be for years to come. It appears that the bond financing that made the station possible now makes, for the time being, that portion of the building unavailable for outside retail lease.
So there it is. It could be up and running by week's end. I'm no tech wizard; I've never bought anything off Craigslist. But here's one big idea that may save your life or at least give you some peace of mind while buying or selling your stuff.
Carlton Saffa is the Arkansas manager of Washington National insurance company. In January he'll begin work as senior advisor to Gov.-elect Asa Hutchinson.
Call out prosecutors for misconduct
By Mara Leveritt
Do what the Arkansas Supreme Court won't: Call out prosecutors who don't play by the rules.
Though the state Supreme Court continually reprimands private attorneys for missteps — it disbarred President Clinton — the court has not sanctioned a prosecuting attorney in at least the past 25 years. This bias protects state's attorney's political aspirations, while concealing information about violations that may have caused grave injustice.
The nonprofit Center for Prosecutor Integrity is addressing this nationwide transparency problem. Using state and federal court records that cite prosecutor misconduct, the nonprofit has created a multifunctional public database: prosecutorintegrity.org/registry/database.
It costs about $50 to research a case for inclusion on the Registry of Prosecutor Misconduct, which partly explains why only two cases from Arkansas have been added so far. But tax-deductible donations could change that. Send checks (and the names of cases in which courts have found misconduct, if you know of any) to: CPI, P.O. Box 1221, Rockville, MD 20849. Mark your checks "for Arkansas" — and help lift that thumb off our scales.
Mara Leveritt is contributing editor to Arkansas Times and the author of the books "Dark Spell," "Devil's Knot" and "The Boys on the Tracks."
Continue the private option
By Dan Rahn
Nothing is more important to the future of our city and state than the health of the population. The best idea I can think of to make Little Rock and Arkansas better places to live, work and raise a family is the continuation of funding for insurance expansion. As a society we must all work together to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to have access to high quality health care. Positive change in our health system rests on this issue of access.
Dan Rahn is chancellor of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
Arkansas needs a state fossil
Anne Orsi, a Little Rock lawyer and "dinosaur geek," and paleontologist Walter Manger, professor emeritus in the department of geosciences at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, are among those who would like to see Arkansas name a state fossil. Arkansas is one of only 10 states that have not designated a state fossil. In fact, Orsi thinks we could use both a state fossil, to honor the giant nautiloids found in Northwest Arkansas, and a state dinosaur, Arkansaurus, the only dino uncovered in Arkansas (since the state was largely underwater during the Cretaceous). Orsi hopes to get teachers and elementary students involved, for both a science and government lesson: The children could learn about Arkansas's ancient past as well as how the legislature works by following the passage of a bill naming the fossils through the committees to the floor. Manger wrote the following for the Times:
Sea monsters in Fayetteville? It's true! In 2003, the longest straight-shelled nautiloid cephalopod ever found, bearing the imposing name Rayonnoceras solidiforme, was excavated from a culvert near Interstate 540 (now Interstate 49) in the Fayetteville city limits by three geology students from the University of Arkansas.
The shell of this specimen measured 8 feet. Amazingly, it was the second such find of a giant Rayonnoceras: The previous record for this species, measuring a mere 7 feet, 2 inches, had been found in Fayetteville 40 years earlier. Both individuals lived and died about 325 million years ago in shallow seas that covered the southern Ozark region during what geologists call the Mississippian Subsystem of the Carboniferous System. The nautiloids are distant cousins of the smaller modern chambered cephalopod Nautilus, which is coiled and lives in deep-water environments of the Indo-Pacific region.
In addition to its straight shell, composed of calcium carbonate, Rayonnoceras would have had several feet of tentacles extending from the aperture of the shell. Like Nautilus, it also likely had eyes, a jaw-like beak and a siphon called a hyponome. The nautiloids, and other cephalopods, swim by jet propulsion. Water is drawn in beside the head and forced out through the hyponome. The hyponome can be moved by muscles that allow the cephalopod to swim either forward or backward.
After death, these individuals would have floated in the ancient sea for some period of time. Other marine organisms, big and small, would have fed on the soft parts of these dead animals. The chambers would slowly fill with seawater, causing the shells to sink to the sea floor, to be covered by the barely oxygenated black mud that became the Fayetteville Shale.
A typical Rayonnoceras from the Fayetteville Shale might reach 3 feet: Hundreds of these individuals have been found in the Fayetteville Shale. Many other fossil cephalopods exhibit the same pattern of a few giant individuals, perhaps three or four times the average diameter of the typical specimen. So how did these individuals become giants? A number of modern cephalopods, and other living organisms, exhibit what is called mass semelparity, meaning they reproduce once and die — like Pacific salmon — in a single area. This explains the many "hot spot" fossil localities recorded in northern Arkansas by the UA's department of geosciences, and why these students were out collecting on that January day in 2003. These individuals are all about the same size. Giants, such as our 8-foot specimen, have a pathological condition that prevented them from reaching sexual maturity; hence they continue to grow to sizes far greater than a typical mature adult.
Arkansas has achieved worldwide recognition for its Carboniferous fossil cephalopod occurrences. Faculty and students in the UA geosciences department have produced nearly 60 years of world class research on these fossils, involving literally hundreds of papers and presentations. Type specimens from the southern Ozarks are housed at many of the major American museums and universities, including the University of Arkansas Museum. Most of the world's researchers on Carboniferous cephalopods have visited the university and northern Arkansas. The quadrennial International Symposium on Cephalopods — Past and Present was held in Fayetteville in 2004, the only time it has been held in the United States. It would be fitting to acknowledge these contributions by designating Rayonnoceras solidiforme, particularly its two pathologic giants, as the state fossil of Arkansas.
-Leslie Newell Peacock
Embrace community policing
By Special Sanders
As I have watched the tragic events unfold recently in Ferguson, Mo.; Staten Island, N.Y.; and Cleveland, I can't help but ponder where we go from here as a nation and as a state. It seems that we conveniently run away from our past instead of completing an honest assessment of our present.
The unrest in Ferguson demonstrates that even small cities aren't immune to the disconnect that exists between minorities and the police departments that serve them. I live in a town in Southeast Arkansas with a population of fewer than 5,000, yet I feel there is nothing to prevent the place I call home from becoming the next Ferguson. Many young minority residents (myself included) do not trust the local police due to past misbehavior and a sustained lack of professionalism from former officers. Even with new staffing, it's hard to trust those would-be leaders when we still encounter disrespect and suspicion from law enforcement. If citizens lose hope in the justice system, people do not cooperate with local police even in instances where working together would produce mutually beneficial outcomes.
I don't have all the answers, but it's time for a statewide initiative to encourage all Arkansas police departments to embrace community policing. Officers need to get out of their cars and speak to the citizens in the neighborhoods they patrol. They should connect with folks via social media. Cops should work with local nonprofits and reach out to youth — not just small children, but teenagers and beyond. If officers feel that they cannot relate to the people they serve, then their department should make an investment in diversity training and community outreach efforts so that these groups of individuals are at least vaguely familiar with each other.
For this to succeed, it can't just be the work of the police, however. Members of the community need to do their part by talking with law enforcement and letting them know how they feel — positively and negatively.
None of this can happen without trust. In order for people to gain the trust of others, they must first feel that they will be taken seriously and that their viewpoints and perceptions matter.
Special Sanders is a community organizer who lives in McGehee.
Build a wall
By Jack Wagoner
My initial starting point for my "Take Back Little Rock" initiative would be to build a Berlin Wall-type structure immediately on the west side of Interstate 430 where the city demographic changes from blue to red. People on the west side of the wall would not be allowed to cross over to the east side. People on the east side would be allowed to move to the west side, but once they left the east they would never be allowed back. Anyone on the east side caught voting Republican would be ejected from the east side, required to live on the west side, and be required to immediately join the Chenal Country Club and Fellowship Bible Church. This would make those of us who have lived 50 years in Little Rock more comfortable, since to us Little Rock ends at I-430. We generally refer to everything west of that as "East Perryville."
Jack Wagoner is a Little Rock lawyer.
Reform juvenile justice
By Jacob Pesicek
The Arkansas juvenile justice system needs major reforms. To reduce incarceration and recidivism among our youth, we need proven approach that includes a highly responsive probation program for juveniles, evening reporting centers, notification caller programs for upcoming juvenile court dates, and improved statewide data collection.
A model already exists for the first item for the probation program. Hawaii's Opportunity Probation with Enforcement (HOPE) imposes predictable and immediate sanctions for probation violations, such as detected drug use or missed probation appointments. These swift, incremental sanctions are more effective at modifying behavior than traditional probation. An independent 2009 study conducted for the U.S. Department of Justice found that HOPE probationers were 55 percent less likely to be arrested for a new crime than probationers not in the program, 72 percent less likely to use drugs, 61 percent less likely to skip appointments with their probation officer and 53 percent less likely to have their probation revoked. Overall, they were sentenced to 48 percent fewer days of incarceration.
Saline County is now home to a pilot program for adult offenders that's modeled on HOPE; why not extend that program to juveniles?
Second, in many rural, low-income areas of Arkansas, judges have limited alternatives to incarceration. Even when alternatives exist, juveniles frequently are not matched with appropriate existing programs. In more urban areas, evening reporting centers are popular and relatively low-cost alternatives to incarceration for youths charged with non-violent offenses, often in cooperation with local churches and schools. Youth crime tends to increase during the times of day when kids are idle or unsupervised, so providing them with recreational, educational and other structured activities on weekday evenings and on weekends makes a big impact.
Evening reporting centers should be expanded and provided with more resources. Hiring staff members from the local community and providing free transportation to and from the ERC are essential to their success.
Third, as simple as it sounds, placing a call to remind defendants of an upcoming court date has been shown to significantly reduce the likelihood of a "failure to appear" in court. This conserves court and law enforcement resources. A Jefferson City, Mo., a pilot program showed a 43 percent reduction in failures to appear if live callers contacted the defendant one week before his or her court date. (Automated calls, on the other hand, were determined to be less effective.) We could do something similar for Arkansas juvenile defendants, perhaps with court-vetted volunteers.
Finally, data collection on juvenile justice in Arkansas must be improved. Juvenile detention centers in Arkansas are locally operated and have limited uniform or centralized reporting requirements, according to a 2014 report by Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families ("Why Detention is Not Always the Answer"). Forms are left incomplete in many cases, which means there is often no record of whether a youth was placed in detention awaiting a hearing or if he or she was detained upon being judged delinquent. Effective and lasting change will require broad-based community support and participation; in order to make the case for reform, we must have good data and measurable results.
Jacob Pesicek is a pro bono lawyer at Janus Institute For Justice, a nonprofit organization committed to the advancement of environmental and social justice through education, advocacy and activism, social media, volunteerism, community outreach and other forms of non-violent, civic engagement.
Encourage gay foster parents
By Catherine Crisp and Tara DeJohn
Imagine a state where you are a child and you have been removed from your parents because of neglect or abuse. Imagine that you are placed in group homes, residential treatment centers and numerous foster homes and have been moved from place to place to place. The primary reason behind these moves is driven by a lack of placements: There just aren't enough foster/adoptive parents to meet the demands of children lingering in care.
Imagine that you are an adult with a stable job, a loving spouse, a home to share, and you want to be a parent to a child who needs loving parents. Imagine that despite being identified as a parent anyone would want to have, you continue to be denied the opportunity to parent a child because you are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. You are denied this right because people in Arkansas continue to believe that LGBT people are still unfit to parent and you and your spouse are consistently overlooked as potential parents.
Now imagine that all this has changed. Imagine that child welfare workers throughout the state of Arkansas have been adequately provided with placement resources and are supportive of LGBT adults who want to be foster and adoptive parents. This change in people's attitudes has led to more than enough foster and adoptive parents for all the children in Arkansas who need care. This is the vision we have for Arkansas.
We envision Arkansas as a state where LGBT adults are actively recruited and encouraged to become adoptive and foster parents, thus increasing the number of children placed in loving homes and reducing the number of out-of-home placements. We also envision a state where child welfare workers in both public and private agencies throughout Arkansas are trained to be sensitive and responsive to the needs of all youth in care, including LGBT youth. We envision a state where child welfare workers understand LGBT youth's unique needs and support them in being placed in loving and caring homes.
Catherine Crisp and Tara DeJohn are associate* and assistant professors in the University of Arkansas at Little Rock's School of Social Work, respectively.
Biodigest pig waste
By Jeff Short
Feeling down every time you eat a BLT?
That's how I feel, knowing I am encouraging the Cargill piggery at Mt. Judea to go about its business, raising animals that create tons of manure each day, a byproduct Cargill must deal with in a way that preserves profitability of the operation. Concentrated Area Feeding Operations, or CAFOs, are nasty affairs, and are the source of much of the meat we consume in this nation. To keep the piggies safe and healthy as they grow, Cargill washes the solids they excrete into large holding ponds. Once the ponds get full, the manure-water is sprayed periodically on the surrounding landscape.
All the data — anecdotal and empirical — suggests that various forms of nasty waste will work its way into local watersheds and groundwater and end up in the Buffalo National River. If that is not enough, the accompanying smells wafting from the spraying will surely sting your nose and eyes — and no doubt, disturb your concentration if you are at the nearby school or church.
The latest mitigation proposal is to treat the filthy pond water with pyrolysis, an energy-intensive technique used in a wide variety of industrial processes in cooking (as in making confections), the chemical industry and the energy industry. In this case, the pyrolysis would be used to vaporize the hazardous components in the pig water, which would range from bacteria, pass-through medicines and other drugs to keep the pigs healthy, and the feces with all its attendant, volatile organics. There are several ways to "pyrolyze" stuff, but apparently the Mt. Judea system will go the high-temperature route — burning — leaving a nice crusty carbon. This "char" may actually improve soil quality if the soil has a high clay content, since the minerals are concentrated and released slowly.
All of this will raise the cost of my BLT.
My big idea is to use biodigesters instead. They will not only treat the waste and smell, but also generate methane that can be used to offset energy costs for the operation. The technology is not new and is "scalable" to big or small operations. Biodigesters are currently being used to treat pig effluent in the United States, Australia, China, Philippines and many other locations. The process is fairly simple: Put some of the piggery water into a vessel or other device for a couple of weeks, manage the process to maintain temperature, residence-time and control off-gassing, and you are left with a fairly innocuous product and energy in the form of biogas.
The paybacks are abundant. The biodigester reduces the volume of the pig water and destroys pathogens while reducing the presence of odors. Application of the residue (digestate) is beneficial to the soil — generally, without noxious smells from ammonia. Since the farmer is making — and, it is hoped, using — the biogas for the piggery operation, there is an offset to the carbon dioxide emissions from other energy sources.
An agricultural engineering study in Thailand shows the extent of the return-on-investment of a pig-poo biodigester system. Basically, for every 8.3 Thai pigs, the system derives one cubic meter of biogas (methane). This is equivalent to about 23 ounces of gasoline or from 1.2 to 1.4 kilowatt-hours. Multiplied by thousands of pigs that will reside at the Mt. Judea CAFO during their growth, biogas systems could equate to more profitability with less environmental or social impact.
Air Force (Ret.) Col. Jeff Short was an engineer for the U.S. Department of Energy and a commissioner on the Governor's Commission on Global Warming.
Institute a West Little Rock 'sprawl tax' to subsidize downtown housing
By Omaya Jones
Although the renewed focus on economic development in downtown Little Rock is positive, it also raises serious concerns about gentrification: Over the long term, will current residents be displaced as housing values rise? Will the new crop of people flocking to the downtown and South Main areas inadvertently price out their lower-income neighbors?
It's not inevitable. If we were to focus on building affordable housing, lower-income people wouldn't necessarily have to leave the neighborhood, which would be a boon to everyone. This could be accomplished with a new property tax on sprawl in West Little Rock.
John Roman, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, argues that there's actually nothing wrong with gentrification in itself, but only if the poor people stay. The key to reducing crime and violence and building a better city, he argues, is having a healthy mix of people of various backgrounds and incomes living side by side. If the problem with gentrification is the displacement of people who are already living in a community, then what we need to do is implement policies that allow them to stay in the homes and neighborhoods that they helped to shape. Our focus should be on increasing the housing supply in these areas, by creating incentives for developers to build for low- and middle-income families. A "sprawl tax" — an additional property tax — on property between, say, Shackleford Road and the town of Roland would help pay for incentives. This would hopefully slow the pace of development on the western fringes of the city and encourage investment in downtown Little Rock.
"Density matters because we're a social species geared to learn from people around us," writes Harvard economist Edward Glaeser, author of "Triumph of the City." Cities are hubs of innovation and creativity, especially when they are home to diverse populations living side by side. We should be implementing policies to promote that, not encouraging continued outward expansion.
Omaya Jones is a Little Rock native with a B.A. in comic books. He enjoys public policy as a hobby and knows just enough to be dangerous.
Develop exhibit 'pods' for Arkansas
By Stephen Koch
This idea isn't so big, so it must be eminently doable, right? In fact, its essence is travel-sized.
While on a book tour this year, I stopped by the Simply Jazz and Blues Festival in Beckley, W.Va., and discovered a travel trailer that the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame has outfitted into a tribute to its native heroes. Exhibits are mounted behind Plexiglas on either side, and a rubber-matted path runs through the middle.
