Downtown Revitalization, Church Life, & Florence
I'm glad to see that Florence is still keeping downtown revitalization on the radar. A recent article on SCNow includes this brief summary:
“Sumter, Conway, Dillon … even Bishopville’s for heaven’s sake,” [Agnes Wilcox] said. “It’s just embarrassing that we’re so far behind.”
The push, albeit often a gentle one, to redevelop the downtown area is nothing new. In fact, it’s at least a decade old. And while there have been some triumphs ...the basic problem still exists. The old commercial area, centered on the intersection of Dargan and Evans streets, remains a dilapidated mess without much promise for change.
What Florence needs is more mixed-use development. This has worked well in my hometown of Greenville and seemed to be heading towards success while we were in Rock Hill. Mixed use development keeps downtown areas alive: the folks who work downtown keep it vibrant from 9am-5pm, and the folks who live downtown keep it going from 5pm-9pm. Without both, you end up with deserted main streets and unsafe thoroughfares.
Community planning and church life go hand in hand. As our community planners rely more heavily on traffic patterns and suburban development, community identity fades away. The local grocer loses out to the big box chain. The mall replaces the men's store or the dress shop. The hyper-local church that ministers to a 5-7 mile radius gives way to the church on the bypass that ministers to a 20 mile radius. Our communities lose their sense of place and become dependent on longer commutes. They become bedroom communities for the larger town. Families who can't afford daily transportation have their options severely limited, and 2 cars per home almost becomes a necessity. For some, poverty looms on the horizon if they're dependent on a 15 mile commute to work. Communities and neighborhoods become anonymous as everyone begins and end their day in their garage rather than by passing each other on the sidewalk. The Church often takes on this same mindset, becoming a large anonymous gathering of folks who have no geographic unity or sense of belonging outside of Sunday morning.
Downtown revitalization is key, even if you don't live downtown. It sets a template for surrounding areas. It prepares folks to think about pedestrian-friendly scales, bike-friendly streets, and mixed use living that overcomes archaic zoning laws that undermine our patterns of life. Revitalization starts to shift us back to local living, when we knew each other and shared in life together.