For decades, Spartanburg’s Northside community and Charlotte’s Boulevard Homes neighborhood grappled with the same problems.
They endured high poverty and crime rates, poor educational outcomes and substandard housing. They gained reputations as magnets for inner-city blight.
Thankfully, they now share a more hopeful distinction. They’re part of the Purpose-Built Communities network, a national redevelopment model that targets troubled neighborhoods with a holistic array of social services. The idea is to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty by mounting sustained, systematically coordinated interventions in neighborhoods where poverty’s roots sink most deeply.
The Duke Endowment is supporting the Northside Initiative and the Renaissance West Community Initiative, which is redeveloping the Boulevard Homes property into a new neighborhood called the Renaissance. Support for these place-based community initiatives forms a significant part of the Endowment’s new organization-wide strategic emphasis on early childhood issues.
The Endowment believes place-based efforts are uniquely positioned to reach all organizations, agencies and providers serving the same community. Working across sectors, place-based efforts can foster service alignment, coordination and quality improvement. The Endowment’s support at Northside and the Renaissance focuses on strengthening early childhood services in both communities.
In keeping with the Purpose-Built model, both Northside and the Renaissance aim to revitalize struggling urban neighborhoods by developing high-quality affordable housing in concert with a cradle-to-college education pipeline and community wellness programs.
At Northside, the effort spawned a master revitalization plan that includes the development of diverse mixed income housing, cradle-to-career educational opportunities, health and wellness facilities and wraparound supportive services. Northside Harvest Park, a “food hub” that hosts the weekly Farmer’s Market, a small grocer and café and culinary job training facility, opened in 2014, bringing fresh fruits and vegetables within walking distance of Northside residents for the first time in a generation.
The Franklin School, an early learning center serving up to 200 children, will offer both market-rate slots and affordable-care slots including Head Start and Early Head Start when it opens next year.
Helping Children by Helping Communities
The Renaissance and Northside community redevelopment efforts are modeled after Atlanta’s East Lake Foundation, the prototype for the Purpose Built Communities network. Started in 1995, East Lake has transformed the East Lake Meadows public housing complex into a thriving, genuinely mixed-income community; By 2011, half of East Lake’s housing units were occupied by low-income residents; the other half are market rate and 90 percent occupied, according to a study by the Bridgespan Group. In 1995, the crime rate was 18 times the national average, and the employment rate sat at 13 percent. Following East Lake Foundation’s community redevelopment efforts, the crime rate sank 50 percent lower than the rate for the rest of the city, Bridgespan found. The employment rate for adults receiving public housing assistance rose to 70 percent. The local public school, re-launched as a charter, went from being the worst-ranked elementary school in Atlanta to the seventh highest of its 62 schools.
“The investment from The Duke Endowment is critical to the programmatic and developmental aspects of the Franklin School over the next few years as we build this high-quality school for the Northside neighborhood,” said Tammie Hoy Hawkins, project manager for the Northside Development Group. “We also see this as a value in leveraging other partners and resources around early learning.”
Similarly, ambitious plans are unfolding at the Renaissance. A $20.9 million federal housing grant through the Charlotte Housing Authority has helped transform a badly run-down public housing complex into 334 units of attractive new mixed-use housing. Officials last year dedicated a $30 million preK-5 public school, Renaissance West STEAM Academy, on the site. The Endowment is supporting math and literacy resources for its youngest students.
Across the street, the Howard Levine Child Development Center will open this month, serving 152 children. William “Mack” McDonald, head of the Renaissance West Community Initiative, said the goal is to put high-quality early learning within reach for families who otherwise couldn’t afford it.
“Our children face many obstacles that children in other neighborhoods may not face on a daily basis,” he said. “This grant allows us to remove one major obstacle for many of our children – access to a quality education and the early learning experiences that will prepare them for lifelong success.”
The Endowment’s support for these two community redevelopment projects comes as part of its new strategic emphasis on early childhood issues.
That emphasis, focused on children 0-8, reflects the Endowment’s determination to get out in front of social problems before they take root. Advances in brain science have shown that early preventative intervention is more efficient than subsequent remediation. Research shows that a child’s development can be hindered in life-altering ways if exposed to the constant drumbeat of negative experiences known as toxic stress. Conversely, when we enrich early relationships and environments, research shows children are much more likely to flourish in school and life.
The progress at both Northside and the Renaissance reflects years of work by an array of local community leaders, as well as the support of multiple public agencies, charitable funders and private donors. The Endowment’s Board of Trustees last year approved two three-year, $600,000 grants to support development of the early learning centers in the communities.
“We are delighted to support these promising efforts,” said Meka Sales, director of Special Initiatives for the Endowment. “The comprehensive nature of place-based work – ranging from education to health care to parental support – is consistent with the latest evidence on improving well-being for children. The Endowment is happy to be a part of this whole-child approach and eager to learn more strategies to impact the lives of young children.”
Last fall, community leaders gathered for the dedication of the Renaissance West STEAM Academy. David Jones, chair of the Renaissance West Community Initiative’s board, told the crowd that the Boulevard Homes redevelopment plan struck him as unrealistically ambitious when officials first presented it to him years ago.
“It wasn’t crazy talk after all,” he said, just before officials cut the ribbon for the new school. “Never have I been so glad to have been proven so wrong.”
Director, Special Initiatives