A lot of publicity about tourism has made its way into the newspaper. In particular, downtown residents are upset by gridlock, cruise ships, location of public restrooms, lack of attention to environmental and health issues, etc.
However, the conundrum of dealing with the questions about congestion, quality of life and economic success in Charleston is greater than "tourism."
Charleston is at a pivotal crossroads in its modern history. People in the region, not just the downtown residents, should be concerned about Charleston's identity.
Does the City of Charleston know what it wants to be?
Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. has been a visionary and outstanding leader for many years to bring Charleston to its current position of world-class pre-eminence. However, he is retiring, so who is the visionary going to be and what is the vision for Charleston's future?
Does Charleston want to be a tourist mecca? If so, what type of tourists? Does it want more or larger cruise ships? Is the proposed cruise ship terminal in the best location?
Does it want to be a hub for high-level intellectual pursuits by using public institutions like the College of Charleston, MUSC, the Charleston School of Law, Trident Technical College, and privately funded schools of higher education?
Does it want the Legislature to continue to significantly influence primary, secondary and higher education? Does it want to improve its primary and secondary school offerings and diversity? Does it want to be a welcoming place for people to live? Is it happy with the current physical condition of its streets and sidewalks? Does it want to promote high income business activity?
Does it want to attract 20- and 30-somethings who engage in high-tech software pursuits? Does it want to be a city with affordable/diverse housing opportunity?
All of these ideas are commendable and possible, but for any and all of them to thrive they need infrastructure, support, management, cooperation from the city, its stakeholders and its citizens.
For example, to be a tourist mecca and not destroy the quality of life of the people who live in the city, tourism infrastructure has to be improved. The city bureaucracy needs to know and be able to coordinate all of the different festivals, bridge runs, 5-K walks, house and garden tours, fashion shows, wildlife shows, flower shows, religious retreats, renaissance weekends, street parties, arts festivals, etc., so that they don't all happen at one time or at one particular geographic center so as to not disrupt resident's "quiet enjoyment" of their surroundings.
Furthermore, additional parking facilities/garages need to be made available. Should they be located downtown or remotely on the Trident Tech campus on Columbus Street or further north?
More bike routes and safe parking facilities need to be constructed. Organizations like Charleston Moves need to expand their focus of concern beyond bicycles by adding oversight regarding anything that moves - buses, pedicabs, carriages, people, taxis, skateboards, etc.
One situation that causes traffic congestion is tourists looking for places to park. Way finding signs are inadequate. To my knowledge no city garages have been built in the last 10 years. Surface parking has been exhausted by the pressure of Charleston's worldwide popularity as a tourist and shopping destination.
If Charleston wants to be a world-class research center and true "silicon harbor" it not only needs to continue to support research activities at MUSC, but it also needs to work in public and private partnership to help the College of Charleston obtain R-1 status to be able to offer more strategic graduate degrees.
Furthermore, the city needs to provide housing, parking and public/private transportation for those people who wish to attend or work at the various colleges.
One could write a book on all of the different management skills that need to come into play to manage the overall quality of life of the Charleston community.
Will the city appoint additional blue-ribbon commissions comprised of major stakeholders in the city and in the region to bring management, direction, and citizen input planning to the area?
Will the current Tourism Commission address all of these issues?
People are a product of their environment. More is not necessarily better.
Right now the city appears to want "more" of just about anything. We need to be more selective in choosing our "more." Working together and putting in the proper management infrastructure, Charleston and its citizens can end up with a winning, palatable solution that will guide its development into the next century.
So what group or individual is going to lead our current citizens into decisions that best satisfy our city's questions? Are you one of those people? If so, get involved and be part of shaping the future.
To paraphrase John F. Kennedy - ask not what your city can do for you but ask what you can do for your city. Become part of Charleston's guiding force to ensure that the city takes the correct road for its future.
John M. Rivers Jr. of Charleston is president of Rivers Enterprises Inc.