I’ve been thinking a lot about problems that have become insurmountable in Austin around closing schools, density, and paying for the decay of infrastructure.
One big problem in a lot of cities is the shrinking populations in neighborhood schools. Most neighborhoods are built for families. As the houses are finished a family moves in. Their kids go to school. Every house on the street seems to have a family. The common thinking in Austin is that DINKs (dual-income no kids) come into a neighborhood and start pushing families out of single-family homes by paying a lot for them. Or that the houses are too small for families. I think these might have their place, but I think there’s a more organic reason. Home owners age. Their kids grow up. At some point a neighborhood shifts from every house having kids, to the minority having kids.
My neighborhood is losing population. You could see that as being caused by DINKs moving in, but they seem to be holding steady. One of my neighbors is in his seventies or eighties. Another just saw his only child go off to college. Another is in hospice care. Two adjacent houses and mine hold children. Only the house across the street has those accursed DINKs. All of these houses would have had kids in the late-sixties when they were built. This seems like the most natural possible progression for a neighborhood, and all of my older neighbors are not going to die at the same time so we’re not going to see another massive rush of kids, so what’s the solution for this perfectly normal neighborhood progression?
One idea I’ve been playing around with in my brain are paired schools. Each time a school is built it is paired with another geographically close school. These two schools automatically have their boundaries reanalyzed every 5 years (preferably by a computer program that can do things like optimize bus routes), and will be up for automatic closure or consolidation every 10 years if their utilization dips below 80%.
Rather than the current system where politically powerful parents have an incentive to essentially create private neighborhood schools with few students by keeping existing boundaries, this would create a system where parents would constantly be scrambling to be more inclusive. To get boundaries that include more students, and to encourage dense housing and apartments, lest at the end of 10 years their school automatically get closed or merged.
By building this system into the school districts standard operating procedures it would avoid surprises and the sort of uprisings that have recently been seen in Austin where parents feel like this has suddenly been dumped on them.
This could ultimately also be used for things like neighborhood pools and community centers as well.
I had something else on my run, but I’ve forgotten it. What do you think? Would this work, or would it be hijacked the same way school closures are hijacked now?