The midday sun last Friday scorched the tiled-plaza entrance to North Charleston City Hall. The crowd gathered quickly; the winners of Dixie Youth Baseball’s “World Series” were inbound from Lumberton, North Carolina.
At that moment, North Charleston was being “North Charleston.”
But Mayor Keith Summey and Police Chief Reggie Burgess did not attend. They were attentively monitoring a nonstop investigation of homicides that have bewildered our city. Gambling, drugs and guns beget violence. One murder is one too many. Five within five days is bewildering. Burgess implores the public to help; cops chase leads, and along the way make arrests and seize weapons, illegal drugs and hard cash.
As the proud crowd waited, The Post and Courier posted an op-ed by Steve Bailey, trolling insipidly with suggestions of silly nicknames for our city, and calling for readers to propose other pejorative monikers. Perhaps it was an attempt at humor. It registered as mutterings from someone who doesn’t know our city, and apparently is too smug to learn.
The plaza crowd depicts a North Charleston beyond score sheets of crime and stupid nicknames. Our city is a matrix of neighborhoods with varying profiles, all linked to acclaimed parks and recreation and arts programs, and all served by one of the finest fire departments in the nation and a police department that cares. Yes, some neighborhoods are crime prone, but some are among the safest in South Carolina. That reality defines the challenge, and the objective is the latter. Crime and violence form a calamity of many causes. As Mayor Summey has often declared, “let us outlaw guns, we will. … Let us fix the criminal justice rules that too often broaden police challenges, we will.”
And our city is a busy regional place. At 2 p.m. on most weekdays, population doubles with folks doing business and regularly passing through the city. The airport and Air Force base, for example, generate human flows and vehicular traffic that primes the regional economy. Boeing’s huge workforce toils around the clock. Five miles away, Mercedes employees assemble Sprinter vans in a manufacturing facility soon to double in size. Mayor Summey fondly declares our city is the only one in the nation that produces airplanes and vehicles. The mayor might be right; we know for sure the aerospace and automotive sectors are producing, compounding employment opportunities for folks all over the region.
Over 76 square miles, we have new neighborhoods, trendy neighborhoods, sprawling golf course communities, and models of old historic neighborhoods, like Liberty Hill, a venerable African American conclave. The city’s summer camp there bused the children to the plaza. They made creative posters for the ballplayers. Across Interstate 26, the Tanger complex teems with thousands of regional shoppers and diners. North Charleston is the leading retail sales municipality in our state.
The old Navy Yard bustles with activities. Riverfront Park has become a popular regional destination for folks wanting to relax along a busy river, and the park is now a popular venue for national open-air music festivals. The Port of Charleston’s newest facilities are under construction there. So is a very large intermodal rail yard. Traffic – rail and trucks – will soon double with the effects concentrated in North Charleston.
Neighborhood-based law enforcement is a city priority. And as the police chase criminals, the Cultural Arts department tends the multi-floor art exhibits at City Hall, and recruits teachers for the city’s new Elementary After-School Arts Enrichment Program.
Thursday night, City Council approved the largest capital investments program in North Charleston’s 46-year history – a $23 million, state-of-the-art Olympic-size swimming center – for schoolchildren, for the public, for the competitive swimming groups all over the region; a new $35 million parking deck and related office space for the Performing Arts Center, the coliseum and the convention center, all well-used regional assets; and a $14 million gym complex for regional uses at the Remount Road-Interstate 26 intersection. A new playground for disabled children is in planning.
And at that meeting, the city joined forces with a Liberty Hill church group to convert condemned vacant lots into “affordable” housing.
Thursday night’s busy council session ended with news that North Charleston’s team had won the “World Series.” The crowd cheered. Ed Barfield, the city’s longtime recreation director, went to bed a proud man. And by 11 a.m., he had arranged for a North Charleston company to transform – for free – a prominent billboard on Interstate 26 as a welcome banner for the team as their motorcade neared city hall.
A police and fire truck escort joined the motorcade. The sirens cued the cheers of the 200 folks waiting in the plaza. The baseball players – and their parents and volunteer coaches – were unabashedly proud. It was, as longtime Recreation Director Barfield said, “… a moment of memory-making.”
The mayor and police chief worked on. Playgrounds filled with afternoon activities. The Performing Arts Center dealt with the surge of ticket requests for the Les Misérables productions in October.
North Charleston is a busy city – too busy to engage in inane nickname contests.
Know us, don’t insult us.
Our city is Regional Charleston’s broad shoulders, and here’s my personal suggestion for a nickname: North Charleston is “home.”
I’m proud of it.
Ron Brinson, a former associate editor of this newspaper, is a North Charleston city councilman. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.