Something similar could be done with Arkansas music, which is so often overlooked. (Beloved, heavily featured Mountain State performers Little Jimmy Dickens and Bill Withers would likely be crowded out of the musical conversation if they were Arkansawyers.) But music is only one possibility. The concept could be expanded to create other educational pods on practically any Arkansas subject, which would be nearly as viscerally cool as the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission's mobile aquarium.
Speaking of travel, commuters could ponder these pods on platforms while waiting for the electric tram running through the center strip of Wilbur D. Mills Freeway (I-630), or while aboard the noiseless commuter boats ferrying folks from west Pulaski and outlying counties to and from downtown Little Rock along the Arkansas River.
Stephen Koch is the author of "Louis Jordan: Son of Arkansas, Father of R&B" and the host of "Arkansongs," a public radio program syndicated throughout Arkansas.
Go native with plants
By Randy Forst
Here's an idea for healthier plants and less fertilizer and water use in our gardens: Go native. Using natives is ideal: The plants that are native to where you live have spent hundreds of years adapting to growing conditions. That means they don't need much help from you to grow — less fertilizer, moisture and mulch. Once they are established, they are usually as tough as nails. Have you ever been driving along the highways in the month of August and noticed the red/orange blooming plants in the ditches? This plant is butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), and the Highway Department doesn't have to tend it: Its tap root keeps it going even during dry conditions.
Native plants tend to have better manners in the garden. By this, I mean that they are rarely invasive. Nature has a way of keeping them in line with natural predators.
Native plants are a great way of introducing birds and butterflies to the garden. They rely on it for food, shelter and nesting habitats. Nothing makes a garden come alive more than seeing colorful butterflies and birds darting around in the landscape.
Native plants can be quite beautiful. They come in a wide array of colors, from the white bloom of Queen Anne's Lace (Daucus carota), the yellow of goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis), the orange of Blackberry Lily (Belamcanda chinensis), the red of cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), the pink of spotted knapweed (Centaurea stoebe), the blue of Carolina larkspur (Delphinium carolinianum) to the rosy hue of purple coneflower (Echinacea pallida).
No sun in your garden? There are native plants for the shade as well. If you are fortunate enough to have both growing conditions in your landscape, try planting a few of each. In a few years you could have a whole garden planted in the oldies but goodies, and you will have done the environment a favor, too.
For more information, call or email the Pulaski County Extension Office at 340-6650 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Randy Forst is with the Pulaski County Cooperative Extension Service of the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.
Make health care costs transparent
By Sen. David Sanders
The rise of high deductible insurance plans paired with tax-free health savings accounts (HSAs) has created more engaged health care consumers. But there is a problem: A bedrock principle of consumerism is that end users should be able to make informed decisions based on price and quality. Consumers need access to better information if they are to choose the best insurance policy, primary-care doctor or hospital to meet their needs. Currently, the burden often rests on the individual, who, when something goes wrong, just wants the system to work correctly.
How exactly is the average consumer supposed to navigate our complex structure of doctors, specialists, surgeons, hospitals, outpatient clinics and ambulatory surgical centers — not to mention the multiple payers involved (insurance companies, self-insured plans, Medicaid and Medicare)? This is all made more complicated by outdated and overlapping regulatory and legal structures that vary according to jurisdiction and who is paying. Transparency is sorely lacking.
In the past, insurers, pharmacy benefit managers, pharmaceutical companies, hospitals and doctors have been barriers to creating objective health care transparency measures. Their fear: A more transparent system would financially advantage some players in the health care system at the expense of others. As a result, quantitative and qualitative measures — how much care costs and how good that care is — remain largely invisible to the patient.
So, it's no surprise that costs inflate, insurance rates increase, waste and abuse rise, and misdiagnoses fuel unnecessary treatments and procedures. Meanwhile, the end users (and taxpayers) increasingly feel disconnected from their health care and helpless to do anything about it.
Arkansas has consistently received failing grades from organizations that rate states' health care transparency laws. That needs to change. Here are three substantive statewide initiatives that will get the ball rolling:
a scorecard that rates health care providers based on validated, regularly updated information about price and quality, including diagnoses, medical procedures and outcomes.
disclosure and reporting of all ownership arrangements, grants, studies, awards and clinical trials made to the institutions and/or individuals we entrust with our health care.
a tax incentive for individuals, families or businesses that use an independent, nongovernmental decision-support system staffed by medical professionals to assist with health care choices based on patients' medical information and the latest peer-reviewed data.
Retreating to a single national health policy might appear to be the only way to gain certainty over a system that has evolved into a model of dysfunction and inefficiency. Yet the monumental disruption caused by President Obama's signature law demonstrates that a comprehensive, one-size-fits-all approach is flawed in concept. Instead, we need a truly consumer-driven system. That will require some additional demand-side reforms (the creation of incentives to promote consumer engagement) but the most significant changes are now needed on health care's supply side.
Arkansas has already taken significant steps to increase private health coverage and advance systemwide payment reform. Our progress will be all for naught unless we can also transform health care into a transparent system driven by informed consumers.
David Sanders is a Republican state senator who represents District 15. He lives in Little Rock.
Use battlefields to attract tourists
By Mark Christ
As we enter the final year of the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War, it is a good time to recognize the potential of Arkansas's battlefields as economic development engines.
There were more than 770 offensive operations in Arkansas during the war (only Virginia, Tennessee and Missouri saw more action), ranging from full-scale battles like Pea Ridge or Arkansas Post to scouting expeditions and bushwhacker-hunting raids. Many of those battles took place in remote parts of the state and their locations remain almost pristine today, providing landscapes where modern-day visitors can see the fields of conflict in virtually the same condition as did the soldiers who fought there in the 1860s. And those visitors spend money. A lot of money.
"Blue, Gray & Green: Economic & Tourism Benefits of Battlefield Preservation," a 2013 study by the Civil War Trust, found that Civil War tourists are wealthier and better educated than other tourists, and that they stay longer and spend more — an average of $1,000 for a visit by a family of four. That's money that is spent at local restaurants, hotels and small businesses, creating jobs and putting tax money into the coffers of state and local governments. The study found that in five states — Missouri, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia — Civil War sites annually attracted 15.8 million visitors who spent $442 million and helped support 5,150 local jobs.
We could see those results in Arkansas, but more effort needs to go toward the acquisition and development of the state's battlefields through private-public partnerships. While Pea Ridge National Military Park and Prairie Grove Battlefield Historic State Park have excellent visitor centers and interpretive exhibits, places like Marks' Mills, Devil's Backbone and Hill's Plantation have little if anything to show that anything of note happened there. That's money lost.
In the current economic environment, battlefield preservation can be a tough effort. Currently, for instance, the Nevada County Depot and Museum in Prescott is working with state government and national nonprofit groups to acquire 448 acres of the Elkins' Ferry battlefield, the site of an April 1864 engagement during the Red River Campaign that the National Park Service describes as "among the most pristine Civil War battlefields in Arkansas. This rural area has only seen slight changes since the Civil War. Like other battlefields associated with the Camden Expedition of 1864, it offers a tremendous opportunity for preservation and interpretation of the entire historical landscape." Around $625,000 has been pledged for the acquisition of the site, but the effort to raise the remaining $325,000 needed to close the deal is struggling. (Times readers, by the way, can make a contribution to the cause at fundly.com/elkin-s-ferry-battlefield-preservation-effort.)
If developed as a heritage tourism site, the Elkins' Ferry battlefield has the potential to become a tremendous economic development asset for Prescott and Nevada County. The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department estimates that 27,000 vehicles pass near the battlefield on Interstate 30 every day. If even 1 percent of those cars and trucks pulled off to visit Elkins' Ferry, restaurants, stores and gas stations would see a marked uptick in business.
As the Civil War sesquicentennial fades into the sunset, I urge an increase in investment in Civil War battlefield preservation by public entities, nonprofits and business groups, not only to protect land that is hallowed by the blood of American soldiers who fought and died there, but to bring prosperity to their descendants.
Mark Christ is the author of several books on the Civil War and is community outreach director for the Department of Arkansas Heritage.
Legislative pay for performance
By Stephanie Spencer
The passage of Issue 3 in November provides for the development of a new citizens' commission to set the salaries of legislators and constitutional officers in Arkansas.
Since most of us in the real world must meet financial and quality metrics in our annual performance review to get a raise, why not apply this same merit-based standard to determining pay for our state government?
The following three metrics give an objective measurement of the general health, well being and prosperity (or lack thereof) of Arkansas citizens that should be measured every year during the Citizens' Commission annual review. These metrics are responsive to actions and priorities taken by the General Assembly and the governor. If these metrics have improved, they will get a raise. If these metrics decline, they get a pay cut.
1) Decrease in Arkansas mortality rate age 45-65. Death rates in Arkansas from stroke and heart disease in ages 45-65 (an age group in which 25 percent of Arkansans did not have health insurance prior to the private option enacted last year) were respectively 54 to 62 percent higher than national averages 2005-2010. But Arkansas death rates from stroke and heart disease begin to approach national averages after age 65 when Arkansans have access to universal health care through the Medicare program. In Arkansas, this metric of health has the greatest need for improvement and is the most susceptible to state legislation improving access to health care. The period preceding death is commonly accompanied by severe illness, frequent hospitalizations and the need for disability assistance, costs which are frequently absorbed by hospitals and taxpayers for individuals without insurance. Taking deliberate steps to decrease the mortality rate for this age group would save taxpayers money by addressing the root cause of these expenses.
2) Decrease in the poverty rate. We have a relatively low rate of unemployment (22nd in the nation) but the fourth highest poverty rate in the nation at 19.8 percent. Widespread poverty ends up costing the taxpayers a great deal of money in SNAP and WIC benefits, Medicaid expenses, higher rates of incarceration, Section 8 housing, etc. Instead of slashing stop-gap public assistance to the most vulnerable, wouldn't it be better to make decreasing the poverty rate with jobs a legislative priority?
3) Increases in percentage of Arkansans with a college or technical school degree. Arkansas again trails the national average (38 percent) with only 28 percent of its population with a college degree. Any legislative action that could increase this percentage again would address root causes of poverty and lead to a lessened need for public assistance.
Perhaps the legislature could even get a Christmas bonus for improvements in state rankings in the above metrics. They've already proven they can do this — by decreasing the rate of uninsured Arkansans from 49th in the country (topped only by Texas) to tying with New Hampshire at 22nd thanks to the private option.
Legislative "Pay for Performance" would keep legislators continually aware of the priorities that matter in Arkansas.
To steal James Carville's phrase: It's the PEOPLE, stupid.
Stephanie Spencer is an RN and directs the Congestive Heart Failure Clinic at Arkansas Heart Hospital in Little Rock. She worked with her husband, Paul, on the original ethics ballot measure introduced by the group Regnat Populus in 2012.
Entice alumni of Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts to return to Arkansas
By Mike Steely
Our state has some very talented people in it. In regards to growing our economy, prosperity for citizens, and overall economic health we are following a formula that most other Southern states have as well: Bringing in advanced manufacturing for traditional job growth (a.k.a. the mythical automotive plant) and focusing much effort on increasing technology companies that will lead to higher-than-average-wage job growth. In other words, become the next Silicon Valley or Austin. This is focused around increasing the "startup scene" across the state.
I've been involved deeply in the startup scene in Arkansas for several years and serve in a national startup scene capacity as well. We have made some progress. Northwest Arkansas and to some extent Little Rock have seen a few minor successes, fueled by Innovate Arkansas, the ARK Challenge and more recently the Arkansas Venture Center and Argenta Innovation Hub — all worthwhile endeavors, among others, that support entrepreneurial growth. What is missing are the people!
We are a state of roughly 3 million people, which is not enough mass to fuel the growth for Bentonville, Fayetteville or Little Rock to become the next Austin.
What we have to achieve in order to grow our economy is an influx of talent to both bring new ideas and skills as well as lift up the capabilities of those who are already here. We have one asset that can accomplish this feat of a human resources influx. That is the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts in Hot Springs. The ASMSA is an often under-heralded crown jewel of high school education in the state, a school often ranked among the top 10 in the country. But most graduates leave the state for college never to return. Yet all of them have ties to our state. This creates a unique opportunity for us.
Many of these ASMSA graduates are now creating families of their own. They are also leaders in their respective scientific, business, management and technical fields across the country and globe. We have an opportunity to call them back home. Maybe more so than any other school in the country, ASMSA has done a tremendous job outputting quality graduates. While not all graduates may be interested in returning, there will certainly be a lot who would be interested in understanding what our fair state has to offer for them (and maybe also getting those grandkids back closer to home).
The plan is this: Analyze the current graduate list of the ASMSA and determine where they came from and where they might be interested in coming back to. Match this to what the capabilities are to support them in areas across the state and provide whatever economic incentives are necessary to make a transition happen. This is a simple exercise to analyze, define and promote new economic growth. It won't cost millions to pull off, but the return of even 5 percent of 2,000 graduates to build new companies or become employees of growing ones here will be exponential in the short term and long term. Once this program proves itself out with the low hanging fruit of the ASMSA it can be carried forward to other schools as well.
Mike Steely heads the Sparkible Idea Co., an innovation development firm focused on helping others grow new inventions, products and services across the state. This idea is the brainchild of Dr. Ron Hart, who is a founding contributor to the ASMSA.
Establish a veterinary school
By Tobin Williamson
One of the state's universities should establish a veterinary school. As it stands, in-state students who wish to become veterinarians are forced to go out-of-state to continue their education. What a shame, considering Arkansas's large agricultural and rural nature.
Tobin Williamson works for the Consulate-General of Japan in Seattle. He is an Arkansas native.
Host a conference in Little Rock for entrepreneurial Arkansas natives who have left the state
By Max Farrell
Someone should create an expat conference to be hosted in Little Rock in mid-2015. The conference would target expats who are focused on entrepreneurial endeavors. There are many Arkansans who are spread across the United States (and the world) who are building exciting companies, working with existing companies in exciting roles and have a wealth of insights and networks that aren't necessarily being connected back to Arkansas. They may have a different driver's license, but you can't shake Arkansas roots.
The conference would focus on learning what expats are working on, share what the state of Arkansas's entrepreneurial scene is and how each side can support one another.
There's a wealth of talented Arkansans that have left this state for one reason or another and the state is steadily shifting in the right directions. By connecting all of these good people together, we'll be able to showcase where the state is and how we can take it to the next level with all of our combined resources and talents.
Max Farrell is a Little Rock native and co-founder of Create Reason, a firm that works with companies to engages employees through innovation.
Create a nonprofit salvage grocery
By Stephanie Smittle
Someone should establish a Little Rock salvage market for food, a sort of organized dumpster dive in a tent or storefront. Since big boxes like Kroger and Whole Foods must follow strict quality/beauty standards for the goods on their shelves, there's a great deal of food that's perfectly edible but deemed unsellable for one reason or another. According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture study published earlier this year, about 21.5 million tons of food are discarded annually at the retail level. That represents some 142.3 billion calories, at a cost of $46.7 billion. If even a fraction of that waste was mobilized and sold at a discount or donated, we could feed a lot of our neighbors.
Stephanie Smittle is a writer of songs, haiku and prose. Her vocal forays include two full-length albums by her eponymous band, performing the role of Fiordiligi in Mozart's "Cosi fan tutte," and interpretations of Ashkenazic Jewish folk song with the Meshugga Klezmer Band.
By Lucy Holifield
Every day, I see people toss their aluminum cans in the garbage despite the fact that they could walk only a few feet further to a recycle bin. People simply are not going to take responsibility for their trash as long as the cheapest and easiest method of disposal is throwing it all in the dumpster. Cities like Little Rock need to incentivize recycling by imposing a tax on the amount of landfill-bound trash produced by a household, or giving tax rebates for the amount of waste that is recycled.
We feel better when we buy a package of water bottles with caps that use 10 percent less plastic or a ream of recycled paper, but recycling needs to be scaled upwards dramatically if it is to be effective. Critics of recycling operations often say that it wastes energy. That's true if only a small fraction of our trash is being recycled and only a fraction of our population participates. For recycling to be economically feasible and environmentally sound, our entire waste stream needs to be overhauled into a recycling stream.
All trash should have a protocol. Plastics make more plastics, paper makes more paper, and biodegradable material can be turned into compost. If an item is no longer fit to be recycled again, it can be used to make a composite material. Even items made from mixed materials, such as furniture or cars, can be separated into their constituent parts and reused or recycled. In a system like this, research and development would be devoted toward finding new uses for recycled materials.
Monetary incentives are only part of the picture. Cities would have to provide ways for households to separate their trash; perhaps every neighborhood should have a depositing station for recyclables. The city would also need to educate its citizens about recycling protocols, including how tax incentives operate and how to properly recycle that peanut buttery plastic jar that I'm always wondering about.
Of course, this isn't just an idea that applies to Arkansas. The entire nation would benefit from transforming its trash collection systems, but change can start at the state or municipal level. I hope citizens of the Natural State effect this change sooner rather than later to protect our most valuable resources — our trees, air, water, soil, and wildlife.
Lucy Holifield is a student at the Bowen School of Law
Create a community center for low-income women
By Lilyan Kauffman
It's one of my dreams to organize a community center to assist underprivileged women in Central Arkansas.
