Discover what sets Taylors apart with Alex Reynolds, president of Taylors TownSquare. We delve into the community’s unique identity and the role of Taylors TownSquare in fostering a sense of belonging. Whether you’re a long-time resident, a curious neighbor, or just passionate about community dynamics, this episode offers a glimpse into the heartbeat of a community that’s more than just a place on the map.
Even people who have lived in Greenville County for a long time have trouble answering the question – what is Taylors? It’s a place that defies easy definition. Even though it doesn’t have precise boundaries, it does have a heart, and today we’ll explore the way residents joined together to establish an organization to, well, join residents together. I’m Katy Smith with Greater Good Greenville and I’m pleased to talk with Alex Reynolds, president of Taylors Town Square, born from a need to connect residents in an unincorporated area. Their nonprofit strives to foster belonging, offer information, and advocate for the community. From hosting events at Junto Coffee to preserving historic sites like Chick Springs, they aim to unite Taylors’ diverse residents. Even if you don’t live in Taylors, we have lots of lessons for uniting community wherever you do live. You can learn more about the organzation at Taylorstownsquare.com.
[0:00] So when I first moved to Greenville County and heard of Taylors, I was like, what is Taylors? Is it a city? Is it a zip code? What is it? So let’s start with that very basic question, Alex. What is Taylors?
[0:13] Katy, that’s such a good starting point for a lot of different reasons, because Taylors is simultaneously several different things, and that tends to be a core of the confusion.
So what’s the Taylors that almost everyone is familiar with?
The zip code. Now, you’re normally thinking, zip code, what does zip code have to do with anything?
Well, if you have a Taylors, SC 29687 address, the reason that you have Taylors, SC in it is because of a decision that the United States Postal Service made at some point in the past that your home address should be in the 29687 zip code.
It has actually nothing to do with any sort of civic boundary.
I say it has nothing to do; it has as much to do with anything else, right? Another definition, there’s the Taylors Fire and Sewer District, right?
The Taylors Fire and Sewer District has a pretty succinct boundary that is generally speaking around what you might think of as Taylors.
There’s the census designated place of Taylors. If you go Google it and look on Wikipedia, that’s ypically the definition that most frequently comes up is the census-designated place, which is an even smaller definition.
There’s so many different definitions of Taylors, it really makes it hard to figure out, okay, what actually is Taylors?
[1:38] How do I get there?
[1:39] And most of the time when we’re talking about Taylors, we’re talking about that core area, right?
That area that’s along Wade Hampton, the main street Taylors area, where you might find the Taylors Mill and Taylors First Baptist and those sorts of institutions. That particular area is of course in that, but it’s actually closer in my mind to the Greer boundary. Right.
And then Taylors generally extends towards Greenville. It’s when you go start going North and South though, from Wade Hampton, that you start having to make some decisions about, Hey, is Paris mountain in Taylors right?
If you get down to East Side High School, it has Taylors address. You go across the street though, and it’s a Greenville address. And it’s like, well, do the people that literally live on the other side of the street from me have less of a right to be in Taylors than I do?
So I think, uh, I’m obviously can talk about this for all day long, but I think the general point is obviously with cities that have civic boundaries, like the city of Greenville, the city of Greer, the city of Travelers Rest, et cetera, in the county, those cities obviously are providing services within those boundaries.
Hence the need for the boundaries, right? The people in the boundaries that are citizens of that municipality, that’s where those services apply.
If you’re outside that municipality, that’s where they don’t apply generally, right?
Taylors is an unincorporated area of Greenville County. So in my mind, it’s less important to know exactly are you in Taylors? Are you out of Taylors? Right. Does, does it make sense for us to debate whether Paris Mountain is in Taylors or not?
Is it helpful is, is the more important thing. And I think for a lot of the work that we’ve done as Taylors TownSquare, I tend to generally embrace a more inclusive definition of Taylors, right?
If it’s helpful to think of yourself as in Taylors, that’s exactly the type of people we want to work with. If it’s not helpful, that’s okay.
Greenville, Greer, all the areas around are doing lots of great work as well.
[3:36] I, it does make me think about that things like Taylors are certainly a place defined in lots of different ways, but it’s really more of a spirit. [3:45] And I think that’s the heart of what you’re getting at. And I wonder if you could talk then about that spirit and how Taylors TownSquare came to be.
[3:53] Taylors TownSquare really began back in 2011-2012.
So at the time, I actually worked for Taylors First Baptist Church, which was a large church there on Main Street, Taylors.
We became really aware that as a church, as an institution, I’d been in the upstate for a few years then, I wasn’t from the Taylors area, but I was part of that church.
And as an institution, we all kind of looked around and realized, hey, we don’t really know the people that live right around this, right?
We don’t really have a good sense for who is around the church here.
So, um, we started doing some community meetings, and as we started talking to some neighbors, um, we realized nobody really, there was not like an institution, right? There’s no city of Taylors.
So there wasn’t anybody naturally convening people together.
Some of the chambers of commerce had some networking events for businesses and things like that.
