Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Mayor Joseph Riley of Charleston, South Carolina

King Street, Charleston.  Image credit.

Mayor Joseph Riley of Charleston is probably the best politician at the local level in terms of his commitment to quality of life, social equity, civic beauty, urban design, and historic preservation.

He speaks very eloquently on the subject.  I heard him speak in 2004 and 2005 and he uses roughly the same speech, a version of which you can read here.

Last Sunday's Review section of the New York Times has a piece, "The Most Loved Politician in America?," about him.  It's worth reading.

He's been mayor for almost 40 years.

The piece has an extended section about why Mayor Riley created the Spoleto Festival, which gets to my point about world class cities and setting high expectations for local governance and policy, rather than defining mediocrity as excellence.

From the article:

... I was curious about the perspective of a leader who had clearly gotten a whole lot right. What makes for good governance? Riley’s observations warranted attention. 
Almost as soon as we sat down together, he talked up the annual Spoleto performing-arts festival, a renowned Charleston event that has bolstered the city’s profile. I wasn’t sure why he was choosing to focus on it or how it factored into any political philosophy. 
Then he explained his reasons for pushing for it back before it was first held in 1977. “It forced the city to accept the responsibility of putting on something world-class,” he said. 
Yes, he wanted the tourists who would flow into the city and the money they’d spend. Sure, he wanted the luster. But he was also staging a kind of experiment in civic psychology and doing something that he considered crucial in government. He was raising the bar, and Spoleto was the instrument. It simultaneously brought great talent to Charleston and required great talent of Charleston.

“You need to commit a city to excellence,” he said, “and the arts expose you to that.” He has fumbled balls and ruffled feathers, ... But he has been careful not to pick abstract and unnecessary battles, and he has deliberately concentrated on visible, measurable realities: the safety, beauty and vibrancy of streets; the placement of parks; the construction of public amusements; the availability of housing. 
What people want from government, he stressed to me, isn’t lofty words but concrete results. They want problems solved and opportunities created. Mayors — ever accountable, ever answerable — tend to remember that and to wed themselves to a practicality that’s forgotten in Washington, where endless ideological tussles accommodate the preening that too many lawmakers really love best.

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