By most estimates, the Midlands region of South Carolina is expected to grow by roughly 450,000 people in the next 30 years. That is equivalent to putting slightly more than the population of the four-county Asheville, North Carolina metropolitan area into the Midlands by 2040. Of these 450,000 projected new residents, it is anticipated that Lexington County will attract the largest share. Already, the Town of Lexington is one of the fastest growing municipalities in South Carolina and Lexington County is among the fastest growing counties in the state.
With our favorable climate, geographical amenities such as Lake Murray, proximity to major metropolitan areas such as Charlotte and Atlanta, and good schools, growth in the Midlands is inevitable. Accommodating this growth must be a priority for our region and raises the question of whether the Midlands will manage the growth by choice or by chance?
To begin a coordinated, regional approach to addressing growth issues, approximately 300 area residents—including leaders from business, government, military, education, environmental and other sectors–came together last month in an unprecedented, collaborative effort to take the first steps to create a strong, progressive and sustainable urban growth plan for the Midlands. Using large-scale regional maps and markers representing new households and new jobs, the participants projected, through consensus and guiding principles, where jobs, housing and transportation should develop in order to sustain prosperity while protecting and improving our quality of life. While a regional approach to handling growth and development has long been discussed, efforts to date have not been productive due in large part to social, political, geographical and demographic issues. Funded by private sponsors, foundations, local governments and community organizations, this “Midlands Reality Check” seeks to bridge these barriers and begin a discussion to lay the groundwork for a cohesive, approach to potential growth and expansion across the Midlands, as well as foster needed regional conversations and identify future action.
“We are confident this initiative is the catalyst the Midlands needs to put some big things in motion. This process will be the blueprint for intentional, collaborative change in the way our region thinks and acts about growth for decades to come,” said Herbert Ames, a project manager for local real estate developer Edens & Avant. “Creating a realistic and attainable regional vision for the Midlands is imperative if we want to remain competitive and be viewed as a desirable entrepreneurial hub, that is an ideal place to live, work, visit and play,” said Irene Dumas- Tyson, co-chair of Midlands Reality Check and director of planning for The Boudreaux Group, and who was instrumental in developing the Vision Plan for the Town of Lexington.
Among other items that the initial Reality Check participants agreed as regional priorities include:
- The top three challenges to achieving a successful growth plan are insufficient cooperation among regional leaders; lack of effective job creation initiatives; and lack of access to alternative forms of transportation.
- Strategies to overcome the regional challenges include a continued need for vision, leadership and cooperation by Midlands governments and businesses; maximizing use of existing infrastructure; and providing incentives for designing multi-use (residential/retail/office) centers.
- Investment in transportation and utility infrastructure is best spent repairing, improving and increasing capacity of existing roads to support future development, followed by investment in light rail and commuter rail transit. Only a small percentage of the Reality Check attendees believed that constructing more roads is a priority. The minimal support for bus transit indicated a general belief that regional light rail alternatives are necessary to deal with future growth.
- Growth must further the development of safe cities and towns that are vibrant places where people want to live and work within a reasonable commute.
The Reality Check participants were overwhelmingly optimistic that the initial Reality Check session will further discussions towards a regional growth and development plan. There is no doubt that growth is already happening around us and more growth is coming. What does the future of our region look like? President Abraham Lincoln perhaps summarized it best when he said, “the best way to predict the future is to create it yourself.”
Click here to see the full Reality Check summary.