Students, community members discuss improving city

The weekend’s rain didn’t stop more than 100 students and community members from discussing ways to make Fort Worth shine.The Center for Civic Literacy conference Saturday brought forth ideas such as the importance of voting, disaster response and ways to eliminate traffic congestion, which would help solve some of the problems facing Fort Worth.

Paul Geisel, chairman of the Fort Worth Transportation Authority, said Fort Worth residents should work to control pollution. He said the period between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. is when air becomes most harmful in the city because of excess traffic.

“We are going to have to change our habits,” Geisel said. “We have to change our transportation system.”

He said Brewer High School, which is close to TCU, won’t have athletics during this critical period because 50 percent of the athletes would need to be hospitalized because of the air pollution.

Geisel said that if everyone in Fort Worth eliminated one trip per day, we could improve traffic congestion by half.

Fort Worth native and TCU alumna Mitzi Boyd said the prospect of clean air motivates her because she developed adult asthma several years ago.

She said she found Geisel’s PowerPoint presentation illustrating Fort Worth’s pollution problem stunning.

“This visual just blew me out of the water,” Boyd said. “I’m freaked out.”

Other audience members’ interests were sparked by Fort Worth’s public art program, which is designed to enhance the city’s public spaces with visual art by using community input.

“I’m really interested in the art program,” said Laura Jewell, a freshman political science major.

Jewell said she didn’t realize the opportunities the art program provided for students.

Martha Peters, public art director for the Arts Council of Fort Worth and Tarrant County, said students are encouraged to participate in the program by voicing their ideas and using their talents.

“Public art has to involve the citizens, otherwise it’s not public,” Peters said.

Other speakers stressed the importance of student involvement in the community being vital to the community’s development as well as the student’s academic development.

“Students who are civically engaged do better in school,” said Peter Levine, deputy director of the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at the University of Maryland. “Less students drop out because (civic involvement) is rewarding.”

He said students should speak out more because they have different interests than adults and their ideas are underrepresented because not enough of them vote. He said TCU students make up part of the country and should let their viewpoints be heard.

“The country is red and blue and partly purple too,” Levine said.

As well as students, Levine said, Hispanic people’s ideas aren’t represented either because they are less involved in politics.

Jewell said she was surprised by the lack of Hispanic participation because they make up a large part of the population of Texas.

TCU working closely with the community was a topic most speakers touched on.

Dan Short, dean of the School of Business, said the quality of life at a university enhances the quality of life in the community.

He said a community can either grow or decline and economic development is an ongoing process that must be based on relationships and trust.

Other topics discussed at the conference were southeast Fort Worth development, the city’s growth, health care issues and the importance of technology in education.