Last month, more than 200 people gathered at the BMW Zentrum to learn about the results from the Shaping Our Future Growth Alternatives Analysis, a study released recently by Upstate Forever, Ten at the Top, and Furman’s Riley Institute.
The study, which was conducted by an award-winning consultant team led by the Charlotte-based firm City Explained in conjunction with Asheville-based Urban3 and Stantec, paints a sobering picture of the Upstate’s future if our current development patterns remain unchecked.
Matt Noonkester, principal of City Explained, said the study is meant to illustrate growth scenarios, not to make recommendations. “We were asked to measure the tradeoffs of different growth choices you have. We’re not advocating for any one growth pattern, but we’re telling you that you better be prepared based on the decisions you make, because they have wildly different futures for you,” he said.
The Issue: The Upstate is Growing at a Breakneck Pace
It’s not a new revelation that the Upstate is growing rapidly. Past studies have shown that by 2040, the 10-county Upstate region is projected to welcome more than 300,000 new residents, half of which are anticipated to choose Greenville County as their new home.
More troubling, however, is the way the region has chosen to accommodate growth over the past 25 years — our “trend” growth scenario. This sprawling trend development pattern is characterized by low-density, automobile-oriented, single-use developments moving increasingly further away from city centers.
We have seen land use decisions of this sort play out in regions like Atlanta, and many Upstate residents have consistently agreed they do not want that for the Upstate. Skyrocketing housing costs, overcrowded schools, rapid loss of rural and agricultural lands, expensive infrastructure projects, and legendary traffic congestion issues are all associated with sprawl.
We Can’t Afford to Keep This Up… Literally
Unsurprisingly, this sprawling growth pattern also consumes a tremendous amount of land — primarily farms, forests, and other open space — and makes providing typical government services (sewer, water, roads, transit, and fire and policy protection) costly and inefficient.
For example, costs for government services across the Upstate could climb to nearly $660 million per year by 2040, while anticipated revenues to support those costs could likely be less than $330 million per year by that time.
According to Joe Minicozzi, principal at Urban3, there’s a reason large cities across the centuries have grown “upward”: It’s more cost effective. “When you start stacking those stories, you’re seeing an exponential jump in productivity,” he said.
Minicozzi said communities need to think about their fiscal viability just like a corporation would. “I’m throwing a lot of numbers at you to get you in the mindset of seeing this stuff as an investor, as a shareholder having an expectation about a return on your community and how the cash flows,” he said.
Upstate Forever Executive Director Andrea Cooper, who served on the project’s steering committee, urged communities to take notice of the study’s findings. “Make no mistake, we are on a crash course to becoming the very type of congested, paved-over metropolitan region that we have always said we do not want to become,” she said.
Better Ways to Grow
Fortunately for the Upstate, there are ways to accommodate growth that consume less land, cost less to serve, and better protect the things that make the Upstate so special. Three alternative growth patterns were evaluated as a part of the Growth Alternatives Analysis: compact centers (an extreme example of compact development); major corridors (which focuses new growth on major corridors); and rural villages (which steers new development to many “rural village nodes” as well as major city centers across the region).
“This study helps us gain more clarity around the impacts of our current path and why it is important now to support communities and leaders who are trying to grow differently,” said Ten at the Top Executive Director Dean Hybl.
The study — which can be downloaded in its entirety at ShapingOurFutureUpstateSC.org — was made possible through the generous contributions of Hollingsworth Funds, Ten at the Top, Furman’s Riley Institute, the Greater Greenville Association of Realtors, New Belgium Brewery, Duke Energy/Piedmont Natural Gas, and Upstate Forever.
By Lisa Hallo, Land Policy Director, Upstate Forever