Time was running out, and the players still had lots of yellow Legos left, each one representing 640 new homes.
"We've got people dying over here. We've got to put them somewhere!" North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey joked, pointing to a pile of Legos in front of Jason Ward, Dorchester County administrator.
Summey and Ward weren't trying to relive their childhoods. On Monday, they and 150 other area leaders participated in "Reality Check," a game to find answers to one of the region's most pressing questions: How will we handle all this growth?
Organized by the Urban Land Institute, the game was the first of its kind in South Carolina. And in a region known for its political and legal sandbox fights, the exercise would produce a surprisingly cohesive vision for how the area might grow.
"The real story is that it wasn't difficult to get everyone in same room," said Tom Hund, communications chair for the institute in South Carolina. "People have been ready to have a conversation about growth but didn't have a venue."
The venue for Monday's exercise was
a large conference room at Trident Technical College. The players gathered around 15 tables, each with a Charleston-area map.
Their task: Plan how the community would look in 2030 with 265,000 new residents, 186,000 new jobs and 128,000 new homes. They were given yellow Legos for homes, red ones for jobs, purple ribbons for transportation corridors and green ribbons for open space.
And two hours.
At Summey's and Ward's table, the group hammered out a few "guiding principles:" Open space should be preserved; a commuter rail system should link communities; homes should go near jobs.
They quickly staked out green ribbons protecting the Francis Marion National Forest and parts of West Ashley.
Out came the Legos, with Summey and others stacking them highest in the Neck Area. "I think we ought to crank that up higher," Summey said, referring to the Magnolia project. They put red Legos in Summerville, Ridgeville, St. George and between Moncks Corner and Goose Creek. They called their growth scenario "Town and Country," with clear divisions between residential and rural.
A few tables away, Charleston Mayor Joe Riley worked with representatives from MeadWestvaco, Berkeley County schools and others. The issue of building a commuter rail also came up, and Riley suggested a rail network linking Charleston, Moncks Corner and Summerville. Service along Bees Ferry Road also made sense.
"We need another loop, another Mark Clark," Heyward Horton, of the Charleston Regional Development Alliance, chimed in.
As the clock ticked, the energy in the room grew. People stood on chairs to see where the Legos were going. Table 15 tried to barter some jobs and people for more green ribbon. "Put those Legos over by Long Savannah," Summey said, referring to a development on Charleston's outskirts.
When it was over, organizers tabulated the results and gave everyone a chance to vote on their favorite scenario.
And the winner?
Table 15's "Town and Country," the one with Summey and Ward, came out on top.
Organizers said the game was just the first step in building a region-wide consensus. More than 90 percent agreed it was important to preserve open space and develop dense housing in areas with existing roads and infrastructure.
The Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments plans to attach costs to the scenarios, moving toward the goal of creating a regional consensus on how to manage growth.