News+Opinion » Barney Blakeney

Regional growth brings consequences

Here We Grow Again: The city should do more to include everyone

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Most folks probably know where I stand when it comes to Charleston's government administration. While I think Mayor Joe Riley has been good for the city in general, his administration certainly hasn't been good for all the city's residents.

Since taking office in 1976, Riley's administration has been focused on growing the city, and that's good. But there is such a thing as too much growth.

A walk to Brittlebank Park recently made me think perhaps we've maxed out, at least when it comes to accommodating water traffic.

Brittlebank used to be one of my favorite spots. I remember when there was nothing but a few benches. It was a great place to just look out across the water and reflect.

But on my last visit it was impossible to look across the river because of all the boats.

The marinas have grown by leaps and bounds over the past 10 or 15 years. The congestion of boats in that area speaks loudly about how unconcerned the administration has been about keeping one of the city's greatest natural treasures an asset for residents.

I understand that one of the most common complaints from West Ashley residents who live on the river is the trash and pollution that wash up on the west side shore. Sure, we want to attract boaters to our beautiful city, but at what cost?

The growth issue seems to be causing some concern on the Peninsula's East Side as well. Residents over there want to know what is going to be built at the site of the former Cooper River bridges from Morrison Drive to Meeting Street.

City officials say they hope to construct a mixed-use area that "knits" communities north and south of Lee Street back together. That may prove difficult now that the administration has named a new director for the St. Julian Devine Community Center.

For the past 25 years, the center has served the predominantly black neighborhoods between the two main thoroughfares. But the coming development will likely gentrify the area, bringing in wealthier and whiter people to the neighborhood. The current residents are saying the new director is being put in place to accommodate the recreation needs of that gentrification.

Charleston City Councilman James Lewis recently shared his thoughts that the city's administration seems more willing to accommodate new growth than continue to increase the quality of life for existing residents.

Lewis and Dist. 4 representative Robert Mitchell recently met with Riley to challenge the decision to hire an outsider rather than promote someone from within the recreation department.

Mitchell, responding to constituent requests, asked Riley to overrule the decision, but Riley refused, Lewis said. The two council members believe promoting from within would not only maintain continuity, but would also keep a resident employed.

The administration, while fostering growth, has neglected to grow in the one aspect that means most to residents, it hasn't grown with a realistic effort to include all its residents in the metamorphosis of Charleston.

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