We Are Vital Characters in Greenville’s Story

Written by Sawyer Riew, Contributor

My fellow Paladins, 

I hope you find my words amusing and useful in your pursuit of truth.

Many students are not told of the tumultuous yet triumphant history of downtown Greenville. Furman used to be located near the center of downtown Greenville and stood as a beacon of knowledge and progress. Around the early and mid 20th century, Greenville became a leader in the textile industry. In fact, Greenville was so confident in textiles that they neglected economic diversification. Furman subsequently left downtown in order to make way for this industry. Then, suddenly, the textile business collapsed, and Greenville was left in a massive depression. By then, Furman had already relocated off of Poinsett Highway.  

In the late 1990s, Downtown Greenville was not the charming place we all know today. In fact, it was so unsafe that native Greenvillians would purposely avoid downtown. You can imagine the little restaurants and local retail shops being replaced by empty cobwebbed shells. The Greenville of the early 1990s was a ghost town.

After decades of destitution, the people of Greenville and its leaders turned everything around. Over the last 20 years, this once forgotten town evolved into one of the top microcities in the country. We can only imagine what it would have been like if Furman stayed downtown.  

I have heard it said that it is not good to linger on the past. The future is not behind us, but infinitely ahead of us. It is with an invigorated spirit of optimism that Greenville looks towards this bright and expansive future.

All of this is nice to think about, but in order to reach the lofty goal of “progress,” we must take baby steps. One vital step in this long journey is to reconnect Furman University with downtown Greenville. Recently, there have been articles published by the Greenville News calling for a “signature downtown University.” Anthony Herrera—the Executive Director of Furman’s Office for Innovation & Entrepreneurship—shot back saying, “I would argue that Greenville doesn’t need to seek a signature university because it already has one—Furman University.” Not only this, but Furman University contributes more than $297 million to the upstate’s economy. Perhaps, then, it is in our best interest to secure this connection as quickly as possible. 

The Master Plan for Downtown Greenville was revealed on May 29th, 2019. The plan highlights Greenville’s current lack of diversification with corporate business headquarters, cultural venues, and affordable housing. Greenville might be edging toward the mistake it made with textiles. This time, however, Furman has the ability to keep all this from happening. Corporate headquarters would be attracted by the recruiting potential and intellectual capital of Furman students. Furman could also relocate its music and theater arts schools downtown, subsequently generating cultural venues. Furman could also head initiatives to construct affordable housing all over downtown. The reality is that progress comes slowly and, perhaps, the best way for Furman to facilitate a deeper connection with downtown is in transportation. 

Furman’s impact can be improved by the mobility of its students. Improving transportation would improve student mobility and, inevitably, secure a deeper connection with downtown.

Presently, Furman does not have significant transportation solutions. In fact, Furman struggles to perfect its on-campus shuttle services. Students are left to pay gas prices and parking permits in order to have mobility. 

Imagine if Furman possessed a robust transportation system. Students would have the luxury of traveling to and from downtown Greenville efficiently and affordably. This system would allow students to live on campus and work downtown with ease (both in and out of the school year).  

These ideas, however, are only ideas and will remain ideas until put into action. It is important for us to remember that we are vital characters in the story of downtown Greenville. I believe it is up to the student body to set the precedent for progress in order to take advantage of this bright and expansive future…Food for thought.

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