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Executive Director Andrea Cooper on growth, greenspace, transportation and more

February 16th, 2022

This is an excerpt from a roundtable discussion originally published by Greenville Business Magazine. To read it on the Greenville Business Magazine website, click here. To view a digital copy of February 2022 print edition of Greenville Business Magazine, click here.


Executive Director Andrea Cooper recently spoke with leaders from across the Upstate as a part of Greenville Business Magazine's Ten at the Top Roundtable Q&A series. Below, read her answers regarding growth, greenspace, transportation and more...

Greenville Business Magazine: Where new development goes is often at the discretion of the land owners (with some input from local governments). What can be done to ensure that we do not have sprawling growth, but instead build new residential and commercial developments in appropriate locations that will not tax our physical infrastructure?

Andrea Cooper (AC): Cities and counties in South Carolina develop comprehensive plans (aka “comp plans”) to help guide future growth. These plans provide blueprints for where communities wish to grow and areas they wish to see left rural, forested, or as farmland. Such plans are our best tools for coordinating infrastructure investments and land development projects, and generally growing in a more fiscally responsible way. All too often, however, we let these plans sit on shelves instead of enacting them with policy. If we wish to reduce sprawl and better manage our fiscal and natural resources, elected leaders need to get serious about aligning policies with plans.

Maintaining our natural resources (water, air, open space, etc.) is critical for the Upstate. What is your organization doing to ensure that natural resource preservation is part of the discussion as you are engaged in land use growth?

The mission of Upstate Forever is to protect our region’s most critical lands and waters. We believe that all citizens should have access to clean drinking water, healthy air to breathe, and safe greenspaces. We believe that economic development – while obviously critical – should not come at the expense of these important community priorities. Upstate South Carolina is blessed with some truly amazing natural assets. Upstate Forever advocates for smart land use policy and local investments to ensure these assets are not harmed – or worse yet, lost forever – as we grow. We also support increased funding for critical lands to protect important drinking water and other natural resources in addition to creating more places for residents to recreate as our area grows and our existing recreation areas become increasingly overburdened. 

Moving people and goods from place to place is an important component of how we grow. Some parts of the region are already seeing significant traffic congestion. In addition, many of our lower-income residents live far away from job centers and often have trouble with access to transportation. What considerations do you currently give to mobility when looking at development and land use, and are there specific things we need to incorporate into future growth that can help reduce congestion while also increasing access to transportation?

Most areas of the Upstate have a low-density, suburban-style development pattern built almost entirely for cars. For most residents, that means travel by automobile is the only efficient option in nearly every case. No wonder we have traffic congestion! Most of us want mobility options and a well-functioning transit system. The issue is that we are not making the land use decisions to support those options. We need to start adopting land development policies now that focus a mix of uses in strategic nodes and invest heavily in infrastructure that supports walking, biking, and transit in those areas.

Who needs to be “at the table” when looking at how we are growing? Are those parties currently meeting and working together around growth?

We all do! Local land use policy affects us all. You’d be surprised at just how much land use decisions can support – or hinder – goals around affordable housing, mobility and transit, and greenspace preservation. Unfortunately, stakeholders representing these important community priorities are rarely at the table when critical land policy decisions are made.

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