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Thread: Most Beautiful Small City (Charleston, SC: photos and commentary)

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    Cyburbian ablarc's avatar
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    Most Beautiful Small City (Charleston, SC: photos and commentary)

    Moderator note:
    (Dan) 12 October 2009: Images now hosted in the Cyburbia Gallery. See http://www.cyburbia.org/gallery/show...y.php/cat/6524


    MOST BEAUTIFUL SMALL CITY

    I. French Quarter
    Settled by Frenchmen.

    Monsoon pictures:














    Every building in this picture existed in some form in Alexander Hamilton’s time.





































    Looks like France, or maybe Martinique. Old stucco and cobbled alleys. But also, unlike France: parking lots. Those you don’t need to be shown; you can imagine them for yourself. You can probably also imagine how they shatter the ambiance.








    A less-traveled alley.


    Some less-traveled alleys are used as bedrooms.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian ablarc's avatar
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    II. Markets
    Maison Carree. Where slaves were sold, today it’s knickknacks.








    Palladio in America

    Behind Market, corrugated metal stables for tourist wagons’ mules and horses:



    Inside lurk olden times, complete with hayloft and chickens:



    Dobbin at his repast:






    Catholics

    III. Downtown Shopping



    King Street, billed as the “handsomest shopping street in America”:



    It just might be that. For sure, it resembles London with palm trees:














  3. #3
    Cyburbian ablarc's avatar
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    IV. Living in the City
    Walking distance to work, church, downtown shopping, and the Battery. You have to be rich. (Or, because you inherited your house, you are rich.)


    Catholics













    The people who live in this city think it’s terrific, but when it comes to telling you why, they are clueless. Some of them think it’s pineapples --you know, the carved kind you put on gate posts. Some of them think it’s fine preserved architecture, but you wouldn’t believe how much has been taken down for screamingly dull buildings and parking. Some think it’s the African-influenced dialect (that no one really speaks anymore); some think it’s the rich, traditional social life (that excludes everyone who isn’t from one of the old families). Some think it’s the galleries and antique shops, but you need money for these. Some think it’s the tourist attractions (all five of which the tourists dutifully see, with perhaps a modicum of boredom).

    I don’t really think it’s any of these; to me, what makes this place exhilarating is the way it flies in the face of all subsequent conventional planning wisdom. You can see this in the highly particularized (therefore not standardized) relationships of buildings to their property lines and to each other:


    Wildly divergent building types and siting.

    There was also no regularization of uses or building types. Obviously this is all kept in place today by highly restrictive regulations designed to keep this city as is, but it did not achieve its form as a result of regulations. Nor could you write regulations to produce it if those regulations exceeded a typewritten page in length. You would have to be careful, for example, to avoid preventing this delightful hallmark of the city:


    Whose sidewalk is this anyway?


    Mixed building types.




    How could you get this garage addition through modern zoning? And yet, being for the car, it must have been done after 1920.










    At least one housing unit is entered from this alley. How do the wheelchairs make it?


















    A startled house. Does it ever get hit by cars?


  4. #4
    Cyburbian ablarc's avatar
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    Actually, most relatively unplanned urban places of this antiquity display similar libertarian tendencies, although in America most such places have been swept away by progress. So I guess you could say that the most amazing single thing about this place is the mere fact that it survives.

    Credit a traumatic event in its history for that, after which it fell into catatonia. Somehow it never suffered serious physical decay, as the formerly-rich hung onto their property; it was all they had. Then the property’s value soared and made them rich again. You can easily see why:






































    Comical juxtapositions, but cute.



    This city is intact enough that it continues to function as an urban environment—that is, on foot. Because you can easily walk from end to end of its surviving built-up area, public transportation is irrelevant—as it is, for example, in Urbino, Canterbury or Nantucket.

    (Please, no comments about ‘where are the people?’ I went to a lot of trouble to keep them out of the pictures.)

    V. The Battery
    Park with harbor views at the tip of town, just as in New York.


    Spanish moss all gone, victim of recent hurricanes and air pollution.








    Unregulated enterprise fills the park’s commercial vacuum: Lemonade, $1.


    Well, perhaps not perfect but pretty good ( for a phone booth).

    As Manhattan lies between the Hudson and East Rivers, this city lies between the Ashley and the Cooper. These come together at the Battery to form a great harbor.
    On the Cooper River, vast container ship terminals unload gadgets from China and mineral water from France.

    Huge ships must pass beneath the Cooper River bridges. Presently there are two and a half of these. At left: two lanes from the Model T era, in the middle, four lanes from the age of V8’s; and soon both will be replaced by eight lanes of SUVs traversing the vast and breathtakingly beautiful cable-stayed bridge under construction at right:


    Sorry about the lousy shot; you can’t stop on the bridge..

