If you've idled at the corner of King and Calhoun lately, it probably crossed your mind that another 25,000 residents is exactly what this peninsula needs.
There's no denying that downtown Charleston is getting more crowded every year. Scores of people move in weekly, the colleges grow annually and the current tourist season runs about 365 days.
So when city officials say that it's not unreasonable to expect another 25,000 people moving onto our fair peninsula (on top of the current 35,000) within the next 15 years, a lot people tend to panic. Their first question: Where are we going to put them?
Uh, Myrtle Beach comes to mind.
But of course that's not really an option, any more than turning the Yorktown into condos (Water views!).
Fact is, this is a nice place and a lot of people want to live here. We are just going to have to learn to live with the crowds.
And that's exactly what's going on with these mobility studies and transportation forums in the news last week.
There is no simple answer yet, but you can bet more cars are not part of the solution.
To the Market...
Back in the 1940s, there were actually twice as many people living on the peninsula as there is now.
The streets were crowded then, too. Of course, back then we didn't have 4 million tourists per annum in the mix. We normally got about three, all from the Navy base, and they were looking for a place on Chalmers Street.
The good news here is that no one really expects to cram 35,000 more people into the historic district. You know, the peninsula doesn't stop at Calhoun, or even the Crosstown. And a lot of the growth is going to occur above both.
Mayor Joe Riley says the Horizon District, across from Brittlebank Park, will be home to around 4,000 of these new residents. Many of them will no doubt work in the hospital district, meaning they'll either walk or take a shuttle to work.
More than 400 will live up around the Post and Courier building. Upper King is developing with a new style for Charleston - tall buildings that set right up against the sidewalk. Looks more like Alexandria, Va., than the Holy City.
And way up in the Neck area there are plans for more than 4,000 homes in the Magnolia development.
It's going to be a lot different than it was in post-war Charleston (WWII, not the one of Northern Aggression).
"You have to recognize that a lot of those people will live on land that has never before been occupied," Riley says.
That alleviates some of the density concerns. The problem that needs to be solved is how to keep all those folks from bringing their cars down to the Market every day.
Make like Fats Domino
The Historic Charleston Foundation is watching these developments closely.
Melissa Nelson, director of marketing and communications for the foundation, says that all this growth certainly brings with it "increased livability concerns."
That means East Bay Street is often a nightmare. And King. And Meeting.
Of course, Historic Charleston is dedicated to preserving and protecting our architectural and cultural heritage. And, our sanity.
They're fine with smart growth, and feel certain that the city is not going to look any different, at least not the historic district. Upper King will look different, but as the mayor notes, we don't tear down buildings. This new development is happening on vacant lots or old industrial sites.
So don't worry. Our preservation community is too strong to watch us turn into Anytown, USA.
But we may have to face some real change. That is, we may need to rethink our Southern love affair with the horseless carriage, at least on part of the peninsula.
Whether that means trolleys, shuttle buses or bicycles, who can say. It could mean we need to go back to walking.
In New York City, no one thinks twice about walking 15 blocks to go eat or run an errand. Here, the same person will likely jump in their car to make a trip of the same distance. You can blame part of that on our charming humidity, but a lot of it is mindset.
As Nelson says, we may only break ourselves of that habit when other options become more convenient. Or when driving from place to place gets too inconvenient.
And anymore, there's not much question about the "when" part.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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