Written by Sawyer Rew, Contributor
A typical commute from Furman to downtown Greenville takes about 15 minutes. Although the commute is short, it is not particularly enjoyable. Poinsett Highway is a four-lane monstrosity flanked by poverty and filth. The roads are spotted with potholes, people walk along the medians and vacated buildings rot on all sides of the street. Once we reach our destination, we forget the sketchy drive and opt to enjoy the beauty of downtown Greenville.
There was a time when all of Greenville looked like Poinsett Highway. Luckily, the downtown area has made a comeback and Greenville looks forward to a bright future. We must find ways to share downtown Greenville’s prosperity with its orbiting communities.
This problem, however, is not unique to Greenville; it is an epidemic in the United States. Small-town America is looking less and less like the American Dream and more and more like an American Nightmare. Infrastructure in the United States is horrid in comparison to countries such as Germany. Areas that Americans would deem efficient or beautiful would be condemned in other developed countries. All of this is the result of the United States’ laissez-faire urban planning strategy.
Consider the words of the architect and author, Edgar Kaufmann Jr., and his analysis of our urban aimlessness: “What is happening now is hardly more than what happened in Rome in the Dark Ages. Men tear down great works and put up the best they can.” Not only are we neglecting urban innovation, we are also doing less than “the best we can.”
In order to simplify this idea, I will make this analogy: Think of the urban environment as a human body. The urban core is the heart. The areas orbiting the urban core are the limbs. Think of the roads as veins and arteries and people as blood. In order to have a healthy body, one must have a healthy heart. Then, one must have healthy veins and arteries. These veins and arteries ought not to hemorrhage or clog. If there is a clog, then the blood cannot reach the limbs and the limbs die (or at least become inefficient). Our urban veins are clogged and inefficient. As a result, our whole urban body suffers. We undoubtedly find this lack of innovative planning to be tiresome.
What can an institution like Furman University do to solve the harrowing national urban crisis? I believe downtown Greenville is one of the most inspiring urban developments in recent times. This community was able to raise a “dead” urban core up to national prominence. The counterattack against laissez-faire urban planning is under way. Greenville has the opportunity to show the rest of the Southeast and subsequently the United States that we value great urban planning. I believe the best way we can keep this ball rolling is to advocate for public transportation that connects Furman University to downtown Greenville.
In order to leap boldly into Greenville’s future, we must plan boldly. I have heard we are not the only University with a reinvigorated relationship with its city. The University of North Carolina at Charlotte opened a light rail system connecting it to the city of Charlotte. UNCC now possesses an unprecedented connection to the city of Charlotte. I believe Furman should do the same with downtown Greenville.
Although we have roughly 13% of the population of Charlotte, we can still find the means to create for ourselves a light rail system by playing to our strengths. I think most of us agree that downtown Greenville is a charming and quaint community. We have wide sidewalks, fantastic greenspaces, award-winning restaurants and local retailers. It is outrageous to think that Greenville needs a high capacity light rail system for at least the next 20 years. If we want to bring light rail to Greenville, we need to make it charming and quaint. I would think of it as a cross between the Disneyland Railroad and the San Francisco trolley system. This rail system would be the perfect balance between aesthetic appeal and function, which I believe is uniquely Greenville.
Regardless of the rail’s appearance, the route is more significant. It would run from downtown Greenville to Furman University. If this is anything like the Blue Line in Charlotte, we can expect housing, restaurants and retail to pop up along its route. Not only that, but the route would run along the dilapidated Poinsett Highway.
Newcomers would be encouraged to live beside Poinsett Highway and commute using this light rail system. Students would discover a new extraordinary connection with both Greenville and Furman University. Tourists would enjoy the food and the shopping of downtown Greenville as well as the solitude and beauty of Furman’s campus.
All of these ideas, again, are just thoughts until they are put into action. I hope you all see that Furman can be a great force for progress in this community. I hope you find these things empowering. Look for towns and other urban areas that inspire you. Why do they inspire you? Go to every street and reflect on how you feel. In my own case, I went to my downtown and stood on every street corner and recorded how I felt. Perhaps evaluate things on the basis of comfort or discomfort. Then, deliberate as to why you feel one way or the other. Remember, we must think of our infrastructure as works of art praiseworthy of all nations.
Consider the writing below. Although it does not immediately relate to transportation, I find it masterful:
“When a city begins to grow and spread outward from the edges, the center which was once its glory…goes into a period of desolation inhabited at night by the vague ruins of men, the lotus eaters who struggle daily toward unconsciousness by way of raw alcohol. Nearly every city I know has such a dying mother of violence and despair where at night the brightness of the streetlamps is sucked away and policemen walk in pairs. And then one day perhaps the city returns and rips out the sore and builds a monument to its past.” —John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley
Food for thought…