TSW’s Blythewood Plan On View At Smart-Growth Conference

The 10/14/2009 – 10/20/2009 edition of The Free Times covers Smart Growth and Sustainable Site Design Conference, a smart-growth conferenc that featured TSW’s plan for Blythewood, South Carolina.

Blythewood Plan On View At Smart-Growth Conference
by Al Dozier
Free Times, Columbia, SC

The Town of Blythewood has a vision of the future driven by all of the new buzzwords: smart growth, sustainable development, new urbanism.

Those growth formulas and the new master plan for Blythewood will take center stage Oct. 20-21 during a conference expected to draw planners and government leaders from across the state to hear from a panel of experts. The conference is a partnership with the Town of Blythewood, the Enterprise Campus at Midlands Technical College and the Municipal Association of South Carolina. It will be held at Midland’s Tech’s Northeast Campus.

Its title is a mouthful: “Smart Growth and Sustainable Site Design Conference.”

But what does it all mean?

John Thomas, President of Sustainable Designs Consultants of Bluffton, says it’s all about change in the way neighborhoods are designed in the future.

They won’t be the typical suburbs of today, which have “no heart and soul,” he says.
Instead, think about the old, old neighborhoods of the 1940s and 1950s (if you’re that old): Those communities had a grocery store, a service station, a dry cleaner, a drug store, church, school and park. And, they were only blocks from your home.

Thomas and other planners use the word “walkable” when they talk about the neighborhoods of the future. You don’t have to get in your car and drive miles away just to buy groceries or go to a restaurant. You just walk.

Homes are smaller and more energy efficient. Yards are smaller, so you don’t necessarily need a lawn service. The town center is a mixed-use center, with retail and residential, sometimes combined in the same structures

Green space is everywhere.

Thomas believes that if natural surroundings are left in place, it is easier to foster the shrubs and trees that were there to start with. He says natural storm drainage is far better than trying to pipe water away.

Many of his views are similar to those in the Blythewood master plan, a showcase for the future that town leaders are passionate about.

It’s more than something to talk about, according to Town Administrator John Perry, who
says some projects are already under way.

“We’ve got to be walkers of the talk,” Perry says.

The town, located just north of Columbia just off I-77, has been going through a growth spurt during the last few years, with the Lake Carolina and Long Creek Plantation neighborhoods leading the way.

The “business as usual” approach to growth should not be allowed in Blythewood, according to recommendations in the Blythewood master plan, drawn up by Tunnell-Spangler-Walsh and Associates.

If left to the ways of the past, Blythewood would become “the same type of place found at nearly every I-77 exit from here to Columbia,” the plan says. Farms and woodlands would be replaced by “faceless strip malls, cookie-cutter subdivisions, and industrial parks.”

Instead, the town should offer trees, trails and natural areas. A series of multi-use trail would connect parks, homes and businesses while offering recreational opportunities such as horseback riding and biking.

The smart-growth view of development is not without its critics. Among the arguments raised by opponents are that smart-growth policies increase traffic problems, air pollution and housing costs by concentrating populations in a small area; and that such policies devalue rural land by zoning it as unavailable for some commercial, industrial and residential uses.

Regardless, the conference will draw a lot of attention because smart growth is a hot topic
across the state, according to Reba Campbell, deputy executive director of the Municipal Association.

She says most of the planners in South Carolina are familiar with the smart growth ideas now being advocated by professional consultants and want to learn more.

But the pursuit of smart growth initiatives depends on where you are in South Carolina, according to Campbell.

“It’s going to be a lot different in Chesterfield than it is in Charleston,” she says.

Conference attendees will hear all about the Blythewood master plan and also about the topics it espouses from a cast of southeastern planners, designers and developers.

Tony Criscitiello, Beaufort County Planning Director, will talk about Codes for Creative Design.

Frank Hahne, director of engineering and storm water for Sustainable Design Consultants, will speak on cost savings and low impact development, citing the design for an Ingersoll Rand site on Lake Davidson, north of Charlotte.

Keynote speaker Victor Dover, cited by Architecture magazine as being among “the country’s best urban designers and architects,” is a founding principal of Dover, Kohl & Partners, a town planning and urban design practice based in Coral Gables, Fla. The firm focuses on the creation and restoration of real neighborhoods as the basis for sound communities.

His South Carolina projects include master plans and studies for historic areas of Bluffton, Port Royal, Beaufort, Johns Island, and Charleston.

Kathy DeBusk, Extension Associate, North Carolina State University will talk about storm water management.

The overall objective in smart growth, Campbell says, is a much more plan-oriented approach to the future, and she says it’s happening everywhere.

One of the best efforts now under way, according to Campbell, is taking place in
Greenwood, where the downtown is undergoing a major renovation. In five years since the city’s master plan was adopted, more than $13 million dollars has been invested or committed to public projects within the Emerald Triangle, a nine-acre, triangular-shaped setting in the heart of downtown.

The transformation, which included restoring the facades of 26 buildings, is now drawing private investments.

Blythewood is embarked on a similar path.

To register or learn more about the Smart Growth and Sustainable Site Design Conference, visit http://www.masc.sc/smart-growth.