When you talk to the people of Upstate South Carolina, they talk about the area’s history. The history of mill towns that had to grow, innovate, and change as the textile industry moved out of town.
While certain areas found new ways to thrive, others haven’t always received the same amount of investment and opportunities.
In the city of Greer, a 14-acre trailer park had fallen into deep disrepair, and developers were looking to buy the plot to overhaul it into new developments. While this type of investment can sometimes breathe new life into communities, it also has the potential to repeat an all-too-familiar story. One where long-time residents are slowly but surely priced out of their neighborhoods through the steady march of gentrification.
However, with the foresight and community-centered work of the Greenville County Redevelopment Authority (GCRA), this plot of land was redeveloped to tell a different story.
In partnership with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development and with contributions from other grants, GCRA got to work on major infrastructure repairs and projects. The result of this overhaul was a neighborhood of new homes built for seniors and low- to moderate-income families. And in 2008, Creekside Community welcomed its first homeowners.
The development features tidy streets of new homes set into a gently rolling expanse of lawns. Thanks to these grants, the cost of the infrastructure improvements was not passed along to the new homeowners. However, the investment in the new neighborhood did not cover trees. More than a decade after the first families moved in, Creekside was still lacking trees to root residents in their community.
“Trees tell stories for people,” said Julian Nixon, Director for Diversity and Inclusion at the College of Agriculture, Forestry, and Life Sciences at Clemson University. “They make a space intimate, which makes it more of a home. So that's that connection of a tree with people in their homes.”
A TREE CAN BE A STAKE IN THE GROUND
Through an environmental justice grant from the Arbor Day Foundation, the organization TreesUpstate personally reached out to households in the Creekside Community to understand their questions and concerns about trees. Then, they equipped residents with young trees to grow in their yards.
“Trees are important, especially in low- to moderate-income neighborhoods,” said Evangeline Costa, Outreach and Engagement Manager for TreesUpstate. “Those are the communities that are often left out. They're often missing trees. … And typically, they're lacking services. So, for us to work in a community to bring in trees, it's creating tree equity. It's bringing fairness across the board to a community.”
The initiative culminated in a tree-planting event during which more than 200 volunteers planted 128 trees in the neighborhood. Working together, families and volunteers dug holes, rooted trees, and claimed a slice of their community.
In Creekside Community that day, every tree symbolized something much greater than the sapling put in the ground. For homeowners, it represented claiming a place to call their own.