    Last edited by ablarc; 01 Aug 2004 at 10:10 AM.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian ablarc's avatar
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    VI. Not So Beautiful

    If you arrive in town from this bridge (right, on above map) you will shortly find yourself on the same elevated freeway as all other visitors. There is only one down ramp, and at the bottom all visitors are greeted by this:



    This is the principal gateway, where almost everyone experiences his first whiff of the city. Here there is, surprisingly, not a ‘Welcome’ sign. There is, however, a kind of city greeter: a beggar woman who works the ramp and the traffic light. She is always there, and you can’t avoid her; the timing of the traffic light guarantees that.

    She carries no squeegee or brown paper homeless sign, and she shows no evidence of sickness or infirmity. Instead, she does a little dance beside your car window that is meant to evoke pity; but you can tell business is good by how well-fed she is. (You don’t get to see her picture; I didn’t take one.)

    Here, however, are the dumpster men at the abandoned filling station. They too are always there, but they don’t come out to greet you; in fact you have to look for them. The whole tableau must remind people of the South Bronx expressway off-ramp scene in Bonfire of the Vanities:



    Here you can tell this place is in the United States. This branch is Old South, not Sunbelt. In the Sunbelt there would be a big welcome plaza with pylons, underground utilities, statuary and an information center, and they would haul away the abandoned cars.

    Instead we have this:






    You know you don’t have it if you have to…

    Cars

    Cars shouldn’t be banned from cities, but nor should their accommodation be optimized; best always if it’s a little bit of a hassle to drive around and to park. Wherever the car is too hospitably accommodated it makes trouble like an ungrateful guest. Besides the damage caused by the elevated freeway, parking lots have removed fine-grained urban fabric from portions of many blocks, heedless of the architectural and urbanistic value of the surroundings.


    Now you know you’re in the United States. What other developed country (besides Canada) allows this kind of crumminess?




    Those walls need graffiti to be complete.



    You get the idea…do you need more? Chances are you live with this kind of stuff every day.

    So I’ll come clean: some of the shots in this post have been carefully framed to omit the visual and functional chaos that invariably emanates from parking lots. Most of that was done --as many forumers do it-- by selecting views that represent intact urban fabric, and sometimes by cropping the uglies in photoshop. If I had been scrupulously honest, much of this post would have looked like this:








    Theatre parking lot in use a small percentage of each week, but does harm round the clock.


    Imagine the streetscape this one took away.

    Here’s a scene that was never contemplated by any of its creators, ancient or modern. This was built as separate structures on a little cobbled street with buildings on both sides. Being dull was no particular offense, as the photographed view was not available; these buildings were always seen obliquely (if at all) on their narrow street.

    The parking lot changed all that. Now we have the familiar modern relationship between parking and building façade, well-known to all who have seen an apartment complex. And what a decrepit, run-down apartment complex! Needs a coat of stucco; then it’ll look pretty much like the nice new ones they’re building a few miles out of town:



    Ominously, it looks like this one is here to stay. They will have to wall up all those fresh openings in the party wall if something is built on the parking lot:



    Parking lots adventitiously open vistas too large and too chaotically bounded. They are a form of space-making, but of the worst kind, for everything is a fluke. No one could intend such disorder:





    All the crape myrtles in the world are for naught. The most idiotic single idea in the whole deluded planning profession is the landscaped parking lot. Like trying to decorate a turd, it remains pure crap:



    Often churches are the worst offenders with their massive appetite for parking. Zoning often requires it, but the lot is imbecilically empty most of the time. This one is an exception. Instead of prohibiting parking during the week, this church makes money:


    The result is still pretty bad urbanistically.

    The required parking lot lights and miscellaneous wires take their revenge on the church:


  6. #6
    Cyburbian ablarc's avatar
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    Elsewhere, parking garages collude with lots to generate ugliness:



    A handsome-enough garage omits ground floor retail and kills the street. Anyway the scale is wrong because the footprint is way too big:



    An even bigger footprint with Albert Speer overtones:


    With those little square louvered openings, how did they meet the 50% open-perimeter code requirement for parking garages? Is this building partly mechanically-ventilated?




    How to turn a street into a service alley in one fell swoop.


    Modern urban streetscape. The covered arcade gets you more space on the upper floors. Efficient, huh?

    Modern Times come to the city:







    But no garage is as offensive as the next one. To understand why, here is a description of this building reproduced verbatim from a leading architectural guidebook (with my interspersed rants in brackets and italicized):

    ”In 1988, under Mayor Riley, the city has built parking garages that are superior architecturally to most office buildings. [Only where office building architecture is extraordinarily degraded!] This one, with shuttered openings and office spaces on the ground floor [office spaces!! Holy Cow, this is a shopping street!] successfully conceals its utilitarian purpose [no, it doesn’t] and fits in admirably with the ancient warehouses of the area. [This author obviously has a near-infinite capacity for self-delusion. Aha, and here is the source of that delusion:] It has won 3 awards [3!], including the Presidential Design Award from the National Endowment for the Arts.” [Then it must be true.]



