After years of disinvestment, the 1990s found the Arkwright and Forest Park neighborhoods struggling. Urban renewal in the 1970s had decimated the community’s formerly vibrant commercial core of 70 black-owned businesses. Economic revitalization initiatives that were improving the downtown areas of Spartanburg had not reached these communities. The only road into the communities was frequently blocked by standing trains, isolating them from other areas of the city. In addition, many residents had health concerns which they suspected were related to the presence of two hazardous waste sites and an active chemical manufacturing plant. These suspicions created high levels of tension and mistrust between community members and their industrial neighbors: a municipal landfill, an abandoned fertilizer plant and an active chemical manufacturer. In addition to their health concerns, community residents also complained of noxious odors and waste pond overflow into residential areas.
In 1997, Harold Mitchell, a long-term community resident, founded ReGenesis. As efforts to assess and clean up contaminated sites began, ReGenesis represented neighborhood interests. Soon, the organization saw an opportunity to expand discussions with local government and environmental agencies to include equitable neighborhood revitalization. In 2000, the ReGenesis Environmental Justice Partnership was formed by representatives from ReGenesis, Spartanburg County, and the City of Spartanburg to promote equitable development for Arkwright and Forest Park.
Over the next decade, the Partnership worked with local residents to identify quality of life priorities for redevelopment and attracted millions of dollars for revitalization. Beginning with funding from the Environmental Protection Agency for site cleanup and redevelopment planning, the partnership has leveraged over $250 million dollars for neighborhood reinvestment.
- Development of over 500 new affordable/workforce housing units of housing
- Establishment of the ReGenesis Community Health Center (which has grown to include five facilities and serves migrant health as well as school and behavioral health initiatives)
- Launch of the C. Woodson Community Center, a green recreational facility that received an award from the National Planning Council for Innovative Financing
- Creation of job opportunities for neighborhood residents in construction and at the nearby chemical manufacturing plant
In addition to these significant successes, the partnership organized the purchase of two properties that are pivotal to revitalization. Ownership of these key properties has helped bolster redevelopment plans, support and funding.
- Environmental Justice, Equitable Development and the Spartanburg Story – Triple Pundit
- State Representative Harold Mitchell, Jr. and the ReGenesis Project – American Planning Association
- A Dream Realized: Community Driven Revitalization in Spartanburg – EPA Environmental Justice In Action
- SC State Legislator Creates Model for Lasting Community Revitalization – Politic365
- Superfund Landfill Site Going Solar in South Carolina – Waste 360
“ReGenesis, the Department of Health and Environmental Control, and the Environmental Protection Agency worked in collaboration to have the landfill designated as a Superfund site, which resulted in the funding necessary to close and cap the landfill … the redevelopment of the Arkwright landfill can serve as a model for other communities looking to make a great financial and environmental investment.”
– Waste 360
“As a result, the partnership led to a series of community design charrettes and a new vision for both neighborhoods. Area residents have experienced significant progress. They now benefit from a new, $2 million community recreation center, new housing, a much needed highway, additional green space, and new job opportunities.”
– Fox Carolina
“As the focus of ReGenesis evolved, the organization continued to link other entities from the public and private sectors into revitalization efforts. The project found strength in Mitchell’s ability to establish new partnerships and to sustain them.”
– American Planning Association (APA)
“Over the years, Mitchell has been adamant that communities must empower themselves by creating organizational structures to get work done, capacity building, and creating a shared vision for their community, and investing time and effort into understanding the history and the how of environmental justice.”