Friday, November 17, 2017

My 2020 Vision Thing

I stopped my occasional lurkings on Reddit a few months ago and actually signed up and joined the place (I'm at u/litcityblues if you want to follow me or do whatever it is redditors do in that regard) and as I was reading through r/IowaCity I noticed a grandly titled post, An Iowa City Manifesto For The Future. 

I read it. I didn't agree with a lot of it but there were some interesting points made and some very real criticisms leveled at Our Fair Metropolis. Then, the University sent out a big email to everyone asking for Feedback and Input on their UI 2020 Initiative. They were asking some big questions like:
What ideas do you have for helping the UI thrive in the decades ahead? How can we better address the grand challenges of the 21st Century through our research, creative endeavors, curriculum, and teaching? How can we better serve our state and its people? We welcome all ideas, including bold proposals.
Bold proposals, eh? I might be able to rustle up some of those. Well, between the Reddit Manifesto and the University's request for feedback, that got the old brain wheels churning and so I figured, why not come up with some ideas of my own. So I sat down, thought about it and did just that. Three ideas for the University and three ideas for Iowa City. Yes, it's my 2020 Vision Thing.

For The University:

1. One of the biggest challenges facing higher education is the increasing number of negative attitudes about it's overall purpose and efficacy in society today. Rightly or wrongly, extreme examples of campus activism run wild from across the country have given too much of the general public the impression that college is something that costs too much and isn't worth paying for if (what the public perceives as) over privileged students are going to spend their time protesting instead of learning. While I don't believe this is a charge that can be leveled at the University of Iowa or any of the Regents Institutions in our state, higher education risks having this perception, however incorrect become reality whether they like it or not.

Institutions of higher education should be places where free expression is not controlled but encouraged. Open debate and the clash of ideas- even ideas that students might be uncomfortable confronting is how we get new ideas. However, clashing ideas and open debate without structure doesn't necessarily provide that much of an educational benefit.  Both Cambridge and Oxford have their famous debating unions that confront and debate ideas in a structured setting- the University should consider setting up one of their own. They should also follow the lead of schools around the country in the adoption of the University of Chicago Statement on Free Expression and work with institutions like FIRE to make Iowa a 'green light' school for Free Speech.

Ultimately, the future of funding for higher education in the state of Iowa is dependent on both the State Legislature and the taxpayers. It's important we send a message that we're committed to free speech and aren't afraid of challenging ideas- especially ones we believe ourselves.

2. In her book, DIY U, Anya Kamanetz digs into a lot of potential for the future of higher education, but a real world example that stands out is BYU-Idaho. In 2008-2009, they charged just $1400 a semester and are posting a 6 percent decline in costs in real dollars- all of this with an enrollment that they increased from 22,000 to 30,000 without spending a single dime. Checking their tuition and fees schedule today, that cost has gone up a bit to $2009 dollars per semester, but the cost still stands in stark contrast to Iowa's listed tuition of $9189 dollars for in-state residents only. According to Kamanetz, the success of their model comes through a variety of factors- they put an emphasis on their faculty teaching- with professors being asked to teach four credits per semester for three semesters but their campus is also occupied year round and students are admitted for either fall-spring, spring-summer or summer-fall rotations.

Whatever they're doing, it's interesting- and granted, they are a private religious institution and therefore may have certain advantages that the University, as a public institution does not. However, the issue of cost is going to be a huge challenge for higher education to confront in the years ahead- and there's something to the idea of having a campus fully occupied year round. If costs are (inevitably) going to come down, then we're going to need more students and we're going to need to get students in and out at a more efficient rate than we do now. At the very least, the University should look at schools both large and small that are keeping costs low the way BYU-Idaho is and adopt whatever ideas they can to start bringing down the costs of higher education. (Texas and their $10K Bachelor's Degree is another idea worth looking at.) The University should lead the way on cost control and not wait for someone to lead them.

3. Higher education shouldn't just be about getting a piece of paper and for the state of Iowa it shouldn't be just about sending your kids to school for four years and hoping like hell they move out of your basement when they're done. If the University does it's job right, every student in every major should be graduating with a degree and a hunger to always keep learning. Life long learning is going to be an amazingly important skill to impart in the economy of the 21st Century, because people will have to be able to adapt to the changes that an information economy is going to bring. The University should take the lead in creating an online learning platform aimed not just at it's students but at all the residents of the state of Iowa and beyond. Access to our world-class faculty and classes shouldn't be limited to our students- if I'm a 50 year old retiree from Fort Dodge that's always wanted to learn Sanskrit or something that isn't offered at the local community college, I should be able to do that. I should be able to get a certificate in something as simple as advanced coding or a degree in something as complex as biochemistry. When the Museum of Art lost it's facility to the flood, one of the smartest things they ever did was start taking their art on the road to share and demonstrate that their collection wasn't just a fancy bunch of paintings in a building in Iowa City- it was a cultural treasure for the whole state. The University should take a similar attitude with everything it does and shouldn't be afraid to innovate in the process. I keep reading articles about how vertical farming is the future of agriculture, yet here, in an agricultural state, I have yet to see a vertical farm. So it's more than just online education, we need an online idea factory for the whole state and ways to bring those ideas into reality.

