I am here in Charleston, South Carolina, but feel so distanced from the home I once knew. From walking the streets of King and Morris just six short years ago, to the corporate takeover, Charleston has lost an identity that it has shaped for the last 350 years.
Five years ago, Charleston breathes the air of a small town built on tradition, family values and a comforting feel of belonging. I took comfort walking the streets in a tee, shorts and flip flops saying hello to familiar faces and enjoying the comfort of my neighborhood downtown.
From Bob Ellis to Morris Sokol, generations of family owned businesses created a feeling of familiarity and comfort. All around, I witnessed the most majestic church steeples, while walking on sidewalks not yet crowded by nameless faceless people. It was a time when you could sit at a bar and get to know your bartender or get a beer and burger for $10.00. Parking was ample and the streets were safe of solicitation, loitering and petty crime.
Charleston was a home for those that lived the Lowcountry life with pride and simple small town appeal.
Something happened along the way. The people that maintained tradition, built relationships and make Charleston a home you loved every day got lost. Church steeples got replaced by cranes and multi-million dollar hotels. Rooftop bars became the new skyline. Prices went up, taxes increased, the streets become ambushed by tourism, streets fell apart, construction has been the only constant for five straight years and Lowcountry residents have turned away from the peninsula.
Once quaint boutique buildings, now parking garages, business districts or $600 a night hotels.
Then something even more devastating happened. Local family owned businesses began to close because long time patrons stopped fighting the invaders that the political engines welcomed with open arms. Construction and policies were designed for tourists leaving the locals in the dust.
We lost our identity in Charleston. We lost the home that was once ours. Yesterday, the Lowcountry spoke on Election Day and voted for change. They voted for affordable housing and a slow-down of the growth.
I don’t know what the future holds for Charleston, but I know it cannot continue in the direction it is moving.
I hope the leaders of today see that our children are growing up in a community with quality of education issues, water and health concerns, increased crime and driving fatalities, cost of living spiking faster than inflation, diminished infrastructure, long term flooding concerns and internal strife that is being ignored.
If we don’t take responsibility now, we may not have a tomorrow.
I pray for a return to innocence in Charleston. For a place that is safe and healthy and one that brings smiles to all its citizens.
Casey, can you please play “Come Back Song” by Darius Rucker to everyone that remembers a simpler and better Charleston.
By Mark A. Leon