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Monday, March 31, 2008

Call for community courts to fight minor crime

Businesses in Dublin have called on the Government to introduce community courts to tackle anti-social behavior, otherwise known as 'lager lout' behavior. Article here.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Crime Trends

This article in the New Republic on crime issues and presidential politics was very interesting. This article from the New York Post reports a 10% overall increase in arrests in New York City for the past year, mostly misdemeanors and "quality of life" charges. Thanks to Greg Berman for the links.

From the New Republic article, I thought this passage really resonated with the problem-solving justice approach:

"Evidence from elsewhere suggests that deterrent signals from the police become even more powerful when backed by moral voices from the community. In an approach pioneered by John Jay College's David Kennedy, law enforcement forms alliances with neighborhood leaders, clergy members, and social-service providers. In troubled areas, the partners sit down face-to-face with gang members and drug dealers to send a clear message: If you stop offending, you will be welcomed by your neighbors and will get the help you need. If you continue breaking the law, you will be punished. Sometimes the police even share investigative files with offenders, showing they already have enough evidence to arrest but have chosen not to do so. The goal is not to build cases, but to restore order, as well as trust between the police and community members."

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Cutting funds for Prosecutors

Mayor Bloomberg's budget proposal includes a five percent cut in funding for the city's prosecutors (including a reduction of $2.7 million in the Bronx), and Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson has something to say about it in today's New York Post.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

More Reflections on Bonfire of the Vanities

This week, "The Reading Room," an online feature of the NYT's Book Review is hosting a discussion of Bonfire of the Vanities. What's changed since the book was written, what's still true? Here's some of what the participants have to say about the Bronx courts:

"The Jewish District Attorney in “Bonfire,” Abe Weiss, figures he’ll be the next mayor if he can use the case to win over black voters. Today the district attorney of the Bronx is the quiet Robert Johnson, a contained African-American who makes as few headlines as is humanly possible.

The flamboyant judge in the book was based not-so-loosely on the irascible Burton B. Roberts, at the time the chief administrative judge of State Supreme Court in the Bronx, who was so colorful that his face would literally turn red when he would lost his temper, which was often and generally with a distinct purpose. He retired a decade ago and there is nobody even vaguely like him in the Bronx today, or anywhere in the other four boroughs."

Previously we've commented on how the process of going through the "bookings" is portrayed in Bonfire, linked to interviews from the Times with several of the real-life people on whom principal characters in the novel were based, and posted reflections by Phil Bowen on reading the book while working in the Bronx courthouse.

Thoughts on Meaningful Community Service

This entry by a community resident on a blog maintained by the Seattle Post Intelligencer has some interesting musings on his neighborhood, city services and meaningful community service for offenders. Great reading: "Clean Up Your Act."

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

More on American Banknote Building and 1520 Sedgwick

This article from the Daily News has coverage of a celebration at the American Banknote Company Building featuring Borough President Adolfo Carrion and a performance by Arthur Aviles, including lots more details about plans for the building. Sustainable South Bronx is a supporter. Per Scholas is worried. The Citizens Advice Bureau, which runs the drop in homeless shelter says they're getting pushed out, although the Borough President says they'll receive assistance relocating.

And, it looks like low and mixed-income residents of 1520 Sedgwick (the reputed "birthplace of hip-hop") are waging a succesful fight to save their building, which is leaving the Mitchell-Lama program, and could go market rate (more here). Who could imagine DJ Kool Herc and Senator Chuck Schumer getting together to raise money? The goal is to purchase the building and keep in permanently affordable. You can find out more at their website:

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Now, another development in the field of "Search Engine Optimization (SEO)," the never ending process of refinement (and tug-of-war) between search engine operators and site operators. Google has introduced a "search within a site" feature. Read about here, on Google's blog, for the techie side, or here, in today's New York Times, for reactions.