For Iowa City:

1. Highway 6 has always been viewed as a barrier between the south side and the rest of Iowa City and as such, it's given the south side and living on the south side more of a negative connotation than it needs over the years. The old cliche about 'living on the wrong side of the tracks' has become, 'oh you live south of the Highway.' I'd like to see the city make some attempts to break that barrier down a bit, both physical and practical. Some community events on the South Side would be nice, but I also think some actual infrastructure to break the barrier down wouldn't be bad either. Driving through Des Moines on 35 these days, you'll notice that they've done an amazing job creating bridges over the interstate that stand out and make the interstate seem more like a river that runs through the city rather than a barrier dividing the city. Iowa City could also do something similar with pedestrian bridges...  you wouldn't need that many- and granted I know they just spent money upgrade the crosswalks at Sycamore and Highway 6- but it might help and depending on how you design the bridges, it could be an opportunity to create unique and iconic pieces of public art that serve a practical purpose as well as establishing a gateway to the South Side of the city. (By my reckoning, you'd need about five bridges- four if you want to leave off Sycamore. Fairmeadows, Taylor, Broadway and Keokuk.)

2. Affordable Housing, affordable housing, affordable housing! I don't think the current construction boom of gargantuan complexes with twee, pretentious names like 'The Crossings' and 'The Quarters' and whatever is going to continue forever. At some point, the glut will be satisfied, but the cost of owning a house and living in Iowa City is getting increasingly ridiculous. The Missus and I glad we made our move when we did, because now, barely a year and a half to two years later, the market would have been a hell of a lot rougher. I think the City's moves on inclusive zoning are good, but I wish they would stop pushing 'work force housing' in these complexes downtown. Nobody who isn't a student wants to live anywhere near downtown and setting aside six units out of a total 8-10 story building just for 'affordable housing' doesn't strike me as very ambitious either. I see a lot of housing flipping going on in our neighborhood, which strikes me as a good thing to help older houses over on our side of town get some TLC as well as brightening up some neighborhoods, but the whole Rose Oaks debacle still rankles me. The City should never allow a complex to get so bad and so run down that the only real option to tackle the rot is to gut the place. It may clean up an apartment complex, but Rose Oaks proved that the cost of cleaning up a complex will be paid by it's poorest residents. Which is why watching the situation with the Forest View Trailer Court is key for anyone who is passionate about this issue- they shouldn't be cleared out to make room for more expensive housing either.

Diversity of housing helps, I think as well as encouraging different types of housing. (That co-housing venture over off of Hudson Avenue is a good example of this.) Why don't we have a green village of eco-friendly houses? Or a tiny house village of Tiny Houses? The city should encourage innovation as well.

3. I don't know if we're quite there yet, but I think we're getting to the point where a regional transit authority should be given some consideration. I think Iowa City Transit does a great job and Coralville as well, but with North Liberty and Tiffin booming right now,I think it's worth looking into how to integrate those two cities into the overall transit footprint as well and maybe even spiraling south to get Hills in on the action. There's still a lot of talk about passenger rail to take some of the pressure of commuter traffic on I-380 and I think it's a potentially good idea, but only if it's Iowa City to Cedar Rapids. I don't really see the point of Iowa City to North Liberty rail service- and if you're going to do IC-CR, then for crying out loud, put in an airport stop. (To me, in a perfect world, I'd start with IC-CR with an airport stop and then expand as far south as Riverside- to get the casino and as far north as Hiawatha/Marion to get those towns as well. A third phase after that- assuming it all goes well, you could go north to Waterloo/Cedar Falls and south to Mount Pleasant to meet up with the Amtrak line, but that might be waaaaaaaay too ambitious. Oh and I'd also want passenger only rail lines graded for actual high speed rail and none of this 65 mile per hour shit. Which makes my crazy rail dream totally insane, I know, but dreams are dreams.)

So there you go. Six ideas, three for the U and three for the City to consider in their visions of the future. I have honestly no idea how realistic a lot of this is, but I'd like to think I did my best to ground these ideas as much as I could. They seem achievable, in some form anyway.

No comments:

Post a Comment