HomeAboutProfessionalVolunteerOpinion ArticlesInspirationContact
Practically Idealistic blog
The title for this blog originated with use of the term “practical idealist” in this 1996 opinion piece, which asked: “To what kind of work should a practical idealist aspire?” A century and a half earlier, Emerson, in his 1841 essay Circles, wrote: “There are degrees in idealism.  We learn first to play with it academically. . . .  Then we see in the heyday of youth and poetry that it may be true, that it is true in gleams and fragments.  Then, its countenance waxes stern and grand, and we see that it must be true.  It now shows itself ethical and practical.”  John Dewey and Mahatma Gandhi embraced practical idealism in the 20th century, as did UN Secretary General U Thant.  Al Gore invoked it in a 1998 speech. In the context of this blog, the term is meant to convey idealism tempered but not overwhelmed by realism: a search for the ideal on a path guided by common sense.
Archive Newer | Older

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Regional Problems and Solutions, Smart Growth

An April 23  panel on New Haven municipal finances touched briefly on the Fire Department and possible regional solutions to fiscal and other problems.  Cost control, property taxes, state payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT), education and job training, transportation, housing, and economic development as a route to new jobs and tax revenues are all part of this conversation.  Regionalism – where it makes sense and where it does not – deserves more thoughtful attention. 

For example, New Haveners would be curious to know which/whether other municipalities in the region might be interested in gradually contracting over time to have our Fire Department – with its fixed equipment costs, highly trained personnel and potential economies of scale – handle certain services.  Given the nature of contracts, perhaps such regionalization could be phased in through attrition of fire positions and facilities in other municipalities.  (West Haven’s alone having three fire departments is recognized as a prime opportunity for efficiency gains.)  Other services, too, could be explored through mechanisms such as the Regional Council of Governments.  What is the balance of trade-offs?  It would be useful to look at what we might do, or not, based on evidence elsewhere.  

The following article (with passages excerpted below and certain of the authors’ illustrative parenthetic endnote references fully listed) explores "lessons learned from regionalization for police and fire services, drawing comparisons to public health":

Annual Review of Public Health
Vol. 29: 205-218 (Volume publication date April 2008)
Regionalization of Local Public Health Systems in the Era of Preparedness," by Howard K. Koh, ­ Loris J. Elqura, ­Christine M. Judge, and ­Michael A. Stoto­

While the article by Koh, et al. primarily treats public health and emergency preparedness, it includes broader discussion of regionalization, defined as “the addition of a regional structure to supplement local government agencies, which in some instances might lead to consolidation of services or agencies.” International examples are cited from countries such as Canada, which has had “intraprovince regionalization of police services for at least 30 years” and New Zealand, where the Local Government Amalgamation Act of 1989 “decreased the number of local governments by 67%, increased accountability for local government boards, and thus was expected to reduce spending.”

In the U.S, the article notes, “regionalization of services has been proposed to remedy some of the socioeconomic and fiscal disparities between metropolitan areas and outlying areas (26. Mitchell-Weaver C, Miller D, Deal R Jr. 2000. Multilevel governance and metropolitan regionalism in the USA. Urban Stud. 37: 851–76). These proposals first began decades ago when rapid economic and societal change led to metropolitan fragmentation and accompanying suburban autonomy complicated the provision of government services (26). Many scholars voiced concern that ‘proliferation of local governments in metropolitan areas has reinforced segregation by income and race, resulting in unequal provision of local public goods and services’(37. Swanstrom T. 2001. What we argue about when we argue about regionalism. J. Urban Aff. 23: 479–96). By 1970, the United States witnessed growing numbers of regional government systems, as evidenced by 30 U.S. cities merging with their county governments. Factors such as leadership needs, economics, and fiscal inequalities and challenges drove these trends.”

According to the article’s authors, “At least two major factors prompted change toward regionalization: efficient use of resources (e.g., police and fire) and building economies of scale, e.g., wastewater treatment,” which New Haven and three of its neighbors have sought with the Water Pollution Control Authority.