But we just became really burdened and that was a role that we could step in.
As time went on, we held a few meetings, we realized that really, for that effort to be successful in the long term, it needed to be independent of any particular church, right?
Because obviously, churches form the core social fabric of so much of what we do in the upstate.
And really, we realized that, okay, if this was associated to just one church, that was going to kind of segment the audience out.
So we launched it out as its own nonprofit organization in 2014, and I’ve been serving as the board president of that since then.
So we’ve done a lot of different work in a lot of different spheres, but generally, today, we articulate our mission really in terms of helping people belong. Because as you’ve, as we started out with, right.
Taylors is hard to define, and things that are hard to define are naturally hard to feel a part of. Right.
[5:43] Taylors isn’t a city. There’s not like a natural place to go to.
So really in everything we’re doing, we are trying to make Taylors a place that it’s easier for people to come and belong to.
And we do that really through a few different means. First, we raise awareness, right?
And a lot of, uh, the problem of being an unincorporated area is the fact that there is no central entity.
There’s no natural place to go to find information. So we try to do what we can to be that central purveyor of information and advocacy work kind of dovetails right into that, right?
There may be some efforts that are already going on in the community that it might be a good, uh, natural place for us to jump in and say, Hey, yes, this would be beneficial for what we broadly listen to and hear from as the Taylors community for this thing to happen. And we’ll jump in and kind of do advocacy work there.
We make it a point as board members to show up at different things, keep our ears to the ground, and speak to individuals of influence where we can to make sure that things that can benefit Taylors get pushed down the road.
And then, finally the action items, right? Obviously, we’re a volunteer-led organization.
So, we have to stay pretty laser-focused on what we’re doing.
So if I’m going to do something, we’re going to be very sure that there’s literally nobody else to pick this up. Right. [7:03] A few of those things that we do right now, um, as, as an example, are our coffee and connect events, right?
There’s nobody going around creating like a, Hey, if you want to come talk about Taylors come, we’re going to be hanging out.
We do them at Junto Coffee, uh, once every other month.
And we’re just there for a couple of hours on Saturday mornings.
And I have some of those fascinating conversations with people and other people who are just interested in learning more about Taylors or connecting about Taylors will show up and we’ll have great conversations.
Taylors business association is another one of those things where we have heard over and over again that, okay, that there is a business community in Taylors.
It’s doing pretty good by the way. And those people are looking for places to connect with each other that aren’t necessarily like the kind of chamber events, but are just looking for, uh, some networking and a camaraderie among the business owners in Taylors.
So through the business association, we provide those opportunities for people to get connected with one another. [8:02] We do some of our work with our nonprofit council. So there’s all, there’s actually several large institution, nonprofit institutions, along main street Taylors. And so we quarterly work to bring key leaders of those institutions together.
We actually just, as the, as of recording this, we just did this yesterday, right?
Get around in a room, and we’re just kind of very informal launch, but just providing opportunities for those leaders to connect.
[8:28] And then one of the biggest efforts that I’m personally involved in is the preservation of the Chick Springs historic site.
I didn’t get to, I I’ve talked a lot about history, obviously the history of Taylors though can’t really, that isn’t where the community’s starting place is, right?
Chick Springs, which was the old resort community that started in the 1840s, all the way, way back when, right?
That the history of that particular resort and its following area that built up to surround it is instrumental to the history of Taylors.
And we think that’s a history that should be preserved.
[9:04] When you all started reaching out to the community of Taylors around the church, what were some of the big things and themes that you heard from community members?
[9:12] A lot of it was just that nobody’s out here listening, right? Which is where…
As we started to get engaged at the time, uh, Sid Cates was on county council actually from a district 20 and those original meetings we did, I’m thinking 10 years ago, we did the monthly right, and we would literally have a time of just community updates, and the county councilman would come and join, and we’d have a state rep wonder in every now and it was just an interesting time of just residents being with their elected leaders and other community leaders and just being heard, right?
I think there’s great power in being heard.
I think in an unincorporated place like Taylors, because there is no direct representation in the way there would be in a city.
And so I think us providing that opportunity for people to be heard, which feels very basic, there doesn’t seem, you know, sometimes I think about it, and it’s like, there’s nothing particularly, but I think that’s, that’s a real necessary thing, especially in today’s culture, where I think, you know, sometimes it feels like we’re screaming into the sky, right.
To be able to sit there and have a conversation with somebody who can actually effect real change on your life, I think is… it’s a very powerful and important thing. So that, that was, that was a lot of what we heard.
Um, yeah, there, there’s, there’s other things as you get into the conversations about zoning and land planning, and even those conversations have evolved greatly over the past 10 years. Right.
Uh, you know, there’s so much more.
[10:46] I was about to say, there’s so much more growth in Greenville County today than there was 10 years ago.
10 years ago, it felt like there was a lot of growth in Greenville County.
Today, it’s completely different, but in some ways it’s the same conversation, right?
[11:01] That is so great. It’s a lot to have accomplished.
