COLUMBIA, SC Once 300 invited guests left “Game Day” regional planning exercises Tuesday, work immediately started on figuring out where leaders plan to put 450,000 new people over the next 30 years.
In little more than 24 hours, the public will meet up with some of those leaders at Williams-Brice Stadium to vote for the plan they all like best.
That plan, then, will become the region’s vision for where to put 174,000 new housing units the new neighbors will require, along with the 192,000 new jobs, 1,700 new hospital beds, 14 new high schools, 30 elementary schools and 22 kindergartens they also are projected to need.
“As we look at the growth over the next 30 years, the West is no longer the destination of choice,” said Mitch Silvercq, American Planning Association president, who addressed the planners during a luncheon. “For whatever reason, the American public, and immigrants for that matter, are choosing the South.
“So, you’ll see this change over the next 30 years – they are coming to this location,” Silver said. “People say, ‘I don’t want it to grow’ – you might as well say you don’t want it to rain, because growth is coming to this region, and South Carolina is part of this region.”
The 300 leaders – from business, government, environmental and military backgrounds – collaborated in small groups for two hours and produced more than three dozen separate plans for consideration as a possible future vision for the area, based on their professional knowledge and experiences, discussions shared at their separate tables and their convictions.
Several common themes emerged that offer preliminary insight into some of the leaders’ initial leanings.
Many of the common themes, such as modern mass transit systems that connect Columbia to other cities in the eight-county Midlands region or other major cities nearby, so far are nowhere on the drawing table in part because they require regional cooperation and support.
The planning effort, Midlands Reality Check, is designed to foster a regional approach to growth and development.been a hindrance over the decades as local cities and towns, led by politicians who represent mostly urban interests or largely rural interests, apparently thought they were supposed to compete against one another, rather than cooperate
Participants used colored Legos to map out where they would add residential development and job growth, but also colored markers to map out where they wanted to see new regional roadways, transit corridors and greenways. The leaders almost uniformly added the bulk of new jobs and housing to existing urban centers.
“I am encouraged that I don’t see 30 tables of sprawl,” said Grant Jacksoncq, Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce community development senior vice president.
“I see a lot more compact development with the realization we need to add more residents downtown in the center of Columbia. But not just in Columbia. If you look at the other urban centers in the region, Lexington, Camden and Sumter, people are saying we need to build up those areas and not sprawl out.”
Experts across the country say America is becoming more urban, with people choosing to live in downtown centers closer to amenities and activities, including shopping, hospitals and universities. Conversely, suburban shopping centers, big box retail stores and malls increasingly are falling out of favor, particularly with younger generations., Generation X, Y and Zers
“Important to me personally is the green space, or green areas,” said Marshall Drakecq, a Ethan Hall Episcopal School high school junior. “I spend a lot of my time hiking. We’ve got some great natural resource areas, wonderful river areas, so we wanted to make sure we preserve those.”
Many of the groups wanted to add industry and jobs to existing industrial park areas such as in Saxe Gotha Industrial Park in Cayce, where Amazon and Nephron Pharmaceuticals recently built.
“We haven’t seen any growth and development (in the North Main and Farrow Road areas),” said J.T. McLawhorncq, who said he has lived in the North Main Street area for more than 30 years. “We have what I call disjointed development historically in this region,” McLawhorn said. He said there is a tendency to avoid economic development in areas deemed to have “negative” reputations.
Shelley Kilecq, a Sumter communications and tourism employee, said her table concentrated on maintaining green spaces, keeping parks intact, and keeping current infrastructure, university areas and existing city nodes in place and adding on there, rather than starting afresh elsewhere.
“In Sumter, I know specifically in the (U.S.) 521 corridor where Continental Tire has gone in, we really looked at that area to say, well now with that infrastructure in place, with the water systems and sewer systems in and in place, what kind of growth do we want to see between the I-95 corridor and the Sumter city limits.”