Editorial: Midlands could benefit from Reality Check

10/13/2013 12:00 AM

10/11/2013 6:17 PM

WE’VE LONG encouraged government, business and other leaders to ignore the arbitrary boundaries between jurisdictions, move beyond differences and leverage their resources to make the Midlands more vibrant and attractive.

That’s exactly what 300 community leaders will be asked to do when they come together Oct. 22 to chart a course for the eight-county region of Lexington, Richland, Kershaw, Fairfield, Newberry, Saluda, Sumter and Calhoun. The initiative, dubbed Midlands Reality Check, is being led by the Urban Land Institute, which notes that the region must be prepared to ensure that significant growth headed our way is orderly, smart and sustainable.

Participants will be provided with this reality: 450,000 new residents are expected in the region by 2040. It will take 174,000 new housing units to shelter those newcomers. And 93,000 additional K-12 students are likely to flood into Midlands schools, requiring 14 new high schools, 22 new middle schools and 30 new elementary schools. The influx of people will require 69.5 million gallons of additional water per day and 1,700 new hospital beds.

The Urban Land Institute seeks to encourage leaders — elected officials, business people and beyond — to develop a purposeful game plan to address impending growth.

Participants at the Oct. 22 gathering, which has been designated as Game Day, will be divided into teams and given large regional maps and LEGOs that represent new households and new jobs. They will be asked to rely on guiding principles to help build consensus on where the jobs, housing and transportation should develop and to show their results on their maps.

The intent isn’t to craft a master plan; it’s to help provide a vision for how the region can develop in a sustainable, prosperous manner. If the leaders can leave with improved relationships and shared principles that help guide future development, this will have been productive.

The Game Day results will be presented at a public summit on Oct. 24. Institute members in Columbia will work over the next couple of years to help guide continued discussions and implementation of some ideas from Game Day. That could include local governments adopting certain new policies or making changes to land-use and zoning plans.

This process provides added momentum to other collaborative efforts to secure the prosperity of the Midlands. Local mayors decided a couple of years ago to lay aside turf, political and other differences to work on common goals in an effort to boost the Midlands’ competitiveness, economic development and quality of life. Chambers of commerce and economic development officials from 12 counties followed suit and began exploring ways they could collaborate.

While there is no guaranteed formula for ensuring that a region flourishes, a failure to plan can lead to, well, failure. Midlands Reality Check is yet another step toward making sure the Midlands succeeds.

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