Friday, March 6, 2015 Blog

A Vision for Charleston: Priorities for the Next Mayoral Administration

by Andy Hollis

In 2015 the city of Charleston will elect its first new mayor in four decades. Recently, the Conservation League joined forces with If You Were Mayor, Charleston Moves, Historic Charleston Foundation, and the South Carolina Community Loan Fund to host a forum on ideas for the future of city. You’ll find full footage of the event below. Be sure to check out If You Were Mayor’s Stephanie Barna’s wrap-up following the videos.

Video Part 1

Video Part 2

Recapping – A Vision for Charleston

by Stephanie Barna
Cross-posted with permission from

On Monday, February 23, 2015, If You Were Mayor teamed up with the Coastal Conservation League, Charleston Moves, Historic Charleston Foundation, and the South Carolina Community Loan Fund to present a “Vision for Charleston: Priorities for the Next Mayoral Administration.”

The forum […] turned agenda-setting on its head. Instead of inviting the mayoral candidates to speak and tell us their platforms, we invited the mayoral candidates to attend and listen to our ideas. How’s that for counter-intuitiveness?

Local businessman John Winthrop sponsored the event and kicked the afternoon off with Teddy Roosevelt’s famous quote that reminds us that the doing of deeds is what matters: “…The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds…”

So with that, into the arena we went.

If You Were Mayor co-founder Whitney Powers emceed the event and took the opportunity to introduce many new people to this website and its goal of sharing constructive and positive solutions for our region’s ills. She also recognized how difficult it was going to be for the next mayor of Charleston to fill the shoes of Joe Riley, a vastly more experienced leader, but she left the audience with the big idea of the day: “Our engagement and our ability to translate our experiences constructively will determine the effectiveness of our next leader.”

First to the podium was West Ashley resident Charlie Smith, who outlined many of the issues that he wrote about last month on this blog. Pointing to the 10 acres of car lots, the nondescript buildings, the uncared for roadways, and the nearly abandoned Citadel Mall, he made a stirring case for West Ashley’s identity crisis. He challenged the next mayor and the community as a whole to help West Ashley get back up to standard by finding ways to reconnect the neighborhoods and actually include West Ashley in planning its own future.

Charleston Moves’ executive director Kurt Cavanaugh was astounded by the image that Charlie Smith conjured up of 10 acres of land reduced to asphalt and cars. And cars were big part of his presentation — how to slow them down and how to keep them from killing pedestrians and cyclists. Some solutions are as simple and easy as a can of white paint. It’s a political problem not a fiscal one, he pointed out.

Sausage making isn’t sexy, but Winslow Hastie of the Historic Charleston Foundation said it was time for us to roll up our sleeves and implement the plans that have already been made. In other words, time to make the sausage. The Green Plan, the Century V Plan, Gabe Klein’s Peninsula Mobility Report, and the 2015 Tourism Management Plan are all on the shelf, and need to be dusted off and put to use. It was a good reminder that our citizenry is indeed already engaged on many levels.

And then came “Jordan.” Michelle Mapp of the SC Community Loan Fund started her presentation from a very specific perspective, that of Jordan, a little girl growing up in Silver Hill, a falling-down neighborhood with big challenges and few resources. Her question for us: What will you do for Jordan? As developers rush into the Neck to claim 300 acres of waterfront land, what sort of economic development opportunity presents itself that can lift up the lowest income residents? And are we willing to push for that as a community?

Next, Coastal Conservation League’s Myles Maland tackled a huge topic, that of coastal resiliency, which is code for how do we deal with climate change and the resulting events, such as coastal floods? Our inadequate infrastructure is proving incapable dealing with rain-bombs, a phenomenon that happens when a huge volume of rain dumps out of the sky in a matter of hours. In the past, Charleston may have experienced 25 tidal floods per year. More recently, we’ve been hit with 80 per year. Maland says it’s time to get proactive and stop being reactive to this growing problem. Luckily, Charleston has been selected to participate as one of three US communities in the pilot of the Resilient America Program of the National Academy of Sciences for the next three years. It is hoped that this will result in a workable strategy since this issue of resiliency will only grow more urgent in the coming years.

Automobiles might have been the biggest villains of the day. I’on developer Vince Graham plotted the historical ascension of the automobile and showed us how accommodating the automobile became the number one policy of the federal government, from building interstates to bailing out bankrupt automakers. His grim view of the sell-out of any human-scale city was followed by a more hopeful view of transportation alternatives from landscape architect Steve Dudash, who showed all sorts of innovative, and cost effective, possibilities for moving people from point A to point B. He had us all imagining how cool it would be to have a superlight electric bus system running straight down the middle of Rivers Avenue.

To close out the speaker presentations, we traveled back out to the suburbs, and Amy Fabri addressed the issues facing James Island, the sad stepchild of Charleston who gets no love or respect. Her big plea was for more cooperation among the disparate entities that control James Island’s destiny.

The takeaway felt as positive and constructive as we had hoped. The message was that some mistakes have been made and some opportunities have been lost along the way. But, the civic leaders who spoke at this forum brought their experience and knowledge to the table and willingly shared it with the candidates, plus a very receptive audience. The audience, came from throughout the entire city, responded with even more ideas, comments, and questions. It was encouraging to hear these issues so well-received, as evidenced by the closing comments made by each of the mayoral candidates who were present.

Overall, the forum was quite an uplifting sharing of big ideas. […]

Read the original post here.

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