An informal panel of activists, business leaders, and academics convened at the College of Charleston to discuss everything from the Citadel Mall’s heyday to the gentrification of upper King Street.
The discussion was organized by notoriously bearded CofC professor Paul Roof as a sequel to a similar panel that took place 16 years ago at the college.
Some of the night’s speakers lamented rising rent prices and their inevitable effect on the culture.
“What King Street was for me back then — it was raw — it was a lot of independent shops,” said Recovery Room owner Chris “Boston” DiMattia, who moved back to Charleston shortly after graduating from CofC in 2002. “We’re losing the talented people, the artistic people, because they can’t afford to live here.”
Panelist Jamee Haley, founder of small business advocacy group Lowcountry Local First, urged attendees to put their money where their mouths are and overlook big chains.
“We lost that grit and that innovation,” Haley agreed. “If there’s a business you love and appreciate, you need to spend your money there.”
The heavy gentrification talk of last decade’s panel was mostly replaced with possible solutions on how to keep local business thriving. Possible solutions included the implementation of formula districts, in which chains and national companies can operate freely, and the permanent closing of King Street beyond Second Sundays.
“I would pedestrianize King Street,” said CofC political science professor and native Irishman Mark Long, who says that the scale and European vibe of King Street convinced him to settle in the city. “It would be very difficult given the centrality of the automobile to American culture to do that anywhere.”
In the end, panelists agreed that growth isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“I’ve seen Detroit fall on its face and I don’t want to go through that again, so these are good problems we’re facing here in Charleston,” said Bastiat Society Executive Director Brad DeVos.
Audience member Jennifer Saunders, an adjunct professor at the College, cited examples of cities with robust public transportation systems that help sustain local growth.
“We need to have better mass transit,” Saunders said. “I say have less parking and more buses, or park-and-ride.
Roof ended the night by setting a date to reconvene, in 2033.
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