Here on our blog, you can search by topic or keywords in the sidebar.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

New Blog at Center for Court Innovation

The Center for Court Innovation has inaugurated a new blog: "Random notes from the desk of Greg Berman," the Center's executive director. I think it should be a good source of information about comings and goings at the Center, and always an interesting read for folks in the criminal justice and public policy field. I'm sure whatever is coming across Greg's desk any given week is pretty fascinating, and I'm looking forward to reading more.

The Center also recently published the inaugural issue of the Journal of Court Innovation, edited by Greg Berman, Robert G.M. Keating, and Michelle S. Simon. It's a joint project of the Center, the New York State Judicial Institute, and Pace University, intended for court administrators, judges, lawyers, scholars, non-profit executives, executive and legislative branch officials, and those "on the front lines of the justice system." You can read it online (in PDF) here.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Bronx Women's Power Lunch

“I’m a Bronx girl, born and raised…..and my true desire is to inspire women to become more self-reliant and confident in their own abilities. We all have "it" within ourselves to do things that we never imagined we could.” Those were a few of the many inspiring words given by one of the honorees, Barbara Kavovit, owner of Barbara K. Enterprises, Inc.

She, along with two other honorees where recognized for their many accomplishments to their gender and community. This wonderful luncheon was hosted by the Bronx Borough President, Adolpho Carrion Jr, in conjunction with the Bronx Tourism Council and the Bronx Chamber of Commerce.

This was a celebration of women’s contribution to society, in particular to the Bronx and as I looked around the room, I saw so many amazing, phenomenal women. Our keynote speaker, Ms. Brenda Blackmon, shared with us her very own inspirations, her grandmother and her daughter, that encouraged her to pursue her dreams and give back to the next generation.

Adolpho Carrion Jr, spoke about the great impact that women have on the Bronx and our society.

Quality of Life: City Parks

"Having prostitutes and drug users fill a park when a community needs parks, goes against everything government is supposed to do in terms of providing services and protecting people." -Activist

Some parks, such as Central Park, Bryant Square Park, and Prospect Park are partly managed by private conservancies that raise money and hire workers independent of the Parks Department. Other major "regional" parks provide amenities for city residents at large. Increased funding in the past few years has gone towards capital improvements for waterfront parks, a major need in a city with long neglected waterfront access. However, the issue of maintenance and up-keep in the local pocket park or playground is a perennial neighborhood concern. And what of the long-neglected spaces that sometimes become "cozy corners" - places perceived, by reputation or reality to be unsafe and filled with drugs, prostitution and other problems.

This 2005 New York Times article surveys the issue of maintenance in City parks nicely, focusing especially on notorious University Woods in the Bronx. I wonder what an update on the issue in 2008 would report? For myself, conversations with Parks Department District supervisors as little as a year ago confirmed that the activities and concerns reported in the article are still an issue.

"On a recent weekend in University Woods, in University Heights, a man and woman were seen having sex against a tree. Encampments for homeless people were scattered in the underbrush. Several areas had been littered with hypodermic needles, used condoms, needle cleaning kits and wrappers for "Savage" and "TKO" brands of heroin. And piles of feces could be seen on staircases.

The only evidence of the park's benches were rivet holes in the ground. There were no garbage cans, lights, restrooms or staff workers. Visitors have reported seeing a dead goat and the skulls of various animals, apparently after they had been sacrificed.

Julio Calderon, 31, who was walking a large pit bull outside the park, said he never stepped inside University Woods, though he lives nearby. "The park is dangerous," Mr. Calderon said in Spanish. "People who are in there do things I don't want to see."

The parks commissioner said he would like to trade University Woods to a developer for more suitable park property, or to fence it off. "You have to be pragmatic about these things," Mr. Benepe said. The Bronx borough president, Adolfo CarrĂ­on Jr., agreed but called the park's current neglect a "disgrace." "University Woods cannot continue to be what it is," he said.

Not far away, in Highbridge Park, which stretches for two miles across Upper Manhattan, the scene was even more grim on a recent weekend. Huge sections of the 119-acre park set aside as natural areas have been taken over by homeless people who have built permanent shacks made of sheet metal and steel pipes driven into the earth. One of the park's residents is a heroin addict and prostitute who would give her name only as Joanne. Her makeshift house has a bed and a nightstand. She said she had lived there for 13 years. Men smoked crack cocaine a few feet from where a youth baseball game was being played."

