Scholar perspective By | Carrie Makarewicz, Marisa Westbrook, and Ryanne Ototivo
Time is one of the most important resources we have. When families have nearby or accessible resources, they save time and money. Unfortunately, families in under-resourced neighborhoods experience the converse: long, expensive, tiresome, stressful, and even unsafe trips to all their destinations. This daily travel burden, coupled with the inability to pay for other people’s time, and the significant time required to coordinate more distant and time-consuming travel to common places, e.g., parks, schools, grocers, personal services, and friends, creates “time poverty”.
Time poverty can have significant impacts on students and their parents. Students lack time for extracurricular activities, homework, and adequate sleep, making it difficult to participate in their classes. Parents might reduce work hours to take their kids to schools in other neighborhoods, or conversely, they may increase work hours to afford the extra transportation costs. Both options reduce a parent’s time, money, or energy for other important activities. In Makarewicz’s study of 70 families in Oakland, CA1, she found that parents with a plethora of nearby resources and well-resourced schools had more time to care for their children, involve their children in extra activities, and engage in their children’s learning. Parents in lower resourced neighborhoods had less time for their own health and well-being, educational activities with their kids, and events at their children’s schools. It is these types of location-related disparities that contribute to the higher levels of “supplementary education” that children in higher income families and neighborhoods often receive. Numerous studies have documented that external influences explain two-thirds of the income-based student “achievement gap”, and that supplemental activities are the bulk of these external resources.
At least a century of research has documented these education gaps, and many other consequences for the residents of under-resourced communities. Businesses disregard these communities as unsuitable or unprofitable locations, landlords frequently let their buildings deteriorate, and public agencies have placed destructive and toxic facilities in them, while sometimes cutting or neglecting other public services, such as schools, recreation centers, parks, and transit service. These market and public sector decisions cause and exacerbate health problems and limit opportunities for greater well-being and social mobility.
But the location and quality of essential public goods and services, such as public schools, should not be determined by market-oriented or strict budgetary decisions that use narrow definitions of costs and benefits. Our societal commitments to equity, equality, and fair treatment demand that all communities have well-resourced and high-quality public goods and services. Unfortunately, many of our public goods have become victims of policies that force them to compete, cover their costs, or self-fund “extras” through fundraisers, higher fees, and other non-tax revenues. Further, policies are too often made in isolation, focusing on one facet of the public good, like school choice, without supplying the supports required to make it successful, such as transportation.
For all students to learn and develop, they and their parents need convenient, affordable, or free transportation options throughout the day, a sufficient number of schools that meet their needs, including the school in their community, and other nearby activities, goods, and services. At the same time, public agencies need integrated and detailed scenario tools that use both education and urban planning data to understand how school choice, new charter schools, changing student demographics, neighborhood housing markets, gentrification, and public budgets interact to affect the resources and quality of public goods in each neighborhood, as well as the time budgets of residents.
Such analyses will likely show that many neighborhoods lack sufficient resources, and that their schools may close due to enrollment thresholds. To address these deficiencies, public, nonprofit, and community members should work together on community development plans supported by community organizing.
Rather than closing schools or letting them operate with inadequate resources, other government and nonprofit agencies need to support and work with schools and school districts, building on the collective efforts in the pandemic and the current discussions about equitable approaches to funding and operating public transit and other public services.
Ironically, while other public services are moving to community models, recognizing the benefit of proximity, urban school districts have been forced to move away from neighborhood schools and to cut extra services. When communities lose their school, they lose more than a school. They also lose convenience, time, community building,
and other essential resources, such as information on community services. Community-school partnerships can help to prevent these losses so that time poverty and
location-based school quality do not have to be the norm.
Carrie Makarewicz, PhD is an associate professor in Urban and Regional Planning at CU Denver. She researches the implications for individuals and families from the interactions among infrastructure investments, private development, and public policies with a focus on public and active transportation, affordable housing, public schools, and community development.
Ryanne Ototivo is a doctoral student in City and Regional Planning at CU Denver. She studies the transportation needs of children and their families with a focus on equitable access to public schools and early care and education programs.
Marisa Westbrook, MPH is a doctoral student in Health and Behavioral Sciences at CU Denver. She studies investment in neighborhoods, the impact on the health and well-being of residents.