Investing in home

Helping a community taking root in Greenville.

When you talk to the people of Greenville, they talk about the history. The history of a mill town that had to grow, innovate, and change as the cotton industry closed down.

While certain areas of town found new ways to thrive, others haven’t always received the same amount of investment and opportunities.

In the neighborhood 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 can sometimes breathe new life into communities, this type of project also has the potential to repeat an all-too-familiar story. One where long-time residents are slowly but surely priced out of the neighborhoods they once knew through the steady march of gentrification.

However, with the foresight and community-centered work of the Greenville County Redevelopment Authority (GCRA), this former trailer park was redeveloped to tell a different story.

In partnership with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development and with other grants, GCRA got to work on major infrastructure repairs and projects that would allow them to build a neighborhood of new homes for seniors and low- to moderate-income families.

And in 2008, the new community of Creekside 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 improvements was not passed along to the new homeowners. However, the investment in the new neighborhood did not cover trees that could root new homeowners into 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 Trees Upstate personally reached out to households in this Creekside to understand their questions and concerns about trees, then equip residents with young trees to grow in their yards.

“Trees are important, especially in low to moderate income neighborhoods,” said Evangeline Castor, Outreach and Engagement Manager for Trees Upstate. “Those are the communities that are often left out. They're often missing trees. They're often lacking 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 where more than 200 volunteers planted 128 in the neighborhood. Working together, families and volunteers dug holes and claimed a slice of their community.

In Creekside that day, every tree symbolized something much greater than the sapling put in the ground. For homeowners, it was about claiming to a place to call their own.

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