Here is the Part III of my Charleston "series" which IMHO is more interesting than the first II.
The late 90's and 2000's saw a start of sensible planning in Charleston. There became focus of planning projects that not only worked together, but also made use of existing projects. This was also the time that Charleston began seriously looking at competing against the suburbs to draw the population back into the city. The economic focus also changed from industrial to information age/convention based economy. The general attitude was also geared more toward accepting change rather than the "NIMBY" whining that stalled changes in the past. Charleston needed to be a city that people would want to visit (conventions) and had to draw educated people from out of state to make the economic conversion reality.
The basic goal of Charleston is to reduce it's population loss trend and then expand it's population. Recent news suggests the population loss has stopped and there have been slight gains for the first time since the 60's. The population is the center goal and in order to achieve it, the city must accomplish other goals. The point of Part III will be to detail each project and the goals that they are meant to or could accomplish. Let's get started as the meat of thing is the only interesting part.
Current Projects/Plans and Use of Existing Resources
Much of Charleston's current plan centers around new projects that not only add something in and of themselves, but also work together with other projects while using existing resources. This kind comprehensive planning is a very new thing to Charleston as in the past, the city used "silver bullet" cliches of planning (as BKM likes to call them ) where lone projects and plans were put out with an expectation that they would work on their own rather than looking at the big picture.
The Clay Center for Arts and Sciences - This is a large complex with an equally large $120 million price tag that is not only a Science Museum, but also an art Gallery and Broadway Style theater. The idea behind this was to expand Charleston's cultural offerings while at the same time expanding educational opportunities in the area. It has succeeded in the purposes it was planned for, but is not yet financially solvent. There is a definite artisitic expansion in the area and it's shows and lectures appeal to the "metropolitan" audiences of which the more educated class tend to be part of. This resource will become more valuable as people from larger cities continue moving into Charleston.
WV Power Park - This is a new ballpark which was originally planned to fill in a vacant area in the warehouse district as well as providing a better and more modern park for the baseball team known as the Charleston Alley Cats. The ballpark has an interesting design in that an old produce warehouse was incorporated into being part of the park and is planned to feature a sports bar with an eat out deck giving a view of the field
The placement of the ballpark in a vacant part of the downtown has ended up being an impetus for development in the area. There is already construction started in some of the surrounding vacant multi floor warehouses. Some of the space will be commercial on lower levels with residential lofts available on the upper floors. Loft development is already a big theme in the city's most recent plans, so this a big plus.
The two completed projects were a tough work to accomplish. The old against change crowd did not want to see these go in.
Projects in the Works
Downtown as a Home, Not Just for Business - The last two or three years have shown a focus on providing housing downtown. This in my opinion, is what is needed to make the 80's pedestrianized downtown and mall plans pay off as well as the addition of the Capitol Market in the 90's. It appears as though the planners have the same theories. The housing is in the form of lofts and apartments above the store fronts throughout downtown. There are several projects ongoing in the downtown to turn older buildings into multi-use residential, commercial and work at home properties.
The new loft/apartment projects help with drawing people from out of state as well since such properties sell for considerably less in Charleston than they do in other cities with lofts like Denver, Dallas, New York City and etc. Most articles I have read also show that this housing type tends to attract young educated professionals which is exactly crowd Charleston is aiming for.
There are numerous galleries, specialty shops, cafes, social groups and etc. popping up downtown. I am not sure what they are called, but there are also establishments that sell classes in painting, pottery, dancing and etc among other things as well (Taylor Books on Capitol St is a good example since it has a gallery, classes, cafe and books store all in one). Many of these new businesses are being started by people who have moved in from out of state.
Streetscapes/Beautifications - This more or less one of the "silver bullet" solutions, but it's useful if combined with other projects and solutions. These little programs are a complete makeover of the sidewalks, facades, greenery, lighting and etc. Just a part of the formula though not much by itself.
Expanding Educational Opportunities - More educational opportunities are becoming available to retrain the area workforce for the new kinds of jobs available in the area.
This is the first half of part III done. I will come back on again tomorrow to wrap it up with the Planned Projects and conclusion. I look forward to the input from the masters of planning here to see what the workability is of the things that I have described.
I am back to complete this little book now. Where were we at? Lets start where we left off on:
Projects in Works
Crime Reduction - A $1.00 a week payroll tax has been added for all that are employed within the city limits. The bulk of this money has been used to increase the size of the police force. In the past, it was not unusual to be solicited by hookers in some parts of town whenever you stopped at a stop light. Drugs were also dealt just as freely as the hookers shared their wares. hehehe!
There are very active efforts to remove the grafitti that graced the walls of buildings and city infrastructure. The papers recently ran an interesting series about how the grafitti that had been allowed to remain in the past was a big part of the city's drug culture and the way in which dealers and gangs marked their territory so removal of it was an important step in curbing the problem.