And, here's an article from the Gotham Gazette about keeping track of crime in the city's parks.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Prostitution and Trafficking: What Happens in New York?

By now, the revelations regarding Governor Elliot Spitzer and a high-priced prostitution ring have been extensively covered in the media. Despite the disgraceful scandal and Spitzer's resignation, his legacy on the issue during his time in office is positive: he was viewed as an ally by advocates, and helped push forward legislation meant to help go after customers, pimps, and traffickers.

If there's a silver lining in this very dark cloud of scandal, it might be increased public attention to the issue of prostitution, possibly even a teachable moment? This editorial by Nicholas Kristof starts to point the way. ("Do as He Said," by NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF Published: March 13, 2008) He followed up with a Sunday Op-Ed, including a quote from Rachel Llyod of GEMS, a Bronx Community Solutions partner.

Kristof suggests that countries that have experimented with legalization have mostly gotten negative results. On the other hand a model in Sweden that goes after the demand by prosecuting "johns" may be promising. Hundreds of readers have chimed in with comments on his blog, On the Ground, which has some other interesting posts about prostitution and trafficking.

This weekend, the Daily News profiled the Midtown Community Court extensively in an informative if somewhat sarcastic editorial by Michael Daly.

[Known as] Manhattan's "King of Prostitution," [Judge Richard] Weinberg . . . insists defendants say "yes" rather than "yeah" and you had better not chew gum when you step before him. But you can count on some understanding if you are, say, a woman who fell into prostitution in her early teens then quit for 15years only to return to it after her furniture store went bust. Weinberg sent that woman for counseling at a program run with the Center for Court Innovation on the building's sixth floor."The staff can help you get out of that life," Weinberg told her the same day Spitzer resigned. "They're nice people up there."
It gives a good snapshot of how the New York City judicial system treats cases of prostitution (the more routine ones). It's also an issue we've been focusing on in the Bronx. You can see our findings on how Bronx cases are handled here.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Quality of Life: Street Vending

Low-scale street vending - think small businesses and entrepreneurs like hot-dog vendors, mango sellers, and stoop sales - are an essential part of safe, vibrant urban public space. On the other hand, bootleg merchandise, unlicensed vendors, and "loosie" cigarettes, not to mention open air drug sales, are a major quality-of-life problem. A charge we see frequently here in the Bronx is unlicensed vending or a tax code violation for selling cigarettes or other bootleg merchandise.

The issue presents a dilemma for government. Whenever the authorities seek to regulate and control informal urban behavior (including things like subway harassment), the risk exists that legal (even beneficial) behavior can also be restricted. I covered some recent developments here in New York City regarding vending, greenmarkets, and other related issues here.
The food vendors at soccer games in Red Hook Park (above) have been a neighborhood institution for decades, famous for selling tacos, huaraches and pupusas, but their future is apparently in doubt. An agreement described as a victory for the vendors was recently announced, guarantying their right to continue vending at the games, although the fine print seems a little more complicated.

Update 07/31/2008: Here's an article in the current issue of the Norwood News that details issues facing street vendors, both licensed and unlicensed, in the Bronx.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Opportunity NYC

Last night, I had the chance to attend a panel discussion as part of Baruch College Public Affairs Week featuring Linda Gibbs (the Deputy Mayor for Human Services) discussing the Opportunity NYC program, a bold experiment to test the idea of conditional cash transfers (CCT) in New York City. The idea is that low-income families receive cash rewards for completing certain positive activities, like attending parent-teacher conferences, getting health screenings, or passing Regent exams. Aubrey Fox commented on plans for a CCT program for New York City in this post from September 2006.

The leading thinker on the topic is Harvard economist Roland G. Fryer. Here's an article that talks about a recent visit he made to New York City and gives some information on his role in shaping policies here. The project in New York City is inspired in part by the very succesful Progresa program in Mexico and CCT programs in other countries.

