Not Another Boiling Springs

There’s a theory that everyone has an opposite somewhere in the world, a person that is you, only it’s your dark twin turned 180 degrees. I just spent a week in a vibrant little village in southern Ohio. Boiling Springs, South Carolina, meet Yellow Springs, Ohio.

Boiling Springs, once a quaint farming community north of Spartanburg, has been in the news lately as a model for poor planning and uncontrolled sprawl. “We don’t want another Boiling Springs to occur,” county councilman David Britt said several weeks ago when interviewed about problem growth in the county. “I live in Boiling Springs,” council chairman Jeff Horton said in the same story. “I like Boiling Springs, but when I talk to people in outlying areas… they don’t want their area to look like Boiling Springs.

I was teaching at a writers conference in Yellow Springs. The places couldn’t be more different. The boiling springs our Spartanburg County community was named for was barely saved from paving about ten years ago, and now it trickles out from a tiny park at a strip mall.

The yellow springs was protected in the nineteenth century by a 1000-acre nature preserve laced with 70 miles of walking paths. The local residents knew what they had early on.

Yellow Springs is a college town (Antioch College has been there since 1852) and has had a reputation as a center of progressive thought and action for 200 years. Boiling Springs is a commuter town with good people and a good public school system that has somehow survived the excessive growth of the early twenty-first century.

In Yellow Springs pace is slow. Bikes and pedestrians are privileged over cars. You can buy a good espresso drink in at least five independently owned shops.
In Boiling Springs your choices are mostly limited to Little Cricket coffee.
Yellow Springs was a stop on the Underground Railroad in the nineteenth century, and today it’s the sort of town that time forgot, existing in a culture bubble that feels strangely like 1972.

It’s only about nine miles from sprawling Dayton and fifteen miles from industrial Springfield and yet through a local one percent conservation tax they have purchased a ring of green space around the town in order to control growth leading into and out of the village. To approach Yellow Springs I drove through fields of corn and soybeans.

To approach Boiling Springs you creep in traffic past a line of big box stores, billboards, and corporate chains that stretch for miles along Highway 9.
They call Yellow Springs a village, but it’s incorporated. They have their own taxes and staff. They work deliberately every day at community issues. In a place like Yellow Springs, that can get interesting. “We argued once over whether to put cow manure or horse manure on the village flower beds,” one proud resident told me. “I think it finally came to a ballot resolution.”

The growth in Yellow Springs has been intentional. I was told there’s only one fast food restaurant in town not because the restaurants didn’t want to come there, but because the village decided it didn’t want them. Village regulations favor homegrown businesses over corporate ones.

In Boiling Springs (as in much of Spartanburg County) many residents would rather not pay taxes at all, and they think taxes and regulations are somehow a liberal plot.

But Yellow Springs is not perfect. “I feel a little like I’m in “The Truman Show,” one of my colleagues at the conference said as we walked back and forth to the village for lunch.

He’s right. Time is catching up with the village. The hyper-liberal college closed its doors in May for lack of enrollment and bad management. Signs throughout the village proclaim “No Sprawl for Yellow Springs.”

Turning Yellow Springs into sprawling Boiling Springs is something that could happen over night. Assuring Boiling Springs would be a little more like Yellow Springs is something that could only have happened a couple of decades ago with conscious planning.

So where do we go from here? The Spartanburg County Council is hard at work talking over options for land use planning. We need something. As David Britt and Jeff Horton say, Boiling Springs isn’t the answer many people seem to want for our future.

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