We embrace growth as the desired by-product of an economically dynamic region. But destruction of community character is an unacceptable trade-off. The question is not whether our part of the world is going to change. The question is how.
“Crisis” was the word most likely associated with American cities a half-century ago. Political corruption, neglect, economic despair, and abandonment became catalysts for migrations to suburbs. Today, cities are seen as solutions. The migration is reversed. Moving downtown is now aspirational—a symbol of success. Modern cities function like oases of convenience, where residents prefer to shop “local” and embrace dense urban living as “walkable, bike-able, livable” spaces.
But in order to serve up cities as solutions to regional success, preservation and connections to private and public lands in the outlying areas need to be addressed. Let’s look at a few success stories that can serve as models for protecting the lands and waters that shape our quality of life.
In 2014, Boeing acquired three critically important properties within the Cooper River Corridor as mitigation for expansion of their North Charleston manufacturing site. Boeing partnered with the Lowcountry Open Land Trust (LOLT) to preserve and restore 1,682 acres of wetlands and longleaf pine habitat, known as the Keystone Tract. In 2015, the SC Ports Authority partnered with LOLT and the SC Coastal Conservation League to mitigate its Charleston Harbor deepening project. The first phase of that mitigation was the acquisition and preservation of the 425-acre French Quarter Creek area along the upper Cooper River. These partnerships serve as a model for other American communities to promote economic success and growth without sacrificing conservation standards.
Our region contains numerous success stories of how high-density urban design meets demand for aspiring city dwellers while increasing municipal revenues for improved services and better schools. Another product of density-focused design are cost-efficiencies built into everything from trash removal to low water and electric utility rates to avoiding suburban inspired traffic problems.
They include Nexton in Summerville and East Edisto in lower Dorchester County, both smart growth communities that serve a booming influx of residents tied to the Boeing, Daimler, Google and Volvo facilities. North Charleston’s urban revitalization will generate several billion dollars in improvements over several decades. The City of Charleston’s upper peninsula has undergone dramatic change along north Morrison Drive with an influx of high-tech digital companies, plus workforce and student housing. Locally operated restaurants and cafes continue to expand along upper King Street and into the city’s Westside community.
To build on these successes, we need to be strategic about affordable housing initiatives and public transportation improvements. Like the points of a triangle, the three concepts work hand-in-hand to form a powerful bigger picture. And amid all this growth and change, we must also embrace the necessity of maintaining a strong sense of community by preserving identity and livability. For some citizens–indeed, entire neighborhoods—too much density too close to home is unwelcome by any measure. Public input and the debate that follows is part of the process. We welcome the debate and deliberative public forum as much as we welcome the revitalization of our urban cores.
Clean energy is shaping the way we think about our region...and the way the world thinks about us.