    What makes this building so offensive is the extravagantly false praise lavished on it. This degrades the public’s powers of discrimination by serving up bull**** backed up by the authority of those you would think knew better.

    Last exhibit in the chamber of horrors is a new hotel masquerading as one of those garages. Terminal chintz:

  7. #7
    Cyburbian ablarc's avatar
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    VII. Back to the European City


    Could this be Vilnius?


    Possibly Portugal.


    Take your pick.






































  8. #8
    Cyburbian ablarc's avatar
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    Colonial America.






    Money, money, money.








    Fifth Largest City!

    US Census city limit population data from 1810 and 2000:

    1 New York, NY *..............................100,775 x 79.5 = 8,008,278
    2 Philadelphia, PA **…………………………….87,303 x 17.4 = 1,517,550
    3 Baltimore, MD.................................46,555 x 14.0 = 651,154
    4 Boston, MA ***...............................38,746 x 15.2 = 589,141
    5 Charleston, SC..............................24,711 x 3.9 = 96,650
    6 New Orleans, LA .............................17,242 x 28.1 = 484,674
    7 Washington, DC ****.......................13,156 x 43.5 = 572,059
    8 Salem, MA......................................12,613 x 3.2 = 40,407
    9 Albany, NY......................................10,762 x 8.9 = 95,658
    10 Providence, RI ...............................10,071 x 17.2 = 173,618

    *including parts of Brooklyn, not within city limits in 1810.
    **including Liberty and Southwark, not in 1810 city limits.
    ***including Charlestown.
    ****including Georgetown.





















    American are such slobs. You gotta love ‘em.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    You know, your photos are so beautiful and so well-cropped. And the attention to detail -- taking pains to keep people out of the photos, for example -- is incredible. Your commentaries and research (such as the statistics on historical demographics) are insightful and highly relevant. Have you ever considered turning your work into a series of books? (Or magazine articles)

  10. #10
    Cyburbian jresta's avatar
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    There's an ad agency upstairs from the Banana Republic. I worked as their courier during my short-lived days at the College of Chuck.

    One thing i found striking about Charleston, as i was commuting downtown everyday from Hanahan (or as the kids call it - Klanahan - the white enclave surrounded by North Charleston) was that the world south of US 17 (called "Crosstown" as it runs through the city) with the polished downtown and the shiny newer places like Mt. Pleasant, West Ashley, Isle of Palms, etc, was completely different than the world north of US 17.

    You should break this up into 2 or 3 posts. It's way too much on the virtual memory. I've reloaded the page 4 times and i still haven't been able to see all of the pics.
    Indeed you can usually tell when the concepts of democracy and citizenship are weakening. There is an increase in the role of charity and in the worship of volunteerism. These represent the élite citizen's imitation of noblesse oblige; that is, of pretending to be aristocrats or oligarchs, as opposed to being citizens.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian Glasshouse's avatar
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    MZ's right, you might want to check into getting published.

    I didn't know the French are so into steel roofing, I could make some money over there, I'm just afraid they wouldn't let me back in the country.

    Bob

    Sorry.........I was thinking France.

    Bob
    Last edited by NHPlanner; 03 Aug 2004 at 2:29 PM.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian biscuit's avatar
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    Lovely Chucktown. I spent a little over than five years in Charleston while getting ejubakated and really miss living there at times. A couple of things to add, however...

    Slaves were not sold at the market pictured above. It was always just a market for dry goods, food, etc. The two streets on either side of the structures (North Market and South Market) used to be creeks that allowed direct access to boats in the harbor. The actual slave market building can be found on another street in the French Quarter (I want to sat Queen St. but I think that's wrong).

    There's one big reason why you don't see retail at the bottom of the parking garages, and that is flooding. Because a lot the city is barely higher than sea level above it has trouble with many of the streets flooding (sometimes a couple of feet) during big downpours, especially downtown.

    Another part of Charleston, which most tourist never see, is the Hampton Park neighborhood, located north of the Crosstown near The Citadel. You can see where urban development enveloped what used to be farm houses and it has an impressive collection of 1920's era bungalows.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian Planderella's avatar
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    Thanks for such beautiful pictures, ablarc. The pictures with the surface parking lots behind the buildings remind me of what's happening in portions of the Vieux Carre (French Quarter) in New Orleans. Buildings, mostly along the river, have been replaced with hideous surface lots and the structured parking garages aren't too much better.
    "A witty woman is a treasure, a witty beauty is a power!"

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    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Glasshouse
    MZ's right, you might want to check into getting published.

