This week continues the second installment in City Paper's ongoing series "After Riley" presented in conjunction with Lowcountry Local First, Preservation Society of Charleston, S.C. Community Loan Fund, Coastal Conservation League, and IfYouWereMayor.com. In it, candidates have been asked to answer a series of questions regarding culture, commerce, and livability. Candidates have responded with no knowledge of any other participant's answers.
The series will culminate on Sept. 30 with a forum put on by these organizations. The forum is free and open to the public. Those interested in attending can RSVP at YourCharleston.org.
What city in this country has "done it right?" Can you name a specific project or initiative that shows an example of what you mean?
Our region needs to build a world-class transportation system. That's why I have presented a comprehensive transportation plan. The traffic congestion in our city is one of the greatest threats to our quality of life.
Portland, Ore., is one of the most walking-, biking-, and public transit-friendly cities in the country — we can draw on their successes. They have state-of-the-art light rail, trolley, and rapid bus transit systems. And they hold the nation's highest percentage of bike commuters.
As mayor, I'll think big and get it done when it comes to solving our transportation problems. We must find new, responsible funding streams. We've got to get away from depending on one source to fund transportation projects — the S.C. Infrastructure Bank — controlled by the S.C. Legislature. How's that working for us lately?
Charleston does not need to reinvent the funding options wheel; we can look at successful, innovative funding that other cities have utilized. One place to look is Denver. It is funding a $2.2 billion comprehensive transit initiative through a public/private partnership. It includes federal funds, sales tax bonds, and private equity.
There are a number of cities in this country that I find to be inspiring and enlightening to their approach. Right off the bat Austin, Texas, comes to mind. Here you have this city that decided that it would become a technological hub and artistic hotbed for the world to see and flock to. I think the immersion of arts and technology into the city's culture is important. As a result, companies have flocked to Austin, which in turn has brought families, artists of all media, and public interest to the city. The establishment of Austin City Limits and the South by Southwest festivals have both transformed the city into a hip and thriving place. But there are others. I love the environmentally conscious approach of cities like Davis, Calif., Portland, Ore., and others that have managed to grow, while maintaining their commitment to their desired brands. But even these places have their own set of issues. Still, there is no place like Charleston.
After all these years, I still love the D.C. Metro system. When I lived in Washington in the late '80s and early '90s, completing the Green Line was the dream. I spent most of my time on the Orange Line to and from Vienna. It was worth all of the headaches and frustration, and I know that there is an answer for Charleston that will also be worth it. It won't be underground and yes, it will be costly, but we have to start building the models now. We're scheduled to be approaching one million strong by 2042. We can do a great deal in 27 years! I will be the hippest and most lively 79-year-old with the most-used senior pass. We can do it.
While Charleston is one of the most unique cities in the entire world, many of our problems are not. Other major destination cities with diverse economies like ours struggle with issues like traffic congestion, economic equality, and rapid growth. As mayor I would look to other cities around the country that have successfully addressed the issues we currently face here in Charleston.
I am interested in exploring the creative new mass transit Bus Rapid Transit in Richmond, Va. I am also looking at growth management, sustainability, and energy initiatives in cities like Austin, Texas, and Knoxville, Tenn. Austin has been tackling growth issues and has recently adopted a comprehensive plan that is focused on being compact and connected, sustainable and transit-oriented. In Knoxville, they have successfully implemented a program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with municipal operations, as well as experienced some success with third-party ownership of renewable energy systems. I am also committed to the sustainability programs currently in use in Charleston via the Charleston Green Business Challenge and CharlestonWorks.
Charleston is such a unique, special place, it's really impossible to point to another city and say, "Yeah, they've really done it right. They've got all the answers." On the other hand, there are many specific initiatives and innovative experiments around the country that we can learn from.
Austin, Texas, for example, has developed an approach to affordable housing that has real merit. First, they use public/private development partnerships to incentivize a mix of product types and sizes that promote affordability. Then, in addition, they use a community land grant model that facilitates the creation of affordable housing that stays affordable even as the neighborhood around it gentrifies.
Another example of a city that's getting a big idea right is Denver, Colo., which has led the way in using performance audits as a way of making city government more efficient and more accountable to its citizens. And if I'm given the honor of serving as our city's next mayor, that's an idea I intend to pursue vigorously here in Charleston.
While New York and Charleston are not comparable, I think New York is an example of a city that has made dramatic improvements over the past several decades. The cleanup of Times Square is an example. In the 1980s it was a dingy and undesirable area. Now it has been transformed into a showpiece of municipal improvement.
Vancouver, B.C., is not in this country, but perhaps close enough for purposes of this question. It is another example of a city that works well. It has a diverse economy, great public transportation system, a good bicycle and pedestrian network, and a large, well-used park (Stanley Park).
Charleston has been in existence for almost 350 years. Given the uniqueness of our city and our challenges, I don't believe we can point to one city as our example moving forward. However, there are many successful initiatives in other cities, which can serve as a guide for creating solutions that are tailored to our unique challenges.
One of these examples is Los Angeles, Calif.'s "adaptive signal control technology" program, which allows them to manage traffic on city streets based on real-time traffic conditions.
Another great example is former St. Petersburg, Fla., Mayor Rick Baker's approach to urban revitalization. Mayor Baker set a vision to turn St. Pete into a "seamless city," where a person can drive from one end of town to the next without crossing a "seam" or area that is drastically underserved, compared to the last. Mayor Baker accomplished this vision by making his No. 1 priority the improvement of essential city services across all city regions and neighborhoods.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Responses have been placed in alphabetical order. Cover photo by Flickr user via.