Calvin Mercer on linking natural assets in Greenville, NC

The South Tar River Greenway in Greenville, NC.
The South Tar River Greenway in Greenville, NC. Photo by Mark A. Neal via Flickr.

Calvin Mercer, At-Large City Councilmember in Greenville, NC and member of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council, is a champion for active living, recreation and broader community awareness of smart growth.

Mercer has served on Greenville’s City Council since 2007 and stresses walkability, bike paths and greenways and parks as important components of what he calls “quality growth.” Greenville is home to an extensive greenway network, and though its inception predates Mercer’s elected leadership, he views it as a vital part of Greenville’s continued pursuit toward quality growth. Since 1991 the city has added 4.5 miles to the greenway system, which consists of multi-use paths and repaired or added sidewalks.

“We are on the verge of linking our Uptown area to the medical community and to the university,” Mercer says. “People really use the greenways, all ages.”

Greenville At-Large City Councilmember Calvin MercerGreenville At-Large City Councilmember Calvin Mercer

Mercer also recognizes the economic value of the greenway system—a message that he uses to communicate quality growth’s broader value. When talking to city hall staff about potentially moving to Greenville, prospective employers often ask, “Do you have a greenway system?”

In addition to its greenway network, Greenville boasts River Park North, a 324-acre park with rental fishing boat rentals, primitive camping sites and picnic areas, and the Town Common, a 25-acre park located between the City of Greenville’s urban core and the Tar River. “Many urban waterways are under-used,” Mercer explains. “We are interested in better utilizing the area along the Tar River, including the Town Common, in appropriate, environmentally sensitive ways.”

Mercer ties these regional assets into a broader vision for Greenville as a recreation destination in the Inner Banks of North Carolina, which is home to the second largest estuarine and wetland system in the United States. It has more than 5,000 miles of estuarine shoreline, eight major drainage basins and associated wetland systems.

Mercer also invests great effort in educating Greenville citizens about smart growth initiatives, and believes broader awareness among residents will influence Greenville’s update of its HORIZONS comprehensive plan. HORIZONS explicitly relies on smart growth to guide its future development, emphasizing mixed land uses, transportation options and human-scale design. Mercer identifies aggressive sidewalk connections, increased transit access and continued attention to maintaining sprawl as key components in guiding Greenville toward a smarter future.

When asked about what advice he’d give to another local leader working on similar issues, Mercer recalled learning for the first time about smart growth: “As a leader, be clear about your own values and educate yourself. If you can communicate those values to your citizens, they will demand it.”

Local Leaders Council