    I didn't know the French are so into steel roofing, I could make some money over there, I'm just afraid they wouldn't let me back in the country.

    Bob

    Sorry.........I was thinking France.

    Bob
    I think this was an "unofficial" Guess The City. I began reading through it and I figured it was New Orleans or someplace like that. He didn't say up front which city it was and I was kind of surprised when he finally named it. (I also spent a few minutes thinking "Paris" or some such -- before it clicked what "French Quarter" meant...and THEN I began thinking "New Orleans". )

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    Cyburbian boilerplater's avatar
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    Hey ablarc, have you considered leading architectural tours? Could I go with you on your next trip? I'd probably want to see the same things, so I wouldn't slow you down!

    Reminds me a lot of Nawlins, with which it shares a similar history. Regular flooding doesn't seem to be an issue for first-floor retail there. Just put the merchandise on the higher shelves.

    Charleston should ban surface parking. Those lots really muck it up.
    Adrift in a sea of beige

  16. #16
    Cyburbian Breed's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by boilerplater
    Reminds me a lot of Nawlins, with which it shares a similar history.
    I tell newcomers to SC that Charleston is New Orleans after you gave it a conscience and a good scrubbing.
    Every time I look at a Yankees hat I see a swastika tilted just a little off kilter.
    Bill "Spaceman" Lee

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    Most beautiful city

    I've always loved Charleston (parts of St. Augustine and Savannah aren't bad either), but oh brother that southern humidity is brutal! The only thing worse is south Florida which has the same body-drenching humidity, and palmetto bugs to boot. Palmetto bugs if you don't know, are ghastly looking large roach-like insects that buzz right into your face.

  18. #18
    Cyburbian Future Planner's avatar
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    I hear so much about this town in my classes. Its good to see some really good pictures. Great work...Thanks.

  19. #19

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    Quote Originally posted by ablarc
    As Manhattan lies between the Hudson and East Rivers, this city lies between the Ashley and the Cooper. These come together at the Battery to form a great harbor.
    Actually, the Ashley and Cooper rivers come together to form the Atlantic Ocean...wink, wink, nudge nudge. Just ask any Charlestonian.

    Incredible photographs. Thanks for sharing the beauty of my familial home.

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally posted by jeff_1
    I've always loved Charleston (parts of St. Augustine and Savannah aren't bad either), but oh brother that southern humidity is brutal! The only thing worse is south Florida which has the same body-drenching humidity, and palmetto bugs to boot. Palmetto bugs if you don't know, are ghastly looking large roach-like insects that buzz right into your face.
    ditto on the humidity and the huge flying roaches. Plus, the water coming from the cold tap in my hotel room was stifling hot.

    Other than that, I love the city.

  21. #21
    Cyburbian jresta's avatar
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    ohh the humidity . . . haha . . . I had my little old honda that i brought down from NJ with no air conditioning. It was bad enough up there. When i first moved to Charleston i was working at the (then brand new) Barnes&Noble in Mt. Pleasant. It was a good 20-25 minute drive from and even at 8:30 in the morning with both windows down and going 70mph i'd still arrive at work covered in sweat.

    My favorite were the days when the high was around 97 and the low was around 87. At least in Charleston the high rarely crept over 95. In Columbia 102 was not uncommon with all of the humidity of Charleston and none of the sea breezes.
    Indeed you can usually tell when the concepts of democracy and citizenship are weakening. There is an increase in the role of charity and in the worship of volunteerism. These represent the élite citizen's imitation of noblesse oblige; that is, of pretending to be aristocrats or oligarchs, as opposed to being citizens.

  22. #22

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    Speaking of which, ablarc. Why no negative remarks about the "inappropriate" attire of the middle aged tourists visible in the photos? Kunstler would be appalled about men over the age of 19 wearing shorts in public. We need a public shaming of those who do not dress properly in our cities, no?

  23. #23
    Cyburbian IlliniPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Michele Zone
    taking pains to keep people out of the photos, for example -- is incredible.
    My friends and family would always make the comment, "Where are the people or friends you were with in these photos?" when viewing my pictures of places I've been. Never understanding it's a planner's "eye".

    The "Tidewater" style of home (double-decker porches on multiple sides of the home) was always my favorite.
    One lot of redevelopment prevents a block of sprawl.

  24. #24
    Cyburbian H's avatar
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    funny how the most of us goo and gaw over New Orleans, Charlseton, Savannah and the like... but then we go home to our house in... well you know...

    why is it we will spend our vacations and our money to visit the great cities of America and the world, but most people dont care to pay the money to live in one?

  25. #25
    Member JasonLB's avatar
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    If everybody lived in the cites we would like to live in, they wouldn't be the cities we want them to be. (I really don't know what I'm talking about)

    Great Pic's. I've never been to Charleston and I could have sworn I was looking at Savannah in some of those pics.

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