Welcome to North Charleston, the beautiful.
In the past year city officials have started whipping this place into shape. They’re getting tough on mobile homes and talking about limiting the height of fences and hedges, even stopping people from parking boats in their yards.
These folks aren’t playing around. Now they want to require residents to edge the sidewalks in front of their homes.
This begs the question: When did North Charleston switch from being a city to a Home Owners Association?
City Councilman Bob King introduced the edging ordinance with the best intentions. He’s had complaints from some residents about unsafe and impassable sidewalks, so he proposed this new rule.
King has heard from a few folks upset with the ordinance — but not too many. He says it’s no different than the city law that requires people to keep their yards mowed. Seems a lot of people cut their grass but don’t like to edge it.
“It’s not like government intervention. It’s just an enforcement tool,” he says. “We’re not going to put a heavy burden on anyone.”
But that’s exactly how some people see it.
“I hate to see us putting poor people out,” says Councilwoman Dot Williams. “A lot of people don’t have edgers. I think it’s stupid.”
A change is coming
The most remarkable thing here is that this controversy speaks volumes about how far North Charleston has come.
Eleven years ago this month, city code enforcement officers did a sweep through the Accabee neighborhood and hauled off nearly 90 tons of trash.
The state’s third-largest city did a number of these sweeps over the course of a decade, and it made a difference. At the same time, North Charleston was transforming itself from a place where people worked during the day and left at night into an area where folks also wanted to live.
Maybe you read about it in the New York Times: Home of Boeing, Tanger Outlet Mall, a lot of restaurants, a nice coliseum, trendy Park Circle — and a lot of young families.
In 1990, North Chuck was a city with a lot of older residents and renters. Just 40 percent of the city’s homes were owner-occupied. That’s up to about 50 percent now, but it’s still below the state average, which is 70 percent.
North Charleston officials are trying hard to change that. They want to attract more of those young families. They make good citizens.
And you know who really likes sidewalks? Yep, young families who exercise and push strollers.
Why do you think all new neighborhoods or businesses in North Charleston are now required to build sidewalks?
You have to figure this edging thing is going to rile up some people.
Mayor Keith Summey, who has done more than his share to change the city, took the edge off the issue by promising that the city would use community service workers — inmates — to help any residents who can’t do the yard work themselves.
And Williams says she will raise Cain if the city doesn’t.
Summey’s promise helps, but still, there’s going to be some dissent.
A lot of North Charleston folks are fiercely independent; they don’t like the government telling them what to do. First they have to buy health insurance, and now they have to edge their lawns at the sidewalk.
What’s next, state-mandated Swiffers?
It sounds really strange to hear such a persnickety, suburban idea as edging in a town that has a rep for going its own way. They don’t outlaw smoking in bars and restaurants (though some have tried), and they have yet to jump on the no-texting-while-driving fad.
But all that stuff is probably coming because this edging ordinance — along with the mobile homes, the boats and the fences — is a sign of change.
“A few years ago, people said North Charleston was supposed to look like that,” King says. “No, it’s not. I don’t buy that, and we’re trying to change that.”
Whether you think this is a quality-of-life issue, like King, or ridiculous, like Williams, one thing’s for sure:
When they’re arguing over something as silly as edging their yards, it’s a sign of progress in North Charleston.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org