With recommendations forthcoming from the city of Charleston’s Tourism Management Committee, the process of consideration should not be hurried. What often seems reasonable through rose-colored glasses may seem ill-considered after careful review and input from all impacted citizens.
The issues facing our growing community are far-reaching and require careful thought and input.
While tourism is a major contributor to Charleston’s thriving economy, it is not the only component. Many people work on the peninsula but live in other areas. Certainly, no one wants to see the heart of Charleston lose its economic vitality by the adoption of proposals that could turn the peninsula into a virtual community with a sign effectively posted “for residents only.”
No one should question either the good intentions or the hard work of those involved to date with the committee.
However, one could fairly ask whether the perspectives of all Charlestonians have been considered in the seeming haste to adopt proposals. It would be reasonable to slow the accelerated timetable to allow meaningful and thoughtful input from residents of both sides of the Ashley River as well as members of the business and medical community who work on the peninsula.
Many aspects of the current recommendations seem confusing and drastic. They should not be rushed through without input from the wider population including full- time residents and neighborhood associations. Steps taken to guide and manage tourism may well run counter to community needs and throttle the lifestyle of permanent residents. Suggestions to handle tourists can result in substantial difficulties for permanent residents.
Some of the proposals seem to come through a prism of wishful thinking removed from the reality of our beautiful community or economic reality.
For example, is it reasonable to expect people to ride bicycles into Charleston during the hot and humid months from May through September? Charleston is not Amsterdam where bicyclists enjoy low humidity and an average mean temperature of 70 degrees throughout the year.
Bicycles work well for tourists visiting Kiawah but are they really suited for lawyers, accountants and medical professionals working on the peninsula on a beautiful July day in Charleston with the temperature in the upper 90s and humidity approaching 100 percent? What about those of us over the age of 50? But when railroad rights of way are converted into bike paths, one impacts the option of light rail in the future.
There is also the potential impact on the city’s budget. No one wants a tax increase. However, proposals to limit hotel rooms on the peninsula may well result in not only lower accommodations tax revenue for the city as hotel rooms are built in Mount Pleasant but also in increased vehicular traffic as tourists drive into the city to take advantage of what Charleston has to offer.
Before launching into hasty or limited public hearings, it might be more prudent to consider afresh the Downtown Management Plan (adopted in 1998) or perhaps give a closer look at factors causing conditions in Charleston.
Cars driven by tourists may not be the root cause of vehicular congestion on the peninsula. For example, parking variances granted over the past 10 years or policies being pursued regarding urban infill might be more responsible for chronic conditions than a perceived influx of tourists.
In the context of the Peninsula Mobility Report, some proposals would seem to increase traffic and reduce mobility, rather than solve the problems. Talking about “carrots and sticks” seems more applicable to laboratory animals (such as guinea pigs) who need to be reprogrammed rather than the thinking, living Charlestonians. What works in the ivy-covered halls of an urban planning institute in the Northeast may not seem so attractive to people who call Charleston their full-time home.
Neither report seems to acknowledge the unique geography of Charleston with its beautiful rivers and marshes. To succeed, any thoughtful proposal needs to consider the geography of the peninsula, our marshes, islands and our irregular land masses.
Before City Council considers far-reaching steps that could well wreck the beautiful jewel that is Charleston, we need to consider the needs of all of our citizens and obtain carefully considered input from local residents.
We should not be hypnotized or seduced by the hype of being designated as the No. 1 tourist location in the world by one magazine. Rankings come and go.
However, local residents will still be here. The needs and lifestyles of permanent residents on both sides of the Ashley should not be simply subordinated to the theoretical ideas of well-meaning professionals or the wishful thinking of those who do not make Charleston their full-time home.
Charleston’s tourism issues need careful consideration.
Barbara J. Ellison has served for 30 years on the city of Charleston Planning Commission.