Friday, October 28, 2011

Waste Space to Public Space

By Matt Tarleton, Project Manager.  

This past weekend I traveled to New York City to visit friends and family. It was a wonderful trip. While I can’t quite picture myself living there, it is such an incredible place to explore, especially for someone that is interested in cities and food (that’s me). There are countless lessons to be learned in every borough and corner of the city and the larger metropolitan area. I wish I had more time to explore the transformation happening at Governor’s Island, the degree to which Little Italy has been overtaken by Chinatown, and the impact of the High Line on redevelopment in Chelsea and the Meatpacking District. There’s always next time. But on this most recent trip, I did get to experience Socrates Sculpture Park, an impressive story of environmental remediation, revitalization, and community engagement. 

Located along the East River in Long Island City (Queens), the park is filled with multiple large installations by various artists, with exhibitions rotating throughout the year. Adjacent to the park is a large area where resident artists and sculptors can design, weld, and assemble their pieces, some of which are as large as your average American home. It possesses and incredible view of the Upper East Side. On a slightly chilly and breezy Sunday afternoon, I think we were the only non-residents. This is not a destination; it is a place for the community. It’s a place for residents, their children, and their dogs; dogs like Nero, an English Mastiff that, according to his owner, could speak five languages.

In 1986, a group of artists and community leaders developed a vision for the Socrates Sculpture Park. At the time it was an abandoned landfill and illegal dumpsite. Twenty five years later it has grown into more than simply a park. It is an artist residency program, an operator of arts education programs for local youth, and a provider or community employment and training programs. It is home to bike rehabilitation programs, international film screenings, and a farmers market. Its Community Works Initiative Program teaches landscaping and horticultural skills to local residents, including those in nearby Astoria and Queensbridge housing projects, and provides employment to program participants as grounds maintenance workers. 

Perhaps the most remarkable achievement is simply the vision to transform a previously dilapidated and hazardous space into such a vibrant public space. The park was primarily the vision of Mark di Suvero, a sculptor and founder of the Athena Foundation. As a former landfill turned illegal dumpsite, the nearly five acre site required a year to clean up and prepare for public use. The site was leased from the Department of Ports and Trade for one dollar each year. After roughly seven years of operation as a sculpture garden, the area was officially designated as a park within the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation in 1993. Since that time, Socrates has received numerous awards for its transformative effect on the neighborhood and its successful transition from waste space to public space.

There are sites like this all over the country that have tremendous potential. Communities simply need to have the vision and the will. New York City saw that the nearly five-acre Socrates Sculpture Park was a successful project. Today, the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation is working ardently to transform the 2,200 acre Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island into a public park. Yes, you read that correctly. At 2,200 acres it was the largest landfill in the world. Upon completion the park will be nearly three times as large as Central Park. But it’s a project that should take thirty years to finish. I guess that won’t be on the agenda for next year’s trip. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Sensory Overload: Or, How to Get a Geek to Run

By Evan D. Robertson, Project Associate. 

It’s 8:07. I am standing on a cold, dark street with a street lamp flickering on and off at irregular intervals. The pavement beneath is soaking wet from a thunderstorm that just passed, another is on its way. On my way home I checked Doppler radar on an app and realized that I could fit in a twenty minute run before the next thunderstorm hit. Normally, I wouldn’t be so daring, however, my watch tells me that I am 1.83 miles behind my goal of 30 in four weeks. Having never run 30 miles in the 27 years I’ve been alive, this causes me undue anxiety. After stretching for five minutes, I hold a button on my watch. The display flashes with a satellite symbol, letting me know that it is trying to connect to one of twenty-four orbiting the earth at precise locations. Once it connects, the satellite transmits the time held on its internal clock to my watch which then compares the satellite’s time with the time it holds. With the difference calculated, my watch knows exactly where I am located on the earth. Time to begin my run. 

