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In the Greenville, South Carolina area 41 percent of children are overweight or obese. “This is a call to action,” says Eleanor Dunlap, lead facilitator of LiveWell Greenville. Among the solutions are "strong schools, beautiful parks and trails, community-oriented business, and vibrant neighborhoods."
IRC staff and volunteers completed a bridge on the Raptor Trail
The walk across Liberty Bridge, which soars over Falls Park on the Reedy River, gives an inspiring view of Greenville, South Carolina. The flow of kids, families, and people of all ages is nearly constant. “We always bring visitors here,” said one lady and her friend admiring the view, “we’re just so proud of our city.”
The story of Greenville’s rise as a more livable city is one of both vision and patience. As with many places across America, the mid-Twentieth Century brought unwelcome changes to cities both large and small. In Greenville, in 1960, the concrete Camperdown road bridge was built across the falls, obstructing the views and further compromising the river corridor. Over 20 years later, in the 1980s, the City adopted a master plan for the park, which led to the removal of the Camperdown Bridge and in turn made way for the rehabilitation of what is now 20 acres of flowering parkland.
As the centerpiece of central Greenville, Falls Park is the hub of new trails and bridges. The improvements have spurred new development that includes a hotel, high-rise housing, and historic preservation, as well as shops and galleries right on the greenway. Stairs and walkways lead pedestrians and cyclists from the historic downtown streets, where prominent signs show the way to Falls Park. With the new minor league ball park a few blocks away, once-deserted avenues are seeing restoration of housing and new restaurants.
The greenway runs along the Reedy River at Falls Park
looking toward the Peace Center theater complex
Living well in Greenville
Among these many efforts to reclaim the river and improve the downtown environment, is a movement to make the entire region healthier. Trails, parks, greenways, bike routes, and transit are all part of the vision, called “LiveWell Greenville.” [See sidebar at right.]
In the larger context, partner organizations are also concerned with healthier eating, school lunch programs, and safe routes to school. Eleanor Dunlap, who works with LiveWell Greenville, believes that a vital outcome will be better connections to the trail system as well as to parks and school facilities. She dubs the issue “Safe Routes to Parks.”
Communities near trails often have busy streets and no sidewalks. Among the techniques to improve the connections are traffic calming and better street crossings, as well as wayfinding signs and route identification. Residents have started doing assessments of streets and sidewalks to find the best routes for walking and biking— as well as places where improvements would make a big difference in connectivity.
These efforts are all part of “complete streets” but another idea is “complete parks.” Why not improve our parks to support people of all ages and abilities, and include trails and places to be active? For instance, ballfield complexes should include walking paths and play areas. They already have parking, lights, and restrooms. As with other active living efforts, the goal is to create an environment where people can enjoy being active— to make exercise fun rather than a chore.
Creating a healthier future
The big goal in all of these efforts is to improve the health of individuals as well as the community. As we know from many studies across America, a crucial marker is the high rate of childhood obesity. In the Greenville area 41 percent of children are overweight or obese. The goal of many programs is to reduce the numbers, because it portends a tidal wave of increased medical costs.
Swamp Rabbit rail Trail, sponsored by the Greenville
Hospital System University Medical Center
A vital supporter of the movement for healthier living is the Greenville Hospital System University Medical Center (GHS). Knowing that physical activity and good eating habits are the most effective ways to prevent obesity, GHS and the Greenville County Recreation District partnered to create what is now known as the GHS Swamp Rabbit Tram Trail. Soon to be 17 miles long, the trail extends from Greenville to the town of Travelers Rest, offering an accessible opportunity to get fit and be active at no cost.
In 2006, the City of Greenville commissioned Greenways Incorporated and Arbor Engineering to prepare a Trails and Greenways Master Plan. Greenville’s trail network is designed to contribute to the overall health of residents by offering hundreds of miles of safe pedestrian and cycling greenway corridors. In short, the trails network will create better opportunities for active lifestyles, as well as connecting major institutions such as hospitals, colleges, and new corporate centers.
From vision to environmental change
In the long term, the vision of the larger trail network must survive many changes and fiscal challenges, while taking advantage of emerging possibilities. It is vital to prove that trails and greenways benefit the region’s economic as well as physical health. We do a great deal of education about smoking, healthy eating, and exercise.
But creating real change in people’s lives is even harder. In Greenville this has meant investing in new trails, promoting their use, and helping the next generation to share the vision. According to Greenville Vision 2025, “The Reedy River Greenway convinced people that public spaces were safe and an amenity worth having in their backyard.
On the Liberty Bridge in downtown Greenville
As a consequence, similar efforts were initiated for greenways along the Saluda and Enoree Rivers. These greenways not only offer bikeways, walkways, and public spaces, but also provide riparian buffers for protecting the river and providing wildlife habitat.”
Communities throughout the United States, and increasingly in other countries, look to trails, parks, and open space as vital elements of livability. In Greenville, we find yet another great example of how many interests can come together to find a shared vision— and then to do the hard work of coordinating efforts to achieve a more livable city.
Making the healthy choice the easy choice is the goal of LiveWell Greenville coalition. More safe places to walk, bike, and play, promotion of healthy living by employers, opportunities for physical activity in child care and after school programs, and easier access to fresh fruits and vegetables are all part of the LiveWell Greenville plan, which was announced in January 2011.
Getting kids outside to learn about trails, parks,
and nature is a big goal of LiveWell Greenville
“This is a call to action,” says Eleanor Dunlap, lead facilitator of LiveWell Greenville, “strong schools, beautiful parks and trails, community-oriented business, and vibrant neighborhoods make Greenville County a great place to live. And, we can make our quality of life even better by living well though policy, systems and environments.”
Dunlap said that all plans use strategies that have been tested in other communities as having an impact on community health. “We expect that as we improve quality of life through LiveWell Greenville strategies, we will also reduce chronic disease and obesity, lower health care costs, increase productivity and generally make for a healthier community.”
Nearly 100 partners from schools, health care, business, childcare and after-school programs, local government, and neighborhoods have joined the LiveWell Greenville coalition. Key supporters include Bon Secours St. Francis Health System, City of Greenville, Communities in Schools, County of Greenville, Furman University, Greenville Chamber of Commerce, Greenville County Health Department, Greenville County Planning Commission, Greenville County Schools, Greenville Hospital System University Medical Center, the Piedmont Health Care Foundation and YMCA of Greenville.
A seed grant of $75,000 from the Piedmont Health Care Foundation has helped launch LiveWell Greenville. The foundation has also provided funding and staff support during LiveWell Greenville’s planning process. LiveWell Greenville is also supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and an ACHIEVE grant through the National Recreation and Parks Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Staff and organization support for LiveWell Greenville will be provided by the YMCA of Greenville.
More information on Greenville's trail system and LiveWell Greenville:
City of Greenville Trails and Greenways: http://www.greenvillesc.gov/ParksRec/trails/
LiveWell Greenville: www.livewellgreenville.org.