Get past ‘hard’ for fresh ideas on regional thinking

By Post & Courier

“How do we achieve real ‘regionalism,’ and the cross jurisdictional planning that addresses transit, transportation and housing?”

“So Greater Charleston has become just one big place, governed by a matrix of parochialism. And so what? You’ve given us food for thought; now tell us how we get from there to where were need to be.”

Good questions and fair criticism from readers of my recent column on the void of regionalism. Many elected officials weighed in, too. Simply stated, we have special opportunities to guide more effectively the irreversible trends of growth with smart and sophisticated planning and firm commitments to regionalism.

But we might be cautioned by Walt Kelly’s beloved cartoon philosopher Pogo who once declared, “We are confronted with insurmountable opportunities.”

There is a collective understanding of the challenges and risks of Greater Charleston continuing to evolve within a box of systems and mindsets resistant to the systems and mindsets of a truly progressive community.

And we are a “progressive” community, right?

Regionalism is hard and abstractive, and would likely take a long time to achieve.

“Hard” is the antagonist of fresh thinking. So is, “it’ll take too long.”

For sure, there’s no shortage of fresh thinking in our collective dialogue as we ponder what we’re doing to ourselves with a half-century of relentless and unbridled growth.

One example: Editorial writer and columnist Ed Buckley suggested recently that recreating strip malls with apartments and flats as second floors would nurture density of residential living. It would also mitigate the effects of over-built parking areas and encourage destination walking. That’s definitely fresh thinking and one of many potential concepts that could address population sprawl, road congestion and affordable housing.

But it would require zoning revisionism and the collaborative embrace of developers and property owners. In a word, it would be “hard” to achieve.

North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey offered this creative concept: recalibrate the 105-year-old structure of state and local roads and bridges – and rebate 75 percent of state fuel tax revenues to the regions that generated them. The highway system would over time reflect regional imperatives, including transit and rapid transit, and the reality of distinctive regional biases in state government would be muted.

No doubt, legislative leaders reading this will summarily declare Mayor Summey’s thinking profoundly dead on arrival. But Virginia five years ago adapted a similar concept, granting the commonwealth’s distinctly different regions the power to superimpose regional fuel taxes and fees to finance distinctly regional transportation and transit projects.

So the Summey plan might be over-the-top for South Carolina and the Virginia approach not a neat fit. And Mr. Buckley’s ideas likely will be resisted as the mere musings of a young man.

Which brings the challenge into precise focus: We can’t get past “hard” and into the sphere of “fresh” and “creative” and “exciting.” The result is perpetual entrapment by the daunting requirements of meaningful change.

It has never been easy, but Greater Charlotte has evolved a regional transit system for nearly two decades. Now, its leadership holds regular neighborhood planning sessions and annual “summits” to define rapid transit needs and to provide a constituent-to-elected leader messaging forum about transit and transportation. Theirs is a system improving and growing.

We’re as smart and progressive as Charlotte folks, aren’t we?

So when is the next summit on Greater Charleston transit concepts?

Without a recommended formula for achieving regionalism, opinions and analyses amount only to food for thought.

And, as Pogo also said, “Food for thought is no substitute for the real thing.”

The “real thing” for regionalism in Greater Charleston is elusive, but hope might just be rooted in some interesting growth demographics.

A report last week indicated that nearly half of Greater Charleston’s 40-persons-a-day population increase are millennials moving to our region and joining an already energetic community of young adults. That’s testament to the fresh opportunities of lifestyles and career opportunities.

And perhaps it’s a “surmountable” opportunity.

Millennials are ages 22 to 36. Their market presence influences regional planning issues, such as density and housing, and the resulting multitude of apartment complexes. They’re less interested in traditions and mindsets and more interested in transit and good schools. And these young folks have the luxury of long-term views of our region’s future.

We older folks were once “millennial-age” and many of us recall the warnings of unbridled growth. And all of us wish we had paid more attention and insisted on the tools of regionalism.

It would seem that task now falls to the younger Greater Charlestonians who have both a view of and a stake in the future. Let’s create forums to hear them out, encourage more of them toward leadership and then get out of their way.

This article provided by NewsEdge.