Deputy Mayor Gibbs presentation at the Baruch event generated heated discussion and strong reactions from the assembled students and public policy professionals, perhaps fitting the adage that the best policy is one which offends liberals and conservatives equally. What excited me about the program was the willingness on the part of governement to experiment: to test a new idea even though success isn't certain.

Should the Opportunity NYC experiment show that CCT isn't effective in New York City, that would not necessarily be a bad outcome. All of us who are searching for solutions to the problem of poverty will be able to rule out one "big idea" and devote our energy to other promising possibilities. The space to innovate and even fail is rare in government. The Center for Court Innovation convened a discussion on what it means when innovations fail: "In general, it is human nature to shout about new ideas that have succeeded - while failure is discussed in hushed whispers, if at all . . . If we want to encourage criminal justice officials to test new ideas and challenge conventional wisdom, we need to create a climate where failure is openly discussed." Read more about that project here.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

New BID for the Bronx

On December 31, 2008, Mayor Bloomberg signed legislation authorizing the creation of a new Business Improvement District for Southern Boulevard in the Hunts Point/Longwood section of the Bronx. You can view the press release here (courtesy of the Community Board 2 website).

This is an important retail commercial area for the borough, but it has problems with disorder and an environment in need of restoration. Bronx Community Solutions has been sending community service crews to the area on a regular basis.

Here's a map of the area.

View Larger Map

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Reform in China

I just returned from a fascinating 6-day trip to China, where I attended a conference on efforts to reform the system of punishments for low-level offenders. Read More...

The conference was co-organized by the United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights and an elite academic institution based in Beijing, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. China is under increasing pressure to change its legal system to conform to international norms, which include providing basic due process rights to defendants. The challenge is that according to Chinese law, many offenses that we would consider misdemeanors are not considered "crimes" and are not processed by the court system. Instead most drug users, prostitutes and petty thieves are punished by administrative agencies that are controlled by the police. In practice, this means that low-level offenders are given very harsh punishments, such as three-year sentences to work camps, through China's "re-education through labor" system. It also means that there is a potential loophole to work out: do international human rights standards for defendants apply to a system that is not judicial in nature?

The debate, then, focuses on whether the alternative, non-judicial track for minor offenses should be reformed or abolished completely. Abolition is unlikely at this point, so the question becomes how the system should be reformed. Despite its rich and very long history, China has a very young legal system: it was only re-created in 1979, the same year that China officially opened to the West. Amazingly enough for a country with 1.3 billion residents, China only has about 130,000 trained lawyers, fewer than the state of California. (To put that number in perspective, however, China had 3,000 lawyers in 1978).

It was very exciting (and at times, frustrating) to be in a country that is still grappling with very basic questions about the law. China has very little written law and what is written down is vague and open to interpretation. The unfortunate thing for legal reformers is that China also has a very rule-bound tradition, so this leads to considerable paralysis. In China, if the government doesn't expressly allow something to happen, people are very reluctant to pursue change. For example, I kept getting questions about the legal authority the Center has to pursue its reforms. It was a hard question to answer, because it's not really how we think: generally speaking, we try to change things unless the law expressly prohibits us from doing so!

Much of the discussion at the conference I attended centered around how crime itself is defined. Although almost all of the participants felt that extending judicial review to minor offenses was important to prevent abuses of police power, there was also concern about the potential stigmatizing effects of the "criminal" label. Order and conformity are more important values in China than freedom and individual rights: being called a criminal could result in someone losing a marriage, a job and a place in the community. Therefore, there are some advantages to maintaining a separation between "criminal" and "non-criminal" offenses and keeping cases out of the court system. Add to this the reality that China's courts would be overwhelmed if minor cases were added to dockets: one estimate I heard is that adding re-education through labor cases to the courts would result in a 50 percent increase in the criminal caseload.

