Another list in a trade publication recognizes a small selection of cities as either a great place to live or visit. Another top-five accolade for Charleston. In what has now become old hat, Charleston has been named the top city in an annual list by Travel and Leisure magazine. If the point of these accolades is to get more people to visit and move to Charleston, can we agree that enough is enough?
Charleston doesn’t need any more people. Our roads are buckling under the strain of the people we have now. Our highways are congested during rush hour and non-peak hours. It is becoming more and more difficult to find parking spaces downtown during dinner time. And to those who have even thought about buying a house or renting an apartment, the high demand for real estate, driven by more and more people seeking housing, has driven prices into the stratosphere.
If there is a near consensus on the negative effects of over-population, there is no unanimous opinion on how to slow down the growth. Getting a mass transit system and new roads (such as the 526 extension) might ease traffic, but it will not slow growth. Moratoriums on construction for new homes or multi-family apartments also will not slow growth. In fact, there really is no guaranteed way to slow growth of a metropolitan area without making that area even less desirable to live in.
Take a look at several old Rust Belt cities or former manufacturing hubs which have lost their key industries. When a steel plant, coal mine, or automobile manufacturer leaves a town and the jobs leave, then people also leave with it. Many of the dying towns and cities in America’s heartland are shrinking in population because the jobs are leaving those areas as well.
Charleston does not have that problem. Charleston is not only doing the opposite of shedding jobs, benefitting from a new digital corridor, a new airplane manufacturer, and a new luxury automobile manufacturer, but it is expanding its appeal as a cultural tourism destination. With new museums in the works, new quality restaurants popping up daily, and new tourist attractions opening weekly, there is a concerted effort being made to promote all of these all over the world. Rather than losing jobs, Charleston is creating jobs and also doing so in an industry which is specifically designed to bring more people to the Lowcountry. This is schizophrenia on its highest level. Residents of Charleston complain about growth and remain hopelessly divided on what to do about it, while the mechanisms which create the growth continue to hum like a well-oiled machine.
We cannot control all of the good press that our city gets. Nor can we control the good weather, the favorable business climate, or the other intangibles that make people want to come here. But in the same way Charleston is consistently and purposely being promoted as a wonderful place to live and visit, we can organize to promote solutions that will lessen the impact of that growth. Mass transit and rapid transit, affordable housing incentives, higher density construction and better long-term planning are just a few of the areas where better efforts are needed. If we can promote and market ourselves as a city so efficiently, why couldn’t the same type of effort be put into handling the results? To the extent that we fail to properly address these issues, Charleston will only continue to grow out of control while continuing to receive more and more accolades. That is until it gets so big and over-crowded that people no longer want to live here. How ironic would that be?