Big ideas 

For Little Rock, North Little Rock and Central Arkansas

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Make elected officials work and make the lottery work for art
By 607

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.

Bocce bar
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.



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