If you program it, they will come
For as long as cities have invested community revitalization work, those efforts have largely focused on physical structures. Building new housing and new school buildings. New recreation centers and playgrounds. Sometimes even new strip shopping centers or office parks.
But if you talk to Mitch Kennedy, the City of Spartanburg’s Community Services Director, about the Northside Initiative, 30 minutes or more might go by before you ever hear a word about anything that will involve bricks and mortar. For good reason: the focus of the Northside Initiative is on people. Creating better opportunities for education and job training. Providing new amenities for physical activity and healthy living. Enhancing their access to health care. And on and on.
Which makes a conversation about the planned new community center especially interesting. The City Council has committed to building a new Dr. T.K. Gregg Center by 2017, somewhere in the Northside footprint, possibly next door to the Cleveland Academy of Leadership. Once constructed, it will no doubt be a beautiful facility, though as of now no architectural work has been done. It will include many of the bells and whistles a modern-day recreation/community center should have. Think C.C. Woodson Center as a starting point.
But the physical structure isn’t what excites Kennedy the most. It’s the people who will be there every day — the children in after-school programs, people in computer or financial literacy classes, the workout and exercise classes, and the steady rotation of community and service groups using the center for meetings.
“It’s not about the building,” Kennedy said. “It’s about the programs. You have to program a facility to bring it to life and make it relevant and essential to people. That’s what helps people build better lives, and that’s what in turn helps to build a community. That’s what I live for and that’s why I’m so excited about what’s happening on the Northside. We’re keeping the people and the programs first.”
Which isn’t to say the building itself won’t be important. It is estimated that the new T.K. Gregg Center will cost about $7 million, a hefty price tag for a City with an annual operating budget of just more than $30 million.
“There is no doubt in my mind we are going to design a beautiful center, and it will be a place where people love to be,” Kennedy said. “But the programs the community wants and needs will drive the design. Function and form will eventually come together and create a special facility for a special neighborhood.”