Editor's note: Letters to the editor offer a significant contribution to the discussion of public policy and life in Tampa Bay. To recognize some of that work by our most engaged readers, the Times will select a letter of the month and the writers will be recognized at the end of the year. We will choose the finalists each month based on relevance on topical issues, persuasiveness and writing style. The writer's opinion does not need to match the editorial board's opinion on the issue to be nominated. But clarity of thinking, brevity and a sense of humor certainly helps.
Help us choose the letter of the month for February 2013 by reading through the three nominated letters and voting on the ballot at the bottom of the web page.
We're too spread out | Jan. 29, letter
Roads and sprawl aren't working
While it's true that New York and Washington, D.C., as well as Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Chicago have a "densely populated urban core," as the letter writer states, that is not true of Los Angeles, the poster child for urban sprawl and car-dependent transportation.
However, Los Angeles — like Phoenix, Albuquerque, Salt Lake City, Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, Denver, Seattle and a host of other urban-sprawl regions throughout the nation — has realized that car-dependent transportation doesn't work. All those regions have well-planned bus rapid transit and light and heavy rail systems that cannot keep up with demand.
Meanwhile, Florida utterly fails to understand urban sprawl realities in its push to create or "improve" ever more car-choked roads.
Once again, the overriding problem is politicians who refuse to work together to create policies that best serve the nation. They have utterly failed to create adequate and stable funding for the nation's transportation needs, both to maintain and modernize existing systems and meet emerging needs. That's a certain recipe for a crisis in an economy totally dependent upon transportation.
I lived and worked in Washington, D.C., when it was struggling to create its Metro system and heard all the rhetoric pro and con. Now I'm hearing all the same blather about public transportation in urban-sprawl Florida, proving that "those who don't know their history are doomed to repeat it."
Mike MacDonald, Clearwater (Feb. 1)
A realistic, ambitious push | Feb. 17, commentary
Time, not technology, is the key
I have been an early childhood teacher in Hillsborough County for 18 years and read with great interest David Brooks' column discussing President Barack Obama's push for better early childhood programs.
Brooks accurately pinpoints that parents are a child's first teacher and that without their skill, interest, etc., it is a hard road for teachers to travel alone. I cringe whenever I pull up next to a car and see the lights from a DVD player in the back seat or when a parent pulls out a DVD player, cellphone, video game, etc., in a restaurant. In these cases and many more, they are missing a fantastic opportunity to educate their child. Talking to your child while driving in the car or sitting at a restaurant is as vital to their development as reading to them every night.
I speak endlessly with the parents of my students about how important their everyday interactions with their child are to their child's academic success. Sometimes I'm successful, but often technology wins.
The one thing I disagreed with was Brooks' quote that "there's still a lot we don't know about how to educate children that young." We do know. The research is there. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek and Roberta Michnick Golinkoff outline how young children really learn in their outstanding book, Einstein Never Used Flash Cards. And they are not the only ones. What we don't know how to do well is assess young children. Young children by nature are not good test takers and they learn in a developmental sequence, not at a specific point in time.
We know how to educate young children. We just need to coordinate efforts between highly effective teachers working in a developmentally appropriate environment with parents who are willing to spend time with their child and put away the technology.
Marcy White, Tampa (Feb. 21)
From young Rays fan, hope for the future
When I first had the news broken to me that my name was among the elite company of just 300 Tampa Bay Rays full season ticket holder accounts tied to a St. Petersburg address, I was initially quite proud, as though I possessed privileged access to the inner circle of something magical. However, when I examined this fact against the background of the larger picture that is the future of my beloved Rays, I was considerably dismayed.
I have long considered the Rays' attendance woes to not be a St. Petersburg problem, nor even a regional problem, but a Florida problem. If you didn't grow up here with spring training, before the advent of Rays baseball, rooting for your favorite team from out of town, you're likely one of countless residents who relocated from up north bringing their pinstripes or crimson socks with them. Old habits die hard, especially when they're as entrenched as cheering for a favorite childhood team. It may be easy to forget that our local franchise is but a mere 15 years old. The Rays are still young, and thus so are many of its most devoted fans.
As a member of the 300, I believe I stand out even further within the ranks of the faithful, as I am just 22 years old. I was seven when the Devil Rays and I first became acquainted, and we've been sharing memories, both heartbreaking and elating, ever since.
After attending a vibrant Fan Fest this past Saturday populated by many starry-eyed youngsters, I have renewed hope in the future of the Rays franchise. If our elected officials (many of whom I have learned do not themselves enjoy the benefits of holding season tickets) can come together soon and squelch their bickering without driving a legal wedge between themselves and the Rays that may ultimately drive the team away, I suspect that we won't need the entirety of the next 15 years left on the Rays' lease to determine whether or not St. Petersburg and Tampa Bay are indeed a viable home for a major-league ballclub.
Buy my generation (and those that follow) a little more time to settle down and get their financial bearings as we head out of the recession. More like myself will follow, and season ticket sales will rise. Just as the Rays have climbed their way out of the basement of the American League East with plenty of homegrown talent, so the Tampa Bay area will begin to climb its way out of its turnout doldrums with a fresh crop of homegrown fans.
William Skinner, St. Petersburg (Feb. 23)