Last night, in a spacious room at the Santa Fe Public Schools Admin Center, a bow-tied and dapper Steven Bingler
expounded on the virtues of holistic urban planning, walkability, sustainability, the future—and how it all comes back to Santa Fe.
For the uninitiated, Bingler is something of an urban planning bigwig: He's the founder of Concordia
, a self-described "community-based planning and design team," and has had a big role in the post-Katrina redevelopment of New Orleans, where he lives.
Throughout an exhaustive Powerpoint presentation and a lengthy Q&A with the audience (around 40 people, all well-versed in education issues), Bingler stuck to a couple of recurring themes: "nexus," his six-legged concept for urban redevelopment (it incorporates educational, social, economic, cultural, physical and organizational factors into the planning process) and the hurricane.
"You don't have to have a hurricane to have a problem," Bingler intoned. "In New Orleans, it took a hurricane to get us to look at everything together." In Santa Fe, the audience seemed to agree, our own hurricane (dropout rates, cultural divisions, housing issues, you name it) has been plaguing us for some time.
Bingler's solution to the hurricane is excruciatingly simple: Fix everything. He's all about the systemic approach, and he likens a city, with all its public, private, professional and educational facets, to a body that needs all its organs to function properly.
"You can't have a bad educational system any more than you can remove your heart and expect your body to survive," Bingler said. (Interesting/discouraging tidbit: According to Bingler, each child who drops out of school costs his community $209,000.) Instead, Bingler advocates for the kind of holistic development that does everything—revamping schools, building libraries, eliminating unnecessary administrative positions, planting trees, promoting walkability—all at once.
That, of course, begs another, equally simple question: How? And with whose money?
In New Orleans, Bingler's group had the good fortune of partnering with America Speaks
, a community-organizing nonprofit, which in one case pumped in $2.2 million for a meeting. (It was a 3,000-person meeting, but still!) We may not have that—OK, we definitely don't have that—but another of Bingler's oft-repeated ideals is what underscores such a meeting: cooperation. Bingler envisions a world in which public and private sectors start developing in the same areas, their mutual interest snowballing to make communities happen.
And as idealistic as that sounds, it's not without precedent. See the now-famous Harlem Children's Zone
(HCZ) or the Met Center
in Providence, R.I.; they're both examples of across-the-board urban redevelopment schemes. HCZ, for instance, has a "Baby College"—parenting school, basically—an obesity clinic, a truancy prevention program, and tons of schools, cultural centers, libraries, etc. Its success has been as assured as it is astounding
So, yeah. It works. And though I'm still having some trouble conjuring the money tree that's going to fund these ambitious ideas, here's a word from Bingler, who met before his presentation with local leaders including Mayor David Coss and Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Bobbie Gutierrez
. (Bingler said Coss and Gutierrez had promised to meet monthly about this stuff.)
"The superintendent and the mayor can't do it [alone]. In New Orleans, because the government couldn't do much, the neighbors stepped up to the plate. Now we have a city of planners. Start learning to be planners! Don't wait."
Isn't there a word for that? Ah, yes. Democracy.
Photo note: That's not Steven Bingler; that's a Swedish guy. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.