Early preservation advocate Susan Pringle Frost (right) was the first woman in Charleston to earn a real estate license, which she used to buy up derelict properties, including tenements along Rainbow Row (above), and restore them. In 1920, she helped establish the Society for The Preservation of Old Dwellings, now known as the Preservation Society of Charleston.
Kristopher King leads the work of the Preservation Society of Charleston in “ensuring the patterns of the historic city and the way the city has functioned historically are preserved,” he says.
Tourists and residents navigate shared public space on East Bay Street.
Small, locally owned businesses like Queen Street Grocery, a revived former apothecary and circa-1922 corner grocery in Harleston Village, add neighborhood flavor and create walkable places for food and gatherings. Corner stores were historically a downtown mainstay, notes Kristopher King, “but we occasionally get NIMBY pushback from residents wary of noise and traffic.”
“Flooding remains our number one priority,” says Mayor Tecklenburg.
Historic Charleston Foundation CEO Winslow Hastie sees issues like transportation, flood resiliency, and housing affordability as interconnected in terms of their impact on livability, a term that he cautions “gets used for different agendas and not always for the good of the broader community.”
While regulated by the city, horse carriages can add to downtown traffic woes, and tourists crowd sidewalks. The city’s 2015 Tourism Management Plan is in need of updating, with “more teeth and more accountability,” says Historic Charleston Foundation’s Winslow Hastie.
Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg asserts his team is making progress in tackling flooding and livability: “We’re in a better spot today than we were 10 years ago.”
For Jacob Lindsey, Charleston’s director of planning, flooding is priority number one as he works to update the city’s Comprehensive Plan this year.
Rush hour on the southbound Crosstown and Ravenel Bridge northbound into Mount Pleasant
Explore Charleston CEO Helen Hill at the Charleston Visitor Center, which is being redesigned to include interactive elements, such as a demo kitchen, that are inviting for visitors and locals alike, as well as messaging to help “visitors understand that Charleston is a working city,” she says
From a redesigned Visitor Center (scheduled to open late May) to a HOP shuttle to curtail downtown traffic and assist hospitality workers with parking and transportation costs to classes supporting hospitality workers’ career advancement, Explore Charleston is adopting a comprehensive approach to “making sure our entire industry is healthy and whole,” says Helen Hill.
From fighting sprawl to advocating for improved transportation and supporting local agriculture, the Coastal Conservation League counts a healthy quality of life as an integral part of its mission. “We see people as part of the ecosystem,” says executive director Laura Cantral
Lowcountry Local First executive director Jamee Haley believes local businesses offering convenient access to everyday services factor into the livability equation.
“Livability is shaped by what happens in the public realm,” says the director of the Urban Land Institute’s South Carolina chapter, Amy Barrett, shown here at the pedestrian mall on MUSC’s campus, public space reclaimed from a street closed to car traffic.
A century into Charleston’s preservation movement, the conversation has shifted beyond buildings to the less tangible concept of “livability”—which means what, exactly, and to whom?