Growing bigger without losing touch

  • Tuesday, June 10, 2014

It dawned upon me recently that sometimes cities and towns are like rock stars. With rock stars, before they become wildly popular, they have just a handful of diehard fans and a small, cult-like following. Then people start spreading the word. Then the rock stars get popular. Soon, they are in high demand. Their notoriety increases; they get big-time media exposure somewhere and then it seems everybody knows about them.

Next thing you know, they're caught in the cogs of the big business wheel, sign with a studio and start to get “managed.” Often, before long they don't look, act or sound like the artists they once were before they struck fame and fortune.

Look at a picture of The Beatles in 1969 compared to when they stepped off the plane in the U.S. about five years earlier. They were almost unrecognizable.

Same with Elvis. I know I just committed blasphemy there.

Mount Pleasant and Charleston currently seem like the rock stars of American municipalities. It was recently announced that Mount Pleasant is the ninth fastest-growing city in America. Drive around the area sometime and that won't surprise you a bit. The only thing that seems to be missing is a rising skyline, but as the ongoing Shem Creek parking garage/office building issue shows, that aspect of growth and change is teetering in the balance.

Meanwhile, just across the harbor, the city of Charleston has become such a popular destination that it now has an “Entertainment District,” comprised mostly of Upper King Street, which in many of our lifetimes was not much more than furniture stores and pawn shops. Now it is such a hot nightspot that Charleston City Council passed a first reading vote to force new bars – but not the old ones – to quit serving alcohol at midnight.

Wait a minute – doesn't that sound more like something Greenville would pass? I mean, what's down King Street from the Entertainment District, the College of Charleston or Bob Jones University?

As with Mount Pleasant's Shem Creek issue, social media is playing a big role in Charleston's bar closing debate. On Twitter, the Holy City Sinner (@HolyCitySinner) has framed the entire debate by inventing the hashtag “Joehibition.” As soon as the public got involved in the debate, the Post and Courier reports that now fully half of Charleston's city council members now express doubts or concerns about the ordinance – even though the first vote was something like 12-1. Perhaps Mayor Riley is also looking down the road to the future redevelopment of the State Ports Authority's Union Pier property, which is mighty close to the Trophy Home District.

Here in Mount Pleasant, as I wrote last week, after the public got mobilized and did some homework, that proposed 55-foot-tall garage/office building went from being called “a done deal” by an elected official to the point where Mayor Linda Page sent a message directly to the leader of Save Shem Creek announcing that the developer now deems it “economically unfeasible.”

So, like rock stars, our once cozy coastal towns have been discovered and their appeal has been broadcast far and wide. The pressure is on to change them, perhaps to the point of being unrecognizable, and that would be very sad. Fans, a.k.a citizens, can play the biggest role. Cities can grow and change without losing their heart and soul. Some rock stars get ruined once they reach the top, such as Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber.

But my hope is that Mount Pleasant can be like its own resident music star, Darius Rucker, who sticks to his roots and has only gotten better as he's gotten bigger.

Will Haynie has published more than 400 oped columns as a feature columnist for the Asheville Citizen-Times and the Hendersonville (N.C.) Times-News when it was owned by the New York Times. His niche is as a humorous conservative. Find him on Twitter at @willhaynie or email him at Haynie.will@gmail.com.

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