In Dreams Begin Reality

I’ve been thinking a great deal this week about vision-how it happens, how it affects community, how it morphs (and sometimes transmogrifies) from wild, bold ideas into something people can work inside and celebrate.

It takes time and resources and luck for a big idea to get from a human brain (or a committee of brains) to bricks and mortar. In the beginning maybe one person has an idea, or there are rounds of visioning sessions, charettes. Master plans are passed and saluted. Resources either fall into place or they do not.

Most often the original idea and the final product don’t match up. Almost always there is a diminishment of that initial bold vision as we design, gather resources, and finally break ground (a complex and exciting metaphor).

With diminishment of vision often comes a sort of satisfaction. Things get done. We build, frame, top out the superstructure. No matter what the initial vision we almost always feel pride in any project completed. It’s human nature. We point to a building or an organization and say, “Once this was only air, an idea.”

Is it enough? Is something, as a friend of mine likes to say, always better than nothing? This is a hard question for a community to answer, and the answer is often on the move. It takes time and energy and resources for a city to decide. Community dreams are interlocking and layered. Some people (and they are often the people with the original vision still in their heads) find it hard to be satisfied with reality. For other people reality is comforting and solid. It’s worth the price of admission, no matter what the compromises to the original vision.

What has brought on my musings about vision is three recent events: the important opening of the Chapman Cultural Center on five acres of the Renaissance tract on St. John Street, the announcement of USC-Upstate’s plan to build a downtown business school, and a mail-out rendering of what the rest of the 19-acre city-owned, undeveloped Renaissance tract could look like if planned around a series of lakes and waterfalls cascading down the hill to Daniel Morgan Avenue.

The first event, the opening of the Chapman Cultural Center, is a well- documented and celebrated vision-made-reality, and I won’t dwell on it here. Let me just say that with the opening of our cultural campus on St. John Street we now have our Peace Center, though much more modest in scale than its Greenville counterpart. This cultural center will serve our community well. The Chapman Center’s two matching buildings, its plaza, and Greek-style temple theater give the beaux arts and culture of this city an important central presence like no other since the Opera House came down in 1906.

The second event, the announcement of the business school, is exciting and visionary as well. Greenville lost its major downtown college in the 1950s when Furman moved 10 miles out into the suburbs. Wofford and Converse have remained and flourished on their original downtown Spartanburg campuses. With the move of the USC-Upstate business school onto the Renaissance site the city takes another step toward truly becoming a college town.

And then there’s the third thing, that unexpected spiral-bound proposal with the logo of a local real estate company on the cover letter that’s now making the rounds of this community. It renders a central city Renaissance village centered on water. It makes interesting and evocative claims for this dramatic Renaissance site.

Is this dream practical? Are there public-private resources for such a vision? Those might be the wrong questions to ask for now. We can never have enough vision at the beginning of things, and for our community’s resurgence, we’re still near dawn.

It’s entirely possible somebody might decide to make it happen, or some version of it nipped and tucked by the constraints of reality. Vision’s a funny thing. It’s hard to keep in a can. It’s like lightning and it strikes or it doesn’t.

But who knows? It seems no coincidence that this proposal was mailed out just prior to the opening of the Chapman Center. Those who prepared this vision built around water are hopeful Spartanburg’s community leaders will gather at the center on the hill this week and gaze off to the north and think, “Well, what if we did have a series of ponds and waterfalls down there?”

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