Protecting the Upstate’s special places

Courtesy of the Graham Foundation
Courtesy of the Graham Foundation

Anyone who lives in Greenville County, SC can tell you that it is a popular place for folks to relocate. New residential developments, announcements of business expansions, and cranes like pickets across the downtown skyline are all indicators of our robust growth.

At the March 2016 Greenville Partnership for Philanthropy membership meeting, Andrea Cooper, Executive Director of Upstate Forever, and Frank Holleman, President of Naturaland Trust, reminded us that the natural spaces in the Upstate are what make us special and thus help drive our growth. But if we don’t manage this rapid growth, our landscape could be indiscernible from the rest of the suburban South.

“On average, 43 people move to the Upstate each day,” reported Cooper.  “At this rate, our region will see a 56% population increase by 2060.”

Smart Growth 2014 ranked Greenville/Mauldin-Easley as one of the top 10 most sprawling metro areas nationally.  One indicator of sprawl is how much land is consumed in relation to population growth.  Prior to 1990, Greenville County’s development grew at a 1:1 ratio.  But in the last 26 years, we’ve seen five times as much land consumed as the population has grown.  Cooper points out, “This ‘pave over rate’ is equal to the construction of one Haywood Mall each day.”

Few funders in Greenville County have named conservation or the environment as a focus for their giving.  But Cooper highlighted how interconnected conservation is with other issues funders care about.  “Land use relates to transportation, affordable housing, health, quality of life and so much more.”

As an example, she highlighted farmland preservation.  The average age of South Carolina’s farmers is 60, so many family farms are being sold and the land converted to other purposes.  If that land isn’t preserved, we lose a significant economic development opportunity: South Carolina residents purchase $11 billion in food each year, but 90% of it comes from out of state.  Further, produce brought into the state often loses its nutritional quality on the trip and increases emissions through its transportation.

Nonprofit conservation organizations are working to preserve the land, water and viewsheds that make our area special.  Upstate Forever is a land trust that protects land in the Upstate through conservation easements.  It focuses on clean air and water and sustainable communities.  Naturaland Trust protects South Carolina’s Blue Ridge mountains and special places in the Piedmont.

of conservation,” said Holleman.  “Human services needs often ‘win’ over the environment when funding proposals are viewed in competition.  But I believe we should view these funding opportunities as a community portfolio rather than a competition.”  Both Cooper and Holleman expressed gratitude for the support they’ve received from members of GPP.

“Planning and economic development go hand in hand,” said Cooper.  “We want to maintain what’s special about our region; we don’t want to kill the goose that laid the golden egg.”


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