In addition to attending the conference, I also participated in three roundtable events organized by a non-profit organization, International Bridges to Justice, that has a branch in China run by two former Manhattan Legal Aid attorneys. There I met with academics and practitioners who are wrestling with issues involving youth crime. In China, the law allows for non-custodial sentences for young people if the family or school agrees to discipline the offender. The problem is that families and schools are often reluctant and/or unable to take on this burden. There is very little tradition of "community" supervision in China, so there is no one available to pick up the slack. Schools are very exam-bound and elitist, so they have little interest in helping problem kids. Families are under tremendous economic pressure, and many young people are "migrants" who have moved from rural areas to urban areas without their families in search of a job. (About 13 percent of Chinese citizens are migrants, and the migrant issue has become a huge political, social and moral issue for the country.) [Here are some first person stories about rural to urban migration in different parts of the world, from the BBC. -Ben]

One final note: I came away from China with a very different impression of the country and its citizens that I had before I arrived. It's true that censorship exists in China (for example, a CNN report on Tibet I was watching in my hotel room was suddenly blacked out mid-broadcast) and the national leaders are not democratically elected. Nonetheless, I was incredibly impressed by the openness to new ideas and sincerity of the people I met to improving conditions in the country. For all their problems, there is a real sense of optimism and energy about China, and government officials seem to be genuine in pursuing reforms in all areas of Chinese life, albeit in a technocratic way. This means, among other things, that there are some great opportunities for the Center in advising China as it tries to re-build its legal system.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Represent: The Voice of Youth in Care

Represent is the "Voice of Youth in Care" publishing original stories and reporting by youth in the New York City foster care system. The stories collected on the website are a treasure trove of insights on what young people in the foster care system (and young people in general) think about the issues affecting them. Go to the site to check it out, or get links to some of the stories from recent issues, Read More.

Brick by Brick
Before I got adopted, my mom and I had to build a relationship
Building a Family
How counseling can help you adjust

Leaving Her Behind
I love my mom, but I can’t live with her

Someone to Rely On
Figuring out who’s got my back
No Stone Unturned
Finding lifelong connections for teens
‘I Just Didn’t Have Anybody’
Foster Care Alumni of America's deputy director explains how she found her own supports
Getting What You Need
What your agency should be doing before you age out

Finding Your Passion
An interview with basketball star Alonzo Mourning
Writing My Own Script
I had to leave my family to find myself
A Man of Many Names
My alter egos help me handle my life
Life in a New World
In America, I became someone I didn't want to be

My Summer Hustle
I played the drug game, and lost
What's Your Hustle?
Stealing from cars
Making Paper
I sell my stories on the street
Going Legit
Trading in your hustle for the 9 to 5
Five Ways to Get Paid
A money-making manual

I loved being high on heroin, but I couldn’t control it
A Fine Line
When does experimentation become addiction?
What Drugs Do to You
(Even the legal ones)
My Battle to Quit
Rehab helped me give up weed...for a while
Taking It With You
A drug treatment program that follows you home

Graduation Day
To get that diploma, I had to lose the attitude
Finding My Way Home
Getting help for my eating disorder has been a long journey
Starting To Feel Again
Where eating disorders come from, and how to recover

I Think These Drugs Are Daddy's
My father's an addict, but I won't give up on him
Something You Can’t Fix
What you should know if your parent has a substance abuse problem
House of Cards
My mom's addiction makes for a very shaky relationship
Making It On My Own
I lost my mom to drugs
Does Rehab Work?
Explaining drug treatment
The Parent's Side
Love Isn't Written in a Court Order

My Street Brothers
Running wild with my friends helped me forget my pain
My Happy Place
I found a new perspective at church
Playing for a Dream
Basketball keeps me feeling good
Letting It Out
Poetry keeps me calm

And, here's a link to a highly rated book about what happens to foster children when they "age out" On Their Own: What Happens to Kids When They Age Out of the Foster Care System?

Monday, March 10, 2008

Audacious Ideas

Baltimore residents (from academics, wonks, program administrators, and high school students to federal judges) take the chance to guest post on this blog maintained by the Open Society Institute. Big visions...simple ideas...topics include drug addiction treatment, education, fairness and justice. Go to Audacious Ideas.

