I live on a coastal island in the Lowcountry of South Carolina. It’s been largely unspoiled for most of its history, but that’s unlikely to last. It’s likely to disappear in the next ten or twenty years without diligent, concerted effort by its residents.
It’s really strange to see the Charleston area take off in my lifetime the way it has–I can only imagine how the multi-generational ‘Binyahs’ feel. I think the area you grow up in is like a member of your family, albeit a silent one. Like your human relatives, you have mixed emotions about it–what is was like in the past, what it has become, and what you want for its future because it’s a part of you, and you love it.
I can accept change, but I can’t accept foolish change. Other places have been there and done that, and it’s unsustainable. I think the South and other less urbanized regions have a lot to learn from regions that developed earlier in our nation’s history: the ghost towns that were once hallmarks of progress and thought it would never end, the ever-evolving metropolises of the West Coast, Chicago and New York City, and the agrarian parts that stretch from the Midwest out to the West Coast.
My big issue is sprawl. I know we live on a lot of islands here, but sprawl should be controlled as much as possible. We don’t need new subdivisions or strip malls until their predecessors are filled–especially in the wide wake of the housing crisis and the commercial real estate crisis. Sprawl demands constant car travel, gas consumption which creates air pollution and a massive carbon footprint. There’s no reason we need to encourage all three of those any more than we already did last century.
Since moving over this way, I’ve noticed traffic is worse South of Charleston (West Ashley, Folly Beach, James Island, Johns Island, Wadmalaw Island, Yonges Island) than it was North of Charleston in East Cooper (aka Mount Pleasant).
For those that don’t live here and don’t know, most people live West, Northwest, and South of Charleston because it is more affordable than Downtown or Mount Pleasant. West Ashley (via Hwy 61) connects to Summerville, a bustling inland city that is also rapidly growing and sprawling outward as well. At this rate, one day in a few decades, this whole area may be called “Charleville” or “Summerston” (the Charleston folk will prefer to be in the name first, but we’re phonetically confused with Charlotte enough as it is.). We need to ask ourselves why do our communities need to be so spread out and keep right on spreading? Why do we need to build communities away from the urban areas, just so those urban areas can grow outward and absorb those communities within 20 years anyway? Why are brand new buildings so important, when we have so much old construction in need of a facelift and upgrades? ‘Especially in the wake of a real estate crisis, both commercial and residential, there’s a lot of empty buildings out there in need of new ownership. It would seem reasonable to level buildings that have sat around for five years, and just let the property return to a greenspace.
Technology has made it possible to work from anywhere. GoToMeeting and a home office makes it easier for far fewer people to commute to work every day by car. On so many levels, it just doesn’t make any sense to spend hours on a commute, to and from work. “That’s the way we’ve always done it, for a couple generations anyway” is really not a good enough excuse. [Have you heard Zig Ziglar’s Ham story? Here’s NJ native Dennis Budinich telling it.]
People working from home reduce daily traffic congestion, prevent car accidents, injuries and deaths. Add to that, lots of ‘work at homers’ appreciate concentrating without constant interruption that an office environment invites. Working at home also means less fancy office clothes and spending half the weekend laundering those clothes, which means even more saved energy–less waste water, and less cash devoted to that bill at the end of the month. And then there’s all that gas not being wasted commuting five days a week. I would think cutting these costs could really add up for the average struggling family, not to mention the environmental payoff.
Another thing about sprawl–if Portland, Oregon can be more pedestrian and bike-friendly, why the hell can’t we? Why recreate the wheel, or act like this decision is so monumentally hard to make, when another state has a major city that’s making it work? It’s not that bicyclists don’t exist here, they always have. For a bicyclist or cyclist in Charleston, though, it’s a very perilous journey every time you run an errand. Our streets, for the most part, are very poorly lit from sunset to sunrise, and have fluctuating bike lane quality. You might have the income to outfit yourself and your bike with bright clothing, more than adequate lighting, a helmet, and know all the hand signals; even with all that, your life is still at risk compared to a motorist. There’s no guarantee motorists know what the hand signals mean–chances are if they were born before 1999, bike safety wasn’t in the SC drivers manual, so they do not know hand signals at all. Here’s hoping those drivers aren’t preoccupied with their phone while driving (don’t get me started on that trend). I can think of at least three cyclists who’ve died in this city in the last 10 years, needlessly, and they were experienced riders. For example, Wonders Way on the Ravenel Bridge is named for Garrett Wonders, a well known cyclist in this area in the 2000s. Rather than spend money on more roadways, I would rather we improve existing roadways for bicycles, and legally require more lighting on all bicycles and roads. I think we could save a lot of lives, improve a lot of public health (if it was safer I think more people would participate), and cut the air pollution we’re creating using all these cars right now. And Downtown, with all it’s colonial charm, could easily have no cars at all, just 100% walking and bicycles, 24-7.
I hope growth on Johns Island, and other rural islands is controlled. I would like Johns and the other islands to encourage more farms, vineyards, wineries, breweries, and agribusiness to move in. I think it would be incredible if Johns could be the Provence of the Lowcountry.
Napa. Vermont. Amish country–all three are unforgettable places to visit, and I truly believe something agricultural could happen here, Southern style, with equal beauty and equal community support and response. We just have to have the integrity to respect the environment we have instead of bulldozing it to make way for suburban mediocrity.
If 526 must expand, and the vote said it should go forward, I hope they choose a mindful design that isn’t an eyesore and tracks through a lot of poor people’s property to create an expressway to more affluent areas. If more affluent people, or visitors, need faster transportation, they should learn to fly and buy a plane or helicopter.
I hope expansions on Folly Road don’t destroy a POW hill monument that currently exists.
I hope old ‘oak tunnel’ country roads that make the South and west side of Charleston so charming, natural and beautiful to travel aren’t destroyed. Roads like Hwy 61, River Road, Main Road are why people come here. Roads like that are filmed in movies.
I hope driving can go back to being a less harried, less A to B, more leisurely activity. People taking Sunday drives through rural areas like Johns, Wadmalaw, Yonges Island for leisure, with their friends or family. Checking out nature and the beach. Enjoying the greenspace. Taking farm or wine tours. ‘Wouldn’t that be awesome?
There’s no reason to look at our backyard and think of all the ways to make it just like everywhere else. People take a vacation from everywhere else to go to the really wonderful, natural places. Rural parts of Charleston offer just that, just the way they are, right now.
The time to realize all that we have isn’t right after we’ve lost it, or given it away.