Sunday, June 7, 2015
Letter from Charleston, South Carolina: Development priorities out of line
Jun 5 2015 12:01 am
By now the ironic scene of sitting in standstill traffic in Charleston while passing new planned “luxury” developments that haven’t even broken ground yet is becoming increasingly common.
On the flipside of the frenzy that places Charleston atop every list and the feverish development bubble is a very serious issue: Charleston has a traffic and over-development problem.
Far more serious, however, is that no one — not the city’s leadership, developers, or planners — is remotely equipped for or geared towards finding solutions. They are focused on allowing more development while educating us on what a city should be, since we have evidently lived in a civic backwater for the past several years.
Arguments that developments will localize activity and lessen congestion, or that they are a product of inherent property rights, are as far-fetched as they are insulting. When property rights affect public utilities and diminish quality of life, they are a public concern.
Our taxes pay the salaries of city officials and planners, and we should expect them to act in the best interest of our city. Rather than assume their airy new-urbanist bourgeois fantasies that “better retail experiences,” “integrated redevelopment” or “nodes” are what citizens want, they should consider how meaningless these visions are if it takes an hour to get there or if one’s only interaction with green space is an office-park shrub.
City officials are engaged in vapid philosophizing, like Tim Keane’s recent statement that “cities that are static…are cities in trouble.” This growth-for-its-own-sake adds congestion without better roads, public transport and green space.
The line between organic neighborhoods and Disneyworld-esque microcosms becomes hazy when developers and planners have too much say.
There is no easy solution to the problem. Clearly, however, the assumptions on which developers and planners operate are flawed: People don’t just want “integrated spaces” or a new “visual identity.” They want to get to work on time, move easily and trust that public officials act with competence and transparency.
One has to trust that the city has not forgotten its core services in favor of facilitating the schemes and profit-seeking visions of a select few. Otherwise, this is a far more serious issue.