Anti-urban sentiment harmful
Can urban life be improved by suburbanizing it? An editor of The Post and Courier seems to think so. The paper’s lead editorial on Sept. 15 titled “Unrestricted dwellings unwise” implied “reasonable standards that make a city livable” include minimum parking requirements, zoning and limits on density.
For too long the City of Charleston has advanced a one-dimensional, suburban planning mindset which prioritizes car movement and storage. While this may benefit tourists and commuters driving in cars, it is precisely these auto-centric “reasonable standards” that harm urban livability.
Favoring cars over people is a contributing factor to the peninsula’s population plunging from 70,000 in 1950 to 37,000 today. Over the same period, the city has been on an annexation binge, growing its boundaries from 3,500 to 70,000 acres.
The city is now bigger than Washington, D.C., and Boston combined. But with 115,000 people, Charleston has less than one-tenth the population of those cities. Ten countries have a smaller land area than the City of Charleston.
In 1921, when the city had a population of 68,000 living on the peninsula, it had a simple streetcar network with annual ridership of more than 15 million. Today, with its population of 37,000 people and four million annual visitors, the peninsula’s DASH transit system barely attracts an annual ridership of 250,000. Why? A manic fixation to make automobiles happy.
The editorial staff of The Post and Courier can better serve its readership by highlighting what other cities are doing to reduce automobile dependence and enhance urban life. Last year, Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York permanently closed Broadway through Times Square to cars. San Francisco recently implemented a brilliant parking management system — check out www.sfpark.org. Closer to home, Savannah has revived streetcars and ferries to complement its efficient bus system. Greenville regularly closes its Main Street to the great joy and benefit of its citizenry. And innovative Mount Pleasant took the bold lead of legalizing accessory dwelling units — an excellent form of affordable housing, with mutual economic benefits for primary homeowners.
If Charleston is serious about being “green” and enhancing urban livability, its leadership must overcome the anti-urban sentiment of those who seek to constrain growth by hobbling the city with obsolete parking regulations and other red herrings that favor cars over people.
Stop trying to suburbanize the peninsula and instead work to accommodate population growth in a compact manner through measures that support alternative forms of transportation aimed at reducing oil dependence, air and noise pollution, automobile crashes and traffic congestion.
The I’On Group