In a really relatively short period of time for such a historic place in Greenville County. [11:09] As there is growth and as communities and neighborhoods are changing, I think our local government staff and many of the elected officials really do a good job of reaching out to residents to get their input and buy-in.
But at some point, it’s just harder when there is not a resident point person for them, like a clear neighborhood association or a civic organization.
And thinking of how, I mean, relatively dense Taylors is for an unincorporated area.
I would imagine before Taylors TownSquare, that was really hard to have that interface to let residents know when to show up and have a point person to convey messages from local government.
[11:48] Yeah. And that’s always been kind of one of these things, right?
Especially in the beginning, people be like, kind of, who are you?
Who appointed you to do this?
And the answer was kind of like, nobody, right? Nobody was doing it.
So we just, we stepped up to the plate and here we are. [12:04] These days, we’ve obviously got a proven track record, right?
I’m not just some rando who showed up yesterday and is trying to tell them things, right?
And I think that is another important part of this, because when you get started doing something like this, there’s people that look at you at the get-go and they’re like, who are you? Who are you here?
I think we just persevered through it, right? And I think there is power in showing up repeatedly over time.
[12:31] I think that these days as folks decide to get more involved in their community, it either starts partisan in some way or political in some way, or it ends up becoming that.
What have you seen now that Taylors TownSquare has over a decade behind it?
[12:48] Yeah. I think, I think it’s fascinating, right? Because obviously, that feels like the natural starting point because we’re electing officials, but in a place like Taylors, obviously there’s elected county council representatives, and those county council representatives are partisan, but in most of the issues that you’re dealing with, especially at the local level.
The partisan divide is not nearly as strong, as, as especially you see, uh, at the national level and the state level. Right.
And I, and I think the other aspect that you see is that you inadvertently to get anything done, have like it, these are not partisan issues, right?
What’s the best way to make a decision about the way the fire and sewer district is structured within Greenville County. Right.
That was a big issue what, a few years ago. in my opinion, there’s not like a clear partisan lean on that question, right?
And so as you’re talking through how do I talk about these issues, obviously, yes, if you try really hard, you can make it partisan, but a lot of these questions are not inherently partisan in my, especially at the local level.
There are ways to use these ideologies as tools to approach these questions, right? And I think, but I think that’s exactly the thing right the ideology is a tool. It’s not the end.
[14:06] That’s helpful. Now that you’ve been at this for a good long while, what have been some things that have been most surprising and delightful from the establishment of Taylors Town Square?
[14:18] Responding to the inbox from the contact page on the website, which is eventually turned into the world’s most interesting FAQ page on our website because when there is no city of Taylors, I get so many calls looking for the city of Taylors zoning department and the city of Taylors code enforcement and all these sorts of things.
And you wind up, uh, we really wound up becoming like the 411 like traffic directors, right, for Taylors questions. Because to, to our earlier point, right there is no central gathering place, right.
For, for Taylors information, right. You can poke around on Greenville County’s website and find some things, But there’s places that have Greer addresses that are not inside the city of Greer.
And so you, you really have to, you know, be really good users of the GIS tool that’s out there.
It’s one of my favorite tools, but I have to go out there and like figure out, okay.
And, and, you know, again, I could just ignore these things, but I find a lot of these questions kind of interesting myself because, you know, at the end of the day, I’m a little bit of a nerd.
So I like to go figure some of this out and be like, okay, how can we actually help people get to solutions to their problems, which is at the end of the day, I think, again, part of being a part of a community you belong to is feeling like you know where to go to find the answer to something, I think.
[15:42] We will put a link, if you’re curious because you’re either a nerd or you really need to know, like, well, do I live in Greer? Do I live in the county?
We’ll put a link to that GIS box in the show notes.
[15:53] Taylors TownSquare is, of course, a 501c3 nonprofit and so we exist and do the work we do based on funding right now.
We’re about to, you’ve heard me mention the Chick Springs Park.
So that’s going to be a big thing for us to undertake as an organization to begin the work of, okay, we’ve got the property now what?
Right? So that’s, that’s going to be a big enterprise that has, uh, that’s going to need a lot of funding, right?
So if you or somebody you’re, uh, know is interested in the history of the upstate and wants to talk more about that I’d be glad to talk about that and anything else that Taylors TownSquare is doing.
[16:26] That’s great. Well, Alex, I appreciate so much your leadership and your community partnership to help be a bridge between folks who live in Taylors with air quotes around it but who really feel the spirit of the community and want to get more involved.
[16:40] Yeah, well, it’s my pleasure. Thank you for the work that you all do doing a lot of the great work at a countywide level.
It’s really exciting to see the work that you all are doing as well. Thank you.
Catherine Puckett: Simple Civics: Greenville County is a project of Greater Good Greenville. Greater Good Greenville was catalyzed by the merger of the Nonprofit Alliance and the Greenville Partnership for Philanthropy. You can learn more on our website at greatergoodgreenville.org. This is a production of Podcast Studio X.
Image via Taylors TownSquare.