Greenville vs. the world

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JohnBoyanoski

Forward: What’s next for the Upstate, and how we’ll get there

A cautionary tale from deep in the heart of Texas

 

I recently spent some time in Texas with an emphasis on San Antonio. If you are into urban planning, downtown revitalizations and streetscaping, then you know that San Antonio has its famed River Walk. Actually, if you know Greenville history, the San Antonio River Walk was often used as an example of what could be done with the Reedy River in the early 2000s. Basically, creating a pedestrian-friendly pathway along the water with plenty of shops and public art. I felt the same about finally seeing San Antonio as a painter may feel seeing a true Picasso. This was the masterpiece that Greenville copied.

Well, me being me, I came back unimpressed. First, it took me some time to figure out how to get to the River Walk. I was thinking about Greenville where you can’t miss the Reedy River and how to get down there. There are access points everywhere. Not so in San Antonio. By the time I found my way down some steps, I was on a back end of the River Walk where there were no people and no art, just a litter-strewn walkway on a muddy canal.

For those who don’t know, the River Walk ain’t the Reedy. It is completely below street level. I eventually did find “the heart” of the River Walk where all the restaurants are – and, well, that may have been worse. It seemed everything was a chain restaurant, and while seeing boats busking tourists up and down the canal was interesting, it was uninspiring. There was little public art, and it was crowded in a way that felt claustrophobic. It was clear the River Walk was a victim of its own success. Local restaurants couldn’t afford the rent.

I spent the next day exploring the street-level version of downtown San Antonio. Again, I saw little public art and littler greenery, and while the people were friendly, there were not a lot of them. A lot of the storefronts were vacant and, sort of surprisingly, there was little new construction.

Spend time in the other big Texas cities (Austin, Houston and Dallas), and you see new buildings, new architecture and new developments. It ain’t happening in downtown San Antonio. It is happening in the suburbs around there and on the interstates. Just not downtown.

I remarked, “It was like they took the least charming parts of Boston and plopped them down in the middle of Texas.” (“Least charming parts of Boston” is Johnspeak that it looks like my hometown of Scranton, Pa., but since most people only know Scranton from NBC’s “The Office,” I reference the more familiar city of Boston.)

Where is this leading? It got me thinking about what could happen to Greenville’s vaunted downtown in the next 20 years. Will the hype overtake the reality?

With so many cities and communities visiting Greenville and trying to copy what we have, is there a chance that someone from Rochester, N.Y., Akron, Ohio, or Athens, Ga., can come here in 20 years and smile because they have outdone downtown Greenville? It is something to think about.


John Boyanoski (jboyanoski@completepr.net) is the president of Complete Public Relations and the author of “Reimagining Greenville,” which chronicled the revitalization of downtown Greenville.

 

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