In the latest post, Brenda Blatton Blom, Director, Clinical Programs, University of Maryland School of Law, proposes neighborhood justice centers similar to the Red Hook Community Justice Center, with an emphasis on conflict resolution and legal assistance.

Changes in Hunts Point

The American Banknote Company Building is probably the most prominent and important building in Hunts Point. It houses a mix of artists, manufacturers, community groups like Sustainable South Bronx, and a successful homeless shelter - the Living Room. Now a new developer has plans for installing a museum and turning the building into a destination arts space that could be part of a turnaround and revitalization of Hunts Point. In our contacts with the community, we at Bronx Community Solutions have gotten some idea of the issues at stake, and heard concerns from community residents about what the changes will bring. For myself, I'm still trying to gain a better understand of the situation and the plans.

An article today in the Times gives some details, especially focusing on what the fate of the homeless shelter at the site will be. Hunts Point, like Newark and other places is an area that still faces serious poverty and problems with crime, but may be poised for an economic and real estate revitalization. I'll be curious to learn more, and it certainly appears that questions about the future use of this building will be central to changes going on in the neighborhood.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Uh-oh...Greenmarkets: Boon or Scourge?

Green Market - practical way to improve nutrition/public health in urban communities? Or yuppie scourge? It turns out at least some of the City's Greenmarkets push out small businesses (primarily operated by entrepenurial immigrants), such as hot dog vendors. See article today in NYT. (Link)

The newest Greenmarket to open in the Bronx (that I've read about) was at 138th Street and Cypress Avenue. (Link)

The Green Markets are operated by the Council on the Environment of New York City (CENYC). CENYC also runs great education programs: We've collaborated with them on several recycling outreach and education street fairs, and even took our clients to help out at a big charity benefit festival concert on Randalls Island. (Link)

I wonder how the City's plan to inaugurate a licensed program for 1000 produce and vegetable stalls targeted to the areas of the city without access to fresh fruits and vegetables relates to this Greenmarket controversy (critics have raised similar concerns about competition with established grocery stores). (Link)

I came across this fascinating study by the Milano School (PDF). It's a best practice case study on how a community-based agency can partner with government to transform use of an urban public space.

What kind of low level quality life crimes does the Bronx Court system deal with? Many of Bronx Community Solutions' client's face low-level charges that expose them to a few days jail and a disorderly conduct plea or an administrative code violation for unlicensed vending - often for selling "loosie" cigarettes or bootlegs.

I've also seen concerns arise related to this issue at Precinct Community Council meetings. Several South American (Spanish-speaking) immigrants working as street vendors advocated for by a professional community organizer brought their greiveances to the Captain concerning harrasment and excessive write-ups by NYPD around the "Hub" area on 149th Street, at a meeting of 40th Precinct Council.

Friday, March 07, 2008

B-Ball League Celebrates Second Season

More from Case Manager Judah Zuger:

This past Wednesday we celebrated the completion of the second season of our basketball league. The championship game was a very competitive match between the NYCHA Youth squad and PBA (a law enforcement team that travels the country). We were worried some of our youth teams wouldn't be able to compete against some of the serious teams fielded by the NYPD - but in the end, the youth team ended up winning the championship game.

After the game we gathered for our awards ceremony. The award ceremony is where we break bread and congratulate our community partners. After receiving his award (A team jersey signed by all the officers and framed) community affairs officers Feliciano spoke eloquently "I grew up in the Bronx, I know the about the tension between the youth and the police, and now I'm a cop. There’s a lack of communication and lots of confusion. Basketball leagues like this help.” The idea of bringing youth and police together through sports and recreation isn't new: leagues like the PAL have been around for years. What our league seeks to do is build on that model while working closely with the youth to help them access services (educational, vocational, counseling etc.) The follow up is the key. Additionally, the celebration and award ceremony gives young people a sense of accomplishment which they need to gain confidence in an ever competitive world.

