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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Testing the Broken Windows Theory

A report in this week's Economist explains that researchers in the Netherlands deliberately created controled settings as a series of field experiments designed to discover if signs of vandalism, litter and low-level lawbreaking could change the way people behave.
They found that they could, by a lot: doubling the number who are prepared to litter, trespass, or steal.
According to the Economist, the message for policymakers and police officers is that clearing up graffiti or littering promptly could help fight the spread of crime. Read more here. A full report on the experiment's findings is published in the current issue of the journal Science (subscription req'd).

Monday, November 17, 2008

Reclaiming Futures Everyday

This new blog just launched a few weeks ago: Reclaiming Futures Everyday.

The Reclaiming Futures campaign is a leader in the field of juvenile justice reform and teen drug treatment. This blog already has a wealth of useful information, and since it's drawing on the combined expertise of more than a dozen Reclaiming Futures sites and a great editorial team, I'm sure there's more good stuff to come.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Next Crisis For Cities? Part II

The current issue of Geography and Public Safety examines the relationship between the foreclosure crisis and crime trends. Very good reading. Thanks to Julius Lang for the link.

"In this issue, Michael Bess of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department describes a study his department conducted to examine foreclosures and their consequences in the Charlotte area. Erin Dalton, of the Department of Human Services in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, discusses how geographic information systems can be used to advise policy decisions related to the foreclosure crisis.

Several news stories in this issue provide an overview of how the foreclosure crisis has brought on problems in many cities across the nation. These stories highlight the difficulties that city governments have faced rebuilding neighborhoods in the wake of financial crises and describe the negative results of predatory lending.

The issue also uses the broken windows theory to demonstrate that cities experiencing blight and disorder as a result of foreclosures should react quickly, before the problem escalates. An article by Louis Tuthill of the National Institute of Justice describes the basics of what this theory entails, and a technical piece by Phil Mielke of the Redlands (California) Police Department demonstrates how to use geographic information systems to invigorate efforts to remove blight and graffiti in a city. Finally, Kurt Smith of the San Diego Sheriff’s Department provides a practitioners’ review of a new book that examines the theories of broken windows and collective efficacy from the vantage point of hardcore criminals."

Click Here for a PDF of the full issue.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

What now?

Worsening conditions across the international economy, the US economy, the local economy, and individual and household finances: economic stress seems to be on people's minds everywhere you look. Here are some resources that people can use in their own lives.

NEDAP, the Neighborhood Economic Development and Advocacy Project.

Bethex, designed as an alternative to pawnshops and check cashing stores, they operate a Main Branch in Mt. Hope, and a Mott Haven Branch in the Bronx Empowerment Zone.

Workforce 1, the city's main resource for job seekers.

Access NYC (Back-up link), this easy-to-use website helps you determine which government benefits you might be eligible for.

New York City Department of Consumer Affairs, Office of Financial Empowerment, a wealth of resources for managing and getting control over your personal finances.

And, here are some tips for getting organized.

As a city, we'll have to choose even more carefully how we use our limited resources. Here are a few documents for understanding the New York City Budget.

The short version: Understanding New York City's Budget. For more about the City and State budget, Read More.

My favorite thing about that document is a chart that compares the cost of different budget priorities. Here's how far $10 million goes towards a variety of different services - that amount would allow you to choose from one of any of the following:

Child Care: 1,300 subsidized day care slots (about 61,000 children enrolled in Administration for Children’s Services programs)

Education: 95 teachers (the city employs about 73,000 teachers)

Employment: 8,700 summer jobs for youth (about 20 percent of all jobs)

Fire: 23 new fire engines (there are a total of 205 fire engines)

Health: 200 school nurses (the city employs about 1,000 school nurses)

Homeless Services: 302 homeless family shelter units for a year (about 3 percent of the cost of sheltering families annually)

Libraries: 193 librarians (total of 1,292 librarians employed throughout system)

Parks: 250 city park workers (about 70 percent of full-time park maintenance workers)

Police: 125 police officers per year (the city employs about 36,000 police officers)

Prisons/Corrections: Incarcerating the average daily population of roughly 14,000 inmates in city jails for about 3 days

Public Assistance: The city portion of the annual Family Assistance grant for 4,800 families of three (there are about 87,000 families receiving Family Assistance)

Sanitation: 11 days of disposable of residential garbage

Seniors: 1.4 million lunches at senior centers (about 20 percent of center lunches served annually)

Street Resurfacing: 112 lane-miles of city streets (about 15 percent of total lane-miles resurfaced each year)

Tax Relief: Personal Income Tax savings of $4.80 per NYC taxpayer (on average)

And here is a separate guide to the capital budget: A Guide to the Capital Budget. Here is a breakdown of how far $10 million goes in the capital budget:

Housing: 100 units of housing for the homeless mentally ill

Transit: 6 high technology subway cars/25 hybrid diesel-electric buses

Sanitation: 54 dual-bin recycling trucks

Fire: 11 ladder trucks

Education: 7 classrooms

Transportation: Resurfacing 100 lane-miles of city streets

Environment: 8,000 feet of water mains (new construction)

Here is an interesting tool on the Gov. David Paterson has made available on the web. He wants to encourage the public to participate in a conversation on the choices that are required to reduce State spending. To that end, he has set up a Budget Calculator. It lets you play around with the numbers, adjusting each budget category and then submit your proposal for eliminating the State's budget gap. I've heard that some advocates don't like it because it only lets you make suggestions for spending reductions, and doesnt allow recommendations for increases in revenue. But I think the way the calculator is set up reflects Paterson's view that New York State, must reduce spending.

Finally, here is the detailed version of the City budget: the City's Budget Function Analysis document, and associated Mayor's Management Reports.

It's almost 500 pages, not counting the Management Reports, but once you start to figure out your way around the document, you can find out stated purpose and activity of each of the city's thousands of separate divisions, commands, bureaus and offices and exactly how many budgeted personnel and costs are assigned to each activity.

For example, the city budgeted $5.9 million and 130 positions for Parks Department activities across the city related to its PlanNYC initiative, and proposed to increase those allocations to $10.6 million and 140 positions for the upcoming fiscal year. In comparison, it budgeted $47.4 million and 59 positions for the Parks Opportunity Program, which provides employment opportunities in maintenance, security, and repair across the city for those entering the workforce, and will hold spending on the program virtually flat in the upcoming year.

For basic operations in the Bronx, Maintenance and Operations, "responsible for the maintenance, security and repair of all parks properties, vehicles and facilities in the Bronx, including municipal parkland," is budgeted at $25.2 million and 327 positions, and spending is planned to be reduced substantially, while keeping the head count the same, but making slight reductions to personnel costs, and substantially reducing other than personnel costs, bringing overall spending down to $19.2 million. For administration in the Bronx, the city budgets $2.7 million and 40 positions, which it will keep essentially unchanged in the budget for the upcoming year.