Poverty is particularly a women's issue. Around 42 million American women live in poverty or at its brink, and the majority of minimum wage workers are female. Women, on average, still earn 77 cents to every dollar a man makes.
Because women face an unequal economic playing field, I want to create a center that offers them relief and support. It would be a one-stop, all-inclusive experience with a variety of targeted services: health care, child care, workforce support, and so on. It would include physicians and nurses on hand to provide free exams for women who lack access to medical resources. Social workers would also be on staff to help women suffering from emotional and mental health problems created by poverty and abuse. We would partner with local colleges, nonprofits and workforce agencies to provide job training and financial counseling. It is low-income women who are most affected by the harsh realities of a gender-biased society. We need to create community resources that empower them.
Lilyan Kauffman lives in Little Rock with her husband and daughter. She works for the Central Arkansas Library System and hosts a monthly feminist group, 'Calling All Feminists.'
Build an All-American Sports Hall of Fame in North Little Rock
By Phil Beuth
Imagine yourself stepping into the batter's box at Fenway Park to face a sweeping Roger Clemens curveball on a giant IMAX screen.
Or, imagine your daughter settling into the starting blocks to race 100 meters against Jackie Joyner Kersee. You'll always remember the priceless look on her face when Jackie blazes ahead of her at the speed of light!
Or, try your best to recreate Tiger Woods' incredible 2005 Master's chip-in on a full size replica of Augusta National's 16th green.
Or, have your picture taken with hosts like Roger Staubach, Joe Montana, or Brett Favre, as an NFL exhibit displays "The Greatest Quarterbacks" of a time.
My big idea is to build an ultra-modern "All-American Sports Hall of Fame" theme park, which celebrates the heroes, exhilaration and drama that sports weave into our American culture.
For the first time, under one roof, this year-round Mecca for sports fans will display exhibits celebrating the highlights of every level and type of sport, from high school, college, the Olympics, pro sports, and more. Baseball, football, NBA, tennis, NASCAR, boxing, MMA, golf, track and field, and many more, each section sponsored by that sport's own Hall of Fame. Other Halls of Fame will be eager to participate, as they receive a no-cost satellite outlet to display their excess memorabilia, in a place that whets the visitor's appetite to visit their hall.
I'm not talking about a "bronze busts and framed jerseys" type of hall. I'm talking about a high-tech, futuristic attraction that is equal parts museum and Disney theme park. Jumbo TV screens, IMAX theaters, and interactive holographic sports replays that put you in the middle of the action! A place to relive the sometimes inspiring, sometimes heart-wrenching human dramas that unfolded before us. A place where we can proudly celebrate the American spirit these heroes represent. A place we can show our children what the American ideals of competition, sportsmanship, fair play, tolerance and teamwork can produce. One place, where the entire family can experience the history and drama of their favorite sports, meet their heroes, buy memorabilia, and have the time of their lives, in an unforgettable interactive experience.
Knowing your favorite star will be on hand to say hello or hold a clinic will draw people from all over America. Because the displays would rotate every few months, the range of people who will host can be replenished over and over again, providing a fresh reason for families to revisit the hall.
I got this idea several years ago, when I read an interview with one of the curators of a major league Hall of Fame. He said they had a warehouse full of memorabilia they didn't have room to display. I realized if we could gather all these sports in one place, and give each sport he opportunity to rotate displays throughout the year, it would be a one-stop family tourist destination that gives fans a "taste" of the full hall experience.
In my opinion, the best location for the hall would be on the North Little Rock side of the river, in the six blocks between Dickey-Stephens Ballpark and Verizon Arena. This is a prime location, because the Hall can host sporting events from nearly all the major sports in those two venues, without having to construct new facilities.
One way we can afford to build this hall is to bring in iconic American brand sponsors from the beginning. They all have major sports funding in their budgets, and they can apportion part of that budget to build and support the hall, and receive exclusive rights to present their products to the guests.
For example, Microsoft, Google, or Apple could receive the technology license to build the software to run the hall's exhibits and infrastructure; McDonalds/PepsiCo to bring their concessions, restaurants and other food brands into the hall; Ford/GM to build the transportation, shuttles and other "people movers"; and Disney to design and build the themes and open up their ABC/ESPN film library.
This idea hits all the "high points" of a big idea; with many advantages for Arkansas:
One of a kind, high-tech modern sports and entertainment theme park
Family-oriented tourist draw, with something for everyone
Honors Arkansas's deep sports history
Creates a thousand or more jobs of every type.
Draws iconic American companies to Arkansas
Generates tax revenues
Strengthens the economy, boosting business by depositing visitor's disposable income into Arkansas cash registers.
National TV coverage of events, including our annual induction, where current members of every sports hall are granted lifetime membership, and newly elected members gather for induction into the "American Sports Hall of Fame."
Arkansas is already home to many of America's top brands, like Wal-Mart, Tyson Foods and Stephens Inc. If major Arkansas-based companies decided to get involved in this project, we would be well on our way to making this once-in-a- lifetime dream project a reality!
Phil Beuth is a Little Rock attorney.
Hire fewer state workers at higher pay
By Rep. Nate Bell
Politicos and media outlets regularly highlight the deep differences between the policy positions of liberals and conservatives in Arkansas and elsewhere in the country. Those disagreements certainly do exist, but there are also opportunities for those on both sides to simultaneously achieve their objectives.
Conservatives (such as myself) have long campaigned for more efficient and accountable state government. Liberals have historically led the push for higher state employee pay and benefits. Policymakers from both points of view have an opportunity to come together and facilitate the achievement of both goals by hiring a smaller number of employees at a higher salary. A look at the public payrolls of similarly sized states shows that there is a way for Arkansas to reduce its overall number of state workers over time — via attrition, not layoffs — while also increasing the pay of the average employee substantially.
Several years ago, using data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, I began comparing public employment statistics in Arkansas with those of Kansas, Utah and Iowa, all of which have populations between 2.7 million and 3 million. Due to space limitations, I'll focus on the Kansas comparison. Kansas is home to 2.85 million people and Arkansas is home to 2.91 million people. Kansas is a larger state in terms of land area: It has 82,278 square miles of land compared to 53,178 square miles in Arkansas. Yet 2010 census data shows that Kansas has about 39,000 full-time state employees while Arkansas has about 57,000. However, the average state employee in Arkansans earns about $45,500 while the average state employee in Kansans earns $50,000 — a 10 percent difference.
Overall, based on the most recent data available, the annual Kansas state payroll is nearly $660 million less than Arkansas's. The costs associated with providing office space, computers, vehicles, etc. are not included in these payroll numbers. These costs add approximately another 25 percent to the total cost, which results in a total cost differential near $825 million.
The bottom line is that Arkansas has far more people on payroll than Kansas, pays them less, and spends substantially more tax dollars in the process. Iowa has 15,000 fewer state employees than Arkansas, but the average Iowan state employee makes 40 percent more than his or her Arkansan counterpart. Utah employs 14,000 fewer state workers than Arkansas but pays them 16 percent more.
Arkansas has many dedicated state employees who work very hard and who strive for excellence and efficiency. I believe these people should be well paid, and I believe we can accomplish this by paying fewer employees more money. This will result in a more stable and satisfied workforce and a more efficient use of taxpayer funds.
I don't believe there's any "magic bullet" piece of legislation that can make this happen, but with a consistent, cooperative effort it could be done over an eight to ten year period, without layoffs. Achieving higher compensation, a more efficient workforce and savings for Arkansas taxpayer will require cooperation between the governor's office, state employees and the legislature.
Let's work together to make Arkansas state government the model of efficiency and performance that other states will seek to replicate. We can do it!
Nate Bell represents Arkansas House District 20. He lives in Mena.
Erect a Cold War memorial
By David Rose
The Civil War has thousands of monuments although only about 10 percent of our population at the time actually fought in that war. Everybody fought in the Cold War and there is not a single monument to that effort that I know of. Since it was fought by everybody and everywhere, no one place has a better claim to it than another. Little Rock could draw national attention by being the first to erect a Cold War Memorial.
Throughout the Cold War there was no stronger force at work than American popular culture, and rock 'n' roll took the point. The H-bombs, nuclear subs and SAC bombers only served to hold the line until our real force, American popular culture in general, and rock 'n' roll, in particular, could be brought into play.
In the 1960s and early '70s we sent thousands upon thousands of young kids to Vietnam to help that country secure a base for capitalism. They were armed with M-16s, B-52s and napalm, but also took along Levis, Marlboros and, most importantly, rock 'n' roll music. Today Vietnam is a hotbed of capitalistic activity. I'll be damned if those young boys didn't win after all. How much easier the victory would have been if the kids had left the guns, planes and napalm at home?
The power of rock 'n' roll was recognized early in the 1950s, and, like the power of the atom, there were people who wanted to put the genie back in the bottle. Preachers and politicians railed against the new music but there was little they could do. The force was too great. It took over America and eventually, the world. The development of the electric guitar ensured that we would have an insurmountable advantage over the Soviet Union in the battle of the bands. We had rock 'n' roll while the Russians had ballet, a tough sell even to the youth of Eastern Europe let alone young adults in the night clubs of the Pacific Rim.
For the Cold War Memorial I suggest a 25-foot electric guitar. Make it a Stratocaster — doesn't that sound like a Cold War weapon? — and Fender might even finance the project.
Of course we should follow up the unveiling of the monument with the first annual Cold War Reenactment to include, among other events: John and Jackie Kennedy, Fidel Castro and Nikita Khrushchev look-a-like contests. A good old-fashioned McCarthy-era book burning and wienie roast along with a fallout shelter cook off (everything must be made from year-old canned goods). Musical desks (like musical chairs but with children ducking under old school desks when the air-raid siren sounds instead of sitting in chairs when the music stops). A Bay of Pigs barbecue cook-off. A guided tour of the missile silo in Damascus. Fallout shelter sports competitions, including a solitaire marathon, recreational sleeping and competitive hair loss. A Whittaker Chambers pumpkin-carving contest. There would be a film festival paying such titles as "Dr. Strangelove," "Fail Safe," "From Russia With Love" and "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold." A late-night edition of the film festival might feature those 1950s sci-fi movies that were thinly veiled allegories for Communist takeover of our minds and country. "The Blob," "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," The Thing" and movies of that nature. The celebration will end with the Berlin Wall Ball. Half the hall will be brightly decorated and abundantly supplied with food and drink while the other half will be in black and white and serve only vodka and cabbage. On the black and white side, careful notations will be taken of who talks to whom and who does not eat the cabbage. Entertainment will be supplied by the steel drum Nikita Khrushchev Shoe Band, U2 and a Vaughn Meader impersonator.
War reenactments are big business and a boon to local economies. Do this three years in a row, and the event will be drawing thousands and featured on the national news.
David Rose is an artist, father and creative thinker who lives in Hot Springs.
*A previous version mistakenly called Catherine Crisp an assistant professor at UALR. She is an associate editor.
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.
Give art jobs to teen-agers
By Leslie Newell Peacock
John Gaudin has so many ideas for North Little Rock it's a wonder his head isn't the circumference of Verizon Arena. The man who has spearheaded numerous arts-related developments in Argenta has embarked on yet another: The Art Connection, his plan "to get kids off the streets and into art and art jobs."
So far, it's working. The 20 high school students selected for the inaugural program are working three nights a week at an enviable job: They're painting, with instruction from North Little Rock artist Angela Green and under the direction of Pammi Fabert, whose vision and energy is ideally suited to Gaudin's. Fabert has used the typical teen-age job of flipping hamburgers as a metaphor, telling the students "these paintings are your hamburgers." Students have to arrive at their classes, on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights, on time; they'll get docked if they're late and if they don't take their job seriously, they'll lose it.
If that sounds less like work and more like fun, consider this: These students had huge success at their first exhibit at November's Argenta ArtWalk, all selling something and some selling all their work. That means they have to keep producing.
The program is about more than money, of course: It's about putting at-risk kids in a situation in which they can see the results of work, take pride in it and learn to be self-sufficient so they can succeed in the adult world. Fabert has seen one of her shyest artists blossom, acting as host to the hordes who attended their opening.
Gaudin's inspiration came from another big idea: the Artists for Humanity paid apprenticeship program in Boston founded two decades ago. The more than 200 teen-aged participants in that program earned nearly $800,000 last year, according to its website. "It's an incredible model," Gaudin said. After seeing how the Boston program worked, Gaudin said he and fellow philanthropist Harold Tenenbaum "were determined to launch the program" in North Little Rock. They got financial commitments both public and private, renovated space at 204 E. Fourth St., hired Fabert and went to North Little Rock's high schools to find interested students. Sixty-seven students interviewed, but so far the program only has funds for 20. Gaudin said the program sought a diverse demographic from all over the city.
Next summer, Art Connection students will have summer jobs in art-related fields, Gaudin said, such as mural-painting. With a year's example to show, director Fabert will seek out new investors to grow the program, which she would like to see statewide.
Start a Maker Faire
By Leslie Newell Peacock
John Gaudin has another idea up his sleeve: He wants to bring the maker movement to North Little Rock. The Argenta Innovation Center, in the same building that Art Connection occupies, would serve as a collaborative space for young entrepreneurs who would be focused on making their ideas tangible. Gaudin has applied for a Maker Faire license so that someday he can host such a fair, where creative types display their inventions, in North Little Rock. Think 3D printers, robots, life-sized Mousetrap games, colored fire, a Gaudi structure recreated in toothpicks, a subwoofer powered by a bicycle (the "stompodium") — all featured in a recent Maker Faire in San Mateo, Calif. Gaudin anticipates that Art Connection artists and the makers next door will bounce ideas off one another, a ping-pong game of creativity and another score for Argenta.
Grants for backyard chickens
By Jayce Hafner
Arkansas is at the top of the pecking order when it comes to chicken. Tyson Foods, a major supplier of both broilers and eggs, is based in Arkansas. But chickens remain far from people, far from nature, kept in the dark recesses of an industrial hen house.
It doesn't have to be this way. Perhaps the most compelling virtue of the chicken is that it's a microcosm of sustainability. You can feed your table scraps to the chickens, and the chickens will fertilize your grass, produce fresh, delicious eggs, and weed your garden, ultimately helping you to get food back on the table. It's a closed-loop production cycle, and a symbiotic relationship. Chickens lay so much that you often have more eggs than you need, and you can sell the surplus to the neighbors, or donate them to your food bank, contributing to a local, more self-sufficient economy (and in this time of financial uncertainty, self-sufficiency can't be underestimated). These birds have a way of bringing neighbors and friends together around a common agricultural project, strengthening communities, and nurturing social sustainability.
We see the power of the backyard chicken taking off across the nation. Zoning laws are adapting to support backyard chicken projects in suburbia; inner-city 8th graders are raising chickens in their school yard to supplement their biology curriculum, and higher education institutions (including Hendrix College) are implementing student-run chicken-raising clubs. These birds are contagious, and it's time to capitalize on the momentum of our time.
I propose a statewide grant program to promote and support backyard chicken-raising in Arkansas. The fund would allocate small grants to churches, secondary schools, university student groups and community centers (who are most likely to enjoy both a vibrant social network and the property necessary to comply with zoning laws) with a demonstrated commitment to sustainable development. Recipients of each grant would receive funds sufficient to build a small, portable chicken coop for rotational grazing for 4 to 12 hens, to purchase and vaccinate the chicks and to buy standard equipment (feeder, heat lamp, and water trough). After the chickens mature and begin to lay, they will begin to pay for themselves. "Chicken tenders" can assure their neighbors of noise control by avoiding rooster-raising all together.
Perhaps most importantly, this backyard chicken grant program will foster a relationship between consumer sand their food source. Rather than objects, these birds can be valued and appreciated personalities.
Jayce Hafner initiated the successful moveable chicken coop program in 2010 at Hendrix College, where she majored in International Relations and won a Fulbright Scholarship.
Video record judicial trials
By Mara Leveritt
In response to the tragedy of the West Memphis case, the Arkansas Supreme Court should require courts to video-record, stream and archive all trials — with only a few, carefully considered exceptions — to improve access to court proceedings, heighten understanding of judicial processes and promote accountability.
Exonerate the West memphis three
If state officials believe the West Memphis Three are guilty of murdering three children, why did they free one from death row and two from life in prison? If the men are innocent, as most believe, the state should own up to the train-wreck of errors that kept them in prison for nearly 18 years. The official "guilty-but-free" stance is a cynical farce, a mockery of justice; contemptuous and contemptible. Exonerate the West Memphis Three. Investigate those murders for real.
Mara Leveritt is a contributing editor to the Arkansas Times and the author of the books "The Boys on the Tracks" and "Devil's Knot."
Allow voting by mail
By Karama Neal
Allow Arkansans to vote by mail like they do in Oregon. Pair that with the automatic registration at 18, and we could make some real progress in civic participation.
Karama Neal is director of Southern Bancorp Community Partners.
Help Delta students attend college
By Gabriel Fotsing
During my first year of teaching at Lee High School, I had multiple seniors coming to me during their spring semester. They wanted help with their college applications, and I gladly accepted. Unfortunately, for most of them there was nothing I could do. Some had never taken the ACT or the SAT, which meant that they could not apply. Others, who had taken the test, had not scored high enough to gain admission. Furthermore, so many had not filled out their FAFSA and therefore did not qualify for financial aid. Frustrated, I decided to shake things up a bit. We started offering college prep workshops dealing with every aspect of the college application process, from picking a college, to prepping for the ACT, to filling out the FAFSA. We've had some success; a student of ours is at Washington University in St. Louis on full scholarship, another was the first at our school to receive the Gates Millennium Scholarship, and the class of 2012 beat all school records in terms of scholarship money. We want to duplicate this at other schools throughout the Delta.
