Friday, March 7, 2008

Charleston Mayor Speaks on Urban Development

Joseph Riley Jr., the mayor of Charleston, S.C., spoke to an audience of about 200 at Liberty Place in Lancaster, Thursday night.

The topic of his talk was urban design, revitalization, and livability.

Riley spoke of the need for development to be conducted in a way that is contextually and historically sensitive, and also beautiful and inspiring.

"When you bulldoze and tear things down, you rob the city of a memory," he said.

Showing slides of some beautiful development projects the City of Charleston has undertaken or facilitated, including a waterfront recreation area and modern plazas with water fountains, Riley said, "We should never allow anything to be built that doesn't add beauty to our city."

He said that since many residents live their entire lives in an insular environment, it's important to try to provide them with opportunities to experience beauty and serenity locally.

Riley showed a photograph of a city worker on his hands and knees with a torch, modifying the precise shape of some slate stones in a walkway. Riley presented this as the paradigm concept of his speech - attention to detail.

"Cities have been and always will be the economic centers," he said.

He likened cities to ecosystems, arguing that development that is out of scale or context can affect an entire area.

Just because you have an open space doesn't mean that you just build anything there, Riley said, arguing that development must have a rhyme and reason.

He showed a number of slides featuring striking examples of residential and commercial development that was architecturally harmonious with the immediately adjacent structures.

Charleston receives about four million visitors a year, Riley said.

He cautioned, "You don't build cities overnight. ... What I showed you was over a period of 30 years."

Finally, the mayor stressed the need for citizens to be actively involved in the future of their cities and towns. "I can't think of a project we've done in Charleston that wasn't made better because of citizen participation and engagement," he said.

First elected mayor of Charleston in 1975, Riley is serving his ninth term.

The talk was hosted by the Hourglass Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization founded in 1997, whose stated mission is "to champion and facilitate effective growth management in order to make Lancaster County an even better place to live, work and visit."