About 200 stakeholders in Spartanburg's Highland community met Monday to start work on a blueprint meant to guide changes and renewal of the neighborhood in coming years, The Spartanburg Herald-Journal reported. The community is one of the city's poorest.
APD Urban Planning + Management CEO Jesse Wiles describes the meeting as "an important first step."
"It's a way for this community to begin to transform, to turn themselves around and begin to realize the vision that they have to become a great place to live, work and play," Wiles said during the meeting held Tuesday.
The Spartanburg City Council selected Wiles' firm in March to lead the one-year planning process that is expected to cost about $186,000.
APD Senior Planner Matthew Bedsole said the meeting was held to gather input on priorities, including housing, education and transportation needs, the community wants to set for the area.
When Gladys Alston was growing up, she said the Highland community was both home and a hang-out spot. Her view is grounded in the realization that the Highland community has many challenges.
"To try to rate these things on a scale from one to six, in terms of priority, I think that's just putting me at a disadvantage to be honest," Alston said. "The reality is that there are many, many areas that need to be addressed."
The lack of access to affordable grocery shopping is a problem for people who lack the means to drive outside the Highland area, she said.
"There are many people who are forced to walk," Alston said. "And that's just one thing we need to change."
She also stressed that revitalization efforts need to be approached in a way that won't simply drive up housing costs to an extent that current residents can no longer afford to live there.
United Way's Wilma Moore said she was pleased to see the turnout, and dreams of a Highland community that is as welcoming as it was when she moved to the area when she was 10. Her mother still calls the area home.
"I really counted myself lucky when I first moved there," Moore said. "Kids could play in the yard, and you could sit on the porch and just feel comfortable. People walked up and down the streets and shared dinner. There was this great sense of family. I guess that's why I fell in love with the place."
The thing she most dislikes about the Highland of today? A sense of apathy when it comes to addressing the neighborhood's woes.
"But that's not what I'm seeing here tonight," Moore said. "There's plenty of people here who brought plenty of energy with them. We need to see more of this."
Wiles also said the community participation was beyond what he expected.
"We've had some meetings in the past that couldn't hold a candle to the number of folks that we've seen here tonight," Wiles said. "So I'm really happy to see that."
Two additional community meetings will be held later this year though APD officials said dates have not yet been set.
Information from: Herald-Journal, http://www.goupstate.com/
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