Trees and transit. Accessibility and air. Water, walkability and waste. When it comes to sustainability, virtually every aspect of day-to-day life works its way into Michael Frixen’s downtown office on the 10th floor of Greenville’s City Hall.
“It’s that human/nature interaction,” says Frixen, the city’s sustainability coordinator.
During a wide-ranging Zoom session covering everything from mass transit to parks to enhancing historically underserved neighborhoods, he ticks off a series of interwoven quality-of-life questions that sustain his workday.
“Is your neighborhood safe enough to be able to go outside? Are you making enough money so that you’re not working 80 or 90 hours a week at three different jobs and don’t have that time and luxury?” he says. “How can the city make sustainability — and these natural treasures and amenities — more accessible to all of us?”
Later this year or in early 2021, the city hopes to unveil GVL2040, a comprehensive 20-year blueprint developed over some 20 months, “intended to deliver greater prosperity and quality of life to all segments of the community,” a city web page says.
In the meantime, Greenville ranks 75th out of 105 cities included in an exhaustive study that gauged nearly 60 components of urban-area sustainability.
The “2019 U.S. Cities Sustainable Development Report” from the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network, or SDSN, looked at, among other issues, overcrowded housing, greenhouse gas emissions, food insecurity, the gender wage gap and broadband access, along with, of course, water and air quality, parks and transportation.
The study, in a two-page multicolored chart, ranked Greenville’s water quality “moderate to good.” Greenville’s park area exceeded by 6 percentage points the so-called Sustainability Development Goal’s index of 26%, according to an accompanying spreadsheet.
But the report doesn’t take into account Greenville’s crown jewel, Unity Park, expected to open in spring 2022.
During construction and restoration, the city will plant two trees to replace each of the 195 removed from the park. Most of the new ones will be native species, rather than such invasives as mimosa, Bradford pear and the unfortunately named Tree of Heaven, according to the city’s July 2020 “Unity Park Tree Management Plan.”
As for transit, Greenville ranked alongside Raleigh and Greensboro, North Carolina, the SDSN study shows. However, this year, Greenville’s Greenlink expects the delivery of six new electric buses, along with charging equipment, in early 2023.
Speaking of low emissions, the American Lung Association’s State of the Air 2020 report card, which also marked the 50th anniversary of the Clean Air Act, gave Greenville County a “B” grade for its air quality. Spartanburg, Richland and York counties scored a C, the study said.
Dean Hybl, who consults with Greenville County on air quality, looks at the impacts of sustainability policy decisions as much as he works to support them.
Hybl, the executive director of the Ten at the Top partnership of the Upstate’s 10 counties, says politicians and policymakers should focus more on outcomes, rather than what he calls the minutiae of sustainability decision-making.
Moreover, he calls for all stakeholders to make an all-for-one effort: “If we do this collectively, we’re going to have cleaner water, cleaner air, a cleaner community — and we all want that ultimately, right?”
Not only does the program “exemplify the Farm to Table to Farm cycle,” as a county website says, other benefits include keeping food waste out of landfills and converting its byproduct, methane gas, into energy. And that’s in addition to free compost now available to anyone who wants it.
“In the big picture, for our county, I think we’re progressive,” McNatt says, “We want to provide services that citizens want. I think we do everything that we can possibly do to do that.”
Recycling and Litter
City of Greenville
Recycling participation rate is around 74%.
Average 250 tons of recyclables per month, 3,000 tons per year.
The city’s Public Works Department offers two electronic-waste events each year. More than 500 cars drove through the e-cycling event in August.
Citizens can volunteer with the county’s Litter Ends Here program. Download an app to report litter or volunteer to pick it up.
Sources: City of Greenville and Greenville County