With these in mind I decided to start the College Initiative, a nonprofit agency that will provide motivated, college-capable low-income students with both the tools and the mentorship necessary to enter into and complete a four-year college degree program. My experience in the Delta has taught me one thing: no kid grows up wanting to be mediocre or average, let alone below average. All students want better lives for themselves and their families, and they understand the crucial advantage they would gain from a college education. However, they cannot do this alone. It takes a village to raise a child.
Gabriel Fotsing is a native of Cameroon and a Harvard graduate who first came to Arkansas in 2010 through Teach for America.
Build the Rose Creek Trail
By Mason Ellis
For many years now, residents of Stifft Station and Capitol View have steadily pushed for the Rose Creek Trail to connect their neighborhoods directly to the River Trail. For the most part, the river trail is nearly inaccessible by bike for all but the extremely fit cyclists who can power up Overlook Drive at the west end or brave heavy street traffic to access the trail downtown on the east end. However, along the Union Pacific rail line, a trail could be built from the riverfront all the way to Fourche Creek and Interstate Park on the south end of Little Rock. Much of the trail between the State Capitol and Central High could follow an abandoned right of way alongside the current track line that is already level and even includes a bridge across Seventh Street that is currently without track and is not being used. This trail could also connect to many existing east/west bike corridors like the new 12th Street bike lanes, the Third Street route that is heavily trafficked by bikes and is to be painted with bike-share markers (known as sharrows) soon, or Seventh Street, which is a popular bike connection between UAMS and downtown. Important points along the route include the River Trail connection, Union Station, Capitol View, Stifft Station, the Stephens and Central High neighborhoods, the Central High National Historic Site, Barton Coliseum and the Fairgrounds, South End Neighborhood, Interstate Park and Fourche Creek.
Let's build this vital bike and pedestrian path to connect the river trail and downtown, to connect visitors to the Central High National Historic site as well as students to their homes, and reconnect Little Rock neighborhoods to each other that have been divided physically and economically by I-630. Such a crucial connection has great potential to build strong and active communities and revitalize and energize a significant portion of Little Rock.
Mason Ellis is an intern architect at Witsell Evans Rasco Architects and Planners.
Enact campaign finance reform
By Eric Francis
We should amend the state Constitution so that you can only make campaign contributions (for, against, or independent of) to candidates or ballot issues if you meet these three requirements: 1) You must be an individual person and United States citizen; 2) You must be legally eligible to register to vote; and 3) You may only make such a contribution if you are eligible to vote on the issue in question.
That's it. No corporations, no unions, no PACs, no special interests. Only individuals get to spend their hard-earned money deciding who or what gets the nod (or the boot) in an election, and only in the elections they actually have a constitutionally mandated voice in.
That is how you return the power in politics to the people.
Eric Francis is a freelance writer and the former editor of The North Little Rock Times.
Turn an Arkansas prison into a college
By Vic Snyder
The Arkansas Prison system has really done a remarkable job getting inmates to take GED classes and pass them. They have so many graduates. What do you have when you have that many people together pursuing an education? A college. We should convert one of the state's prison units into a full-time, five-day-a-week college. Most inmates in Arkansas prisons will be released one day. Continuing to expand efforts to educate them can only improve the chances they'll successfully reintegrate into society once they're released.
Vic Snyder is corporate medical director for external affairs at Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield. He represented Arkansas's 2nd Congressional District from 1997 to 2011.
Add a community service component to lottery scholarship
By Robert Lowry
The generation in and just out of high school values community and volunteerism more than most in recent memory. The Arkansas Lottery scholarship should encourage that spirit by adding a volunteerism component.
I propose that every graduate who qualifies under the current rules should get 100 percent of the lottery scholarship award for their freshman year. This will allow students to make the transition and get their feet firmly planted in college life. In subsequent years, qualifying students should receive only 50 percent of the award unless they fulfill some sort of community service. For fulfilling the community service obligation, students would receive the full award. Continuation of the full scholarship beyond the freshman year would depend on both academic performance and service to the campus and community.
The intent of the lottery scholarship is to elevate the number of our high school graduates who can afford college. That is a worthy goal and should be continued. But success in college is about more than just grades. It is about growing into thoughtful, productive and good citizens. A service component underscores the notion that this scholarship is about not only the lives of individual students, but the life we share in this great state.
The Reverend Dr. Robert Lowry is a transitional teaching elder at First and Harmony Presbyterian Churches in Clarksville.
Visit a detained immigrant
By Sara Mullally
Everyone should take the time to visit an immigrant in jail, prison or a detention center. It is an eye-opening experience that will redefine the comfortable line you've drawn between yourself and those inside. I participate in a program through Arkansas Interfaith Conference, where the only goal is to provide a friendly visit to an immigrant in jail. Immigrant detainees often have no visitors for one or many reasons. Their families fear having to present an ID or may have no way to get to the jail, and some detainees simply have no family for miles. Immigrants can be taken into custody over something as petty as a traffic violation. Once they are in the immigration system, they may be transferred multiple times while awaiting trial or deportation. While detainees are shipped to what can be deplorable, dehumanizing facilities, their families are left in the dark, wondering where their loved ones will end up. The detainees say that even visits from perfect strangers help them cope. It helps them feel human again, rather than being relegated to some Alien Identification Number. As visitors, we gain so much. Through connecting with these forgotten people, our views on immigration and criminal justice are influenced by what happens to the real people we have come to know. Afterwards, we can't look at our society with the same naive eyes. It's transformative to see how our government policies affect children, friends, families, and communities. The policies championed at the Capitol take on a different hue when viewed from the perspective of a beleaguered stranger, shielded from the public's view.
Sara Mullally is co-founder of El Zocalo Immigrant Resource Center. She teaches Spanish in the North Little Rock School District.
Promote social entrepreneurship
By Jamie Fugitt
Blake Mycoskie launched Tom's Shoes in 2006 after he befriended shoeless children in Argentina. Instead of launching a non-profit, he created a company that gave a pair of new shoes to a child in need every time it sold a pair of shoes at retail. Within the first year Blake delivered 10,000 pairs of shoes to the source of his inspiration — children in Argentina. By the close of 2011, his company had given over 2 million pairs of shoes to children in need all over the world.
Tom's Shoes is a cool idea and a great company. Mycoskie, like other social entrepreneurs, targeted a problem and built a world-class solution that also makes money. Under this model, Mycoskie has made a greater impact in a far shorter amount of time than he likely ever could have under a traditional public service model.
Mycoskie is one of the more prominent examples of a social entrepreneur. These innovators understand that the next leaders in public service must be as skilled in business as they are in program planning. They think of success in terms of a triple bottom line — people, planet and profit.
Little Rock should be the hub of social innovation. Social-focused startups, like any emerging industry, need three primary building blocks — talent, community and money.
We have the talent. Each year nearly a hundred students attend the Clinton School of Public Service in Little Rock, coming from across the globe and from a variety of backgrounds. They are the best and brightest of the world's service-focused professionals and are naturally inclined to tackle big social problems.
While they are here the Clinton School educates and inspires them with a "hands-on," world-class program. They learn to identify complex problems, plan innovative solutions and execute their plan to create tangible social good.
However, after their time with the Clinton School many leave. Admittedly those who leave blaze trails of good across the world. But I (selfishly) wish more of them would stay.
We should put more emphasis on social innovation in the Clinton School curriculum. We should encourage these students to launch and seed their passion, whatever it is, right here in Little Rock. We should give them the tools to do so in the hands-on, real-world way the Clinton School teaches. Their reach can still be global, but their headquarters can be local.
We have the community. A growing number of entrepreneurs, mentors, technology whizzes, designers, government programs and service professionals have built a community in Arkansas and are laying the foundation for the next generation of innovators. We should encourage the Clinton School students to tap into this resource. The reach and power of the Clinton School network itself would also be unmatched in public-good circles.
We have the money. A growing number of funding sources, both private and government, are investing and helping emerging companies grow in this state. We should connect the Clinton School students to this potential and let them know that the funding they need is in their backyard.
Little Rock could be the center for social innovation in this country. We have the building blocks. Let's put them together and then build on top.
Jamie K. Fugitt is an attorney with Williams & Anderson, a mentor for the ARK Challenge, the Arkansas Director of Cleantech open and a board member of the Arkansas Motion Picture Institute.
Create a homeless shelter for LGBT young adults
By Penelope Poppers
All of the cards are stacked against lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender homeless individuals, specifically young adults. While LGBT people make up a very small portion of the general population (5 to 10 percent), LGBT people make up a large portion of the homeless population (20 to 40 percent). Yet, several shelters and services in the area are not able to properly handle or address the specific that LGBT individuals face, especially transgender folks. In our area shelters, residents are gendered according to what their ID says, not necessarily by how they actually live, identify or present themselves. In a perfect world, clients would be able to self-designate their gender, regardless of whether or not they've had gender reassignment surgery. When you begin this conversation, inevitably someone will say, "What if men pretend to be women, simply to get inside women's shelters to rape and abuse residents?" But in California, many shelters have allowed transgender people to self-designate for years and, according to a Human Rights Commission investigator, this situation has never come up. But if you force a trans woman to stay in a men's dorm, there are plenty of opportunities for harassment and rape, and historically, that is happening.
I recently formed an organization called Lucie's Place in Little Rock to work with LGBT homeless individuals, specifically young adults. In early 2013 we hope to begin two programs: emergency short-term housing and free counseling services, both specifically available to LGBT young adults who are currently homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. In 2014, Lucie's Place hopes to open a long-term home specifically for LGBT identified homeless young adults — the first of it's kind in the state. Lucie's Place Transitional Living Program (TLP) will be a place where young, homeless, LGBT adults will be able to openly live as themselves, while developing the skills necessary for their future independence. For several of our residents, this home will be the first place they have ever lived where they can be open about who they truly are, without the fear of repercussions from parents.
Penelope Poppers is the organizer of Food not Bombs and a co-founder of Lucie's Place.
Offer late-night bus routes
By James Szenher
The Central Arkansas Transit Authority should offer limited late-night bus routes. The end times of current service hours — 8:15 p.m. on weekdays, 6:20 p.m. on Saturday and 4:15 p.m. on Sunday — effectively strand those without transportation at night and encourage drunk driving. CAT could start with four routes that run from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. on weeknights and Sunday and 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. on Friday and Saturday: Markham/Chenal from the River Market to the Promenade; Kavanaugh/University/Chicot from Markham to Mabelvale Cut-Off; Roosevelt/Asher/Col. Glenn from airport to Barrow and Arch/Broadway/NLR Main/JFK from Interstate Park to McCain. This is a proposed sketch; research would help determine ideal routes, stops and times. The program could be funded through a contribution from Little Rock and North Little Rock (as the routes would promote economic consumption and keep drunk drivers off the road), federal grants, rider fees and advertising (nightlife businesses might buy targeted advertising). Outfit the buses with a nightlife theme, and promote the new service with a marketing campaign aimed at the nightlife crowd. The night service would likely diversify the base of regular bus riders, which could increase ridership during the daytime and eventually lead to demand for more routes, more frequent stops and improved service for all riders.
James Szenher is information and communications coordinator at the Arkansas Public Policy Panel and a bassist and vocalist in the band Tsar Bomba.
Create a state Division of Food Security to provide local organic food to the neediest
By Brian C. Campbell
The contemporary U.S. food system is unsustainable and precarious. In addition to the distance our food travels, we have an over-reliance on non-renewable fossil fuels, an over-use of irrigation water, an over-application of biocides that poison drinking water and destroy the natural fertility of agricultural lands, and a dependence on a monoculture production of few crop varieties.
If the industrial food system falters, people in Arkansas and beyond will be without food. U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics show that Arkansas currently has the lowest food security in the country, and the highest rate of childhood hunger in the nation, with nearly 25 percent of Arkansas kids going hungry. Our rates of obesity and diabetes also rank among the highest in the nation. While Arkansas engages significantly in U.S. industrial agriculture, we fail to address the most basic needs of our citizens. We have a volunteer food bank system working tirelessly, but it primarily distributes food donated by corporations, which tend to be unhealthy and contribute to our obesity and diabetes epidemics.
I propose that the Arkansas Agriculture Department should create a Division of Food Security, with leadership trained in agroecology and the social sciences of poverty, that prioritizes the production of local organic food (not commodities) and works collaboratively with the existing food security structure (food banks, hunger relief agencies, etc.) to ensure that the impoverished have access to healthy food. This division would re-allocate corporate donations in strategic ways to ensure that local, organic, healthy foods receive the subsidies that industrial commodity production currently enjoys. (In 2010, Walmart pledged a $2 billion commitment to fight domestic hunger and the USDA paid $443,214,770 in agricultural subsidies to Arkansas's industrial farms).
In this Food Security Division, each county would designate some public lands (perhaps adjacent to a public library) as food security farms, where farmers trained in organic agricultural production would grow locally adapted foods to be donated to food pantries for redistribution to the needy. These food security farms would house seed banks and serve as demonstration sites for testing out and saving seeds from locally adapted crop varieties, to ensure that the state has the genetics necessary to produce food sustainably in the coming years of global warming, and to host public workshops on how to build and manage backyard organic gardens.
This food security division would also subsidize local organic produce in the private sector to level the playing field with large-scale industrial agriculture, so that Arkansas consumers can choose healthier options in the grocery store and we can rejuvenate local economies through the development of new family farms.
Much of this is happening already, despite federal and state policy that makes it difficult. A range of dedicated, hard-working organic farmers, non-profits and activist-entrepreneurs have overcome myriad obstacles to address Arkansas's agriculture dilemma in an ad hoc fashion, attempting local food security on less than a shoestring budget. Still, the problem of accessibility for the general public remains. Imagine if the creativity and practical knowledge of these low-budget operations had some government support. Inaccessibility remains the biggest knock against local organic food. An Arkansas Division of Food Security could bridge this gap, simultaneously making healthy food available to all levels of wage earners, ensuring local food availability in case of emergencies, strengthening our local economies, and reducing preventable diseases.
Brian Campbell is associate professor of anthropology at the University of Central Arkansas and director of CAAH! Conserving Arkansas's Agricultural Heritage and Ozarkadia Films.
A purse museum for SOMA
By Leslie Newell Peacock
Anita Davis, creator of the Bernice Sculpture Garden (a public park on private land at 1401 S. Main St.), restorer of buildings just south of the garden and mastermind of the cornbread man mural that increases the joy factor in The Root restaurant parking lot at 1500 S. Main, can be credited with much of the new life along Main Street south of Interstate 630. It's been a boon to the Southside Main Street (SOMA) goals, with the sculpture garden providing a stage for Arkansas artists, a home for the new Cornbread Festival and a farmer's market in summer and the renovations attracting the Green Corner Store, StudioMain and Boulevard Bread Co. to the block.
Next year, Davis will add to the mix a museum that should attract everyone who loves a handbag and history, an exhibit that reveals female identity in the 20th century — as Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried" illustrated the life of a soldier, so will Davis' purses illustrate women's history.
Davis' purse collection — which now totals around 2,000 — has been on display at the Historic Arkansas Museum and Smith Kramer has toured an exhibition of the collection for five years all over the country, from Sacramento to Columbia, S.C. While they were on the road, Davis turned her energies to SOMA. "I thought I was over purses," she laughed. "This [SOMA] was so much more."
"Then these huge crates of purses came back," after the tour, Davis said. They were curated, ready for display. The one-story building occupied by Stageworks, next door to The Root (nee the Sweden Creme drive-in), became available when the business moved to North Little Rock and Davis bought it, a museum in mind. The first change to the building: the cornbread man mural, by Steven Otis and Shannon Wallace, went up on its north wall, facing The Root; "I wanted to honor the cornbread festival," Davis said, "and thought how fun it would be to have this silly thing up on the wall," especially for children.
Second: a renovation of the building as a museum, with the help of architect Kwendeche, artist Otis and historian Sara Drew. Davis is working on the collection to freshen it up, and hopes to have the museum open in late spring 2013. The collection will be one any woman can relate to, Davis said; rather than an exhibit of Gucci bags through the ages, "mine is more what people would remember as what their mothers or grandmothers would carry," along with contents that will remind viewers how women's lives have changed, from calling cards and cigarette holders to condoms.
SOMA's generous idea person says her work on Main has been "the best thing I could have ever done for myself." You can be sure culture seekers and downtown Little Rock will find it a good thing, too.
Use distance learning to raise the ceiling for high school achievers
By Calvin Smith
In the last decade, Arkansas has made significant strides in giving more high school students the opportunity to pursue higher education. Adequacy funding and the implementation of Common Core standards have helped ensure that all school districts, regardless of demographic make-up, provide students with a foundation of education necessary for them to pursue higher education. But that doesn't mean all Arkansas high school graduates are equally prepared for college. What about students with abilities beyond what their schools offer? Every school, regardless of demographics, has students who are achieving to the highest reaches of their schooling. The problem is that achievement tops out too early for many kids. It's not logistically possibly for some lower-achieving schools to offer the variety of AP and college-level courses that higher-performing ones do.
