April 10, 2019

SPARCC learns from communities about improving racial equity


Mid-project report on a 6-region initiative shows steps forward in prioritizing equity in community development

A progress report is now available for the national Strong, Prosperous, And Resilient Communities Challenges initiative, or SPARCC—a multi-site project to change how cities shape the built environment to achieve communities that are healthier, more climate-smart, and opportunity-rich for all.

Supported and guided by a national team of representatives from four nonprofit organizations and funded by five charitable foundations, SPARCC has six U.S. sites: Atlanta, the San Francisco Bay Area, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, and Memphis.

"Participants in the initiative named racial equity as their main goal since it’s at the root of most challenges communities face today," says Emily Bourcier, MPH, MHA, of the Center for Community Health and Evaluation (CCHE) at Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute (KPWHRI). Ms. Bourcier and her CCHE colleague Lisa Schafer, MPH, produced the mid-initiative report in their role as principal investigators leading the overall evaluation of SPARCC.

Support for enduring change

SPARCC is aimed at redirecting community development practices, policies, and investments away from reinforcing inequities, the report explains.

The SPARCC process began by developing and supporting collaborative groups called “tables” at each site. These groups include local leaders in health, housing, financial services, transportation, and other areas essential to healthy communities. The tables receive grants, capital, and other support at their sites for projects that are a priority in the community and align with SPARCC equity goals. Examples are supporting a grocery store in a food desert in Memphis, working on projects to preserve and develop affordable housing in the Bay Area, and developing recreational facilities in Atlanta.

Ms. Bourcier says that in addition to supporting tangible infrastructure projects, SPARCC is cultivating a community of practice through expert and peer-led learning opportunities. In this way, the SPARCC network can endure after the initiative ends. Other priorities are communicating about the initiative's strategies and capital tools and broadening and elevating support of its values and approach to sustainable, equitable, and inclusive investment and development.

To help SPARCC achieve its goals, the CCHE evaluation team is assessing how the initiative is laying a foundation for early systems changes such as team collaboration, community engagement, and changing how community development occurs.

"CCHE is proud to evaluate this initiative,” Ms. Bourcier says. “All our work has a social justice theme, usually framed as health disparities or health equity, but this is our first evaluation looking specifically at racial equity." The CCHE team uses a developmental approach to evaluation that provides the initiative with evidence as it proceeds, to foster learning from challenges, and identify patterns driving success, she explains.

Common concerns: Racial equity, affordable housing, and transit

The CCHE evaluation team found that a common focus on three areas has emerged within SPARCC participants—racial equity, affordable housing, and transit. The tables at all six sites have moved beyond planning to taking action, such as funding their first projects, organizing their communities, and building collaborations. Some have already influenced local and regional policies, for example on zoning in Atlanta, transit in Los Angeles, and storm water mitigation in Chicago. The sites take care to emphasize input from community residents in developing their policies and deciding about capital investments. For national impact, SPARCC created the Capital Screen Tool, a way to interact with SPARCC members to see if investments are addressing racial equity, health, and climate change.

"Our report also offers considerations for funders that are taking on ambitious, complex, collaborative initiatives like SPARCC," Ms. Bourcier says. For example, over the first 18 months, SPARCC’s national team found they could best support sites by assisting in prioritizing and finding realistic goals, peer sharing, and nurturing leaders.

The SPARCC national team is now working to broaden and elevate the initiative's values and approach to sustainable, equitable, inclusive investment and development. The goal is having a wider influence on community development and catalyzing change, says Ms. Bourcier. "SPARCC is now using racial equity as a primary lens with which to view their work and priorities in equitable community development," she adds.

The report pdf can be downloaded at the SPARCC website.

 The SPARCC National Team that supports and funds sites is Enterprise Community Partners, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, Low Income Investment Fund, and Natural Resources Defense Council. Major SPARCC funders are the Ford Foundation, the JPB Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and The California Endowment.


By Chris Tachibana



SPARCC ignites change for equitable communities in 6 major cities

With $1.5 million from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, CCHE facilitates work to improve infrastructure and opportunities.