Density is Not a Bad Word
by Emily Hall -- July 7th, 2016
Attracted to the warm climate, natural beauty, and evolving industry and technology sectors, droves of people including everyone from retirees to young professionals are moving to the South Carolina coast. As noted in a Post and Courier article, Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head, and Charleston were among the Top 20 in the nation for population growth from 2014 to 2015. It is said that within tri-county Charleston alone, an average of 48 residents move into Charleston daily.
Now the question is: Where do all of these people go? And while many current residents along the coast are disagreeing about the answer to this question, there are already problems arising from un-managed growth. For instance, traffic is a huge problem, especially in Charleston. Many residents have experienced an hour drive to work on a less than 20-mile commute. Another factor both within growth and traffic congestion, is the availability of affordable housing. Moving to Charleston, and many of these other coastal hot spots, is extremely costly and new residents have to move miles away from the metro centers and their jobs in order to afford a home.
All of these issues were brought to the fore front in early June at the Annual Tri-County Housing Summit in North Charleston. The answer to the question: “Where do all of these people go?”, was addressed and the solution that was discussed was density. Everyone from professionals in real estate, development corporations, and environmental organizations came to the same conclusion: To sustain both the natural beauty of Charleston and the quality of living, we need to grow in a way that will accommodate mixed use in a dense environment instead of promoting suburban sprawl. Just the word “Dense” apparently really seems to scare current residents all along the South Carolina coast, almost as if it is a bad word that we really shouldn’t say. However, the type of density that is being proposed by city planning professionals displays that building up a “dense” living environment just means having apartments where there are stores, parks where there are offices; to create walk able cities. This is opposed to the idea of how Charleston, and most of the coast, is growing with large gated communities, gas stations, and Walmart’s.
The key note speaker, Joseph Minicozzi from Urban3, made an extremely compelling case for this type of smarter growth, when he displayed that by building denser and walk able living and working environments the city is actually able to produce a far greater tax base. With this revenue generation, cities could then put that money into what the community may actually need, like schools, healthcare facilities, green space, instead of just building bigger roads so more people can travel further. By creating this type of walk able, dense, and revenue generating environment we can better manage the growth and sustainability of such a vibrant coastline.