On Valentine's Day this year, while most of you were either engaging in some clichéd, corporate gift giving (Roses! Lingerie! Greeting cards!) or some equally clichéd, corporate anti-Valentine's day gift giving (Black roses! T-shirts! Greeting cards!), I decided to devote part of my day to one of my own true loves: my growing unease about downtown Charleston. And what better way to do that than to wander downtown in the middle of a Saturday during SEWE?
You see, I avoid downtown most of the time. For all of the hustle and bustle of five million yearly visitors to the city, and the 35,000 or so actual residents on the peninsula, there's really not a lot going on down there. Well, OK, there's food. And bars. And more food. And shops. And bars. And another restaurant. And two blocks down there's a lot of bars and more restaurants and shops. I might be wrong about the prevalence of bars here since apparently the number of drinking establishments in town is approaching some sort of critical mass and something must be done about it.
Still, I feel it's important to head downtown if only to remind myself that Charleston has some sort of urban center. Sure, downtown's confusing and crowded, but it's still something approximating a city after all. And besides, if the crowds bother you, there's always the sudden calm that you encounter as you cross Broad Street headed toward White Point Garden. Plus, it's always fun to stop and take pictures of people who are taking pictures of houses. After all, if they want to take pictures of what we have here, we should have pictures of them to remind us of their visit. That seems fair, right?
At any rate, on this particular day a piece of paper stapled to a telephone pole caught my eye. It featured a picture of the soon-to-be-razed, 64-year-old, 14-story Sgt. Jasper apartments and a bold font, which cried out, "Stop the Sgt. Jasper PUD!" Although I can understand why the residents of Harleston Village wouldn't want this new proposed urban development — a three-building, mixed-used property with a parking garage, a grocery store, and 454 apartments, all built by the Beach Company — I'm baffled they weren't bothered by this plan a few months ago when Jasper residents first learned they were being evicted. Or if they were, I missed the sudden onset of DIY handbills stapled to downtown telephone poles.
Now, I could be completely wrong about the people who want to stop the Beach Company from developing yet another shiny new pimple on the face of the Earth. To be honest, it's been clear for years that the Sgt. Jasper apartments weren't going to be around forever — on Broad Street and next to Colonial Lake, the site is a prime slab of real estate. But the development that just might take its place is typical of how American cities are being transformed into playgrounds solely for the upper-middle class, all while developers market their ventures as being "green," "walkable," "sustainable," and whatever other buzzwords tested well with last week's focus group.
Pushing out the poor, the elderly, and students in order to construct mixed-used complexes aimed at "urban pioneers" — to borrow a phrase I recently learned about (and which speaks volumes about the neocolonial urges of today's nouveau-riche urbanites) is part and parcel with the "redevelopment" of most small- to medium-sized American cities. After all, you can't be down with Richard Florida, if you've still got poor people in town making it difficult for tourists to buy "art" from "artpreneurs."
In the end, the solution to this little Sgt. Jasper dilemma will leave few folks happy. The former residents of the Jasper probably won't be able to afford the rents at the new complex, and the PUD's Harleston Village neighbors probably won't be happy, either. After all, whatever ends up being built there will probably have a negative effect on the already overcrowded and poorly designed roads.
The developers, on the other hand, will almost certainly be quite pleased, because whatever they build will be snatched up before the paint on the parking spots dries.
And that, I'm told, is progress.
For more from Mat Catastrophe, please visit his blog, The Short Form Catastrophe at mat-catastrophe.tumblr.com. You'll find posts that are too-long for tweets and too short for columns.