Sumter, South Carolina has been experiencing solid growth in recent years, as this city that sits right in the middle of South Carolina continues to provide a good standard of living for its residents. But, there are several improvements that can be done to make it a safer and more inviting place to call home.
Here, we take a deep dive into the current state of the city and recommend some key updates that could transform the city into a top-flight community for years to come. We considered both practical improvements as well as aspirational changes that could be made in the short and long-term.
We also recognized that the funding for some of these ideas would require extra support that may not have been considered in the future budget. So, we hope that local governments will realize the value of these suggestions and divert more funding to them or develop innovative partnerships, such as setting up privately owned public spaces.
These concepts could also be viewed as a general directional suggestion that can be used as a springboard for other ideas as well. Keep an open mind as we dive into some of these options to help enhance Sumter’s future plan.
A short disclaimer before we start – the opinions expressed in this article are purely for entertainment purposes and we do not have any association with or influence on the City of Sumter or any other city.
We understand that these issues are complex and rely on support and funding from multiple sources and the initiation of projects will require more detailed analysis on the ideas that are put forth here.
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Sumter – Current Status and Design
Residents of Sumter generally rely on automobiles to get around as this car-centric community is not very dense. There is a downtown, which is a roughly 7 block by 7 block area in the heart of the city.
From there, numerous suburban neighborhoods and commercial clusters extend out in virtually every direction.
The city is large enough to also host three campuses for higher learning – Morris College, Central Carolina Technical College, and the University of South Carolina-Sumter.
There are active plans to reinvigorate the city, namely through the 2040 Comprehensive Plan and the Downtown Master Plan that was finalized and published in 2019. But, as we mentioned, we think that there is always more room for improvements.
Of course, it is always possible to combine the future plans that have already been drafted with our ideas.
Enhanced Mobility Around the City
Let’s start with one of the biggest opportunities available in Sumter. Mobility is pretty much limited to movement through cars currently. There are almost no bike lanes except for one on Alice Drive. There are virtually no pedestrian-friendly areas outside of the small downtown area.
Our first proposal is to increase the number of bike lanes and walkable areas. The majority of Sumter’s population lives outside of downtown, so it will also be important to develop bike lanes that reach out into the suburbs.
Specifically, we would recommend creating a dedicated bike lane starting north on Broad Street and extending it down to where Broad splits off into Bultman Drive and further south as it moves through downtown and becomes Washington Street.
Main Street is also a good candidate for a dedicated lane, starting as far north as Mulberry and going south as it becomes Lafayette Drive. It would also be ideal to add some east-west lanes, notably on Liberty Street that could connect East Sumter and Millwood with downtown.
Now, what kind of bike lane would work in these cases? We think the optimal choice would be a dedicated and separated set of lanes that promote the use of several modes (and speeds) of transportation. There could be a slow lane for leisure bikers and a fast lane for electric bikes and scooters.
Downtown Sumter Festivals Spaces
We are happy about the proposal in the 2019 Framework Plan to include a designated festival street in downtown Sumter around the Register of Deeds on Main Street. While both Law Range and Canal Street are marked as a shared festival area, we would like to take it a step further.
Along with seasonal festivals, we propose that the small tree-filled area behind the Register of Deeds’ building become the host of a mobile food and drink park. It could be developed into a sort of food truck alley, which could stimulate more investment into the city while helping to promote small businesses and local restaurants.
To help support the addition of festivals and food trucks, we would recommend closing Law Range street either on a permanent or semi-permanent basis and allowing the street to be used exclusively for pedestrians.
There could also be tables added to the area to give the message to the public that this space is where they could come and relax for a while.
Additionally, the community could be invited to design or paint over the existing asphalt to give it a unique feel.
Meanwhile, nearby Sumter Public Library could also set up a free library box in the space to promote awareness and encourage use of the library’s services.
Expand Mixed Use in Downtown Sumter
Sumter has an opportunity to continue the revitalization of its downtown by expanding the mixed use zones within the area.
Currently, there are only two patches of mixed use designated sections downtown and none are directly on Main Street.
There are already proposals to renovate the existing buildings on Main Street, so we think there is a chance to convert them into residential and commercial units to draw people into the core of the city.
That would also help alleviate the extraordinary commercial vacancies that may linger past the current economic climate.
Sumter has made some impressive strides in recent years to continue to improve its infrastructure and attract new residents. It is also great to see their proactive approach with detailed short and mid-term proposals already drafted.
Our suggestions can help support the positive transformation that is occurring and give Sumter an extra edge.
If we had to prioritize which change to make first, we would go with the improvement of the bike and pedestrian infrastructure.
If Sumter can better connect the suburban neighborhoods with downtown, then that can stir further interest and demand for downtown activities, and thus lead to expanded mixed uses in the area.
Furthermore, it would give the residents of Sumter a healthy alternative to get around and help them explore more of their own city.