A Letter of Caution to Charleston and neighboring communities

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By Mark A. Leon

This commentary is brushed with admiration and fueled by optimism, but must be posed with an air of caution, because with change comes adjustment; with adjustment, comes resistance.? Given the rapidly changing landscape, education and acceptance are critical for ensuring a positive future for Charleston.

Last week, a story broke centering around an attack on a transgender female outside a downtown Charleston nightclub.? This led to questions on whether this was a targeted attack.? Yet, a hush remains over the community.? As an active resident for many years, I have observed some clear cultural practices:

  • This is a culture that bottles up emotion and works hard to “not” rock the boat
  • There is limited government activism and strength in rallying over a cause
  • There is deeply embedded resentment and separation between rich and poor; black and white

We hear that Charleston is the friendliest city in the country and one of the top destinations for new residents and career opportunities, but look at some other issues that will arise as we continue to become one of the fastest growing regions in the South and the country.

  • If Charleston is one of the friendliest and most welcome cities in the country, why did the government feel the need to apologize for slavery, an act that was abolished over 150 years ago?
  • If it is necessary to remove slavery from our historic story line, why are housing communities still called “plantations”, the term or location that many associate with slavery?
  • The hottest area of economic growth in the Lowcountry is construction. With that, we are seeing more and more migrant and immigrant workers.? Is this community comfortable with that?
  • With the career opportunity growth and South Carolina ranked one of the lowest in the nation in academic standards, how we will fill those much-needed skilled roles to meet the demands of the area? This question becomes even more critical with the recent announcement of the new Google Data Center and the existence of over 250 active start-ups.
  • In the latest census, Charleston County residency is 95.7% white and black.? A demographic shift will change significantly in the next 10 plus years.? How is the city going to adjust?
  • We currently have a commuting traffic issue in the city metro. With Volvo, Nexton and the expansion West of Summerville, this will create a second bottleneck of traffic on 26.? How is this being addressed?
  • As traffic issues continue to mount, the infrastructure changes to more modern architectural design and the fight against unfair treatment of the carriage horses mount, will the historic Southern culture of Charleston soon be gone?
  • Can the Lowcountry survive with the increased pressures of new development and resident growth, while we still cannot solve the issue of flooding and poor water quality?

These are questions that have run through the minds of many and unfortunately, we seem to be allowing our local governments free reign to capitalize on changes without taking steps to solidify the future.? The future is being compromised and contrary to what government and media is saying, it I not for the better.

More tourists, more money, increased costs and more homes are not always the right direction of progress.? In addition, progress does takes time.? The rate we are progressing is not healthy.

I hope we start to organize and stand in numbers as one voice to either slow down change or prepare for the future.? If not for us, for our children.

Is this the End of the Holy City? – The City of Charleston We Once Loved

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By Mark A. Leon

The Charleston peninsula is approximately 8 square miles.

In comparison, New York City is 305 square miles, Chicago is 237 square miles and Boston spans 48 square miles in the city proper.? We are not in the same vicinity as our larger urban counterparts, but this small city, is making waves.? In a new report published today from BusinessInsider, we could be under water by 2100.

Today, the corner of Calhoun Street and King Street, a pinnacle of foot and vehicle traffic in the heart of Charleston, resembles Times Square more than an early pre-Revolutionary historic village.? The once quiet intersection donned by scenic Marion Square is now home to 5 Guys Burgers, Chipotle, Walgreens, Carolina Ale House, Panera Bread, Moe’s Southwestern and Starbucks as well as cranes and development of a new hotel adjacent the Embassy Suites.? We are one digital billboard away from a Shakespearean tragedy.

The crosstown will see a new shopping and living village highlighted by Publix and Joe Riley Stadium will entice you with shopping and dining, before, after and on non game days, making it difficult to have a quiet walk, picnic or fishing day at Brittlebank Park.

If approved, Starbucks will open a location in the hospital district making it the 9th Starbucks on the peninsula.? Eight square miles and nine Starbucks.? That is a difficult concept to swallow given the pride we take in our local business owners.

Development is king and progress is upon us with no indication of a slowdown.? That we know is true.? We know that for the last 3 years, we have witness nothing but cement and wood to the sky, cranes dominating the skyline and no sign of a quiet peaceful city for another five plus years.? All this for progress?? Does progress mean losing our local businesses because rent increases and locals avoiding downtown is forcing them out?

  • Welcome Hyatt
  • Welcome Holiday Inn Express
  • Welcome Dewberry
  • Welcome Marriot
  • Welcome Starbucks
  • Welcome Panera
  • Welcome West Elm

Five years ago, we cherished the idea of staying in a Bed and Breakfast owned by a third-generation family and eating at a quiet cafe watching life pass us by.? We would wave to the carriage rider as he recited stories of our early ancestors.? Those days are going away quickly.

Today, we wait eagerly for Whole Foods, Publix and designer stores to open up across the peninsula.? Chefs are considered local celebrities driving up the cost of dining out, tax rates are forcing us to consider the frequency of social entertainment (10.5% food / 15% alcohol / 9% Sales Tax), average hotel costs are itching up to $300 a night with some exceeding $600 and an evening at the theater or live music will run you $50.00 to $300.00 per person.

Is Charleston for the residents or tourists?? Not a simple question to answer.? With approximately 4.8 million tourists a year, maybe it isn’t about the local residents anymore.

Goodbye Nancy’s and Piggly Wiggly.? Farewell to Crosby’s Fish Market and Andolini’s.? Bon Voyage Norm’s, Cypress and Fish.? You will be missed.

Progress is in full gear.? Colonial Lake had a face life, Sargeant Jasper will soon be gone, Marion Square will be almost exclusively surrounded by hotels, Joe Riley Stadium will be the cornerstone of a new district of shops and restaurants, the expansion north will continue and perhaps we may see the end of the carriage rides and the site of church steeples? over the skyline blessing our coastal home.

It is hard to envision a life without Berlin’s or Burbage’s Grocery; but then again, we didn’t think we would see the end of Millenium Records or Morris Sokol Furniture.

Whether we like it or not, what took nearly 350 years to develop, may be gone in just a decade.