Gloria Ferris

one woman’s view from a place by the zoo in the city

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Since When Does An Acronym “SPA” Replace a Neighborhood?

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Since When Does an Acronym “SPA” Replace a Neighborhood?

It doesn’t. For those of you not “in the know” SPA stands for Strategic Planning Area- a government nom de plume to designate those areas of a town or city that will divvy up the federal funds allotted to that town or city.In the past, these areas reflected the neighborhoods of Cleveland. Presently, SPAS are being combined and a many neighborhoods will no longer be the designated as a SPA.  Some neighborhoods will be combined with others, essentially, wiping out that neighborhood’s name on the map.  Here in Cleveland, as we have all know by now the $$$ that we send to the federal government that come back to us by way of HUD and other entities are constantly shrinking. Let’s pause for a moment- our dollars going to the government, the government taking a cut, and then, our much leaner $$ come back to us. Of course, those “in the know” would tell you that this routing of money is “fairer” because those areas that are “poorer” benefit from the largesse of the communities that have “more”. I never have truly believed this statement, but neither have I taken the time to research it. It just seems to me that a community that can keep money recirculating within the community rather than constant side trips would prove more useful.

It is my understanding that for an SPA to work well, the area must have a certain amount of “designated poverty” neighborhoods so that the area will qualify for federal funds, hence, the necessity to gerrymander the existing SPAS into “new and improved” areas. Over the past few days, my Gmail account has overflowed with the new nomenclature suggested for these SPAS. My question to you all is “why”? Why are we caught up in a discussion on “naming rights” and not the more important question of how does this benefit each neighborhood of the city?

A strategic planning area is NOT a neighborhood and does not replace a neighborhood. It is something created around a table by a group of planners, political wonks, and elected officials for doling out federal monies. It does not define your neighborhood or you unless you allow it to do so. Kamm’s Corners, Stockyards, Brooklyn Centre, Tremont, Barbara, North Broadway, Mt. Pleasant, Glenville, Shaker Square-each and every one of these neighborhoods will survive as long as the people within that neighborhood identify with that community of people. A neighborhood dies when the last person who knows its origins stops relating memories about its past and stops striving to keep it alive and well.

For some, the problem arises when neighborhoods are split in two or those on the edge of an SPA are not given clear direction as to who, what and where their services are provided. I personally have witnessed this situation during the creation of the Ward 14 CDO (community Development Organization.  An organization created before the NEW designations, and therefore, many neighborhoods have experienced confusion, frustration, and inadequate services. This problem is something that certainly needs to be addressed with the creation of these new SPAS. I for one would hope that ward boundaries would not designate how services are dispensed because they will continue to shift throughout the years. Rather, I would suggest that neighborhood boundaries be considered when creating new SPAs so that no neighborhood is split in two and that each neighborhood knows how services will be dispensed.

Side by Side comparisons of how the existing SPAS work and how new and improved SPAs will be better should be done before any changes are made.  In the long run, when SPA boundaries shift throughout the years how can metrics be compared and how can we know that monies are used efficiently and for best practices.  If SPA areas combine how will statistical data be used to make sure that the neighborhoods encased in a given SPA area are receiving the best value for the dollars invested,  and, if they are truly receiving the dollars that should be invested there.

I think we are on a slippery slope when our identity as a neighborhood is verified or nullified by an SPA designation. I serve on the Ward 14 steering committee, and I have asked my colleagues to resist the urge to name the organization with a combination of the three neighborhoods presently associated with the CDO because it was apparent that this debate would soon be upon us. In my mind, it is better to name the “thing” and say that the neighborhoods of Stockyards, Brooklyn Centre, and Clark Fulton are served by the “thing”. Right now, Brooklyn Centre is served by two councilmen and two CDOs. Who knows what our fate will be when all the new lines are drawn?

What I do know: Brooklyn Centre was settled in 1812, in 2012 it celebrates its 200th birthday, and my neighbors and I are working hard to ensure that it survives another 100 years as a strong, prosperous community. Will we use the services of our local government? Absolutely! Will we demand accountability and transparency from our elected officials? Absolutely! However, strength and prosperity will come from the residents and businesspeople within the neighborhood, and therefore, it is imperative that we all understand and acknowledge what a neighborhood is and does. A neighborhood reflects the values and aspirations of its residents and business owners, not the name given it by the people who work for it. Neighborhoods will not be destroyed by people around a table; rather, they will die of natural causes when the last neighbor is gone. An SPA on the other hand will continue to shift as the dollars shrink and the workers gather around the tale.

Written by Gloria Ferris

July 7th, 2011 at 11:13 am