Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley Visits Boulder CO

Today, in Boulder, I heard a presentation from the Charleston Mayor (Joseph Riley). Charleston has a strong mayor form of government, and he has been mayor since 1975. Here are some excerpts of what he said:

  • We should not accept anything less than beautiful, properly designed (narrow setbacks, front porches, etc.) housing for low-income people. It is not acceptable to allow the Feds to build that disgusting, auto-oriented HUD public housing (also known as “ant hills”). We can refurbish old Victorian houses to provide affordable housing. It not only works well for the neighborhood, but is gorgeous as well. He showed several breathtaking examples of housing rehab for low-income people in Charleston. Several times, he had to fight with engineers who said the house was structurally unsound and should be demolished. But he knows the old houses have tremendous character and excellent design features and what would replace them would be crappy, so he almost never allows the bulldozers to come into redevelopment areas.
  • Almost always, when a timeless, gorgeous, dignified, historic building is demolished, it is replaced with something that does not last long. In Charleston, they demolished a fabulous old government building with columns in front and replaced it with a Sears, which soon moved out to a Sprawlsville shopping mall.
  • If you let something bad be built (or have the government do something bad), it is repeated. If you do something good, it is also repeated.
  • People need to have public centers such as farmers markets and public plazas and pedestrian malls. It is human nature to want to be with other people. We should not throw away these precious, centrally located and accessible centers.
  • Developers must be forced to design their buildings so that they are oriented to the street rather than turning their backs to the street, since it is so critical to build energy on the street—the street is an essential public realm.
  • Architects are fond of saying that “Form follows function”, and therefore insist on building things such as parking garages that look like parking garages. But in livable downtown Charleston, we insist that garages look like office buildings and have retail on the first floor. As a result, there are garages in Charleston that you would not know were garages unless you were told. It is disrespectful to build auto-oriented facilities that look like auto-oriented facilities downtown, which should instead be designed for people.
  • Developers had fits, and begged and pleaded to be able to ignore the above design features. But I insisted, and stuck to my guns, and they usually gave in, and often decided afterwards that the feature I had insisted on was the best thing they did with the project.
  • If you put a building on a street and have the building turn away from the street, what does such a building design say about the street?
  • Even sleazy liquor store owners with sleazy strip commercial liquor stores crave a beautiful public realm.
  • Cities need 30-foot tall buildings downtown like they need a hole in the head. 5 and 6 story buildings are much better, since they define public spaces much better, and do not force a city to have huge expanses of parking.



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Filed under New Urbanism: Timeless, Traditional, Walkable Design

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