2018: ‘… unite and solve problems together’
By Jay Williams, Jr.
Those magazine accolades aside, Charleston is struggling.
Charleston is beautiful. It’s historic. The locals are friendly, the restaurants are amazing and the ambiance is charming. Yet for residents battling flooding, traffic, tourists and short-term rentals, the charm is fading.
We challenged five well-informed, engaged residents to think differently and offer real solutions to pivotal issues. You’ll find a common thread:
Virginia Bush moved to the Charlestowne neighborhood nine years ago, has been a volunteer for HCF, CNA and the Library Society and she’s “sat through far too many meetings of the Council and various boards and commissions.”
“It’s tempting to identify one of many conspicuous problems that are eroding residential livability — flooding, traffic congestion, parking and transit shortages, inappropriate development, lack of workforce housing and inadequately managed tourism. But these are merely consequences of Charleston’s most significant challenge, city councilmembers who govern based on district-level partisanship and xenophobia, coerced alliances, special interest group influence and self-interest. Entirely too often, the welfare of the entire city is sacrificed and the citizens’ voices are disregarded.
“The solution may be idealistic, but is simple and theoretically attainable. The citizens of Charleston must make the effort to become more informed and vote based on facts rather than loyalty or campaign rhetoric. As painful as it may be, we should attend meetings of city council and the boards and commissions appointed by councilmembers. At least watch the videos and read published accounts of public meetings. Demand transparency in government so that lobbying and influence peddling is conducted in public meetings rather than behind closed doors. Hold elected and appointed officials accountable for serving the best interests of the entire city.
“Livability, in all its facets, is a value shared by all residents of Charleston.”
Susan Lyons is a retired reporter in Harleston Village, is active in community issues and is a member of the steering committee of Groundswell!, a new grassroots group advocating for flood prevention and mitigation.
“Can this Southern city rise again, or has water become an inescapable, implacable foe? Surging seas may be Charleston’s toughest challenge yet, daunting in unpredictability and damage. The ocean is reclaiming our city’s edges while floodwaters eat away at its structures. Indeed, flooding and so much of it, has taken us by surprise.
“It is also deepening fissures in our civic life. Work has barely begun on sea barriers, valves and drains and citizen is turning against citizen, neighborhood against neighborhood, for the lion’s share of flood-defense money. Charlestonians could put a finger in the dike, but we haven’t yet.
“Past obstacles have not necessarily stymied us. In the wake of Hugo, for instance, Charlestonians stayed put, helped each other and rebuilt with the spirit that is an undercurrent of our history. So well did the city meet that challenge that it captured the national spotlight.
“Will this Southern city rise again, against the rising tides? Surely it will take ingenuity and a quality of leadership that doesn’t tire and doesn’t quit. The entire community will have to get on board to secure a drier future. Needed now: A dauntingly large infusion of money and some good old Charleston attitude.”
Robert Ballard is a two-time Radcliffeborough neighborhood chair, has been a Warren Street resident since 1980 and enjoys urban planning, historic preservation and cameras.
“In 1966, “‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’ was a fine spaghetti western. In 2017, it describes Charleston’s urban development. Architecture, art, cuisine and history hold their own. Drainage and new construction urgently need fixing.
“Rising sea levels with inadequate drainage will continue to threaten the historic district without direct city intervention. Large new construction projects adjacent to 19th-century structures don’t work. Oversized hotels and office buildings don’t get along with three-story period houses on zero lot lines. You can see proper setbacks on Calhoun Street at Buist Academy and improper placement at Rite Aid.
“Transportation and parking are other key concerns that jeopardize livability. Planners shouldn’t propose to cram as many people onto our peninsula as were here in the 1950s without also reducing the number of vehicles to that same earlier level. The College of Charleston must be a key player in helping reduce traffic. Of its 11,000 students, only freshman can’t drive cars. Instead, only seniors and juniors with excellent grades should be permitted to operate cars. We must also support CARTA and the new DASH program. Get on board. Take Route 210 to a Gaillard performance or Route 213 to MUSC’s Wellness Center. Park the car and embrace CARTA.”
Stephen Zoukis is an 11-year resident of Sullivan’s Island and the managing partner of Raven Cliff Company, LLC. Prior to moving to the Charleston area he supervised U.S. operations for Jamestown, a large German-American real estate investment firm.
“Creating a better functioning mass transit system makes many of Charleston’s other problems easier to solve.
“For example, providing affordable housing becomes easier if the housing doesn’t need to be located in high cost, in-town neighborhoods. We can still try to find ways to make close in neighborhoods affordable if we choose. However, we have the option of putting affordable homes on inexpensive land further from the heart of town, if it’s accessible by public transit.
“A bus rapid transit system seems the leading contender as a next step toward a better transit system. Unfortunately, “bus” puts the wrong frame of reference around the idea. Except for the fact that you sit in a bus, these systems are more like light rail in that the buses do not share road space with vehicles and passengers board at a station or platform.
“We may be tempted to delay investment in mass transit to wait and see how autonomous vehicles affect urban mobility. Better not to delay. Instead, imagine autonomous vehicles as a micro transit system added to the future mass transit system to provide the last mile of mobility to and from the main system.”
Ellie Thomson is a senior in the Honors College at the College of Charleston where she studies political science and marketing. “Will you stay in Charleston after graduation?” I ask.
“This question is difficult to answer during my senior year at the College of Charleston. I feel beyond lucky to have spent four years in essentially paradise. However, the urge to escape the peninsula becomes stronger with each parking ticket, construction site and confused tourist I run into nearly every day.
“The juxtaposition between natives and college students was always apparent during my time at The College. They do not like us and we often do not care for them. Now, these divisions seem to be among many groups — college students, natives, newcomers and the rapidly growing tourism industry. We all want the parking spots, fair taxes and stable rent prices. We all want to make a reservation at that new restaurant with ease and attend the city’s cultural events without finding nearly everything sold out the day tickets are available.
“The divisions in the Charleston community pose problems for all. I challenge locals to accept and embrace College of Charleston students and for Charleston students to respect and support the city. Group by group, Charleston must unite and solve problems together.”
Jay Williams, Jr. arrived in Charleston in 2001 to escape the cold and relax in the warmth of a better culture and climate. This all worked well until May of 2011 when he attended a cruise terminal discussion at