SOCIAL PLANNING AREAS, geographic units of about 3,500 persons designed to coincide with accepted geopolitical boundaries, played an important role in Cleveland social-welfare programs for nearly 30 years. First utilized in 1951 by the Cleveland Welfare Fed. (see CENTER FOR COMMUNITY SOLUTIONS) to coordinate existing social service and health projects on the neighborhood level, SPAs served as the primary basis for local social analysis and established the criteria for much of the city's neighborhood development and change, until their effectiveness was undermined by changing needs in the 1970s. Social Planning Areas were developed as the changing social, economic, and demographic profile of Cleveland necessitated more specific analytical tools in the planning of health and social-welfare services. The establishment of the Fed. for Charity & Philanthropy in 1913 and the Welfare Council in 1914, followed by the Welfare Fed. of Cleveland in 1917, represented initial attempts to develop a coordinated program of social welfare, but the Great Depression in the 1930s forced reformers to change the scope and direction of their activities. Led by HOWARD WHIPPLE GREEN, local researchers began to utilize census tracts to determine neighborhood social-welfare needs. The census tract, a small geographic area within a municipality containing from 2,500 to 8,000 persons, offered the kind of exact social, economic, and demographic information lacking in more conventional, widespread neighborhood or city ward studies. From the 1930s to the 1950s, the Cleveland Welfare Fed. increasingly relied on census tract data as a way to anticipate local needs. In particular, many social agencies used such data to justify their annual funding requests from the Community Chest (see UNITED WAY SERVICES). Unfortunately, census tract data failed to deal with important new neighborhood problems, such as the growing juvenile delinquency rate in Cleveland during WORLD WAR II. A new way to measure social-welfare needs and the effectiveness of local programs needed to be adopted.

Under the leadership of Chas. E. Gehlke, the Welfare Fed. modified the established census tract areas to create larger, more readily defined Social Planning Areas in the early 1950s. Many of these SPAs were a direct outgrowth of earlier neighborhoods. Federation officials believed that these areas would better serve the community on an individual, district-wide basis, since neighborhood concerns increasingly outweighed smaller block-by-block census tract analysis. With that in mind, the federation's research department created 28 SPAs within the city and 14 in the remainder of the county. Their SPA boundaries remained constant from the early 1950s to the late 1970s. Fixed boundaries not only provided the federation with a constant geographic base in which to measure changes but it also aided it in determining yearly allocations for the various social agencies. The federation created homogeneous planning areas wherever possible, since neighborhood homogeneity, along with local identity, was considered essential if these planning areas were to be effective. By the early 1960s, the initial purpose of Social Planning Areas had been expanded to encompass a number of new concerns, including illegitimate-birth rates, household makeup, population changes, suicide rates, crime figures, housing stock conditions, income level, racial components, and ethnic background. Statistical findings and the overall approach to yearly federation reports became far more sophisticated and detailed. By the early 1970s, SPAs no longer served the pressing needs of local welfare organizations, the federal government, or city officials. In the late 1970s, the effectiveness of SPAs was undermined further by increased federal involvement in social-welfare activities. Other undermining factors, such as the changing socioeconomic makeup of contemporary neighborhoods, the expanding responsibilities of United Way, and the reevaluation by the Cleveland Planning Commission and the Welfare Fed. of their own roles within the community, further eroded SPAs effectiveness.

With Pres. Johnson's Great Society Programs in the 1960s, federal officials became more directly involved in local social-welfare and health programs. Specifically, they demanded new, more specialized statistical data not provided by traditional SPA studies. Some of the new issues to emerge included habitual unemployment, hunger, disease, overcrowded housing, racial discrimination, and lack of educational and job training for minorities. The federation's inability to provide such information forced federal officials to turn to other public-sector groups such as the City Planning Commission for the needed statistical research and analysis. While the CPC formerly had concentrated its efforts on various urban-renewal projects, urban social turmoil during the 1960s, more sophisticated approaches to urban planning in general, and increased federal involvement in local social-welfare efforts encouraged the commission to expand its role. By the late 1970s, supported by federal officials and other community leaders, the CPC had assumed the primary role as city planner, and the federation leaders were forced to reevaluate Social Planning Areas and their role in this direct research process. Changing social-welfare needs, a shrinking population base, an uncertain local economic climate, and a reorganization of United Way itself compelled the federation to scrap earlier-established SPAs and to redirect its own welfare efforts away from local planning objectives and general data collecting toward specific neighborhood programs designed to gain available federal funding directly. The CPC quickly filled the void created by the withdrawal of the federation. In conjunction with the Dept. of Community Development & Community Relations, it expanded the 28 original SPAs to 39 new, smaller subdivisions. These new divisions seemed to reflect the changing Cleveland neighborhood scene better than the earlier, more rigidly defined Social Planning Areas.

Richard Klein

Cleveland State Univ.

City of Cleveland Statistical Planning Areas, 1995

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