Shaping Our Future: Evaluating the Impacts of Future Growth and Development in the Upstate

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Aerial shot of downtown Greenville // Chris Brank Films

In the next 15 years, the Upstate will welcome nearly 200,000 more residents, not to mention new industries and businesses. That growth has the potential to be truly positive – if managed well. Yet it is clear that land use and transportation decisions are being made daily without a clear understanding of their long-range impacts. We are at a critical decision point as a region – we can choose to be proactive in shaping future growth, or we can continue allowing growth to shape the future of our region.

The Upstate Growth Study, commissioned by Upstate Forever and completed by the Strom Thurmond Institute at Clemson University in 2008, ignited a regional dialogue regarding the way our region is growing. The study found that from 1990 to 2000 – conservatively speaking – our region was developing land at five times the rate of population growth. That finding threw into question whether our trend development pattern – best described as dispersed and sprawling – is the most sustainable and fiscally prudent. What the study did not discuss, and what is still not well understood, are the many other long-range impacts – fiscal, environmental and quality of life – of a “business as usual” approach to land use and how those compare to available alternatives.

To address this critical information gap, Upstate Forever has partnered with Ten at the Top and Furman’s Riley Institute to form the Shaping Our Future Consortium. In May of this year, the consortium retained an award-winning consultant team led by Charlotte-based firm City Explained in conjunction with Urban3 and Stantec to conduct an objective analysis highlighting the trade-offs associated with competing growth scenarios.

Four distinct scenarios – which were first explored during the 2009 Urban Land Institute Upstate Reality Check – will be analyzed and debated throughout the study: dispersed (our trend scenario); corridor (new growth centered along and adjacent to major transportation corridors); compact (new growth primarily in existing urban areas); and rural village (new growth concentrated within the limits of small towns and cities). Such trade-offs may include land consumption, air and water quality impacts; costs to serve new development; and revenue generation via ad valorem taxes. Armed with this information, local government officials will be better equipped to discuss issues related to growth and development with their constituents and make more informed land use decisions.

Issues surrounding growth and development are complex. To arrive at real solutions to such multifaceted problems, varied perspectives must be considered. To guide the study, the consortium has assembled a geographically, ethnically and racially diverse steering committee representing the economic development and business community, utility and transportation providers, elected officials, local farmers and the public health and nonprofit sectors. Committee members are among the most respected in their fields and will influence the direction of the effort, lending credibility to its findings.

In many areas of the country, regional studies and conversations of this sort are starting from ground zero. Thanks to the work of several Upstate organizations and many community leaders, that is not the case here. The Shaping Our Future work will build on previous regional community engagement efforts, including the Upstate Reality Check (facilitated by the Urban Land Institute in 2009) and the Upstate Shared Growth Vision (led by Ten at the Top in 2010). Together, those initiatives collected feedback regarding future growth from more than 15,000 Upstate residents. 

To complement feedback already gathered, the Shaping Our Future Consortium will be hosting a series of focus groups in late September and an elected leader briefing in late October. The Upstate Professional Planners group — an initiative of Ten at the Top — is serving as the technical advisory committee for the project. Finally, once alternative scenarios are compiled, an online community survey will be used to gather general public feedback regarding varied approaches to future growth and development in the Upstate. To learn more, contact Lisa Hallo at lhallo@upstateforever.org or visit www.ShapingOurFutureUpstateSC.org.

The Shaping Our Future initiative is made possible by the generous contributions of Hollingsworth Funds, Ten at the Top, The Riley Institute at Furman University, the Greater Greenville Association of Realtors and New Belgium Brewery. Thanks also to the City of Greer, which is sponsoring the Focus Group Series.

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