Edward Smithzer, an assistant coach with B.C.S. said “The young people see the way the officers carry themselves, and how professionally they played. The goal is for them to model that behavior." After all of the teams where presented with there awards we dug into dinner and had a great time hanging out together.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Youth Giving Back to Youth: Part II

From Case Manager Judah Zuger:

On February 26th, Bronx Community Solutions held its second annual basketball clinic for Youth ages 7-12. It was held at the NYCHA Bronxdale Community Center which is a new state of the art facility located at 1000 Rosedale Avenue deep in the heart of the Bronx.

The clinic had five stations that teach the fundamentals: shooting, dribbling, defense, rebounding, and free throws. Judging by the smiles on the kids faces they had a great time. The kids asked if we would be back the following week. The staff enjoyed themselves too. We had local police officers as the team captains as well as members of the Bronx Community Solutions basketball team (former clients and other youth, ages 16-24). In field like criminal justice where a lot of interactions are cold and impersonal, it feels great to connect with youth and just have fun! In addition, it allows our 16-24 year old's to give back to their community in a positive way.

There where no winners or losses in this tournament. All of the kids received goodie bags with toys and then had pizza together. The overarching theme of the league, bridging the gap between youth, police, and community, was alive and well. By the end of the night the kids where tired out as their parents came to pick them up.

Old Courthouse to Become a School

This Bronx landmark, a few blocks from the Criminal Court complex where Bronx Community Solutions is based, is being transformed into a new school. Read the article today in the New York Times. For some neighborhood history, point of view from a member of the Bronx Community Solutions project who used to work in the old courthouse, and a related editorial about the old Family Court building in Staten Island, Read More.

From the Times article:

"The Melrose and adjacent Morrisania neighborhoods were among the hardest hit during a wave of arson in the South Bronx in the 1970s and ’80s. But the courthouse’s landmark status spared it from demolition, and at various times developers and community activists proposed turning it into television studios, medical offices, a community center and a Puerto Rican museum. A community group, Nos Quedamos, which means “we stay,” is building much of the affordable housing in the area and tried unsuccessfully to buy the courthouse several times. Now thousands of units of affordable housing are planned for the surrounding area, and Boricua College, a four-year college, is building a campus next to the courthouse."

The Bronx Academy of Promise Charter School and will be run by Imagine Schools, a nonprofit organization based in Arlington, Va., which runs about 70 schools in the United States, in partnership with with Urban Youth Alliance, a private nonprofit group and Bronx Community Solutions partner.

A member of the Bronx Community Solutions team, Alfred Siegel (Deputy Director of the Center For Court Innovation), started out as an Assistant District Attorney in the old Courthouse, and he says the stories about having to choose between stifling heat, with the windows closed, or a noisy racket from the nearby train line, with the window's open, mentioned in the article, are true. However, the article describes some uncertainty about when the old building closed: "It has been vacant since the 1970s, although the exact year is unclear. The current owner, Henry Weinstein, said neighbors told him it had been empty since 1972, though the city puts the date at 1978." Says Al: "It was still in use! I was there until the year the new Courthouse opened (1977)." Of course the year the new building opened was a momentous one for the Bronx - the Blackout, the Son of Sam, "the Bronx is Burning," and 24-hour arraignments for the new courthouse.

Lots of construction for new schools is underway in the Bronx. On the other hand, some schools are closing (link).

Finally, this editorial from the Staten Island Advance arguing for the preservation of the old Family Court building there, published last November, is an interesting read. "Reminiscent of small but stately rural courthouses, the building is clearly inadequate for the Staten Island of today. It must, however, be spared the wrecker's ball because it is a magnificent piece of this county's unique past, a sane, nurturing judicial setting in which broken people were always embraced and their shattered lives gently repaired."

Drug Gang in Norwood

According to the Norwood News, twenty-two members of a violent drug gang were recently arrested as part of a federal indictment. The "DeKalb Avenue Crew" sold crack, powder cocaine, and marijuana in the vicinity of 213th Street and Dekalb Avenue - a small triangle of residences wedged between Woodlawn Cemetery and Van Cortlandt Park:

View Larger Map

You can view street level shots of the area (from Bainbridge and Jerome Avenues) in "Streetview."

