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Is it already too late for Charleston?

A City Conflicted

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With less than a week to go before Charleston's mayoral runoff, I struggle to quell the nagging voice asking, "Is it already too late?"

While my friends and family might rubber stamp that opinion as another instance of Aaron's trademark pessimism, I can't help but think the candidates' platforms would have been more useful a long time ago. With promises to solve three big issues facing Charleston — overdevelopment, traffic, and flooding — I wonder if they have taken the time to check out the view of Charleston these days from the Ravenel Bridge, as condominiums, cranes, and fancy-schmancy hotels have choked out the city's historic grandeur. I wonder how plans to fix West Ashley and downtown's flooding problem will be implemented when all I see is more asphalt paving over the porous ground for more mass-production homes. I wonder, and then crawl into a ball of stress, if the candidates dare make their way into Charleston's morning and evening Hunger Games on I-26 and connected capillaries. Yes, I'm sure they have, but that nagging voice is telling me that the metaphorical ship to fix these problems sailed long ago and currently resides at the bottom of the ocean. At this point, these promises are damage control.

With residents crying for mercy at each annual "World's Best," tourism dollars are drowning a few developers in crisp dollar bills while thousands of residents are considering the growing number of reasons why new pastures might be worth consideration. Bumper stickers taunting "We full" on the two-hour ride out to Folly Beach seem more common, and correct, than ever.

Don't get me wrong: This city is special. But with each passing season, its transformation diminishes the allure. For me, every set of downtown scaffolding and bulldozed lot looks like another laceration no politician could ever suture.

Charleston isn't alone. Residents from Seattle or Austin or most any major U.S. city would probably take offense to our "small-town problems," but I suppose it comes down to what Charleston's residents want out of their city. Personally, I value its quiet nooks, its moss-laden alleys, its centuries-old, weather-kissed bricks. I long for its quiet marshland, to be in discussion with no one but its water waterfowl and bronze-backed fish. I value the spartina, leprechaun green and gold alike; I bloom with the spring azaleas and grow pensive with the scent of winter camellias. I want to experience its history without having to go down to the wealthy side of King Street, which may just remain unscathed because developers can't afford it. I still experience all of the things I love about the Lowcountry, if only in glimpses, each one a precious little moment to be savored.

Come election day, I will cast my vote, but I wonder what it will mean for the future of the city. I wonder how the mayor, whether the incumbent or his opposition, will navigate each forthcoming day, living and governing in a city conflicted.

Aaron Wood is a writer, chef, and USC graduate who lives in Charleston and currently spends all of his time fly fishing when he should be writing.

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