The article continues: “In many states, regionalization of fire department resources across local towns, institutionalized since the 1950s, exemplifies efficient use of staff during major emergencies. This successful regionalization of local fire services is in part attributable to the culture of strong neighborly bonds fostered by a long-standing volunteer firefighter system (S. Coan, personal communication). States such as Florida, Illinois, and California currently have formalized, comprehensive mutual aid agreements that delineate individual and joint responsibilities and address key issues such as liability (10. Int. Assoc. Fire Chiefs. 2007. Intrastate mutual aid plans: intrastate mutual aid system anchor states.). In Massachusetts, in the event of firefighter injury, each fire agency assumes responsibility for its own staff regardless of the exact city or town where harm occurred (S. Coan, personal communication). In recent years, accelerated by the events of 9/11, fire service responsibilities have broadened. A proposed National Fire Service Intrastate Mutual Aid System is poised to formalize intrastate coordination. This effort is supported by the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) (10). Furthermore, recent emergencies, such as Hurricane Katrina, spurred at least 14 additional states to pass intrastate mutual aid legislation (8. Emerg. Manag. Assist. Compact (EMAC). 2007. Intrastate mutual aid. http://www.emacweb.org/?150).”

Regarding police services, the authors note “the reality that crime and disease regularly spill over into other cities or towns. Individual police departments that ignore coordination of services with neighboring cities and towns may only exacerbate problems regionally. For example, issues related to drug trafficking can easily overwhelm the resources of a small police department in an individual municipality, requiring support from others (38. Tully EJ. 2002. Regionalization or Consolidation of Law Enforcement Services in the United States. Natl. Exec. Inst. Assoc., Major Cities Chiefs Assoc. and Major County Sheriff's Assoc.).”

Citing the Tully study, the authors find documentation that in the U.S., “more than 17,000 individual police agencies have in fact consolidated into 1000 regional departments (38). Researchers point to resulting benefits that include more efficient delivery of police services, the ability to share specialized resources (such as crime laboratories and centralized records systems), better-trained personnel with the capacity for more specialized skills (e.g., arson investigation or juvenile units), a lower turnover rate, and higher levels of 24-hour coverage (12. Kenney JP, Adams GB, Vito GF. 1982. Consolidation of police services: an opportunity for innovation. J. Police Sci. Adm. 10: 466–72; 17. Krimmel JT. 1997. The Northern York County police consolidation. Policing: An Int. J. Police Strateg. Manag. 20: 497–507). In particular, the more regionalized structure affords increased levels of training and opportunities for advancement and promotion, which in turn produce better-trained personnel (17). Moreover, consolidation is cost-effective owing to resource sharing and elimination of duplication of efforts. Krimmel compared the operational costs of a consolidated police department for 8 rural towns in Pennsylvania with 8 similar municipal police departments in a neighboring county and found that the former provided equal service at 28% less cost (17). Another study comparing regional and municipal police forces in
Ontario, Canada, found that the former was more cost-efficient, had wider police coverage, lower crime rates, and improved police organization and services (20. Lithopoulous S, Rigakos GS. 2005. Neo-liberalism, community and police regionalization in Canada. Policing: An Int. J. Police Strateg. Manag. 28: 337–52).”

Still, the authors concede, “other studies have shown contrary results. In England and Wales, because crime remained local, small police services proved to be more efficient and effective (20). In a study of 1159 police services in the United States, smaller departments could assign fewer staff to administrative roles compared with larger police departments (20), thereby demonstrating a more efficient use of staff. Despite further shifts toward regionalization of police services after 9/11, when the federal government created the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and discontinued subsidies for local police, consolidation encountered barriers (20). Resistance naturally stems from fear of loss of local autonomy because change and consolidation can represent a threat to a community's identity (17). In rural areas, there is a perception that personally knowing the police officers in a town will facilitate assistance in times of need (38. Tully EJ. 2002. Regionalization or Consolidation of Law Enforcement Services in the United States. Natl. Exec. Inst. Assoc., Major Cities Chiefs Assoc. and Major County Sheriff's Assoc.). Thorny legal and fiscal issues include determining appropriate monetary contributions of each municipality to a regional operation, which in turn necessitates strict guidelines to determine fair allocation of funding (17).”