Newark Cool?

Could Newark join ranks of "cool cities" attracting the young, highly educated "creative class" (formerly known as yuppies)?

"Though its struggle against blight and crime is hardly past, some residents say Newark is enjoying the kind of psychic rebirth that has helped transform scores of other downtrodden cities into nesting grounds for the young, the creative, and, with time, the well-heeled. Adjectives like bohemian and funky are increasingly tossed around, and even some skeptics are starting to believe in the moniker Newark adopted two decades ago: Renaissance City."

This article is from last May - I wonder what an updated report on the situation would say?

BBC: Urban Planet

The BBC has amazing coverage of emerging urban trends worldwide. For more links, Read More.

Moving to the city: Rural migrants across the world speak about life in the 'big smoke'

The world in 2050: Leading experts give us their forecasts for the urban future

Access all areas: Urban athletes defy city limits to reclaim streets and rooftops

Paying the price: Comparing the environmental cost of urban and rural life

Making Cities Work: Detroit, Moscow, China, Mexico City

Pictures: Hidden views of cities from the people who live there

Urban explosion: Trace the past and future expansion of the world's biggest cities with an interactive map.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Youth Focused Community Service in Harlem

I thought I would share this great community service event from our partners in Harlem. From Project Director Chris Watler:

"Hard H.A.T.S (Helping Adolescents Think Strategically) is a youth leadership program that promotes youth service and civic engagement. Under the leadership of Ivan Deadrick, one of my deputies responsible for youth programs, and our Youth Justice Project staff, Rachel Davidson, Elizabeth Garcia and Damon Dobbs-Brown, Hard H.A.T.S members investigate critical issues impacting youth and the community, and develop service projects to address those issues. The service projects attract other youth volunteers, but also engage mandated youth from our court programs who must perform community service.

This past MLK Day Harlem Hard H.A.T.S joined a coalition of other youth organizations convened by Children for Children to organize a mass service event attracting hundreds of youth and adults at P.S 57 in East Harlem. There were many service booths at the event where youth leaders provided opportunities for children to do service projects (my son and his friend enjoyed the table where kids could make little stuffed socks with cat nip and cotton as toys for cats in shelters). Hard H.A.T.S youth organized a letter writing booth on the issue of school violence at the event.

Leading up to the event, Hard H.A.T.S youth investigated the issue of school violence. They discussed how the issue affects themselves and other youth they know. After identifying people whom they felt could make the most impact with regards to the issue (besides themselves of course!), they drafted a form letter that could be sent to key education and political leaders. The letter suggested that leaders look to support conflict resolution programs in schools as a cost effective approach for dealing with violence.

Youth and adult visitors to the booth learned about the issue from Hard H.A.T.S members. Large graphs demonstrating the increase in suspension rates in NYC schools and the increased use of metal detectors and cost for security were on display. Visitors could choose to sign one of the form letters or write their own letter on school violence prevention. Hard H.A.T.S members were on hand to assist children with their letters. Throughout the day youth spoke with over 100 community members and collected 60 letters!

The MLK Project served as a kick-off to the 'Semester of Service,' an initiative sponsored by Youth Service America and the Corporation for National and Community Service."

"Truancy Detectives"

View a TV news feature on truancy in Hartford that includes Judge Cofield and the Hartford Community Court. Follow the Link, then select "Truancy Detectives - 2/25"

What Makes A Workplace Blog Worth While?

"Anil Dash, a blogger at Six Apart, which makes blogging software, said the evolution in Wal-Mart’s thinking about blogs was typical. 'You start with this total lockdown, suits read everything, one post a month model,' he said. 'Then you evolve. A year later, you get one that is more open. A year after that, they start to do something that is far more authentic.' " Read the whole article Wal-Mart Tastemakers Write Unfiltered Blog. Thanks to Aubrey Fox for the link.