The state Department of Education should embrace distance learning to reach high school students who are reaching their ceiling too early. Imagine, for instance, a physics professor at the University of Arkansas delivering a lecture through streaming video online or through the same Interactive Video Network Units UAMS uses between its Little Rock and Fayetteville campuses to schools across the state. One professor could reach scores of students scattered across the state.
The high-speed fiber optic Arkansas Research and Education Optical Network already connects most of the state's public universities and extends to all four corners of the state. We should expand it into high schools. Meanwhile, much distance learning technology only requires a basic Internet connection, and the University of Arkansas System is on its way to becoming a leader in distance learning technology. Why not piggyback on its efforts?
Calvin Smith is director of business development at UAMS Northwest campus.
Shift pet population control tactics
By Jennifer Carman
It is time for the city of Little Rock to get serious about reducing our pet population crisis. Cities around the nation have demonstrated that this is indeed possible, largely through policies that shift funds away from impounding and euthanasia and, instead, direct them toward free spay and neuter programs. The cost of sterilization is utterly nominal compared to the cost of impounding, sheltering and euthanizing the many unwanted pets that strays produce over their lifetime. Taxpayers foot the bill for this either way, so it only makes sense to exercise both moral and fiscal responsibility. We could liaise with officials in other cities where such programs have been successful. One such program operates in the city of Pittsburgh. That program (run by the city's Animal Care and Control Bureau) currently provides free spaying or neutering for up to five animals per household, the maximum number that city residents are allowed to own. Furthermore, the program enables residents to bring feral cats found in their neighborhood for sterilization procedures as well. Though the city experimented briefly with low-cost and discounted sterilization options, they ultimately discontinued these methods in favor of a universal free option. Ultimately, a mobile spay-neuter clinic or vehicle would be ideal, and there are excellent mobile programs (like one in Kansas City) from which we could draw inspiration. For the safety of animals, drivers and pedestrians alike, a program such as this could truly revolutionize one of Little Rock's most heartbreaking problems.
Create a tool-lending library
The city of Little Rock should create a tool-lending library of sorts, with a city-owned repository of basic tools and yard equipment that residents could borrow, much like a library book. Many families have sheds full of such equipment that is utilized only once or twice a month, or perhaps even once annually. In these difficult economic times a program such as this might provide just the boost and inspiration needed for individuals who may not otherwise be able to access such commodities. Wouldn't it be terrific to have a resource where you could borrow a ladder, lawn mower, tile saw, drill, floor nailer, rake, etc.? Items could be secured with a cash deposit or credit card, and residents could check items out for a specified period of time.
Maybe patrons could also borrow "how-to" DIY instruction manuals, and such a library could organize periodic training days to encourage and empower residents of the city to tackle home and community improvement projects. A handful of these programs exist around the country in cities such as Columbus, Berkeley, Atlanta and Seattle. Little Rock is a city in which the historic preservation opportunities are abundant, and programs such as this could be a vital component in the revitalization of homes and communities throughout our city. A Seattle-based non-profit group called Share Starter now offers a free "Tool Library Starter Kit" to any community interested in starting its own lending library.
Jennifer Carman is the president of J. CARMAN Inc., a fine-art advisory and appraisal firm based in Little Rock.
Cut health-care costs, improve care
By David Ramsey
In October, the Arkansas Department of Human Services began the Payment Improvement Initiative, a program to lower Medicaid costs and improve the quality of care via a partnership with the state's biggest private insurance companies, which will create incentives for providers who meet those goals. If the initiative works, the state will save millions of dollars, and health-care officials across the country will look to Arkansas as they scramble for ideas to "bend the cost curve." Already, the Kaiser Foundation has lauded the initiative as a "bold effort to cut Medicaid costs [and] add transparency" and the National Association of Medicaid Directors has suggested that Arkansas's plan could be a model for other states.
"The health-care system, including Medicaid in Arkansas, for years has been growing in costs much faster than the economy has been growing, which increasingly puts pressure on all of us to manage cost in some way, while keeping quality high or even improving quality," DHS director John Selig says.
Gov. Mike Beebe and DHS both became convinced, Selig says, that "the core of the problem was our fee-for-service payment system where, really, we pay for volume. The more tests you do, the more you get paid for. The more times somebody comes in to see you, the more times you get paid. As long as we were paying for volume and not paying for quality and coordinated care and outcomes, we were going to continue to have this problem."
Some states have tried to get out of this trap by turning to managed care; others, like Massachusetts, have created their own integrated health-care systems that can essentially act like managed-care companies.
"Arkansas [like many] rural states is not in either of those boats," Selig says. "We really have no managed care to speak of and most people don't want managed care here. Our belief is that we'd rather run the Medicaid program ourselves and not pay a large fee to somebody. We also don't have a large integrated system. In general around the state, you've got relatively small hospitals and a lot of independent doctors."
The fresh approach pioneered by Arkansas is to establish a statewide program of incentives and accountability within the existing system of payers and providers, a reform effort that has never been attempted on this scale.
One of the initiative's key innovations is a move toward evaluating quality and costs via "episodes of care." Rather than looking at providers and procedures in isolation, DHS and their private partners evaluate costs and quality over the entire course of treatment of a condition, from office visits to hospitalizations to prescribed medications, and so on.
"Let's take a knee replacement," Selig says. "We look at that entire episode. Who are all the providers involved in that episode of care, from the hospital to the radiologist to the surgeon, and others. We're going to look at that [entire] period and figure out what it costs to do all that care that's involved. We're going to say to the provider, 'we are going to incentivize you to make sure the care is coordinated and the best practices are used.' "
The other innovation in the initiative is the public-private partnership. Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield and QualChoice, the two largest private insurance companies in the state, have worked alongside Medicaid on establishing the episodes of care and the standards used to evaluate them. For many providers, Medicaid patients represent less than 20 percent of their practice, so the only way to get buy-in on the initiative was to include other payers.
"We work on this project very closely with the private payers," Selig says. "We want to be giving the same kind of signals and incentives. We don't want Blue Cross saying something completely different than we do."
Selig is quick to clarify that they are not colluding — private insurance companies will still set their own prices. But they will use the same standards to incentivize providers that Medicaid uses. This kind of coordination between multiple payers is unprecedented on this scale and the federal government is watching closely — Medicare may eventually join the initiative.
So far, the Payment Improvement Initiative is focused on five episodes: ADHD, perinatal care, congestive heart failure, joint replacement and upper respiratory infections. Each of these episodes has quality and cost standards developed by meeting with local doctors, as well as employing local and national historical billing data, claims data and evidence-based quality standards.
For each episode, the payer (either Medicaid or a private insurance company) will identify a primary doctor, known as the principal account provider (PAP), or as Selig puts it, "the quarterback" (for example, for perinatal care, the PAP would typically by the ob-gyn). The initiative features three broad categories for evaluating the PAP's episode-of-care costs — if rated "commendable," the PAP will be rewarded by receiving a bonus payment; if rated "acceptable" they will be paid as normal, and if rated "exceeding the acceptable threshold," they will be penalized by having part of their reimbursement withheld.
By giving one key provider skin in the game, the initiative should produce more motivation to keep costs reasonable, and will also put someone in charge of coordinating the care — not some bureaucrat, but the primary doctor. Coordination not only improves the care the patient receives, it drives down costs, for example, by avoiding multiple duplicative tests ordered by doctors unaware of what other doctors have ordered.
Providers must meet quality standards as well as hitting cost targets so that the level of care does not decline even as doctors practice in a more cost-conscious way. (In many cases, DHS hopes improved quality will reduce costs by avoiding problems that require more care down the road.)
"Part of what you're trying to do is get the unnecessary variation out of there," Selig says. "You might see a lot of providers able to do a knee replacement for $10,000 and others up in the $25,000 range."
Selig says that simply providing clearer information about actual costs has been a revelation to some doctors.
"We've had surgeons say to us, 'I never knew that that's what that costs — that test or that implant, I just ordered it. I liked it as well as any other. Nobody told me that that cost 20 percent more.' "
According to Selig, the program still gives doctors flexibility and will not produce one-size-fits-all medicine. Tracking is done over an entire year, so doctors are being evaluated with a large sample, not on any individual patient. And exceptions and risk adjustments will be applied to certain types of patients that might drive up costs beyond the provider's control.
"You always are going to have docs who, given the individual patient, are going to treat them differently," he says. "We are not wanting a cookie-cutter approach. We still want every doc to do what's best for that specific patient. We're just saying over the course of a year, if your costs are a lot higher than the other guys, or if they're a lot better, we want to incentivize you on that."
Additional episodes of care will be added to the initiative in the coming years and DHS is hoping to completely move to the new payment system over the next three to five years.
"At a minimum, we think we can probably save 2 percent of what we would otherwise have spent," Selig says. "That turns in to millions of dollars over the next few years and compounds from year to year." DHS projects that the initiative will save the state Medicaid program, currently facing a budget shortfall, $15 million in fiscal year 2014 and $65 million in 2015.
Selig acknowledges that some providers may be nervous about the changes, but says that most are "cautiously optimistic."
"Good physicians will tell you, 'we work to coordinate the care, and you don't pay us a dime,' " he says. "We're trying to incentivize what good docs already do."
Utilize holistic defense in the justice system
By Cory Biggs
The Arkansas legal community should work to employ a fairly new concept in legal circles called holistic defense, the goal of which is to more directly combine the legal work of traditional public defenders' offices with improved access to social services — drug rehab, mental health counseling/therapy, educational/vocational training, etc. — that address the issues that send indigent citizens into the justice system. The idea was pioneered by a New York non-profit called The Bronx Defenders, whose model focuses on teams of lawyers, social workers, probation officers and others working, often side by side, with clients from arrest to the conclusion of legal proceedings to ensure that all needs of the client are met. In Arkansas, there are a lot of groups — from drug courts to veteran support organizations to social services — that are working toward the same goal, but not under the same roof. In a holistic justice system, a defendant could, for instance, get legal support in one room and meet with a drug or workforce counselor in another, instead of being referred from one agency to another and so on, possibly missing an important link along the way due to scheduling or transportation problems.
Other holistic defense programs have been set up through a combination of private attorneys working pro bono with students from legal clinics or through public defenders' offices. Regardless of the organizational structure, embracing the practice is sure to help us turn the corner on lowering the rate of recidivism.
Cory Biggs is executive director of The First Tee of Central Arkansas. Biggs researched holistic defense in partnership with the Arkansas attorney general's office for his capstone project at the Clinton School for Public Service.
Rethink the Arkansas Highway Commission
By Tim McKuin
Change the name of the Arkansas Highway Commission to the Arkansas Transportation Commission. Then send every commissioner, the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department director, and their families on a month-long, all-expenses-paid, first-class worldwide learning expedition. First, they should visit the Netherlands for a week to see how simple changes in infrastructure design can allow bikes to play a significant role in the transportation network. Then send them to France to ride the trains for a week, both the high speed TGV and the more traditional lines that crisscross the country. Next, take them to South America to experience true Bus Rapid Transit in Curitiba, Brazil, and Bogota, Colombia. Finally, the expedition should conclude its trip with a weeklong stay in Vancouver, British Columbia, to relax in a place that proves that cities can absolutely thrive with no freeways.
Such a trip, if it leads to real change back on the ground in Arkansas, will be much cheaper for the people of this great state than just continuing with business as usual. It's time for our tax dollars to go toward building real choice and resiliency into our statewide transportation system instead of just leveraging billions of dollars of debt to continue building and expanding roads that we can't afford to maintain. Cars and highways will always play a significant part in our transportation system, but it's foolish to lock us into that one mode for all of our trips when it's cheaper, healthier, better for our economy and just more enjoyable to make walkable, bikeable places that are also served by convenient public transportation. The leaders at the newly renamed Arkansas Transportation Commission should focus on increasing freedom and choice rather than putting all of our eggs in one basket.
Tim McKuin is co-author of the blog MoveArkansas (movearkansas.blogspot.com).
Memorialize racial atrocities
By Guy Lancaster
Right now, the Arkansas Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission is aiding communities in establishing markers for a variety of military events that happened across the state during the Civil War. While I am a tremendous supporter of this initiative, the attention paid to these various skirmishes — some of which entailed only one or two deaths (such as the Skirmish at Lunenburg) — highlights by contrast the events that remain invisible upon our commemorative landscape, despite their having far greater significance. The Elaine Massacre of 1919 entailed, according to one estimate, approximately 200 murders and has poisoned race relations in Phillips County and the Delta to the present day. The Harrison Race Riots of 1905 and 1909 and the Catcher Race Riot of 1923 involved the brutal destruction of vibrant black communities, so much so that few, if any, African Americans live in those places now. In Little Rock, before there was the Central High Crisis, there was the 1927 lynching of John Carter, during which 5,000 whites rioted in the heart of the city's black community as they burned and tore apart Carter's corpse. The state of Arkansas needs to establish markers at the site of these events, for more than Civil War skirmishes, these riots and massacres impact our present lives, and solemnly commemorating them will help us understand the present shape of race relations and aid us in coming to grips with how we might improve our record on civil rights and human rights for the 21st century.
Guy Lancaster is the editor of the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture.
Consider racial disparity in the criminal justice system
By Adjoa A. Aiyetoro
Racial disparity in Arkansas's criminal justice system must be addressed. Disproportionately higher rates of incarceration based on race harms communities of color and ultimately all of Arkansas. Since the death penalty is the punishment for which, once imposed, there is no recourse, Arkansas should start by addressing it and implementing a Racial Justice Act. Such an act would allow people of color charged with a capital crime to challenge the imposition of the death penalty by presenting data that the punishment has not been imposed on similarly situated whites.
The problem of racial disparity in the death penalty was addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1987 in McClesky v. Kemp. The late David Baldus presented statistical evidence showing that in Georgia, black men were significantly more likely than white men to be charged with a capital crime. The disparity increased when the victim was white. The Supreme Court said to invalidate death sentences based on the statistics would turn the criminal justice system on its head. Justice Powell, who authored the opinion, later said if he could revisit it he would decide differently.
Baldus conducted a similar study in Arkansas's 8th circuit north (Hempstead and Nevada Counties) and 8th circuit south (Miller and Lafayette Counties) in 2008 that reviewed cases from January 1, 1990, to December 31, 2005. He found that only black men had been charged, convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death and only for the murders of white victims.
State legislators throughout the United States have introduced Racial Justice Act legislation. It passed in North Carolina in 2009 and is now the basis for a number of challenges by black men to their sentence of death. Legislation addressing the death penalty, however, should only be the first step. The same approach should be taken for other felony convictions. Why should the state allow this actualization of structural racism?
Adjoa A. Aiyetoro is the director of the UALR Institute on Race and Ethnicity and an associate professor of the UALR William H. Bowen School of Law.
Close off Clinton Avenue in the River Market on weekend nights and create a health care program for Little Rock artists and musicians
By Grayson Shelton
Closing President Clinton Avenue from LaHarpe to the I-30 bridge on Friday and Saturday beginning at 7 p.m. would make the area safer and more friendly to crowds. It would keep people who cruise the River Market away and allow police to set up checkpoints, which would allow them to spot underage drinkers and otherwise monitor the crowds.
The blueprint for a healthcare program for local artists is Austin's HAAM, which helps professional musicians with basic health and dental care and mental health counseling. A program like this could inspire a new wave of creativity in Little Rock and, ultimately, benefit the economy.
Grayson Shelton is a Little Rock musician, who plays in the band War Chief.
Reconnect the Old State House to the Riverfront
By Mason Ellis
The Old State House was built in the mid 1800s atop a prominent hill along the Arkansas riverbank. It was the one of the most impressive buildings in the state when it was built and a focal point along the old riverfront. Today, it is still a prominent landmark along Markham Street, but with the construction of La Harpe Boulevard, the Old State House was cut off from the riverfront it once proudly overlooked. East of La Harpe, the Riverfront Park and downtown meld into one bustling environment, but to the west, downtown and the river are divided by a concrete barrier where once the land sloped down to the river from behind the Old State House.
We should reconstruct this connection and build a tunnel over La Harpe behind the Old State House to create a large green lawn between Ashley and Conway streets. The greenway would link downtown to the west end of Riverfront Park and encourage more people to use it. The caged pedestrian bridge that crosses La Harpe behind the Old State House now is often overlooked or avoided because it is small, hidden and unsightly. And though it makes it possible to cross over La Harpe, it does not invite visitors to do so. Access to the west end of Riverfront Park could spark a renewed interest in that area, similar to the revitalization of the east end of the park that we have seen in recent years.
Mason Ellis is an intern architect at Witsell Evans Rasco Architects and Planners.
By John Bryant
Arkansas is called the "Natural" state, but yet "Naturism," or social nudism, is expressly prohibited by a legislative act passed in 1947 after a crusading preacher passed through the state and convinced lawmakers to pass this obviously unconstitutional legislation.
