Just two blocks from two multi-million dollar developments on Meeting Street, a few minute walk to the Dewberry Hotel that asks upwards of $500 – $600 a night, a stone throw from the illustrious Cooper River Bridge and the mainstay Marion Square is Cooper Street on the East Side of Charleston.? With its burnt down and boarded up homes, garage clustering the sidewalks, unkempt yards and no trespassing signs, this street could be a symbol of the poverty that Charleston is masking from the public as it thrusts itself into a renaissance of prosperity and profit.
How can a street so close to a city thriving in all directions, be so neglected?? This is a only one of many streets and neighborhoods damaged by time and yearning for support or subject to future demolition to make room for the future 5 star city experience of the Jewel of the South.? There are many questions that need to be be addressed?
Is the city ill-equipped to assist or are they just choosing to let these neighborhoods rot away until they are taken over?
Is there a racial and/or economic struggle within the underbelly of the community?
What is the cost of prosperity vs. the cost of fixing the infrastructure and the lives of locals who have called this place home for generations?
During the most recent regular meeting of the Charlestowne Neighborhood Association following the passing of Tropical Storm Irma, members agreed to put off discussion of normal business matters in order to hear three speakers representing the city: Mark Wibert, a newly appointed “resilience” officer (a half-time position), Mark Matzler from the Public Works Department and Mike Seekings, city councilman representing South of Broad and Harleston Village.
Mark Wibert spoke about Charleston’s flooding history, recent trends in rising sea levels and sunny day flooding, and big events natural disaster events including hurricanes.
Mark Metzler spoke about improvements this year in debris cleanup after the storm and efforts to do better storm drain maintenance.
Mike Seekings recounted his experience at the Battery at high tide as waves over washed the road. He promised to push ahead on mitigation, but as of today, it is not clear how.
The candid discussion of these three gentleman, affects of the last storm on Charleston and personal sentiment have many local residents worried about the future.
Local Charleston resident Susan Lyons, expressed her observations and personal thoughts on the recent neighborhood association meeting, stating:
“While Hurricane Irma inflicted catastrophic damage on islands and cities south of us, many on Charleston’s Peninsula south of the Crosstown once again found our houses, yards and crawlspaces flooded, needing new duct systems, worried about too many flood insurance claims and too much financial drain, and frustrated by the city’s response.
The Post and Courier’s editorial yesterday called for bold action now, business leaders are encouraging residents to call their state and federal representatives to ask for help, and neighborhood associations have begun to focus on the problem. Communication from the mayor and city council has been thin, but this week, Councilman Mike Seekings, who represents South of Broad and Harleston Village, reported that, despite his wife’s pleas, he went to the Low Battery two hours before and through the peak of high tide at about 12:30 p.m., on Monday, September 11, and captured in pictures what he called the “tsunami” of water — some of it from as far away as the Azores — as it crashed over the sea wall. At one point, he told Charlestowne Neighborhood Association members this week, the harbor water and the Battery “were at the same elevation.” No one has been willing to say, categorically, that the whole Battery was not in jeopardy of giving way one day.? Scary.
Mark Wilbert, the city’s half-time “resilience” officer, has reported that rising seas and intensified rain created high tide events on our streets 38 times in 2015, 50 times last year, and could number as many as 180 by 2040. That does not include severe storms.
We blame climate change, polar ice-melts, over-development, political myopia, bureaucratic buck-passing, and lack of money. But unless the Charleston community unites behind a dynamic and costly flood prevention and mitigation program now, homeowners and businesses will continue losing ground, literally, residents considering leaving town will sell and go, and our city will decline.
Progress has been made on some fronts. Improved check valves were said to have worked well during Irma until the Battery was breached by the surge at high tide, Mark Metzler of the city’s Public Works Department reported that cleanup of debris, storm drain maintenance, and damage surveys of individual homes all have been more efficient this year. And while work continues on the myriad of projects set forth in a 1984 plan, they are not even half finished. A new consultant is said to be coming to City Hall in January to review the entire city’s “remedies vs. threats,” a representative of the Dutch Embassy may pay a visit to Charleston to share that country’s wisdom, and some homeowners are looking into the feasibility of raising their houses.