The papers are also full of articles about "warrant stings" where the police force will decide to go into a part of town and round up every person with a known outstanding warrant. You also see large numbers of police officers on bicycles or walking the beat. This kind of visibility just did not exist in the 80's and 90's. In only about three years though, the crime reduction programs have cleaned up much of the activity over most of the city (still a few bad spots on the west side, but over all, the city is safe again).
Bet you guys were surprised that Charleston had problems like that. Seems like things you would only see in much larger cities.
Neighborhoods with Single Family Housing and the School System - There is a great deal of focus on making the neighborhoods with single family housing more appealing. These are the neighborhoods likely to attract suburbanites. The city is actively pursuing grocery stores and other types of shops to fill vacant properties in neighborhoods that are not yet served by a close by store. The goal is to make self sufficient neighborhoods where a resident could easily live without a car if they choose too.
There is a focus on making the school system more efficient and updating the facilities. The plan is to consolidate some schools while modernizing others. I have not really kept up on it a great deal, however, I know there is a focus on the quality of schools in the area since it is known to be a factor in a decision to live in the city.
Sustainable Living - There is big focus on sustainable living. With the current development going on the in the city, you see a lot of adaptive reuse (lofts, warehouse offices and retail). This save resources by eliminating the need to demolish old, yet very structurally sound warehouses and other buildings in the city which tend to be quite large. There is a also a large focus on automobile free living and current plans in action aim to make it possible in most of the city.
The city also has an excellent recycling program where you throw any paper, cardboard, glass, plastic or cans in a specially marked bag without you needing to sort it yourself. The city picks up the specially colored bags and has a facility that sorts the items and recycles them in the city's recycling plant. This is a better program than having to drive recyclables to special dumpsters or having to self sort items in bins for differing products.
The sustainable living plans could help draw people back from the suburbs, especially with the rising fuel prices and traffic snarls between the city and suburbs.
Projects in the Planning Stages
Downtown River Front Plan - The latest plan being made by the city is a riverfront decorating and use plan. Money has already changed hands for planning, so this one looks very likely to take place. The current river front consists of the Kanawha Blvd with an Amphitheater and a couple of concrete docks. The goal is to remove two or three lanes of the Kanawha Blvd and convert them to green space with a bicycle/walking running trail on it as well as some low density retail shop of the restaurant and cafe variety. This would make a large public use green space stretching nearly two miles (the length of downtown). There is also discussion of a marina for entertainment and boating.
The city already has a floating stage that can open on either side for concerts and such which was purchased a few months ago with this plan in mind. One other part of the plan calls for a possible fountain on Magic Island which would shoot water 100 ft into the air. There seems to be a lot of opposition to the fountain because of the fact that the water for the fountain be drawn from the and the high powered pumps would be diesel operated. It does sound kind of high maintenance, so the fountain project is likely to get the axe. Oh well, I don't think it would be the draw that the walking/running trail, atmosphere and parks would be and those are the things that really matter on this project.
Walking Trail System - The city is in the process of planning a walking trail system that will encompass parts of the west side and link into the river front trail downtown. There are plans being discussed now to take an old rail tressel that crosses the river and convert it into part of the walking trail providing easier pedestrian access the South Side of the city from the West Side. There is also talk of expanding the trail system into other areas with a possible link into the Hatfield and McCoy Nature Trail system. Should interest those into mountain biking. The details on this project are kind of sketchy at the moment.
A Super Library - Charleston already has a huge library, but there are plans in the works to move it and make it even larger with public learning facilties (classrooms/meeting places) and other features. The plan as it stands now looks at placing the new building in the eastern part of downtown near the new Clay Center for Arts and Sciences. This is part of the plan to improve educational opportunities in the area.
Community Centers, Parks and Playground - The city is planning on adding community centers, parks and playgrounds to provide easier access to entertainment venues for various neighborhoods.
There you have it, most of the major projects in action now as well as the latest plans in the works. Many of the plans come from other areas areas such as Portland, OR and Pittsburgh, PA. It seems Charleston is using a new approach to planning and looking at the results of planning efforts in other cities and even at times sending someone to visit.
Besides the projects that are already complete and or in planning stage, there are many ideas for possible future planning. There talk of eventually building a zoo and amusement park. There is also the idea of a fixed rail transportation system for inside the city and linking it to the surrounding suburbs. If this ever became a reality, it would be very interesting in neighborhoods in the hilly areas. hehehe!
This concludes my post here. Hope it provided some interesting insight and was not an overly boring read. I look forward to comments and thoughts on these plans. The additional perspectives are always interesting and tend to give a better idea of what is at hand.
Correction of Factual Error
I had stated that Charleston, WV had slight gains in population which was incorrect. The MSA has had a slight gain in population, however, Charleston has lost approximately 1,800 more people between the 2000 census and July 2005 (an article came out about this in the Charleston Gazette just a few days ago). This places the city's population below 52,000 within city limits.