Our region prides itself in bold, progressive leadership. New ideas for a new south. Wake County Public Schools has, for decades, led that charge with attempting to provide equitable opportunities for our youth through taking a long held assumption – that the rich kids get the good schools – and saying this is not the ideal to which our community stands for. Through providing busing options for families in less affluent pockets, the county has worked to equalize the playing field for every child to attend any school no matter their socio-economic status.
And yet, in the spirit of bold and progressive ideas, we’d like to challenge our community to once again rethink our policies because the system we’ve created is not just and it is not equal. A child should not spend hours on end in the morning and the evening being bused to a school 20 miles from their front porch. An equitable and just system would provide an opportunity for all children to play – to freely and organically experience life beside their neighbors and friends until that dinner bell rings calling them home each night. Instead, in the name of equity, we’ve funneled these children into cars at the expense of equality – giving every single child what should be most cherished in their adolescence. Time to play, time to feel the sun on their cheeks and time to spend experiencing life as a child. What if instead of shipping children around like a good or service, like a proverbial box to be checked, we did something much more simple. We built our communities to be equitable and diverse from the start?
Right now we are zoning our communities in a way that promotes economic exclusion and silos families to create inequitable paths forward for our children. We’ve tried to reconcile that by busing them across the county. This forces long trips for children when they should be out enjoying life – as a child. Some of the most important steps to initial independence for a child can be the act of walking or biking home from school – yet we’ve created a meta system where not only is this a hostile and often unsafe option for any child but an impossibility for many. We are taking these opportunities for independence and growth away from our children by forcing a system where long bus routes or car trips are a mandatory component for all youth to have access to a critical component of upward mobility – a strong and robust education.
If we ever want to create an equitable community – it doesn’t start with busing children for hours on end. It starts with providing parcels in every neighborhood, every school zone, for all housing types and all incomes. Our land use, to date, has created affluent pockets and pockets of need. Large tracts of single family zoning will always lead to exclusion through preventing mixed income and mixed housing units from having a place in our community fabric. Instead, these “lesser than” housing options get pushed further out where cars are critical for economic mobility, predicating a more segmented and inequitable community fabric. To date, Raleigh has shown significant difficulty being able to demonstrate upward mobility for residents of all socioeconomic backgrounds – this must change if we wish to build an inclusive place for all.
And Raleigh, if you’re reading this, this starts with you. With you saying yes – I want that child that doesn’t look like my child to be our neighbor, because I know our community will be richer and better for it. It starts with saying – yes, in my backyard. To all housing types and all incomes. What do we value as a community? We say the distance a child has to travel to get to a school they can thrive in is a good indicator of our values, and to date, we’re a long way off from the just and equitable fabric every single child deserves as their starting point for success.