But the big work — a new sea wall that extends to the Coast Guard Station, and raising Lockwood Drive to protect the Peninsula’s lower west side — appear to be a long way off. City officials displayed a map of the Charleston Peninsula early on before its west side had been developed on fill, and before many of its creeks and river fingers were paved over. Striking was the picture of where flooding occurred here — water rising in most of those watery same places. “Mother Nature wants her land back,” Councilman Seekings told the CNA audience this week.
Charleston will need all the help she can get to keep her at bay. All of us will need to pitch in.”
In a destination? city environment, the municipality walks a fine line between catering to the tourists and the local community.? It is a challenge to balance the needs of one without neglecting the other.? A number of factors play into the decisions around how each group is treated.? Often times, perception plays a part in people’s reactions to some decisions that may affect one group adversely.? We have looked at perception and reality and determined that is there a strong sentiment that local residents are losing the battle to tourism.
The separation point of perception and reality is data.? Data will always provide substantiated evidence.
We have looked at some data points, daily observation and chatter to compile a list of the reasons we feel the city is choosing tourism over resident livability.
Multi-million dollar investment firms from out of state and locally are monopolizing on an opportunity to reduce the historic footprint and create a new hospitality center focused on boutique hotels, luxury stay experiences and high end shopping and dining.? These investments range from small to large, including a group of New York investors that purchased the building housing Blind Tiger on Broad Street and the new $100M complex that is being planned for Spring and King.? In between, we are showered by the Dewberry, Spectator, Grand Bohemian, Zero George, Hyatt, Holiday Inn Suites and Hotel Bennett that are changing the face of historic Charleston.? When you have a hotel that can charge $600 a night while you still have issues around waste management and homelessness, it is time to re-think strategy.
Generation old local business are being forced out or into retirement due to urban pressures and rising rents.? 2016 saw the end of Hughes Lumber, Bob Ellis Shoes, King Street Grille and Morris Sokol.?? Those four foundations closing their doors speak volumes.? Even this past week, we heard that Fish will be closing on Upper King Street.
Limited improvements in roadway infrastructure.? A recent article in the Post and Courier indicated that Charleston residents are paying $1850 annually on average for car repairs due to the poor road systems as a result of the increased traffic in the surrounding counties.? In the cross town we added an aesthetically pleasing divider, yet there are cones, cranes and construction throughout the entire span with some projects taking us through 2020 and beyond.
Cost of dining and entertainment have forced many locals to reduce the amount of leisure activity.? With a 10.5% dining food tax and 15% alcohol and increased base prices across the board, the dining experience is shifting from a locals experience to a tourist luxury.
Increases in the price of parking garages and more opportunistic valet options.
Corporate transition of downtown Charleston – Hyatt, Vans, Forever 21, West Elm, 3 Starbucks on King Street alone (8 total downtown), Panera, Walgreens, Carolina Ale House, Chipotle, Five Guys Burgers, Chik-fil-a, Subway, Williams-Sonoma, Urban Outfitters and Earthbound.? The local names and generational families businesses are losing out to corporate brands.
Removing the only neighborhood grocery store in the Northern central part of the peninsula where most of the East Side would shop and masking the concern by funding short term busing options for the residents to get groceries out of the city limits.
A poorly managed parking meter system and mass transit service.? There are a few groups that are working hard to change the culture and promote a change in thinking around mass transit, but that isn’t enough.? When cities like Beaufort and Asheville have credit card meters and apps where you can pay, we are lagging far behind.
No monthly or annual subsidized parking for employees who work in downtown Charleston.
Limited enforcement of jaywalking laws and thus increasing risk of injury.? Limited proposals and implementations around increased biking options for residents.
These are a few of the major reasons, the emphasis is on the tourist and local residents are faced with daily challenges that will continue to mount over the upcoming years.