The dirty secret in our country is that we live in very much segregated places and our children are attending more and more segregated schools. Even after decades of Brown v. Board of Education—where the U.S. Supreme Court declared segregation unconstitutional, we still can't seem to find ourselves accepting equal opportunities.
There are no easy answers to our prejudice; my views expressed here are only my ideas on using a voluntary market incentive to address this phenomenon. I don’t purport to offer a be-all-end-all solution; rather, the ideas expressed in this blog post are entirely my own and random from a moment of insanity; but you are more than welcome to take them and make them come true. It’s good for the communities, for our generation, good for those who will grow up and remember us in histories.
LEED is a voluntary sustainable building certification program aimed to give market incentives to develop sensible building and construction practices. It’s currently used primarily for office building constructions and commercial core and shell renewal. But LEED has a rather new incentive (2009) community development program that can fit a solution model for urban redesign and renewal to offer an opportunity to address the segregated problems in our schools and neighborhoods.
LEED's core knowledge base is about synergies and it offers incentives to grow abandoned communities, gives consideration for core and shell redesign, building repurposing, and also to material reuse and localization.
Specifically, LEED’s Neighborhood Development credit track is designed to encourage “smart growth, urbanism and green building;” a combination of some regulatory enforcement of desegregation with voluntary redevelopment and urban renewal through LEED, in theory, will give us the synergy we need to combine social justice with market incentives.
Historically, when we simply apply enforcement mechanisms for desegregation, via regulatory schemes, we see “white flights” and push-backs from the economic side of our brains. These push-backs make no sense, but then again, a lot of our regulatory enforcements made no sense. (Abuse of police power for example, but that’s a wholly different story left for another day).
To employ LEED and the voluntary incentive programs to develop synergies with desegregation, we will need to consider several things.
First we start with some incentive and consideration to build sustainable small office buildings from the abandoned properties in our most desolate communities, where a lot of food desert happens to be; with the increase use of technology, companies can set up swap deals for their offices in isolated locations with the new, LEED certified, office buildings. When we re-sell the newly developed sustainable office-buildings at premium, we return any profits made back to the community to help upgrade other homes and the general community infrastructure. This can be done through a community savings fund and it will also provide the companies who bought these small community driven office-spaces with tax incentives. This type of office space restructuring also encourages open innovation for the industries, creating sort of mini-Silicon Valleys all across America. In light of China's upgrade and a lot of re-shoring happening, I suspect this may be a good area to grow for builders and real estate developers.
In addition, LEED also provides certification credits for having basic services nearby: grocery stores, post offices, and churches. We can then use the community funds to build up these services and help the local residents, the once segregated and deprived of their opportunity to advance economically along the privileged, to upgrade and see their house value go up according to their losses. This helps equalize home values in areas where it's lost more value in the housing crash. I think of it as a social compensation, or an entitlement, to help the once deprived to regain what is rightfully theirs. Creating these basic services will also help solve some of the pressing food desert problems, and maybe even make an impact on the preventive health care problem for the poor.
We can do the same thing, and we should, in suburban areas. There should be a tax credit incentive for suburban homeowners to voluntarily convert their own homes and their own communities to meet LEED certifications. These tax incentives are saved, in similar community funds to help build the infrastructure we need to develop more sustainable communities in the suburbs. Since most of the sustainable conversions are taking place with the homeowner’s own funds, the tax incentive community funds will only be used for building basic services. More importantly, these funds should go to build magnet school. The admission of these schools should be strictly regulated to the standards of Brown v. Board of Ed, not the newer legal standards that impedes voluntary desegregation.This will address the equal opportunity problems in our education system.
These magnet schools ought to be the primary focus of the whole initiative; they stand to create the workforce we need to meet the re-shoring demands and the new global market place demands. The student population ought to come from various distressed districts—educationally distressed school districts. This whole initiative isn’t just about building the infrastructure and making a few real estate developers rich, it’s about empowering peoples we have forgotten and amending the memories of our common human experience.
So at the end of the day, richer suburban communities would have their tax incentives to develop more sustainable communities for themselves; the poor and mostly low income places would have the funds and incentives to build sustainable buildings and upgrade their property value; the schools would be desegregated in both the low income areas as well as in suburban districts. All the while, the wealth is redistributed not to people directly, thus creating a carrying capacity problem; but is redistributed to the infrastructure and regulatory reforms, to help long term sustainable social innovations.
Of course to make these things happen, we have to be willing to open the discussion about the “white flight” and the increasingly re-segregated schools in our suburbs. We have to talk about the moral “wrongs” and discover what exactly should be the right things to do in the years to come. Development is the key and economic incentives: it is not only incentive for the few to become rich, but for the community to thrive and for everyone to enjoy equal opportunities.
In light of a lot of “re-shoring” happening these days, as doing businesses in places like China is getting more and more expensive, a lot f businesses are looking to get reintegrated into our once deprived communities. They are also looking to hire local labors and do their business in more socially responsible ways. These opportunities should not be denied to the once deprived and should not be the privileges to only the few. There is much synergy between de-segregating suburban schools and reintegrating urban communities. Everyone stands to live in better ways if we all focus on sustainable development: for people, for the planet, for economic developments.