In November, I attended a City of Greenville Planning Commission meeting to speak out against the proposed Village of West Greenville Micro-Area Plan. To me, it was obvious that the so-called “plan” ignored the systemic racism and discrimination that plagued West Greenville for the better part of a century. If approved, it would exacerbate the gentrification that has run rampant in West Greenville and across the city.
After I finished my remarks to the Planning Commission, one of its members asked me if I understood the difference between "The Village" and West Greenville. I stared at him, incredulous. My mother was from West Greenville. So was my grandfather. I grew up attending Antioch Baptist Church on Sundays. I learned to ride a bike on Doe Street. I learned how to swim in the community swimming pool – before the city closed it.
Growing up, no one ever called my neighborhood “The Village.” It was always West Greenville.
I told the Planning Commission that I wasn’t going to adopt a new name for my community because that would dishonor the generations who lived there before me.
After my turn, I listened to speaker after speaker express support for this new plan for “The Village.” I didn’t know these people.They wouldn’t have stepped foot on my street 20 years ago.
At that moment, I realized there is a difference between West Greenville and The Village. It's a difference founded not in location, but in perspective. A difference rooted not in geography, but in ideal. It’s a difference that beckons us to realize we are at a defining moment in our city’s history, where we must make the right choices. The moral choices. It must begin now.
West Greenville coverage: New Realm Brewing project for Greenville's West End moves forward after debate
We must save West Greenville from The Village.
West Greenville is the traditionally Black community my family is from that helped shape who I am. The Village is the attempt to replace that with yoga studios, an “arts district,” and other amenities for affluent newcomers.
West Greenville is a community whose legacy is one of struggle yet perseverance and pride, despite the decades-long divestment and discrimination born from Jim Crow. The Village would be the erasure of that legacy through gentrification and the systemic racism that prices people out of communities that they and their families have called home for generations.
West Greenville is the community that asked the city for improvements and investments for decades. The Village plan would be the fruition of that need for investment and improvement, just without those who asked for it in the first place.
It’s clear what The Village would do.
For the first time since the US Census Bureau began collecting neighborhood data more than 60 years ago, West Greenville is no longer a majority Black community. According to a study conducted by Furman University and the United Way of Greenville County, from 2014 to 2018, housing prices in “The Village” rose 140%, three times the increase seen in other parts of the city.
The Micro-Area Plan would exacerbate what is happening to West Greenville because it offers no equity for those it threatens to expel from their community. It fails to explain how it would benefit the low-income residents in these communities that the City of Greenville has long abandoned.
We know the solutions to ensure equity in our city. City Council must revisit and pass the development moratorium it lacked the moral courage to pass last spring, until concrete ways to achieve equity in city planning are decided upon.
The city must invest in true affordable housing with a special emphasis on low-income housing and implement an impact fee to fund such a measure. There has been too great a focus on senior housing that, while necessary, presents a facade that the city uses to mask its failures. Finally, the city must admit that the Unity Park project – which offers “unity” in word but not in deed – is rapidly gentrifying the communities surrounding it.
All gentrifying development must be halted until its consequences are taken into account and rectified. While doing so, Greenville must acknowledge the historic impact that prior discriminatory policies have on present-day reality.
The work must start now.
We must save West Greenville from The Village.
Jalen Elrod is co-chair of the research committee for the Community Remembrance Project, a local coalition partnered with the Equal Justice Initiative to honor victims of racial-terror lynching in Greenville County. He is a graduate of Leadership Greenville Class 47 and is third vice chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party.
This article originally appeared on Greenville News: How 'Village' plan would dishonor West Greenville's history