As Charleston's mayoral and City Council elections approach, it’s pretty clear, based on near daily letters to the editor and conversation in general, that people are fed up. I’ve never sensed such exasperation in my lifetime on a local level, I don’t believe.
People have had it with infrastructure problems, traffic, tourism overload, an unbelievable explosion of big box buildings and sprawling subdivisions, the paving of paradise to put up parking lots (which affects storm water runoff and makes flooding worse), the very idea of widening Highway 61, plastic pellets on beaches, Conde Nast and their now painfully annoying accolades and awards, changes in the city’s identity and dilution of its culture, drainage problems, worsening tidal flooding and no apparent progress being made to repair the Battery seawall and save parts of the lower peninsula from becoming another Atlantis. Need I go on?
Longtime residents are frustrated because, as the current and rather sad observation on the street goes, it took 350 years to build this great city and now we’re in the process of seeing it ruined in what amounts to the blink of an eye. Legacy residents have left the peninsula in droves either through gentrification (which has further spread into middle- and upper middle-class neighborhoods) or the sheer diminution in quality of life.
Once warm and cohesive neighborhoods are now peppered with “spec house” investors, Airbnb habitués, absentee owners and disparate folks with little in common other than their shared discovery and love of Charleston. And now even they are having problems recognizing the city that drew them here in the first place just a few short years ago.
Whereas the city has always been essentially recognizable as Charleston with a discernible feel and identity over a period of centuries, it’s on the cusp of losing all that and evolving into something new. I guess it’s up to voters to help determine if that new object will at least be a thing of beauty, and with recognizable soul for good measure.
Well, anyway, enough complaining. It’s not like we don’t live in a unique and beautiful place, however threatened it may be. Part of that beauty is enhanced by the remarkable open spaces that surround greater Charleston, as I was again reminded while flying back from a recent trip to New York and descending into the Charleston International Airport.
Sitting on the port side of the plane and looking out toward the coast, it’s impossible not to notice how things seem to open up below Myrtle Beach, what with the relatively undisturbed Pee Dee and Waccamaw River areas, Winyah Bay, the great Santee Delta and the Francis Marion National Forest. There seems to be protected wilderness nearly as far as the eye can see, and I can’t imagine there being anything quite like it anywhere else along the eastern seaboard.
Factoring in the ACE Basin and recently protected lands along the Savannah River, it’s quite clear that overall South Carolina has done a remarkable job of preserving large swaths of beautiful, historic and ecologically diverse landscapes.
Speaking of the Charleston International Airport, that it was recently recognized as one of the better medium-sized airports in the country is a well-deserved accomplishment. Things have certainly come a long way since the old airport days at the foot of West Aviation Avenue.