After I get home, I download the Global Positioning System (GPS) data from my watch. The data is automatically uploaded to a website that tracks my distance; shows how long it took me to run the first mile, the second, and so forth; plots my path on Google Maps as well as flags the location of my fastest and slowest paces. I sit absolutely amazed. If the information technology revolution of the 1990s was about transforming communication between people, transmitting and storing vast amounts of data, and making calculations at near the speed of light then the IT revolution of the 2010s variety is about ubiquitous, singularly-omniscient sensors taking readings of the surrounding environment and our interactions with it. It is what Waldrop and Lippel call the sensor revolution. A revolution entailing tiny GPS units tracking your whereabouts (for your use only, of course…), gyroscopes and accelerometers checking the subtle way you tilt your phone so as to make sure your app stays on track, sensors detecting minute details of your driving habits and taking over when necessary and it’s perhaps a revolution where things go a little too far. 

The sensor revolution is extending its reach to our urban environments. Traffic signals are being upgraded to give a green light to emergency vehicles, trucks, and buses. Sensors are also being used to track the more mundane aspects of urban life. A project out of MIT’s SENSEable City Lab used location aware sensors to track trash, giving researchers greater insight into a city's waste management system. Indeed, these tiny objects will have profound ramifications for how we interact with our urban environments, how we live our daily lives. 

The question remains whether the current iteration of the IT revolution will be able to positively impact the lives of those less fortunate or whether it will simply create another digital divide, further segregating technology from those could benefit from it the most. Being able to track your habits can have a transformative effect on habits themselves. But, the resources required to track them (the watch, the computer, the internet connection) places the technology out of reach to many. And it is still unclear how sensors will integrate the qualitative, compassionate aspects of human life so necessary to creating a viable livable space where everyone can flourish.

Friday, October 21, 2011

QWI Release for the Data Geek

By Ranada Robinson, Senior Project Associate. 

Recently, the U.S. Census Bureau rolled out new data features in its Quarterly Workforce Indicators (QWI) Online database. Before now, employment data were available by state, in-state metro area, and county. Within that data, users could splice out employment and wage data by sex, business sector up to 4-digit NAICS, private versus all ownership levels, and by age group, including 14-18, 19-21, 22-24, 25-34, 35-44, 45-54, 55-64, and 65-99. Here at Market Street, we’ve used this data to examine workforce aging issues and young professional trends.

Now, QWI enables users to splice out employment data by educational attainment and race and ethnicity. This is an exciting new feature, as it allows users to delve into the data to seek trends that were much more difficult to grasp before. Educational attainment data is available by sex and by four distinct levels of education: less than a high school diploma, high school diploma or equivalent, some college or an associate degree, and a bachelor’s degree or higher. This means that for a specified geography, a user can find out if a business sector is heavily employed by a certain level of education. This data can also be used to determine how males compare to females as related to educational attainment within sectors. For instance, here in metro Atlanta, according to third quarter 2010 data, women ($40,908) earn on average less than men ($63,732). This data were already available prior to this new release. But now, we can look and see that across all educational levels this is true. There is a lower percentage of women who don’t have at least a high school diploma (10.7%) than men, and they earn $11,388 less than men at the same attainment level ($25,860 vs. $37,248). The percentage of women with at least a bachelor’s degree (30.1%) is on par with that of men (30.6%). These women on average earn $56,592 annually, compared to $68,424 for men with at least a bachelor’s degree.

Employment and wage data are also available by race and ethnicity. In metro Atlanta, the average worker earns $48,936 annually. With this data, we can take a look at how much of the workforce is comprised by various racial or ethnic groups and we can compare the annual wages that group earns. Whites make up 57.9 percent of the metro workforce and earn on average $57,240. Asians make up only 4.5 percent, and are the second highest earners of the four groups I examined ($50,796). Hispanics, who represent 6.5 percent of the regional workforce, come in at third, earning $35,436. Finally, Blacks represent 30.2 percent and earn $35,400. 

These data are very useful, and our team looks forward to utilizing it to find added value to our reports and understanding of community trends.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Listen Up!

By Kathy Young, Director of Operations.

