Follow Jacques on Facebook facebook

S.P.A.R.C. and the Economy

“Donovan Rypkema categorized a city’s move toward historic preservation as a key to establishing sustainable economic development….

His comments on preserving and repairing existing assets coincide with a plan that has already been implemented by the city of Alexandria’s administration, the $96 million SPARC plan — Special Planned Activity Redevelopment Corridors. Rypkema referred to the far-reaching development project as Alexandria’s stimulus plan. He was briefed on SPARC by members of the city administration….

For the most part, Rypkema believes the city of Alexandria is headed in the right direction. He said SPARC meets a few specific goals, including long-term public gain and the focus on areas that warrant re-investment….

The strategy is right, Rypkema said of the city’s push to re-engage forgotten infrastructure, such as buildings, sidewalks and roads.” Donovan Rypkema, Comments to Town Talk, April 30, 2009.

The S.P.A.R.C. initiative is of course an economic development package as well. 

“Alexandria is in a strong position to make this investment, with no new taxes despite the current economic conditions.  Across the nation, cities that invest in their inner cores are cities that succeed, are better able to attract and retain a modern workforce, and can best combat poverty, unemployment, and blight.  

“The best way to ensure future success is to invest right now.  The money is budgeted and available, now, for ready projects involving transportation and hard infrastructure support to major transportation improvements. The City seeks matching to go along with the substantial commitments from the City.

“To maintain that stability, particularly during this time of economic uncertainty, our community must be efficient and responsive, and truly create stimulus opportunities. Infrastructure reinvestment is nearly always appropriate spending because it invests in our future, augmenting capacity.

“It is the community’s ability to handle increasing economic activity—from a trained workforce, to drainage, to the ability of public safety to provide adequate protection and services—that the City focuses on with SPARC.”

Jacques Roy, April 2009

SPARC addresses areas that have been neglected: roadways need attention and severed passages need to be reconnected.  Forty years of sprawl development in Alexandria have created enormous opportunity for some, though, at the same time, it has drained significant resources and attention away from Alexandria’s historic neighborhoods and inner city. SPARC is no “give away”; it is reinvestment in business and capital improvements. SPARC is about sustainability over time, not fixes on the cheap.  SPARC addresses our problems in three ways: targeting help to identified areas where change has the greatest impact (CRA corridors 1-3), providing those areas with new or enhanced transportation improvements, and offering unique incentives to business entrepreneurs. 

For those concerned about S.P.A.R.C. infrastructure spending during troubling economic times, this form of “capital-only” spending—according to leading experts—is rarely inappropriate and almost always job friendly: because it is for infrastructure or building blocks for private growth.  Also, for those citizens who have inquired about capital spending—as in “why build parks, walking trails or spray pads when there is so much constraint on sales taxes and thus operational spending (like grass cutting and debris removal)?”—remember, S.P.A.R.C. and capital outlay spending are, by law, funds that cannot be used for operations.

Interestingly enough, a City can be measured by how well and quickly it moves its capital spending and conversely how frugal it is with its operations budget.  We have moved more capital projects in a shorter period of time, of a larger nature, than in previous times.  It is measurable and quantifiable.  This Administration stays under budget operationally, but moves capital dollars, the hallmark of successful municipal planning and management of fiscal affairs.  And, when the economy booms again, the infrastructure spending and targeted community investment will pay off with huge returns.  This investment in the trough will allow Alexandria to enjoy the crest. It is evidence-based and represents a studied, disciplined approach. It is not “program” spending, but instead spending to enhance the delivery of necessary and basic services.