Ordinary citizens of a historically prominent neighborhood in a small town form a leadership committee to help their neighborhood get back to glory in Spartanburg, South Carolina, USA.
Problems and Purpose:
The city of Spartanburg started an initiative to revitalize the north side of the city in 2012 (Authority, 2013). The people needed to have some input in the redevelopment of their community, and the Northside Voyagers formed to provide community input to ongoing development.
Background History and Context:
A formerly prominent neighborhood in the city of Spartanburg, South Carolina was home to a textile mill and mill village until the industry declined in the 1990’s and the mill ultimately closed in 2001 (Eelman, 2016)]. In its heyday the neighborhood had over five thousand residents, but after decades of decline the community was crime-ridde and heavily blighted, and the population of residents became a fraction of what it had been. In 2012, the city of Spartanburg and Spartanburg Housing Authority won the 2012 Choice Neighborhood Initiative Planning Grant, with that came the birth of the Northside initiative and the formation of the Northside Voyagers. The group of citizen leaders became the voice of the people in an effort to make use of the resources being directed into their community by the city (Authority, 2013).
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities:
Principally this volunteer organization is really a part of the nonprofit North Development Group. They are led by a great group of professionals that locate funding, develop programs, and try to execute them to the best of their capacity. The initial funding for the group came from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
Participant Recruitment and Selection:
Participants go through the training process for about a month, attend meetings as scheduled, and participate in planning for events and actual events.
Methods and Tools Used:
The Northside voyagers’ host events and open community forums. The events tend to attract a wide audience in the neighborhood and community. Other than events, they operate similarly to the neighborhood councils used in Los Angeles, California, and Québec City, Québec, Canada.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation:
One particular issue that shows their influence, when in the planning phases for a community recreational facility, a conflict was occurring between two groups internally about whether or not the facility should have a pool. The battle was between the voyagers and city council member and the then city manager. The situation was a very tense civil dispute for the summer and ultimately led to the retirement of the city manager after the voyagers and city council prevailed and got the funding for the swimming pool.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects:
Ideally, the Northside Voyagers would help improve their community for their own best interest. The Northside voyagers play a critical role in the redevelopment of their community by engaging with community residents and potential investors, and vetting out the investors interests to qualify them to fund projects in their community. Out of the numerous large-scale developments that are happening in the Northside community, the voyagers have been a part of all those decisions.
Analysis and Lessons Learned:
Grassroots community engagement is a very strong process that allows community members to hold powerful investors accountable. This process helps communities fight gentrification forces and helps people remain in their communities.
Uniontown Alabama: https://participedia.net/case/128
Unified New Orleans Plan: https://participedia.net/case/78
The District of Columbia Neighborhood Action Initiative: https://participedia.net/case/117
Spartanburg Housing Authority (2013, December 20). Northside Initiative - HUD. Retrieved from hud.gov: https://www.hud.gov/sites/documents/CN_PARTN_GOV_SPARTANBURG.PDF
Eelman, B. W. (2016, August 10). Spartan Mills. Retrieved from South Carolina Encyclopedia: http://www.scencyclopedia.org/sce/entries/spartan-mills/
The first version of this case entry was written by Kamelle Gomez, a Master of Public Service candidate at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, and then edited. The views expressed in the entry are those of the authors, editors, or cited sources, and are not necessarily those of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service.