In public health and other realms, the authors conclude, “Adopting a regional approach could improve efficiency, offering opportunities to avoid duplication, share resources, coordinate efforts with state authorities, and achieve consistency at local, regional, and state levels (2, 22).”

Connecticut’s system of local control – our 169 cities and towns seem exorbitant except next to New Jersey’s some 560 jurisdictions ­– of course complicates regional approaches.  Yet costs and service demands increasingly dictate more serious pursuit of regionalism, both within states and among them (see, for example, the Regional Plan Association, Citistates and New England Futures).

On regionalization and smart growth in Connecticut, Tom Condon's April 27 Hartford Courant column, "We're Still Not Close to Green," merits attention:
“The magazine Popular Science recently rated America's top 50 greenest cities. How many cities from Connecticut made the list? The correct answer is none, as in zero, nada, bubkes, zilch. . . .”

Also see:

1000 Friends of Connecticut

Environment Connecticut  and ConnPIRG

Finally, on regionalism, under "Opinion Articles" on this website appear 1996 and 1995 Hartford Courant pieces that may be of interest.

10:58 pm edt 

Monday, May 19, 2008


In light of Connecticut's falling far short of its recycling goals (e.g., statewide we’re about halfway toward reduction/recycling goal of 58% by the year 2024), here is a New York Times article on San Francisco: 

May 7, 2008
A City Committed to Recycling Is Ready for More
"The mayor of San Francisco wants to make the recycling of cans, bottles, paper, yard waste and food scraps mandatory instead of voluntary, on the pain of having garbage pickups suspended." 

Connecticut's Council on Environmental Quality has documented this state's recycling shortfall, which is said to be so severe in New Haven that just 10 percent of its waste is recycled, one third of the rate in New York City and one seventh that of San Francisco, and trailing too Boston’s 16 percent rate, according to a Waste News survey cited in the May 7 Times article. Efforts to strengthen the bottle bill and use “single-stream” recycling may boost rates, at least capturing more low-hanging fruit.

A related Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute curriculum unit appears here.
7:05 am edt 

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Costs and Challenges of Prison and Rehabilitation
As Connecticut and New Haven debate criminal justice and the re-entry to society of former prisoners (who sometimes become homeless)-- amid tightening budget constraints -- below are links to several recent articles.

The New York Times, April 23, 2008
American Exception:  Inmate Count in U.S. Dwarfs Other Nations'
By Adam Liptak
"The U.S. has less than 5 percent of the world’s population but almost a quarter of its prisoners."

The week before, on April 18, Laurence Cohen, a Hartford Courant columnist, wrote about "Jobs For Ex-Offenders." http://www.courant.com/news/opinion/columnists/hc-jobsforcons.artapr18,0,3438290.column

 The New York Times soon afterward, on April 27, ran this article on Newark:

Seeking the Key to Employment for Ex-Cons
By Andrew Jacobs
"Newark’s two leading problems, crime and unemployment, are intertwined with the plight of the 2,300 men and women who come home from prison each year."

Tom Condon, another Hartford Courant columnist, wrote this May 4 account, "Recovery Homes Offer A Smarter Path Back":

"Connecticut's prison population hit an all-time high this year, but that wasn't the worst news. The real problem is who is in jail. Nearly 4,000 inmates have a diagnosis of mental illness. Nearly 3,000 are in prison for sale of possession of illegal drugs, and most of them struggle with addiction." http://www.courant.com/news/opinion/columnists/hc-plccondon.artmay04,0,926032.column

 The reading levels of prisoners and ex-prisoners
                  also was one topic at a recent Greater New Haven Literacy Coalition event described here: 
6:31 pm edt 

Archive Newer | Older