What If


As California stands at the threshold of the 21st Century, some alarming statistics are creating concerns about the future quality of life for the state's citizens. By the year 2020, the state's population of 33 million is projected to reach 45.3 million, an increase of 37 percent. At the current rate, the state is adding nearly 4 million people, or the equivalent of the population of Los Angeles, every seven years.

Pressures of growth are taxing the physical infrastructure. State mandated reforms in educational practices, including bold measures like class size reduction, have created the need for more and better educational facilities. Poor planning decisions are stretching other forms of public infrastructure to the limit and draining economic vitality from cities and towns. What is needed is a means by which current programs, procedures and policies developed at every level of state, regional and local governance can coalesce to address these challenges with smarter strategies for planning and implementation.

Smarter planning for education means designing schools that serve as centers of their communities, a concept endorsed by the U.S. Department of Education and leading national educational facilities planning organizations. The concept calls for gymnasiums and play fields that double as community parks and recreation centers; auditoriums that serve as community theatres; and incorporating centralized libraries, health clinics and other community services into schools that are designed for greater community access and engagement. Smarter schools can also take advantage of a wide range of community resources-like museums, zoos, and other existing facilities-to create integrated learning centers.

Developing smarter schools that serve as centers of their communities is a concept that also has implications for the so-called "smart growth" strategies for urban and regional planning. Over the past thirty years, California's growth pattern has consumed tremendous quantities of land for sprawling low-density development, with the car and its attendant infrastructure-streets and highways, street parking, and parking lots-taking up at least a third of all developed land. This strategy for accommodating growth also produces more traffic congestion and loss of productivity; air pollution and its environmental and public health impacts; the loss of open space; the inability of many to reach jobs and services; and the isolation of children from the elderly among other social and environmental problems.

The current model of sprawl development can be counteracted by designing more livable cities and towns. The planning and design of more community-centered schools can help make cities and towns more attractive to live in by: 1) Creating magnets for urban development; 2) Encouraging the development of inner city housing and employment opportunities; 3) Improving mobility; 4) Reducing suburban migration; and 5) Conserving greenfields.

Likewise, the implementation of smart growth principles supporting more urban development can improve education reform by: 6) Encouraging the creation of learning communities within the rich infrastructure of the urban environment; 7) Enhancing opportunities for community access and participation; and 8) Supporting teachers and school personnel by providing more affordable and attractive places to live and work.

There are a small, but growing, number of programs and projects in the state that represent some ways to achieve the goals outlined for smarter schools and smarter growth strategies. This report includes an overview of seven case studies that embody some of these smarter planning principles. These ideas and examples point to an opportunity to implement smarter, more efficiently planned community infrastructures through integrated resource development. Even a small improvement in the allocation of public resources could yield billions of dollars annually in the California economy.

In order to accomplish these goals, some changes in planning, policies and practices will be needed to:

  • Support more participatory and community-based planning.
  • Support innovative educational facilities that promote the concept of learning communities and schools as centers of community.
  • Support the joint use of all public facilities.
  • Support the planning of urban and suburban projects based on the principles of smart growth.
  • Support the assessment of all public expenditures based on the concept of integrated resource development.
  • Support the development of an ongoing vehicle for communications and decision-making between all agencies, institutions and organizations involved in education reform and smart growth issues

California, wake up! Every year educational facilities are built all across the state. Too many of these facilities are dinosaurs the day they open. At the same time, a wide range of libraries, parks and other state, regional and local facilities are being planned and constructed to duplicate many of the same functions and services. Meanwhile, a demand for 250,000 new homes every year is consuming acres of farmland in suburban sprawl, exacerbating critical problems with transportation and pollution. A crisis already exists. The rapid escalation of this crisis is producing irreversible consequences for the quality of life in California now and in the future.

The resources needed to meet the challenge are already available.

Powerful movements aimed at education reform and smart growth offer promising concepts, coalitions, policy recommendations and communications vehicles to intensify the evolution of creative solutions.

An immediate statewide summit to explore pathways of convergence for these two movements would be a good place to start.