The soon-to-be-demolished Sgt. Jasper apartments are an out-of-place eyesore on the lower peninsula. They are a stab in the heart of feng shui urban harmony and aesthetics. They are as pridefully drab as any Soviet Bloc apartment complex built during the Cold War. They are as disgusting as the most hateful tweets directed toward Caitlyn Jenner. They are the dark soul of the Duggar Family.
And the proposed replacement for the Sgt. Jasper isn’t much better.
The Beach Company’s new plan — a 14-story project consisting of luxury apartments, office space, and five-stories of parking — may be more contemporary in design, and therefore less prone to offend our modern, markedly non-utilitarian sensibilities, but for the men and women of Harleston Village and South of Broad, the structure is a monstrosity that is every bit as monstrous as the Eiffel Tower was to the French, many, many years ago.
And although the lower peninsula masses and the Charleston Board of Architectural Review disapprove of the project — earlier this week the BAR voted against the Beach Co.’s second compromise plan — the current Sgt. Jasper plan should go through, for one reason and one reason only: It may be ugly, but it’s no uglier than Charleston’s past. It is our Scarlet Letter, a reminder that amid all of the beauty of downtown, of all of the aristocratic grandeur of the Battery and South of Broad, Charleston was built on the blood and sweat and beaten bodies of the enslaved and the city’s far-too-often refusal to address the plight of their descendants.
Of course, there is no real connection between the Sgt. Jasper, then or now, with the Holy City’s unholy past. But let’s imagine that there is. More importantly, let’s imagine that the Sgt. Jasper is the tony section of town’s reminder that all is not right with this world-class city.
A reminder that the City of Charleston has let West Ashley atrophy and which acts as if James Island doesn’t exist beyond the taxes they pay to the city’s coffers.
A reminder that our town allows cruise ships to dock along our shores and yet refuses to formerly establish rules and regulations that those vessels must adhere to.
A reminder that there is no viable way to move residents and tourists around downtown except by car, making Charleston a rarity among the world’s world-class cities.
A reminder that the Crosstown and the neighborhood north thereof still flood without a fix in sight.
A reminder that the city embarked on an unneeded multi-million dollar plan to renovate the Gaillard Auditorium, a renovation which was more akin to a demolition and which has disrupted life for nearby residents far beyond the projected end date.
A reminder that the city has allowed development along Upper King to sprout up without planning for ample parking, a city planning sin that has been made worse by the town’s tendency to grant parking variances like a prostitute turns tricks.
A reminder that Meeting Street has been transformed into a moneyed ghetto of brand-new student apartments and hotels, nearly all of which have the architectural charm of a wart.
A reminder that the poorer, largely African-American population which has called the peninsula home is rapidly being priced out of town and forced to relocate to North Charleston and elsewhere.
A reminder that this world-class city seemingly has no plan to protect, much less create, workforce housing on the peninsula and is instead willing to create temporary housing for an increasingly transient population of tourists and College of Charleston students.
A reminder that downtown Charleston is not a home as much as much it is a playground for Spoletians and SEWEians, piss-drunk professionals and whoo-girls.
Make no mistake, Charleston is a beautiful city, arguably one of the world’s most. I’m reminded of that every time I journey from the industrial, strip-club outskirts of town where the City Paper is located and venture into the heart of the city. But is it too much to ask that some of that ugliness exist among all of that beauty, at least as a reminder of where we came from and where we are today.
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