Do you ever find yourself in a conversation and while the other person is talking, instead of listening, thinking about what you're going to say when it's your turn to talk? According to numerous communication experts, quite a few of us do this on a pretty regular basis. While this is natural, and seems to serve the purpose of helping us make our point, in reality, our inability to listen effectively is counterproductive.

I was recently in a group that was discussing The Communications Catalyst,  a book by the co-founders of Conversant, a communications consulting firm. Full disclosure - I haven't read the entire book...but, I was intrigued by the examination of the various "positions" that we adopt while in dialogue with others. The authors employ a gauge approach that puts Pretense on one end of the spectrum and Authenticity on the other end. In between are Sincerity and Accuracy...which confounded me at first because initially, I didn't see how sincerity could be that far from the ideal approach (authenticity).

I would do the authors and the concept a huge disservice if I tried to summarize the nuances and lessons outlined in the book, so for that, I suggest you check it out yourself. However, the point that the discussion that resonated with me most was about how important it is to listen and really try to understand the perspective of your conversational partner(s). In our work in communities, with steering committees, work groups, and community input participants, it's vitally important that our teams listen effectively. In fact, our professional group facilitation training for new team members emphasizes this point, and can easily be applied to interpersonal conversations as well.

There are basically four core points that we adhere to when facilitating focus groups:
  1. Start with a blank piece of paper (literally... we love our flip charts).
  2. Give the group your undivided attention and encourage them to do the same.
  3. Talk as little as possible so that you can hear the concerns and ideas the group has.
  4. Confirm and clarify what is being said, using each speaker's own words.
Even after working in hundreds of communities and understanding that there are some fundamental economic development "building blocks" that help make every community successful, we are committed to the idea that every place is different. After 14 years doing this work, we know we'll only be able to develop a strong strategy if we listen to the people who live and work in the community. Its relatively easy to appreciate the differences between a Joplin, Missouri and an Austin, Texas, but less so in communities that look to be similar on the surface. Our job in every conversation is to listen effectively and determine what will help each individual community be more competitive.

As has been recalled many times in the past two weeks since his death, Steve Jobs often differentiated between inventing and discovering. Considering that Jobs inspired and excited entrepreneurs and fans worldwide, but seemed to perch above us mere mortals, it can be easy to overlook how empowering andtransferable that notion of discovery is in any situation. From my perspective, the act of discovery occurs when any individual takes their capacity to create change and improves upon the current situation by forcefully applying imagination. On the community level, thinking creatively and listening to everyone in your conversation is where new ideas and solutions are discovered.

Two of our teams recently conducted stakeholder input sessions in Jackson, Mississippi and Madison, Wisconsin and came back with new ideas and a better understanding of these communities. These trips are always at the beginning of our processes so we can be sure we hear from a diverse group of community members even before we've drawn any conclusions from the research or begun to make recommendations. Whether your community is going through a strategic planning process or continuing to implement previously developed strategies, be sure that you take breaks from the daily work to listen to your partners and stakeholders. It can make a world of difference.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

It Ain’t Easy Being Green

By Jonathan Miller, Project Associate.  

Green has become the new black, whatever that means. There is little question that the green economy has taken the nation by storm and is heralded as a key economic driver that will help lead us out of the current economic malaise. However, the discussion on green jobs seems to me to be imprecise. Defining a job as green must consider whether the process or product is green; does green refer to environmental benefit, energy efficiency, or a specific business sector; and how should firms be classified if they are indirectly related to the green economy.

In order to provide some semblance of common ground, I compiled 11 definitions of green jobs and green industries. Definitions were obtained from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*Net (a national repository of occupation descriptions), the Brookings Institution, and state statutes (DC, TX, CO, VA, IL, NM, LA, CT). Rather than reading all definitions and proving a detailed comparison, I submitted the definitions to, which analyzes the occurrence of words in a string of text and creates graphic representations. The following word cloud is the visual created from the definitions of green jobs and green industries.

