Monday, February 10, 2014

North Main, Greenville - an endangered neighborhood?

We chose to buy a house in this particular neighborhood due to several reasons. The proximity to downtown Greenville (walking distance), Stone Elementary and a stable property market were three important reasons, however my first and foremost was the green. Not dollars that is (although translated into dollars in terms of heating and cooling costs), but trees, nature. An established neighborhood dotted with parks, the streets are lined with mature trees. In backyards you’ll find kitchen gardens, chicken coops, bee hives and more trees. The residents appreciate the 50-100 year old trees for the air they filter, the shade they bring in the summer lowering the temperature by a good 10 degrees, the protection from wind and frost in the winter boosting heating efficiency, and the aesthetic value. The wildlife value in this urban forest is unarguable; whether it’s the birdsong with your morning coffee, or the hawks and snakes keeping the rodent population down, little creatures of all sorts live in this neighborhood right along with the humans.

A typical street - currently the branches are bare of leaves
One year ago a house on the next block was demolished. Over the course of the year, every single last tree on that property was razed, and ten houses (and one containment pond) were installed. My neighbors and I watched as what used to be forest was paved over with driveways, replaced with giant mansions more suited to a suburban cookie-cutter neighborhood, planted with turf and non-native ornamental trees and shrubs that will never grow over 20 feet tall (and never provide any sort of benefit in terms of cleaning air or providing shade and shelter). We silently wept while saying it was for the greater good of the neighborhood, as now more families will be able to live in this wonderful area we call home. We crossed our fingers the containment pond would work to collect all the rainwater from a large area that now had nowhere to go; in the past it would have simply soaked into the ground, but rain doesn’t soak into driveways and roofs, nor into the ground once all the topsoil has been destroyed resulting in a thick, impermeable clay with a layer of turf over it.

A few months ago a house across the street from the new development was demolished. We first shook our heads, wondering what is becoming of this little neighborhood, but then we rose into action when another property (a right of way that would have placed 5 houses and a road down the middle of a block) was threatened with development. That disaster has been put on hiatus; the previous one continues. Five houses rose up on the hill, again having nothing architecturally in common with any other house in the area. We sighed with relief when the trees were left standing, assuming the new owners saw the value in them same as we did. But last week, they too were razed, the clay hillside left completely bare and unprotected while another containment pond and driveway are installed. A giant magnolia that was probably one of the first residents of the modern North Main neighborhood, mature fig trees that dripped with fruit every fall, beautiful shade-providing water oaks that would have stood another 150 years – the entire block has been denuded, stripped, razed of its green. We will see what the summer brings in terms of mosquitos and disease, results of the acres of muddy containment ponds that more closely resemble cow wallows than any pond I know.

On the plus side, one tree has been planted
I’m utterly bewildered as to what the new owners want with our neighborhood. Obviously it isn’t the tree-lined streets that they value, nor the unique architectural facets of the single-family homes that dominate the area. If the boxlike uniformity of new houses with tiny green patches of lawn is what they seek, why destroy our neighborhood in their quest? We will all suffer the consequences of this loss of mature trees; financially and aesthetically, animals have lost their homes and my soul pains every time I drive down the street that was once a tunnel below a roof of green leaves and now is simply just another street in any subdivision in the US.

The city of Greenville is at fault, for not having zoning ordinances in place to protect a unique, historic area of what is a booming town in the Upstate. The North Main area is historically significant, as it is the first residential area of the city, boasting one of the oldest homes in Greenville which dates to 1813. The residents are just as guilty, of not taking notice of these drastic changes to our area until it is the property across the street being subdivided and paved over. I am responsible, for not speaking up earlier for fear of offending some of my new neighbors. But something has to be done; we are losing the very essence of our neighborhood, those things which make it unique and appealing. What can we do?

1. Join the North Main Community Association and learn of new developments being considered in your backyard.
2. Contact your District 1 Representative, Amy Ryberg Doyle.
PO Box 2207, Greenville, SC 29602
(864) 232-7179, @AmyRybergDoyle
Also, the North Main Community Association has a list of contact information for various city officials, the city of Greenville lists these city service request links.
3. When replacing diseased or downed trees, take into consideration: the species, is it native, will it provide shade, does it provide wildlife benefits.
4. Participate in local community meetings, be aware of what is taking place in your neighborhood, and understand that while today it might be “that street a few blocks down”, tomorrow it might be you.

We all have a responsibility for our community, not only to make newcomers feel welcome, but to ensure that the qualities which pulled us to this neighborhood are sustained, and continue to be the driving factors in attracting new residents to the area. The trees that have been cut cannot be propped back up, and although we will feel the effects for dozens of years, new trees can be planted and the forest restored. It’s up to you – plant that seed, root that tree, grow our community.


  1. It is such a shame when this happens. And the general disruption to the neighborhood during construction is considerable. When I lived in a very popular neighborhood, quite a few older smaller homes were torn down and replaced with McMansions. My car tires picked up three nails on three different occasions within about a 9 month period!

    By the way, I just saw that you've got more winter weather heading in your direction, and I'll get that afterwards...

    1. Based on where you're looking, they are predicting 1-8 inches of snow, slush and rain over the next three days... Looks like we'll be watching a lot of Olympic hockey!

      The construction bothers me, although not as much as end results - ratio of house/driveway/garage to plot size, and architectural "fit" into the neighborhood... The perpetual red clay runoff that coats the street is unpleasant, but no nails yet - you would think the construction outfit would be liable.

  2. This makes me so sad. I think part of the problem is that Greenville was not prepared for the growth. Hopefully they will be able to expand and co-exist with the environment there. Part of the reason I loved Greenville where the trees.

    1. Barbara, I think it is very possible for new development to occur while still keeping with the soul of the neighborhood. At the other end of the block a lot was subdivided and the original home completely renovated with another house built just next to it. However both structures have elements keeping with the historic bungalows of the area, and in case of the new construction, both mature trees on that property remain. It is possible; we just need ordinances protecting trees, zoning ordinances on lot size/green space ratio, and responsible developers. Hopefully there will still be plenty of trees when you move back to Greenville.

  3. Sorry to hear it, but that is happen everywhere. No guarantee that you will live in the same place where move in. That I always try to remember, but it is not helping.:) For us, Latvians, trees and nature is essential.

    1. That's just it Inese, it isn't happening everywhere - there are hundreds of neighborhoods that having zoning/canopy ordinances that greatly influence new subdivisions and construction. We have at least five historic neighborhoods here in Greenville that protect the architectural integrity of the area - I'm just asking for protection for our trees!

  4. Protect the trees!


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