Let's be a people-centered community next year 

4 New Year's Resolutions

It's time, y'all, to sober up post-holidays and render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's. And I don't mean paying off your holiday-gorged credit cards. I'm talking New Year's resolutions, which, evidently, is a little tradition we can thank Julius and his fellow Romans for. This looking back and looking forward at January's threshold is a nod to the two-faced Roman god, Janus. The god of transitions, passages, endings, beginnings — and we've surely got a few of those coming January 20. Ol' Janus is on the mark this year, particularly the two-face bit.

Yet while many of us hold our breath for what the Trump reign may hold globally, I hope we'll also breathe deeply, buckle down, and refocus our energy and optimism locally, recommitting ourselves to work collectively to effect change where we can. To that end, I humbly suggest a few city-themed twists to some common New Year's Resolutions.

Lose weight. Yep, we're getting a tad hefty, Charleston, and John Lewis's brisket is not the sole culprit. Cars, in large part (literally) are. According to the EPA, the average car weighs 4,035 pounds; keep piling them on and our cozy peninsula will sink in no time (helped, of course, by sea-level rise, fueled by car emissions). If Charleston could make one firm resolution that would, over time, improve quality of life, it would be to reduce reliance on cars. Which means getting serious about transit options. Stop incentivizing driving with hideous, expensive parking garages. Make it safer and easier to bike and walk, especially at deadly intersections at the Crosstown and by the college. And finally, create a critical low-cost, high-return linkage between the peninsula and West Ashley by implementing the already-approved LEGARE BRIDGE ACCESS LANE!

As the visionary urbanist Jane Jacobs made clear, the car is a "destroyer of worlds" that both wastes energy and promotes sprawl, but mostly disconnects us from the public realm. When holed up in our cars, our priorities tend to shift from public interest to self-interest, Jacobs suggests, a point proven by the bridge lane debate. "My commute time will be impacted" is the oft-repeated argument against it, meanwhile community safety, equal access and public health gets sacrificed. Get lighter, Charleston. Let's lose weight and gain community by making our streets and city more people-centered, not just car-centric.

Be honest. It's pointless to make meaningful resolutions without first taking a serious gut check. And here in Charleston, after a year in which Michael Slager walked out of a courtroom unconvicted and authorities continue to deny the Charleston Area Justice Ministry's request for an outside audit of police policies (to name only a few), this means confronting truths about institutionalized and implicit racism. We need to get honest about zoning and planning decisions that make it easier to build a hotel than to create affordable housing. We must own up to glaring disparity in public education. And we need to make sure our elected leaders are honest and transparent too. We're looking at you County Council members and your closed-door shenanigans. Let's not confuse our good manners with an unwillingness to face impolite truths.

Mix it up. What good is a New Year's resolution if it's just more of the same? We all can use a little jazzing up of our routine — our default menus, our tired wardrobes, and outlooks, and our city surely can as well. What would Charleston look like in 2017 if we truly mixed things up and embraced diversity? In the broader zeitgeist, many perceive a troubling tilting toward fascism — a slippery slope historically made slicker, in part, by conformity, by sameness. Charleston seems to be slipping toward sameness as well. Our best and worst schools are largely segregated. King Street, most recently with the loss of Bob Ellis and Phillips Shoes (our poor feet!), is becoming another link in one big chain store. The city's building boom that favors boxy hotels and condos is leading toward an urban fabric that feels more synthetic all the time. Let's be bold and daring, Charleston. Color outside the color lines. Welcome innovative urban design. Incorporate more modern and contemporary architecture. Celebrate newness while we polish our antiques.

Get outside. Travel more. What's a resolution list without Maui or Paris on it? Travel opens our eyes and expands our world, and Charleston, allegedly a world-class destination, would do well to send its Council members on a worldly scouting trip to witness how leading cities have reclaimed streets and public spheres for people. Fly over to Copenhagen, a city similarly complicated by waterways and narrow streets, to see how beautifully — with low-cost infrastructure — bicycles and pedestrians can co-exist with cars. Go to Atlanta to see how investing in parks can revitalize and reconnect neighborhoods. Go outside here in Charleston, revel in our landscape's obscene extravagance and realize how much is at stake when approving rash development or unneeded interstate plans. Let's be resolved, Charleston. And Happy New Year.


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