Other locales, North Miami Beach (Haulover) for instance, have embraced the desire for residents and tourists to enjoy their beach sans clothing and in doing so have realized millions of visitors from around the world who come and spend millions of dollars each year. Arkansas has literally hundreds of natural scenic areas that lend themselves to nude recreation. Not to mention private development of facilities accommodating nudists that is now being prevented by this archaic legislation. Although not a coastal state, Arkansas has much more to attract such development than other inland areas that have capitalized on nude recreation like Pasco County, Fla., which is home to more than a dozen nudist resorts and residential communities. Also, Palm Springs, Calif., boasts several upscale nudist resorts and spas. And they are in the middle of a desert! Let's get with it Arkansas, and become truly the "Natural State".
John Bryant is retired from a TV broadcast career. He lives in Elkins.
Make registering to vote easier
By Gary Phillips
While right-wingers push to pass laws requiring photo IDs for people to vote, we should introduce a law that automatically registers everyone 18 and older who has an Arkansas photo ID (Driver's License or Non-Drive ID). Those who get driver's licenses prior to 18 would, on their 18th birthday, be automatically registered to vote. The technology is there to make this a reality. All that is lacking is the political will. Of course there are those who will not ever vote, but at least this method removes an impediment to true representative democracy.
Gary Phillips is the chair of the Mississippi County Democratic Central Committee.
Build an iconic performing arts center
By Philip Mann
Little Rock needs an iconic performing arts center that would serve as a hub for creative and innovative talents from our great state and a magnet to expand our ability to draw top talents in all fields to Arkansas.
I imagine a building, possibly on the riverfront, with a performance hall for live symphony, opera, ballet and a myriad of other productions. It would also house a smaller venue for recitals, an experimental space for innovative projects and office and rehearsal spaces for the center's resident arts organizations.
The center would provide a high quality acoustic space where great artists from Arkansas and around the world could be heard at their best. Arkansas has a great symphony orchestra, and building it a performance hall with world-class acoustics would be like giving a talented musician a great instrument. It could also be the impetus for a return of full-scale opera and ballet to downtown Little Rock. Its heart would be a hall where fans and artists of every genre, from an Ozark folk or bluegrass band to a gospel chorus, could experience the joy of an intimate, acoustic concert experience.
The center would be a bustling hive for arts education, offering activities for young Arkansans to expand their horizons and potential, hosting everything from youth orchestras, to music lessons, to ballet lessons and rehearsals, to studio opera projects, to university and student productions, to any number of things that have yet to be imagined.
Incredible possibilities for collaborations and original projects would result from the close interaction of local artists and organizations as a product of their physical proximity to each other.
As a new Arkansan, I have been amazed and heartened by the quality of our key performing arts organizations, and I can think of no better way to advance our community and attract creative capital for the future of our state than to build them a home.
Philip Mann is the music director of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra.
Encourage a gap year between high school and college for travel
By Nikki Beard
The Brits do it. The Aussies do it. It's a tradition in Israel. The concept of a gap year between high school and university is commonplace in many parts of the globe. Unfortunately, it remains the exception here in the U.S., and as a result young people are missing out on a prime opportunity for self-betterment. Let's encourage young Arkansans to take a gap year between high school and college to travel the world.
It's a rare high school graduate who has a firm grasp on what she wants to study in college (three changes in major and a semester of exploratory electives, anyone?). Parents, save the tuition money that indecision will cost you and introduce your graduates to new cultures and ideas that may unlock a previously dormant passion and stimulate a new, more directed thirst for knowledge. Let high school graduates wander a bit and then come back with fresh eyes and a new perspective, ready to take on the next phase of life with focus and clarity.
Spending time abroad builds muscle in adaptability, problem solving, self-reliance and communication, giving young people who take a gap year a leg up in university admissions and later, the job search. Entering university life bolstered by this new maturity is sure to foster a more successful college experience. Investing in our youth in this way will lead to a great return on investment as they become the future pillars of the community.
A young person's gap-year experience starts by learning how to raise and save money for the journey. Seed money gets young travelers through their first leg, after which they can take a job overseas for cash or work a volunteer program that covers room and board. Time abroad is more rewarding when one has a purpose and can stay for a while. Working or volunteering in a country fills both criteria nicely.
Regardless of how young travelers elect to spend their time abroad, any type of self-directed exploration at that age will lead to a host of character-building opportunities. A workforce populated with well-rounded, self-assured, focused people can only be a good thing for Arkansas.
Nikki Beard is a international group travel specialist at Poe Travel. She recently lived and worked in McMurdo, Antarctica. She's traveled to all seven continents.
By Fernando Cutz
A recent study done by the federal government ranks Arkansas dead last, 51st among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, for hours spent per resident volunteering in their community.
When I first moved to Arkansas, I was impressed by the kindness and friendliness of everyone I met. People are genuinely interested in each other and proud of their Southern hospitality. I admire that a lot. But isn't it time we took that a step further?
Last year, a few classmates and I took it upon ourselves to drive over to the Delta region in Eastern Arkansas on a monthly basis and help mentor kids on college access. We're busy folks, and it's a long drive to get there. But doing this has quickly become one of the most meaningful and rewarding experiences I've had.
I know the Delta is a ways away for many of us, but we can look closer to home for other opportunities. There is always great need in your own backyard. Whether it's through your house of worship, your child's school, a foodbank or a local veteran's organization, what's important is to find something that you care about, and give them a bit of your time.
The impact is tremendous. In recent years, Tennessee has averaged $3.2 billion in economic benefit from the volunteering that folks did in that state. Missouri averaged $3.5 billion and Texas $13 billion. In these tough economic times, what we need is not more political bickering or protesting or grandstanding, but to extend Southern hospitality outside of our homes and into our communities. Please consider volunteering.
Fernando Cutz is the student body president at the Clinton School of Public Service. This year, he is doing his Capstone Project with U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor.
Stop tearing down old buildings
By Vanessa Norton McKuin
Throughout Arkansas, the pervasive attitude is that progress means clearing the old — sometimes to make room for the new, other times to get rid of a perceived problem. This outdated approach takes a toll on our towns and cities, stripping communities of important distinctive places, and robbing communities of the opportunity to give character-defining sites new life for the future.
Tearing down buildings is wasteful. Most debris from demolished buildings goes into landfills, increasing the burden on already stressed municipal and county resources. Materials from old buildings include old-growth timber, brick, stone and tiles that would last hundreds of years if maintained instead of discarded.
Demolition is not a development strategy. Run down, vacant neighborhoods or commercial districts are the product of long-term disinvestment, not of bad buildings. It is time to re-evaluate existing assets and re-imagine how to use them. We have examples all over Arkansas — an abandoned warehouse becomes a public library, a "haunted" hospital becomes energy-efficient affordable housing.
Old neighborhoods are well designed. Look anywhere in the country and the desirable places to live, visit and do business in are historic, walkable neighborhoods. Trendy new developments, like the Promenade at Chenal, go to great lengths to mimic the look and feel of older communities, but cannot recreate the quality, diversity and authenticity.
Instead of tearing down buildings that are vacant, abandoned or in need of updates, let's commit to finding innovative uses to reinvigorate our state's undervalued assets. Let's redirect public money set aside for demolishing buildings to stabilizing and marketing for redevelopment instead, offering incentives that leverage private investment, adopting and enforcing property maintenance codes to allow municipalities to address problem properties before condemnation and demolition become the only attractive options, adopting policies to evaluate buildings for historical significance before demolition permits are issued, and re-evaluating required parking minimums in dense communities.
Vanessa Norton McKuin is executive director of the Historic Preservation Alliance of Arkansas.
Replace stairs with slides at every school
By Max Green
Add a second floor to every elementary school, also instead of stairs have slides and eskalaters.
Nine-year-old Max Green lives in North Little Rock.
No more buyouts
By Eric Francis
The legislature should pass a law that forbids any buyout clauses for public employees in contracts. No one — not coaches, not university presidents — should be exempt. You screw up, you get fired and don't walk away with a hefty taxpayer-funded subsidy.
Eric Francis is a freelance journalist living in North Little Rock.
Rethink higher education
By Donald Bobbitt
If you think about the university nowadays, we offer semesters based on agrarian calendars even though few to none of our students are actively engaged in farming. Our semesters and courses are designed in 15-week blocks of times. What's so special about 15 weeks? Material is presented linearly. Which means if you miss a concept in a chemistry course, you're in serious trouble come the final. Everything drives from the concept you missed. Because we're working with 20 to upwards of 300 students in one class, we orient the material and the rate and everything we do in the classroom around the middle of the class. For those who are struggling, it's very difficult to help get them up to the middle; those who're bored are doing nothing when they could be doing more advanced work.
Much of what we do in higher education — from the way we teach to the administrative structure we use to carry out the mission — has been around for hundreds of years and perhaps even a thousand of years going back to the formation of Oxford and Cambridge. So the question then becomes, is that structure appropriate for the challenges facing higher education both within the state of Arkansas and indeed across the nation?
In his book "The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the Inside Out," Harvard professor Clayton Christensen examined business leaders a decade after they were at the top of their industry and found that most were at the middle of the pack and many were in bankruptcy. He found that leaders rarely got beat in head-to-head competition. Rather, a business came in at the bottom to offer a new product that was simpler, more affordable and allowed more people to participate. Christensen suggests that online education has the potential to be that sort of disruptive technology in the world of higher education.
Of course many people have already figured this out. The University of Phoenix enrolls 30,000 students per month. Last year, its revenues were $3.8 billion. Someone asked me recently, "What hope is there if Phoenix can do this?" Well, the University of Arkansas means something in the state of Arkansas. The brand means something; we just need to embrace the technology. In the future, I think our students are going to be fully online, fully taught using technology in the classroom or taught through a hybrid of the two, where technology is brought in to enhance the educational experience.
Online courses can be started at a variety of times and in a variety of formats. There's no reason why a class couldn't start on April 15 or Oct. 1. Students should be able to take classes parallel, the traditional way, or sequentially, where they'd concentrate on a topic for five weeks, learn it very deeply and then move on. For working adult learners, sequential is really an advantage. Over a year, the student gets the same number of credits, only in a different format. Alternative pricing structures might also be envisioned to address a variety of approaches.
We know a lot more about our students online than in the classroom. I can tell you how long a student spends on a particular module. I can tell you who read the material and how many times they went back over it. Because of the anonymity of the Internet, students are more likely to comment freely and contribute to discussions. Feedback to students can be immediate and constant. There are ways to build loops into the system, so that as individuals have problems they're sent back to the appropriate section, where they review the material, develop competency and move on.
A lot of critics have suggested that some disciplines are not going to be amenable to online education. But about the time that someone says that, they're proved wrong. A lot of people said an MBA could never be earned online. Then the London School of Economics and the University of North Carolina put their programs online. Some have suggested chemistry can't be taught online — safely. But at Harvard there is a chemistry course for non-majors where you do all of your experiments in the kitchen. It's the same experience; you just get to eat your experiments. They said you couldn't teach biology. But it turns out that you can buy an attachment for your iPhone that turns it into a 10-power microscope.
The quality issue, which rears its head often, has been addressed recently in two reports, one from the Department of Education and one from the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. Both looked at online education and came to the same conclusion: There are some students who benefit from face to face instruction. If you can't get out of the bed in the morning, you're not going to turn on the computer and take your class. The role of mentors and the benefits of socialization are among other benefits. At the same time, other students benefit quite dramatically from the online experience because they're time or space bound and can't make it to the campus. Both reports concluded that for students who are properly motivated, the learning outcomes are identical between face-to-face and online education.
Donald Bobbitt is the University of Arkansas System President. The essay above was extracted and edited from a speech he delivered on Nov. 14 at the Clinton School for Public Service entitled "Innovate or Perish: The Challenges Facing Higher Education in the Next Decade," which is available to watch in full in streaming video at arktimes.com/bobbittvideo. Bobbitt began serving as UA System president on Nov. 1.
Stop the brain drain in Arkansas
By Kristian Anderson
Where kids wind up out of college usually determines where they spend the next 10 or 15 years of their professional career. The question is, how do we keep them in Arkansas? The a we're doing it now doesn't work. By and large, high performance students follow the opportunity and the money. Our best kids go to San Francisco, Austin or New York because that's where the best jobs are.
But if you can grab those kids and keep them in Arkansas for a couple of years, introduce them to mentors and high-horsepower networking, get them civically engaged and create their professional center of gravity in say, Little Rock, the odds of those kids leaving diminishes tremendously.
That's the idea behind the Arkansas Fellowship Program — to attract and retain the best Arkansas college graduates every year. Right now, I'm talking to innovative companies in Arkansas, from large corporations to startups, about serving as the 10 sponsor organizations of the fellowship. Each will commit to fund one student for two years by agreeing to hire a graduate and commit to circulating the fellow through high-impact jobs inside the organizations, projects in which a recent college grad wouldn't normally be involved. The CEOs of the sponsor companies will also agree to spend a significant amount of one-on-one time with their fellows and meet once with all the other fellows in the program. And monthly, there will be mixers and a speaker series.
By the time two years has elapsed, the fellow will have developed a relationship with an entrepreneurial, high-growth corporation. They'll have relationships with nine other CEOs. They'll have deep connections to the other fellows. They'll have been engaged in the community. And they will have 10 years of experience, from a cycling perspective, crammed into two years.
These fellows might be sacrificing some initial earning power, but in return they're getting an unbelievably high level of access. Meanwhile, the host organizations get to help curb the brain drain in Arkansas, and they get to hire rock stars for at least two years.
It's a high-impact, efficient, inexpensive way to juice the start-up economy in Arkansas. A similar program in Indianapolis, that I'm very familiar with, has a long list of host organizations hoping to participate in the program. There've been dozens of startups launched by past fellows from the program.
We'll be looking for maybe 20 fellows in the Arkansas program. These won't necessarily be the 4.0 GPA students who come from business school. They'll be graduates who've shown an extraordinary level of entrepreneurialism, the sorts of kids who in third grade were selling candy bars to their classmates.
We're not going to have a problem attracting 20 rock star graduates. Arkansans have a long history of punching above their weight class when it comes to entrepreneurialism, and a program like this will go a long way toward building upon that legacy.
Kristian Andersen is the president of KA+A, a brand and design consultancy group in Indianapolis, and the managing partner of Gravity Ventures, a seed-stage venture fund active in Indianapolis and Arkansas. He is working on the Arkansas Fellowship Program thanks to a feasibility grant from Innovate Arkansas. He lives in Conway with his wife and four children. You can find him online at www.kristian.vc
Solve the energy crisis with wastewater and chicken feathers
By Jeff Short
Hydrogen, the universe's most abundant element, can do almost everything. It can run a variety of engines without emitting carbon dioxide. In fuel cells, it can generate clean electricity. And it can serve as a feedstock for fertilizer, plastics and chemical processes.
Arkansas municipalities and farming communities should mine their wastewater for hydrogen. One efficient process, electrolysis, involves using electricity to generate hydrogen gas from the ammonia found in many wastewaters.
Storing hydrogen gas safely and efficiently can be a problem. The usual method is expensive, but as a recent University of Delaware study found, cheap and abundant chicken feathers contain a protein called keratin that can be treated to form tiny hollow tubes perfect for storing hydrogen gas.
With plenty of wastewaters and chicken feathers, Arkansas is a natural fit to develop — and apply — these technologies to lead the nation in the use of hydrogen as a sustainable energy resource.
Air Force Col. Jeff Short (Ret.) is a retired engineer for the U.S. Department of Energy and a former commissioner on the Governor's Commission on Global Warming.
Stop building prisons
By Wendell Griffen
Although the crime rate in Arkansas has fallen in each of the past three years and is well below the highs reached during the 1990s, during 2009 state spending on corrections reached an all-time high. According to a June 2010 issue brief from the Pew Center on the States titled "Arkansas: Improving Public Safety and Containing Corrections Costs," the prison population in Arkansas more than doubled over the past 20 years.
Twenty years ago, corrections cost our state $45 million, less than 3 percent of all general fund dollars. Today the bill is $349 million per year, or 8 percent of the general fund.
The Pew Center report states that the Arkansas prison population is expected to rise to more than 6,500 inmates (as much as 43 percent) over the next 10 years unless growth is contained. Building and operating new prisons to accommodate that growth will cost approximately $1.1 billion between 2010 and 2020. Construction costs alone (an estimated $355 million) will exceed the general fund dollars currently spent annually on corrections.
A 10-year statewide moratorium on prison construction and expansion is a vital first step toward needed change. Judges and prosecutors should also decrease reliance on incarceration and increase probation and other mandatory supervision options for non-violent offenders. These measures are much less costly and more likely to reduce recidivism than our current affinity for incarceration.
Circuit Judge-elect Wendell Griffen is pastor of New Millennium Church.
Ratify the Equal Rights Amendment
By Bernadette Cahill
Arkansas could become a national leader among the states and make a huge difference for all Americans by ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) during the new session of the General Assembly.
The ERA, first introduced 87 years ago to address an area clearly overlooked by the Founding Fathers, states: "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex."
That our legislature has already considered, and ultimately rejected, the ERA several times, is no reason not to move forward. That the deadline imposed by Congress for the required three-fourths of states to ratify (35 out of the required 38 have done so) has long passed is no reason not to move forward either. There's precedent for ignoring such a limit.
Arkansas should point the way and enshrine in the Constitution the concept of equality on which this country is founded. Finally, the motto on the Supreme Court building — Equal Justice Under Law — could ring true.
Bernadette Cahill is a writer, watercolorist and radio producer/host.
