True neighborhood revitalization rarely happens by accident. It requires the work of hundreds of hands, the resources of local institutions and governments, and the collective vision of a community. It requires the energy of engaged residents – and, yes, it takes a bit of good fortune, as well.
In the case of the City's Northside, a healthy amount of all of the above is in place. Indeed, while the complete story of the Northside’s revitalization likely will take a decade to write, it already is noteworthy for the remarkable convening of residents, institutions, organizations, and non-profits that perhaps for the first time in the city’s history have joined together for a singular purpose – the comprehensive transformation of a neighborhood long beset by poverty and its associated challenges.
To be sure, the City through its Community Services office and its Public Safety Department had partnered with the Spartanburg Housing Authority and the Mary Black Foundation to make some headway on the Northside in recent years. And soon after his election, Spartanburg Mayor Junie White asked his predecessor, former Mayor Bill Barnet, to lead an effort to explore possibilities for strategic and sustainable long-term enhancement of the Northside. Expectations for what was possible in the Northside community were on the rise.
Then came news of a new institution that had decided to plant roots in the Northside, a development whose ripples are only now beginning to be felt throughout the community. When Virginia-based Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine, or VCOM, announced it had selected the former Spartan Mills site on Howard Street over Charlotte as the location for its Carolinas Campus, it provided the impetus for a larger discussion about what was possible.
“The green shoots of significant, sustainable community revitalization had just become visible on the Northside when VCOM made its announcement,” Barnet says. “When VCOM chose the Northside, it made us pause and consider how much higher we could set the bar. That was very important, because there is no question that the success and future development of our City is inextricably linked to the revitalization of the Northside.”
Eventually, a broad vision for the Northside emerged: a thriving, diverse community home to mixed-income housing, mixed-use commercial development, an innovative new curriculum and public school model at Cleveland Elementary School, and access to health and wellness programming at a new state-of-the-art T.K. Gregg Community Center.
With VCOM, the Mary Black Foundation, and the City all firmly committed to being a big part of the future of the Northside, Barnet continued convening informal discussions of stakeholders, including several community institutions with an ongoing vested interest in the area: Wofford College, Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System, Spartanburg School District 7 and the Spartanburg County Foundation.
Several of those, with support from a number of local philanthropists, formed the Northside Development Corp., a not-for-profit charitable organization whose purpose is to acquire vacant, foreclosed, or distressed properties in the area. These acquisitions, which will complement the City’s acquisitions through the federally-funded Neighborhood Stabilization Program, will go a long way toward enabling cost-effective additions of new housing and other amenities in the area.
The Northside Initiative has picked up steam in recent months, bolstered by three announcements. First, the news that the Healthy Food Hub – the future home of the Spartanburg Famer’s Market, the Butterfly Foundation and its culinary arts training program, and a community café and garden – will locate on Howard Street, a significant development for a community long categorized as a “food desert” where healthy foods and fresh fruits and vegetables are not easily accessible.
Second came the announcement in April of a new partner, Purpose Built Communities, an Atlanta-based non-profit that is renowned for its comprehensive model of neighborhood revitalization. Purpose Built will provide the community with technical expertise and consulting as the initiative moves into a planning stage. This process will be heavily dependent on citizen participation and ultimately will create the specific vision for the future of the Northside.
Finally, in October, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced it had awarded Spartanburg a $300,000 Choice Neighborhoods Program planning grant, to be used to develop a comprehensive Transformation Plan for the area.
Admittedly, many challenges await. There will be setbacks and delays. But the foundation is in place. And a future few imagined just a few years ago is in sight.