Clearly, the most important word in all the definitions is energy. While “sustainability” and “environmental” are certainly important aspects of the green economy, they do not command as much consensus. Of course, these words are not at odds with energy efficiency or alternative forms of energy, and in most cases are complementary. Other notable words include products, materials, and renewable. 

From a policy standpoint, recognizing that green jobs and the green economy are inherently concerned with energy issues is not a radical stance, but may provide more clarity when it comes to identifying strategies to bolster, increase, and stimulate growth of green jobs. 

While Kermit the Frog could never have known that his most famous line would one day be applied to a debate on national energy policy, someone should really update his Wikipedia page description to include “enduring political pundit”…oops, I mean puppet.

The following definitions are a sample of those analyzed:

Washington, D.C. statute: 
“Green collar jobs” means jobs in the environmental sector of the economy which jobs may involve the implementation of environmentally-conscious design, policy, or technology.

Colorado statute: 
“Green jobs” means occupations or employment positions in the wind, solar, energy efficiency, or renewable energy industries.

Bureau of Labor Statistics: 
Jobs in businesses that produce goods or provide services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources. 
Jobs in which workers' duties involve making their establishment's production processes more environmentally friendly or use fewer natural resources.

New Mexico statute:
“Green industries” means industries that contribute directly to preserving or enhancing environmental quality by reducing waste and pollution or producing sustainable products using sustainable processes and materials and that provide opportunities for advancement along a career track of increasing skills and wages. 

Green industries include: 
(1) energy system retrofits to increase energy efficiency and conservation; (2) production and distribution of biofuels, including vehicle retrofits for biofuels; (3) building design and construction that meet the equivalent of best available technology in energy and environmental design standards; (4) organic and community food production; (5) manufacture of products from nontoxic, environmentally certified or recycled materials; (6) manufacture and production of sustainable technologies, including solar panels, wind turbines and fuel cells; (7) solar technology installation and maintenance; (8) recycling, green composting and large-scale reuse of construction and demolition materials and debris; and (9) water retrofits to increase water efficiency and conservation;

Brookings Institution: 
The clean economy is economic activity—measured in terms of establishments and the jobs associated with them—that produces goods and services with an environmental bene?t or adds value to such products using skills or technologies that are uniquely applied to those products.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A One-Stop-Shop Facility for Health Care Training

By Alex Pearlstein, Director of Projects. 

I have seen the future of health education and it resides in Kansas City at Metropolitan Community College’s new (2009) state-of-the-art Health Science Institute (HSI). Now, we’re not talking about the training of physicians; we’ll leave that to medical schools. But just about every other health career has a presence at HSI. A Market Street colleague and I were in KC for a tour of the city’s economic development assets to coincide with the launch of a strategic process there. On our list was a visit to HSI at MCC’s Penn Valley campus in Midtown Kansas City. 

Notwithstanding its 190,000 square feet worth of modern facilities, simulation stations, and classrooms, what is unique about HSI is its mission to co-locate all of the regional MCC system’s two-year certificate and degree health training programs in one building. This enables the college to purchase, for example, one wheelchair for multiple campuses and degree programs rather than a wheelchair each for every MCC campus and occupationally-specific training program. Not only are thousands of dollars saved, but the co-location of multiple training specializations ensures cross-programmatic interaction between students preparing for an A to Z list of health careers. These interactions mimic what professionals will experience in a real hospital or medical-office environment and teaches interpersonal and “soft skills” along with the technical skills of their chosen career. Add to that the presence of co-located four-year-degree programs from Kansas City area colleges and universities, “2+2” programs with local high schools, resident physicians polishing their skills, and contract services provided to regional hospitals, and you’ve got quite a dynamic hub for all things health care.

Possibly the coolest area at HSI is the Institute’s 10,000 sq. ft. Virtual Hospital, a simulation center that includes learning areas that mirror a hospital’s clinical environments and 12 life-like computer-operated human patient simulators that mimic scenarios such as trauma, shock, cardiac arrest, and many others. Professors operate the simulators in rooms separated by two-way glass. Visitors and interested students can “sit in” on training taking place in the rooms via glass walls and an intercom system broadcast into the adjacent hallway. As one walks through the Virtual Hospital, you start to forget you’re in a training institution and really feel like you’re strolling down a hospital corridor. Except of course that the patient-simulator manikins aren’t watching “Wheel of Fortune.”