Bring a major tech conference to Arkansas
By Cotton Rohrscheib
Each year thousands of tech insiders, thought leaders and celebrities flock to Austin, Texas, for SXSWi (South by Southwest Interactive), a huge tech conference that sets the tone of the industry for the year and gives the Austin economy a huge shot in the arm. Why can't we pull off a similar event in Arkansas?
Already, we've got a strong foundation. Last year, I helped launch Central Arkansas Refresh, a monthly discussion group of locals who make their living working on the web. In a little more than a year's time, we've registered 200 members. The inaugural BarCamp Conway and BarCamp Jonesboro — free, user-generated tech conferences where attendees vote, collectively, on topics to be presented — were unmitigated successes earlier this year. Each had more than 100 attendees from all over the region and more than a dozen sponsors, including big players like Adobe and Microsoft.
With municipal and corporate support, we can build on the infrastructure already in place and host a major conference that attracts attendees — and attention — from all over the country.
Cotton Rohrscheib is a partner at Pleth Networks. He blogs at cottonrohrscheib.com.
Establish niche self-service museums in small towns
By Mark Keith
Many small towns have empty buildings downtown. In most cases, retail businesses are not coming there to fill them. Why not patch them up as cheaply as possible and put self-service museums or exhibits in them? Almost every town has a famous son or daughter or is famous for some event. Showcase that with a walk-through, self-service museum or exhibit. Put the exhibits behind glass or somehow protect them. Put in some lighting. Don't worry about heating or air conditioning it. A nearby business owner could unlock the building every day when he comes to work and lock it up at night.
Wouldn't a baseball fan stop in Waldo to see an exhibit on Hall of Famer Travis "Stonewall" Jackson? Wouldn't a country music/cowboy movie fan stop to see an exhibit on Jimmy Wakely in Howard County? Or an exhibit on the Wilburn Brothers in Hardy? Or Patsy Montana in Hope? Or an exhibit on Johnny Cash in Dyess or Kingsland? It might only attract a few hundred people a year. But that's a few hundred more people than are stopping in your town to buy a Coke or eat lunch now. And it could make a downtown look alive.
Mark Keith is the director of the Hope Chamber of Commerce.
Send world leaders into near space
By Allison Banks
Astronauts in low Earth orbit and those who have flown in high-altitude military aircraft often say that if everyone could have such an experience just one time, our global political, educational, economic and religious institutions would be forever changed for the better. Privately funded space tourism programs are much closer to reality than many people realize, but we are not quite there yet. And so until affordable technology allows us to send mass numbers of the world's population into low Earth orbit, perhaps we should use our high-altitude military aircraft to fly world leaders into near-space. From such heights — as the blue sphere of the Earth curves dramatically against the blackness of infinity — the inner lives of our most powerful decision-makers may be opened to the realization that no single national, educational, religious or economic institution has all the answers needed for the survival of our species, and that the perceived "other" that creates so many of the world's conflicts is fiction we can do without.
Allison Banks is a student at UALR William H. Bowen School of Law who blogs at allisonbanks.com.
Fly to work
By Daniel Berleant
Next year, Martin Aircraft Co. will begin selling personal jet packs for $100,000. As the prices come down, commuters will have a new, faster option for getting to work.
Dr. Daniel Berleant is a professor of information science at UALR.
By Craig Thompson
To gain immortality, we should record all of our conversations and take as many pictures as possible. With that data log, we could plug it in to a sort of chatbot capable of playing back snippets of conversation in response to topics suggested by others (anything from hiking, to spiders, to first dates). In a 3D virtual world (something like "Second Life"), we could then build a number of avatars that represent us at various ages and attach the chatbot. Future generations of our descendents could call up the avatar and learn all about us.
Dr. Craig Thompson is Professor and Charles Morgan/Acxiom Graduate Research Chair in the database computer science and computer engineering department at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.
Add a child- impact statement to the state budget
By Rich Huddleston
You've heard of environmental-impact statements. Why not child-impact statements?
There should be a check mark next to every state budget decision signifying that it doesn't harm our most valuable asset.
But why stop there? Let's make children — especially our youngest and poorest children — the focus of public policy in Arkansas. Every decision should not only not harm them, it should benefit them so that they can grow up healthy, wealthy and wise.
The state budget should come with a companion statement that shows how every category of spending impacts children and their families. Child-centered programs would be analyzed by their impact on children, with details on how they benefit particular age groups, income groups and races. It should include county-level analysis and trends over time.
Whenever lawmakers consider a spending bill — whether for highways, corrections, economic development, tax breaks, health care, or some other area — the first question asked should be: "Is this going to benefit our children?"
Even better: Arkansas should have a comprehensive, long-term plan for improving the well-being of each child, especially the most vulnerable. It should include the most reliable indicators and statistics on child well-being and only the best, research-based solutions to problems affecting children. One example is the nationwide Kids Count Data Book produced annually by the Annie E. Casey Foundation (in which Arkansas is ranked above only Mississippi and Washington, D.C.).
The plan would identify what it would take for Arkansas to become the best state in the nation for kids to grow up in. It would include steps we'd need to take during the next two, five and 10 years to improve the life of every child — similar to the goals of cutting poverty in half in 10 years that a legislative task force on poverty recently outlined.
A permanent state commission on children and families would monitor our progress and report back to voters on how well elected officials performed. It could even be led by a children's tsar, who'd constantly remind our leaders of our top priority.
Rich Huddleston is executive director of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Family.
Reinvent Rock Creek as a floater's paradise
By Mason Ellis
From its beginnings in West Little Rock to its confluence with Fourche Creek, Rock Creek is known by most Little Rockers as an eyesore. It runs through a large portion of Midtown and West Little Rock, and though many of us cross over it or see it at least once a day, it has always been treated as no more than a ditch for runoff drainage. There are, however, a few brave (or maybe crazy) adventurers who have floated Rock Creek from as far upstream as Chenal Parkway.
We should build on their discovery and engineer a world-class whitewater and float park in Rock Creek, with an upper whitewater section during the wet season and a canoe trail in the lower section that's floatable year-round. Re-engineering the channel by removing obstructions, burying utilities and providing better access, while constructing whitewater obstacles, would provide local kayakers and canoers with a unique water trail that could be a model for urban waterways in America and provide a way for curious locals to discover whitewater kayaking. The upper section would begin near Chenal Parkway and end at Boyle Park, where some of the best whitewater opportunities exist. Boyle Park would also provide an ideal hub for access and transition to a slower canoe trail that could be floatable year-round. The lower section, which is currently a large ditch, could be partially filled in to create a terraced section with a deep, narrow channel to provide a consistent depth for floating. Meanwhile, a mid-height section could provide trails for hiking and biking. The water trail would connect to Fourche Creek, which is known to the Audubon Society and a growing number of Little Rockers as a breathtaking wilderness in our own backyard.
Mason Ellis is an intern architect at Witsell Evans Rasco Architects and Planners.
Reinvigorate Main Street with food trucks
By Angel Galloway
Sure, we only have a few now, but give them a place to park that truck for free and who knows what might spring up? You'd always know where to go and those who work downtown would be happy to walk there.
Angel Galloway is director of communications and marketing at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre.
Reboot the River Rail Trolley
By Nikolai DiPippa
We hosted 110 public programs at the Clinton School of Public Service in 2010, with talks by people from all walks of life, from TV hosts to Cabinet members. Our speakers' first reaction is always, "I was not expecting this." They comment on the green space and the proximity of everything. They appreciate the River Market and our quality hotels and restaurants. But, invariably, they want to know about the trolley and are puzzled to hear that it — and mass transit generally — are underused.
Why not double down on the River Rail System and make it useful for people who actually live in Little Rock and North Little Rock? Make it faster. Add more routes. Connect the line to the airport and neighborhoods in downtown and midtown Little Rock. Tie bus routes to trolley pick-up and drop-off points, and offer discounts to public transit riders transferring from a bus to the trolley.
Nikolai DiPippa is director of Public Programs at the Clinton School of Public Service.
Reroute the Arkansas River
By Jeff Baskin
North Little Rock and Little Rock are sister cities, only minutes away from each other and each with wonderful activities and destinations, but there's far too little commingling. The river is a barrier. Why not reroute it completely around both cities and fill in the old channel with a shared park? The Corps of Engineers is up to the task. Imagine what such a vast green space could do for each city. It could host a constant stream of art, music and film and provide room for massive expansion of the popular Arkansas River Trail (though, of course, a name change would be in order). And lest North Little Rock be forced to lose its submarine, we would build a special pond for it.
Jeff Baskin is executive director of Laman Library.
Help a brother get further
By Andrew Baker (reported by Lindsey Millar)
Last year, Andrew Baker gathered 29 people together in Searcy to play what he describes as a sort of "game." But where "game" suggests winners and losers, Baker's decidedly has neither. Rather, it's more of an exercise in idealism, a sort of utopian experiment in the power of people helping people. He calls it The Need, and the gist is simple: The members of the group try to find ways to respond to each other's specific needs.
Baker, 35, drew this particular group from students and faculty at Harding University, where he teaches, as well as from the broader Searcy community, with an eye towards diversity, he said. Within the group, needs — ranging from "something as simple as a guy who needed a red tie, to something as big as a couple who needed a place to live"— were met within a matter of an hour. To illustrate the power of a motivated community, Baker then presented the gathering with the needs of a family outside the group: a White County family of four, struggling as the father succumbed to cancer, needed a range of things, from help with insurance and payment for funeral costs to a haircut. Within about 48 hours, he said the group rallied to provide everything on the list.
That Baker teaches at Church of Christ-backed Harding, where he also runs the Encouragement Foundation, the organization behind The Need, might suggest that the key ingredient here is evangelical do-gooding, a variation on the congregation answering an altar call. Baker agrees with that assessment, but only to a point.
"I believe at the heart of this is what church is supposed to be. Not what it is. But what it's supposed to be."
Beyond that, he argues that helping others is "part of our DNA," and that The Need doesn't need a religious component or setting to work.
Last year, he took the "game" to a drug court in Angelina County, Texas. Nationally, drug courts came into being in the late '80s in response to prison overcrowding and a clog in the criminal court system related to illicit drug use. The idea is to divert non-violent offenders, who've demonstrated signs of substance abuse, into treatment programs. Because steady employment is a condition to remaining in drug court, Baker said The Need in Angelina County revolved, primarily, around job-related issues, like childcare problems, met by two women who agreed to pool their efforts, and repair needs, met by handymen in need of jobs.
After a successful showing in Texas, Baker took The Need to the national drug court convention in Boston, playing it with 39 judges, probation officers and lawyers in attendance. Most of their needs centered on funding related concerns, Baker said.
Before the group even finished, Baker said a judge from Long Island stood up, flabbergasted, and said, "What the shit just happened?"
Now, Baker is building on that momentum by working with major leaguer Josh Hamilton, the reigning American League MVP and a recovering drug addict, to further customize The Need for drug courts, with plans to present again next summer. In the meantime, he says he's playing the "game" wherever he's invited — office groups, churches, universities — in exchange for reimbursement for travel costs.
Rethinking the nature of the library
By Don Ernst (reported by Lindsey Millar)
Back when they were still playing baseball in Ray Winder Field, if someone crushed a ball foul over the right field fence, it would've landed across I-630, likely somewhere in the five-and-a-half-acre tract where the Central Arkansas Library System hopes to break ground on a new children's branch next spring. That CALS is building in a routinely overlooked part of town is reason alone to applaud. But to hear library officials talk, this new branch, scheduled to open sometime in late 2012, could very well be the system's signal achievement — a model for future library development in the state and beyond.
Don Ernst, the head of the Children's Initiative at CALS, does most of the talking. And he's a good talker—eloquent, yet conversational; the type to stop midway through a sentence to ask you to remind him your name so he can punctuate his points with it; the rare professional who can get away with starting every third sentence with "man." Tellingly, when Ernst talks about the children's library, he doesn't call it a library. Rather, it's a "community-embedded, supportive learning place."
Which means that while the Children's Library, as the new branch is tentatively known, will house typical library amenities — books, computers, comfortable chairs — it'll also offer performance space, a teaching kitchen and a cafe. Outside, plans call for a garden, a green house, a teaching tool house and re-creations of Arkansas's eco regions, complete with an arboretum, meadowland and a small wetland that'll serve as a natural border of the grounds and hill space.
The building itself, designed by Reese Rowland, Central Arkansas's go-to architect for statement buildings (Heifer International, the Arkansas Studies Institute), will be LEED-certified and, like CALS' main library and newer branches, heated and cooled by geothermal systems. The engineering behind those green building choices — windmills on the grounds and a system to capture and clean water are possibilities, too — will potentially be on display for young patrons to see in action.
Ernst, a Greene County native, came back to Arkansas to work on the Children's Initiative two years ago after nearly 30 years bouncing around the country "straddling the divide between politics and education." During that time, spent doing policy work for San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, former Indiana Gov. Evan Bayh and Gov. Bill Clinton and working on various education initiatives across the country, Ernst says he's been steadily "honing an informed critique on how we educate children." The upshot?
"Increasingly, I think schools aren't particularly imaginative. Part of our big picture goal here is to create a really wonderful place that energizes kids' imagination and creativity and inspires self directed learning, which I think is missing from the lives of so many of them."
To make that happen, he'll need partners. The project, budgeted for around $11 million, is pre-funded, paid for from a 2007 bond issue. But that covers only construction and the core components of the library. To secure funds to position the Children's Library as a true outreach center, CALS will rely on Ernst's ability to sell his vision, through grants and partnerships. Ernst says he's aggressively pursuing the more significant philanthropic organizations in and outside of the state, particularly, in the latter category, Gates and Kellogg foundations.
Of course, Ernst also has plenty of potential partners for neighbors, in all directions, with Arkansas Children's Hospital to the east; War Memorial Park and the Little Rock Zoo to the north; UALR, which recently received a $430,000 Promise Neighborhood Grant to create programs to help children in the area the future library plans to serve, to the west; and those merchants and city leaders behind the ambitious 12th Street Revitalization Project to the south.
Project architect Rowland envisions the Children's Library not just impacting the area immediately adjacent to the grounds, but serving as a destination for kids all over the city. Moreover, he said he hopes the library will spur the city to invest in development to safely connect the library grounds with the zoo and park to the south. In fact, he and his colleagues at Polk Stanley Wilcox have already conceived a plan to do just that, calling for the city to condense traffic lanes on Jonesboro Bridge to gain 15 to 20 feet for a pedestrian promenade, with trellises and a path for bikes and small trams to shuttle kids to and from, say, the zoo and the library.
More Big Ideas for Little Rock
Philanthropists should create a Little Rock Promise college scholarship program for graduates of Little Rock public schools.
More ethnic food. Specifically, a Burmese restaurant serving a rainbow salad full of tea leaves and other mystical stuff; a white tablecloth Lebanese restaurant; a banh mai Vietnamese sandwich shop; an Ethiopian place.
Little Rock’s city directors should be elected by ward.
A ping-pong themed bar.
Little Rock needs a track and field facility in its park system.
Parking meters that take a credit card. Fayetteville has ’em. Why not Little Rock?
No left turns during peak traffic hours (say 7 a.m.-9:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.-6 p.m.) on Little Rock’s busiest roads.
More Big Ideas for Arkansas:
Our schools should have sufficient services available to deal with kids who would otherwise be sent home for bad behavior. Dr. Charles Feild
Viable, affordable, statewide broadband service. Amy Bradley-Hole
The state should offer searchable databases of campaign finance and other ethical reports for all levels of government, from school board to Congress.
The rest of Arkansas government should emulate Eureka Springs and provide health benefits for domestic partners. It would produce a tidal wave of national publicity for the state's far-thinking and compassionate policy.
The state should establish a need-based fund to finance world travel for educational study by high school and college students.
Live broadcasts of all legislative meetings — committees and House and Senate.
The state should require a year of foreign language instruction for high school graduation.
End Sunday blue laws.
Increase the severance tax.
Make elected officials work and make the lottery work for art
1. The only time we see a lot of elected officials in our communities is when it's time to vote. We need more community interaction. The answer? Force city and state officials to do mandatory community service hours in the areas they represent. It would familiarize people with those who're speaking for them and expose the officials to ideas they might never hear otherwise.
2. Devote an allotted portion of lottery money to vouchers to artists who perform community service. Maybe make a stipulation that the volunteer work has to relate to education. It would enrich the quality of life for our creative class, which is key for growing population and tourism. And we can always use more community interaction. The more interaction we have in our communities, the less crime we'll have.
Adrian “607” Tillman is a rapper, community servant and world traveler. His latest album, as part of the group Ear Fear, is “Album of the Year.”
Rethink private schools
By Dr. Walter M. Kimbrough
We should develop a new private school system, funded by philanthropists and Little Rock businesses, mandatory only for students who are performing below grade level. The new system would recruit and hire the top administrators and teachers from around the nation, with starting teacher salaries in excess of $75,000, and bonuses based on student performance. As a part of this system, there would also be a free boarding school option for students from the most impoverished areas to give their parents an opportunity to stabilize their personal lives while the child can safely focus on education.
This new private district would provide resources (human and financial) comparable to our ever-expanding private schools in the area, except the students will be mostly poor, and mostly people of color. New facilities and campuses would be constructed throughout the area.
