Improvements in Providence, pedalling in Portland and exporting education from Brazil.
Capital of the smallest state in the country, the Rhode Island city of Providence is beset with challenges. Unemployment and poverty rates are high and the city’s schools have a particularly dismal record. Less than half of its fourth-graders were deemed proficient in maths or reading on a statewide test.
Things are looking up, though, thanks to the efforts of Mayor Angel Taveras, a Providence native who entered office in 2011 and is trying to improve prospects for youngsters. “I know that education is transformative,” he says. “I know this because it transformed my life.” Indeed, after going through a federal school readiness programme for low-income families, he went on to Harvard.
Taveras has won plaudits – and a $5m (€3.8m) grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies – for a jazzy initiative to boost youngsters’ language skills by using digital language processors to record and analyse the number of words children hear at home. Families will then be coached on how to develop their child’s vocabulary.
Taveras also wants to fix Providence’s failing schools, and the city has created a management nonprofit to direct this. “Providence is moving in the right direction,” says Brown University education expert Kenneth Wong. “Taveras is a very pragmatic and, I think, very open-minded city leader.”
Taveras has had other successes, slashing a $110m (€84m) deficit with some tough, wide-ranging cuts. But he’s also proposed a $114m (€85.9m) tram project to connect downtown with medical and educational institutions and a bid for state governor is in the offing.
After two years in city hall, he says the most important thing that he’s learned is that you can’t please everyone. “One of the things I tell my staff is that we’re going to get criticised no matter what we do, so let’s get criticised for doing the right thing.”
Concerned by the lack of Caribbean diplomats in high-profile positions outside the region, Trinidad and Tobago is opening a new diplomatic academy at Jamaica’s University of the West Indies in September.
As the Portland city commissioner in charge of transportation, Steve Novick oversees a system renowned for cycling and trams but faced with nagging problems.
Portland is considered one of the US’s best cities for transport. So what’s the problem?
Money. To maintain our roads as they are, we spend $10m (€7.6m) a year. To fix all the system’s shortcomings, we’d need $85m (€64m) annually. Meanwhile, revenues from petrol taxes have fallen as less people drive. The ideal Portland cycling network would cost about $600m (€450m).
Is it fair to say that Portland’s impressive reputation for cycling isn’t entirely deserved?
Hardly. We have more people commuting by bicycle than anywhere in the country and the bike-crash index is on a downward trend.
Where will the money for improvements come from?
The answer might include a special city petrol tax and some form of tax that non-drivers would pay. But we must convince people that investing in transport saves money in other ways.
Bogotá’s up-and-coming Chapinero neighbourhood is famous for its trendy restaurants, bars and shops but recently it’s become known as Colombia’s aerospace hub. In 2007, four engineers founded Sequoia Space, the country’s first company dedicated to building miniature satellites.
Since then, Sequoia has caught the attention of governments and private companies in the region and has clients in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, where it is currently working on an UAP-SAT satellite that has been commissioned by the Alas Peruanas University. It is also in the process of building a 4.5kg observation satellite for the Colombian airforce.
Brazil’s educational soft power potential is growing, thanks to an ambitious new project that will help Brazilian universities expand into other Lusophone (Portuguese-speaking) countries.
So far 20 Brazilian universities, including the University of São Paulo, have agreed to send professors and researchers to Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, São Tomé and Príncipe, Angola, Mozambique and Timor-Leste in order to train educators and develop curriculums.
The €2m investment will finance 45 projects that include a new master’s degree in education in Angola and the implementation of the first socio-environmental agronomy course at the University of Cape Verde.
Date: 27 September
Candidates: Aruba’s last elections, in 2009, delivered all but one of the seats in its parliament to either the ruling Aruban People’s Party led by prime minister Mike Eman, or their opponents, the People’s Electoral Movement.
Issues: Mostly the perennials of small Caribbean islands: encouraging tourism while managing the consequences of tourism; trying to limit an over-reliance on imports.
Monocle comment: Whatever the result of the election, it would certainly be inspiring to see Aruba achieve its stated desires of complete energy independence as well as a zero carbon footprint by 2020.