In addition to the Virtual Hospital, HSI has simulated environments where students use real clinical equipment and tools to practice patient-care scenarios for dental, EMS, OT/PT, nursing, radiology, and surgery scenarios. There is even a fully furnished “simulated” apartment with a working kitchen and bathroom for students to practice home-care procedures for wheelchair-bound patients.

Needless to say, HSI administrators report that the Institute’s true-to-life learning environments have a powerful and positive effect on student learning. They hear from regional hospitals that graduates of HSI programs are not only technically skilled, but more ready to thrive in the frenzied environment of a real health care facility where professionals in multiple fields must interact and work together.

While I’m not familiar with every community college health care training facility across the U.S., I can’t imagine that any can top the learning environment offered by MCC’s Health Science Institute. If you’re ever in Kansas City, I would inquire about checking it out. Who knows, you might even get motivated to pursue a career change.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

If You Build It, They Will Come (Higher Ed in North Dakota)

By Ellen Cutter, Director of Research.  

Ok, this article has been sitting on my desk for a while. 

In July, the Wall Street Journal did a fascinating profile on North Dakota’s higher education strategies. Their leaders have, for a long time now, been aggressively investing in its public institutions’ capacity and quality while using state revenue surpluses (generated by a booming oil industry) to keep in-stateand out-of-state tuitions low. Of course, what makes this interesting is that this has happened while other university systems have slashed programs, increase class sizes, and raised tuitions as their state governments grapple with staggering budget shortfalls. 

The most notable of these systems is California, which has increased its share of out-of-state students from 12 percent in 2009 to 18 percent in fall 2011 as a way to increase its revenues. Non-resident students pay an additional $23,000/year for tuition and fees. Earlier this year, the New York Timesbrought to light how some students at UC-Berkeley have gotten married (in some instances, to near perfect strangers) to qualify as in-state students. The article notes that, “U.C. students from out of state must meet three requirements to establish residency — physical presence, intent to stay and financial independence — a complicated process that takes at least two years. The independence test is the hardest to pass. When students marry, they can automatically claim themselves as independent, provided their parents do not claim them as dependents on their taxes. After that, gaining in-state tuition is a breeze.” One woman noted that by marrying another out-of-state tuition paying student (who she found on Facebook), she saved over $50,000 in would-be student loans. California’s ratio of out-of-state students, while growing, is not in the top tier. Vermont (67%), Rhode Island (56%), Arizona (49%), New Hampshire (46%), Wyoming (45%), North Dakota (45%), and Iowa (41%) represent the states with the largest proportions of out-of-state residents.

Less extreme than marriage, some students raised in California (or Connecticut or Kolcutta for that matter) are opting to locate where they can get the best value for their money, meaning lower out-of-state tuition than their in-state tuition options and smaller classes taught by tenured-faculty. For many, this means relocating to North Dakota. Who would have thought 10 year ago that North Dakota (NORTH DAKOTA!?) would become a talent magnet?

Years ago, when state leaders were faced with closing down universities due to population loss and a declining number of homegrown students, its leaders decided to aggressively invest in its system. Fargo, home of North Dakota State University, has redefined itself as a booming college town attracting students from around the country and the world. The state’s association with a consortium of 20 other states gives students from these states a break on the already low out-of-state tuition (ranging from $9,000 - $17,000, depending on the school), charging only 1.5 times the in-state-tuition (which ranges from ($5,000 - $7,500 (or $7,500 - $11,500 for out-of-state reciprocity students). 

It’s a fascinating article; one that shows communities (and states) can reinvent themselves. In a time when high-cost for-profit universities have stepped in to fill student demands, North Dakota’s strategy proves to be leading edge.