The three largest school districts would be consolidated into two districts — Little Rock and North Little Rock. For Little Rock (and potentially North Little Rock) the district would be led by a superintendent that is hired by and reports to the mayor. There would be no school board. After hearing Joel Klein and recently Michelle Rhee talk about how this facilitates real change, I am convinced boards and their bureaucracy can't do it. But this will require bold leadership by the superintendent and mayor; there will be no room for timidity.
Essentially, the students with the toughest challenges would migrate to the private school system with the strongest teachers and resources, while the public schools would be able to focus on already proficient students and focus on pushing them to become exceptionally performing students.
Dr. Walter M. Kimbrough is the president of Philander Smith College.
Grow food for the kids
By Ragan Sutterfield
Study after study has shown how basic cognitive and social function improves with better nutrition, but we still serve our children food that is highly processed and of low nutrient value. We need to provide our children with better nutrition and that would ideally come from locally produced, high nutrient value vegetables.
We also have a city that is filled with empty, abandoned and unused lots and large numbers of unemployed, at-risk youth, who need job skills. We also have young farmers who are well-trained through programs like those at Heifer Ranch. Why don't we offer to pay one of these farmers a salary to produce food for two or three schools and provide job skills to high school students through summer internships on the farm? Why don't we train at-risk youth how to work in a professional kitchen by having them cook and prepare fresh food for schools? Why don't we offer free water, compost, and mulch to a young farmer who wants to reclaim a weed lot for a garden and guarantee her a market through the schools?
Ragan Sutterfield is the co-founder of Felder Farm, a school-based farm at Felder Alternative Learning Academy.
Tie development to preservation
By Christopher Burks
Sure, Little Rock has a land bank, special development districts, a renewed central focus, a board and a purpose ad nauseam. But official words and deeds blend together into a blurred mess when you can't see beyond the empty lots, shuttered houses and the vacuum of urban decay on the one hand, and the blandness of another strip mall erected on formerly pristine woodlands, another walled subdivision and another undersized two-lane road on the other.
Little Rock can grow smart by utilizing transferable development rights (TDRs). Like cap and trade in carbon and emissions markets, TDRs work as an exchange where the right to build at a greater density, or intensity, than current zoning allows for is granted only after a section of another area of land is preserved.
For example, what if much of the remaining property in downtown could be developed as prime commercial real estate without certain restrictions only if a dedicated amount of undeveloped land was granted to a park or nature preserve in West Little Rock?
Instead of forcing one group that wants to develop a high-density area to also own land in an undeveloped area, TDRs create a secondary market where those who own land in either location buy and sell the rights to development. It'll incentivize development for the common good.
Chris Burks is a law student at the University of Arkansas who has worked in public policy and remains active in Democratic Party politics.
Tear down I-630
By Cary Tyson
Like all long-lasting revitalizations, Central Arkansas's traditional commercial core is amidst a slow renewal. But the process is disconnected. We have separate groups working in the South Main neighborhood and downtown and in the River Market. Because we're divided. I-630 separates our city.
So tear it up and start over. Expensive? Sure. But necessary for long-term holistic revitalization? Absolutely. It's not without precedent either. All over the country — in Oklahoma City, Portland and San Francisco — cities are in the process of destroying poorly planned highways. (Really, name another interstate that ends in a traffic light.)
Build a boulevard in place of 630. It could accommodate similar traffic flow, but at lower speeds; reconnect our neighborhoods, and spark new revitalization. Every once in a while, smart growth means starting over.
Cary Tyson is president of the Park Hill Neighborhood Association.
By Graham Gordy
With alcohol as my only stimulation, I can't spend more than an hour in a bar. People who do are called “alcoholics.” For the rest of us, we need games. Darts? Sure. Pool? Okay. Shuffleboard tables? Ping-pong? Even air hockey? All great. But what about bocce ball? Dark wood-paneled walls, great beers on tap and vintage cocktails. Oh, and four or five bocce ball courts in the middle of the room with a sign-up sheet at each one. Put small tables around the perimeter and a bartender who knows the difference between a gimlet and a Gibson, and I'm not going home till they turn the lights on.
Graham Gordy is an award-winning screenwriter and producer living in Little Rock.
Urban agri tourism, and an energy park too
From John Gaudin
What this city needs is an urban farm, somewhat like a huge botanical garden, right downtown. Not only would this be a great source of food and a huge tourist attraction, it could be used for educational purposes as well. Local schools could use the grounds for field trips and the city could also hold classes there in an attempt to give kids and adults a better understanding of where food comes from. In order to fulfill its true potential, the farm should be located in the urban core. Downtown North Little Rock, near Verizon Arena, at the foot of the Junction Bridge, would be an ideal location for the tourist attraction.
Another thing that would encourage tourism and promote a greener lifestyle would be an energy park. Here, we could show off the best and the brightest the state has to offer in alternative energy including solar panels, windmills and green building techniques, all of which would also supply power back to the grid. This energy could be used by lower-income families near downtown North Little Rock. There has been over $150 million in new development in the downtown area over the past five years; these two things would only encourage more.
John Gaudin is an investment advisor and developer in downtown North Little Rock.
Bring the movies downtown
By Brent Renaud
There has never been a more exciting time for film in Central Arkansas than now. The Little Rock film festival last May, in just its third year, screened to more than 15,000 people in just five days. The Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival continues to cultivate a national reputation and Christopher Crane at the Arkansas Film Office is working hard to bring big-budget Hollywood films and television shows to our state, which is great for jobs and tourism. Couple this proven enthusiasm for film with the continued development of the waterfront on both sides of the river, and the time is perfect for a flagship film center that would show the best in independent and foreign films and host film festival screenings and special events.
Maybe something hip like the Alamo Draft House in Austin, Texas, where you can order beer and chicken wings delivered to your seats as you watch an independent new release on a big screen; or something a bit more upscale like the Epicenter Theater in Charlotte, N.C., where there are four theaters with large plush seats and a lobby occupied by an upscale restaurant and bar.
Downtown development, on both sides of the river, has begun to attract a young and sophisticated group of people to either stay in Little Rock or move to the city. Many already understand that the success of this urban experiment is tied directly to the economic and cultural future of each city. A film center would go a long way toward helping to cement a permanent sense of community along the river.
Brent Renaud is a filmmaker and a founder of the Little Rock Film Festival. His latest film is “Warrior Champions.”
Encourage green homes
By J.D. Lowery
Many people are looking for ways to “green” their lives. We know that buildings and homes are the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions. While some people fear that taking energy efficient measures in their homes will amount to a drastic change in lifestyle, that's typically not the case. Plus, it can put money in your pocket. We know the cost of energy will continue to rise. So what is with the holdup to going green? It is that certain shade of green known as upfront costs. So, how do we do it?
One New York town offers a model for Central Arkansas to follow. Located in Long Island, the town of Babylon introduced a residential retrofit program that requires little to no out-of-pocket costs for home owners.
This simple revolving loan fund is issued when residents obtain an energy audit by a town-approved contractor who prepares a detailed report on cost-saving opportunities. The city then pays up to $12,000 for any and all of the improvements the resident wants to pursue. After the work is complete, the homeowner makes monthly payments to the town. Payments are structured to be less than the energy savings projected by the audit, ensuring immediate savings for the consumer.
The pool of money for a program like this could come from many sources: city, county, or state governments, stimulus funds or even from a portion of the millions of dollars that go to utility bill assistance in Arkansas each year. It seems far better to treat the sickness and not just the symptoms.
Furthermore, there are many partnership opportunities with any of the above entities and non-profit groups, churches or a number of other local organizations dedicated to empowering individuals and families. We know that increasing one's disposable income is a sure-fire way to support the local economy. We have the ideas and the resources right here. So what's the holdup?
J.D. Lowery is the project manager for Viridian USA.
Churches without barriers
By Taido Chino
Closed-minded. Hypocritical. Segregated. Judgmental. Self-absorbed. Irrelevant. These are all words that the students with which I work once used to describe the church. Not just our church, but the church in general.
I wish that I could have disagreed, but the reality is that all too often, these words are exactly what the church in America has become. Without really realizing it, these students were expressing their desire to see the church wake up and embrace the ideals presented in the pages of the New Testament.
But if that is going to happen, then barriers of all kinds that have unknowingly been erected over the centuries will need to come down, like the barrier of race.
Why is it that Sunday morning is still the most segregated time of the week? Why does every race worship with people who look just like them? Jesus didn't come to establish a bunch of different ethnic enclaves. He came to call people from every tribe, tongue and nation.
Another huge barrier the church needs to recognize and overcome is this idea that it is a place for the morally pure to come and hang out on Sundays, patting each other on the back for how well they have done in avoiding sin that week. No. What Jesus and his followers taught us is that the church was meant to be a place for everyone. The hurting, the broken, the addict, the skeptic are all welcome to come and find answers, freedom, healing and help.
But maybe the biggest barrier is the belief that “church” is what happens inside the walls of the building, rather than who we are when we drive away from the parking lot. What the Bible describes is pretty straightforward, namely that the church would be so motivated by the love of God that it would reach out and care for the “least” among us, that the poor, the orphan, the widow, the prisoner would all find a friend in the church and that the church wouldn't just be an institution for charity, but people who are charitable.
Taido Chino is the pastor to students at Fellowship North church in North Little Rock.
Intergenerational date night
By Joyce Elliott
Old, older, young and younger people need to have fun together, engage in healthy folly. We don't know how to relate to one another because we fail to have fun together — by design.
We need a healthy dose of togetherness across the lines of age. Unlike many, dare I say most, other countries, Americans define their fun by the lines, or lack thereof, in their faces, rather than the mirth in their hearts, though deeply buried it may be. So here is my unapologetic, immodest proposal: Every other month, let's hold a citywide date night at some large venue. Only mixed-generation couples will be allowed. Gender doesn't matter. There are lots of available dates in retirement homes and in schools/colleges, for example. There could be dancing, singing, skating, stand-up comedy, sports, poetic smack-downs, etc. Whatever the activity, it must be kinetic, joyous and/or interactive! Nothing passive, nothing cerebral.
Results: We could reconnect ties that we have unwisely, artificially severed and move miles toward rebuilding community. We could help young people understand what it means to grow old, that it doesn't have to be a stage of dread. We could help older folks retain and recapture their “groove.” It doesn't have to be just Stella who got it back! We could become less suspicious and more nurturing of one another. Most important of all we could renew our duty of humanity to accept responsibility for each other.
Okay, I admit it: I am advocating public displays of love and happiness.
Shall we dance?
Joyce Elliott is a state senator from Little Rock.
Create a vibrant start-up community
By Matt Price
How do we create high-tech jobs in Central Arkansas? The first answer is easy, education. Everything gets easier the more educated people become. But what do we do in the meantime? My big idea is to create a vibrant tech start-up community in Central Arkansas.
I believe tech start-ups, more specifically Internet start-ups, could represent the biggest shift in our economy as a whole since the Industrial Revolution. Changes in technology allow start-ups to compete against much larger competitors. Start-ups are more nimble, not capital-intensive and they scale very quickly, making them very disruptive in the marketplace.
Governor Beebe and our state government have taken several steps to promote start-ups, including providing resources like Innovate Arkansas and the Seed Capital Program through the Science and Technology Authority. Although these are great programs and have already helped many start-ups (Capsearch.com included!), they are not the whole solution.
One model that has promise is Y Combinator. Y Combinator is a new kind of venture firm that helps start-ups through what many consider to be the hardest step, the one from idea to company. This model provides very small investments ($25,000 to $50,000) and then introduces start-ups to larger investors.
This is a good start, but if an investor in Silicon Valley offers them a larger investment they would most likely relocate. So then what?
What if we paid start-ups to relocate to Little Rock? Let's assume it would cost a million dollars per business. If we could get start-ups to stay in Little Rock for a million apiece, then for $100 million we could bring in 100 new businesses. For the price of a football stadium, Little Rock could turn itself into one of the biggest start-up cities in the country. That would probably help us keep our best and brightest, and might even produce a lot of revenue for the city and the state.
Matt Price is the CEO and co-founder of Capsearch, an on-line-based legislative research company.
Teach kitchen skills
By Jack Sundell
Whatever the economic environment, we love to eat out. The average American spends more than 50 percent of his or her food dollar dining out. As long as we need restaurants, restaurants need reliable and well-trained kitchen staff. Why not create a pool of qualified applicants by reaching out to economically disadvantaged young adults through a not-for-profit kitchen skills training course?
Here's how it would work: Chefs from the Little Rock area would create a 10-week curriculum to teach desirable kitchen skills to students with little or no restaurant experience. Classes would include ServSafe Certification (a comprehensive, accredited food safety course), knife skills, sauce making, baking and pastry making and wet and dry cooking techniques — all the practical know-how a chef likes to see in a new hire, wrapped into an intensive hands-on culinary course. Students would learn usable job skills; chefs would train their own future employees.
At the course's conclusion, a placement program would match graduates with participating restaurants. The student then would begin a 10-week paid internship at a member restaurant; if the trial period went well, the intern would stay as a full-time employee.
Course participants could include at-risk youth, young adults seeking a new career or an alternative to college, or anyone else the traditional education system has failed to provide an opportunity for. The program would fund itself partially through grants, but would also solicit paid restaurant memberships for its intern placement program. Restaurants could also sponsor an individual student for the 10-week course by paying his or her tuition.
Everyone benefits in this scenario: Restaurants by not wasting time and money for on-the-clock training of inexperienced personnel; course participants (and their families) by entering the job market; the city from more stable jobs and fewer jobless; and the people of Little Rock, who all like to go out for a good meal once in awhile.
Jack Sundell is co-owner of the Root Cafe.
LiTRAIL — train transit for Central Arkansas.
By Daniel Lilly
9/11 changed everything.
That awful day found me working as a reservations agent at the now-shuttered Southwest Airlines call center in Little Rock. Soon after the attacks, we would learn that 15 of the 19 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia, a country that supplies 45 percent of the oil that we import, and that we import 65 percent of the oil we use.
Then and there, I vowed not to fund the oil war. I parked my car, sold it for scrap months later and haven't driven in the ensuing eight years.
Inspired by what I experienced in other cities across the world, I began studying the possibility of a light rail system that would link places in Central Arkansas. LiTRAIL was the result.
The LiTRAIL name is a play on the three-letter code for the state's largest airport (LIT), which would be the first destination of the first half of the first phase of a light-rail network. Ultimately, LiTRAIL would reach a third of the state's population, with a system using existing trolley tracks, some new tracking and the medians of existing interstate and U.S. highways — land already publicly owned — on routes linking Conway, Cabot, Benton and Pine Bluff to Little Rock's core. In its first phase, LiTRAIL would offer transportation to the airport from downtown Little Rock, making use of existing trolley tracks and a new route. The rail line would run from downtown west along Interstate 630 to Shackelford Road, where a new transportation center would be built to accommodate commuter cars. Later phases would add routes along interstates to connect to other cities in Central Arkansas.
LiTRAIL is not simply about laying track and running trains. The design calls for developing a uniform set of thousands of pre-cast concrete forms, similar to a huge culvert, with trackbed laid atop the form and space for utility lines below. Their uniformity would substantially reduce construction time and cost while providing a platform for fiber optic cable, natural gas lines, electric lines, high speed imaging lines and telecom, among others. Access charges to those utilities would provide stable, long-term revenue.
Sound like pie in the sky? It's not just my pie. Metroplan's Metro 2030 long-range transportation plan adopted in 2005 calls for an investment of about $1.5 billion in light rail to connect Little Rock to Conway, Benton and Jacksonville.
Is there the political will to make light rail real? We'll see. I'm going to just keep throwing mud against the wall until something sticks.
Daniel Lilly is the former Cpl. K-9 in the Arkansas Times and the first professional full-time dog walker in Little Rock.
Dedicate a revenue source for parks
By Jordan Johnson
Contrary to comparable cities, Little Rock has made great strides in the last decade to enhance its public parks, adding new park land and making major improvements to existing facilities. Not only do parks enhance neighborhoods and the areas around them, they also help promote tourism and encourage a healthy lifestyle.
It can even be argued that parks play an important role in economic development and recruitment to the region. For examples look no further than Riverfront Park, the Clinton Presidential Park, War Memorial Park, Murray Park and MacArthur Park.
With a declining sales tax base, the city of Little Rock faces some tough challenges in regard to future funding of our parks. Currently, parks are funded through the city's general fund. As a result, whenever there is a budget shortfall, the parks budget is one of the first items on the chopping block. This system means Little Rock may see an overall decline in quality of city parks as projected city revenues continue to lag. When the quality of city parks diminishes, so does quality of life. Crime can go up and economic investment can go down. Just ask other cities that have learned valuable lessons on what happens when parks are no longer among a city's top priorities.
What the parks need is a dedicated funding source — such as dedicated revenue bonds or a short-term sales tax. North Little Rock dedicates a penny of its advertising and promotion tax to its parks, and the result can be seen in its amenities, like the new baseball complex going up in Burns Park. Until such a source is identified and secured, the quality of our parks could erode to a point of no return, taking with it unrealized economic development opportunities, tourism attractions, healthy lifestyle options, and overall quality of life for residents in Little Rock.
Jordan Johnson is a community advocate and a vice president at CJRW. He also serves as a Little Rock Parks commissioner.