The secret of Greenville, SC’s success is simple: balance. Balance between the old and the new. Between growth and quality of life. Between economic vibrancy and day-to-day livability.
As one of livability.com’s Best Places to Live, this energetic city has much working in its favor, from an enviable location in the booming Charlotte-Atlanta corridor and a welcoming cultural mix of urban sophistication and traditional Southern charm, to its talented young workforce and diversified economy.
“It’s all about getting the balance right,” says Knox White, a Greenville native who has served as mayor since 1995 and overseen the city’s emergence as one of the nation’s most saluted places to live. “You want a robust local economy that creates jobs and opportunities, but at the same time, you need to balance growth with a strong quality of life – you want to have a place people love, lots of activities, lots of green space, a lot of attention paid to walkability.”
Reviving Main Street
Like many cities, Greenville experienced difficulties in the 1970s as the local textile economy faltered, and the downtown core was becoming deserted. Unlike many cities, though, Greenville got on top of the situation quickly, becoming one of the first to revitalize its downtown – it was an early Great American Main Street community – and actively working to diversify its economic base.
“When I came along 20 years later, my job was to jump-start the downtown with mixed-use development, making sure we had not just office, but also residential and retail – whatever it took,” White says. “We had success. Today, we have a strong 3,000 to 4,000 person residential sector, and downtown activity almost 24/7. It’s the place everyone in the area wants to go.”
Greenville offers a wonderful variety of amenities, from first-class museums and other cultural opportunities to a very active restaurant scene, hiking and biking trails, music of all kinds, and award-winning parks and green space. The biggest achievement, the “center of gravity” of the changes in downtown Greenville is the reclamation of the city’s riverfront.
For many years, a bridge and highway had covered a magnificent 40-foot waterfall in the middle of downtown. After much controversy and compromise, “the perfectly good bridge” as it was known was torn down to unveil an urban jewel, now the centerpiece of Falls Park (2005) and a spur to re-energize the entire riverfront into a favorite spot for living, dining, entertainment and shopping.
These attractive amenities complement an array of housing options, from million-dollar riverfront condos to affordable housing, an important city focus. A highly ranked consolidated public school system includes both city and county students, and is enriched by a number of colleges and universities, among them Furman University and Clemson University’s four-year school of medicine.
Focus on Authenticity
Looking ahead, White says Greenville’s challenge is to “focus is on authenticity, to keep what gives us our unique personality.”
Expanding green space even further is a priority as is additional attention to the river, including a 100-acre park in the works that will help provide new opportunities to grow the river corridor.
“Any river gives your community a certain uniqueness and character, and we want to preserve that,” White says. “Being on I-85 between Atlanta and Charlotte, we are going to grow. So the key is growing the right way.”