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A vision for the lower peninsula

Posted on December 16, 2014 by in Place

Vision for the lower peninsula, Downtown Plan

Sea level expert from Charleston: ‘I’m more uneasy but not frightened’

Posted on July 17, 2014 by in Place

Rate of melting of West Antarctic ice sheets at Amundsen Bay, Rignot, May 2014

From West Antarctic to Charleston: Map is color-coded to show rates at which ice shelves are  melting. Red marks fastest rate.

There were big and scary headlines in May when researchers said some glaciers in the West Antarctic were melting at an “unstoppable” rate. Some news reports said the Big Melt could raise sea levels — including those in Charleston — by up to 16 feet over time. But the report itself made no such projections. It said in its conclusion: “We conclude that this sector of West Antarctica [at the bay of the Amundsen Sea] is undergoing a marine ice sheet instability that will significantly contribute to sea level rise in decades to centuries to come.”

The doomsday headlines came from taking the report about one sector of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet — at the Amundsen Sea embayment (image above) — and extending it across all the glaciers of the West Antarctic. But the report made no attempt to analyze and draw conclusions about the stability of the entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet. It was focused on one fraction of thf ice sheet — at the Amundsen Sea embayment..

Local America Charleston went to sea-level expert Gary Mitchum, who grew up in Charleston and is a professor and associate dean in the College of Marine Science at University of South Florida, to get his assessment on what the new report means, especially for Prof. Gary Mitchum, USFCharleston.

You’ve taken a close look at the report. If the glaciers at the Amundsen Sea embayment are melting at an “unstoppable” rate, what will they add to seal levels?

The glaciers are capable of adding  four feet to sea levels. That’s on top of currently melting ice in Greenland and the East Antarctic, which will add 2 to 3 feet to sea levels by 2100.

When would the new melt from the West Antarctic start to have an impact on sea levels?

It would start kicking in over a couple hundred years.

Can man do anything to avoid coastal areas being swamped by sea levels rising up to 7 feet (your outside estimate)?

We can flatten the curve through aggressive programs to mitigate the effects of manmade climate change — reducing carbon emissions, changing human behavior.

What would that mean in the most hopeful scenario?

If we flatten the curve, we can probably expect a couple of feet rise in sea level above the current level over a thousand years. The level will rise, but more slowly.

How do you feel about that prospect?

I’m more uneasy, but not frightened.

The focus has been on rising sea levels. What else can we expect from climate change — here in Charleston as elsewhere?

The intensity of storms will increase. There will be more severe winters — a whole range of adverse climate conditions.


Charleston Is ‘Best City’ in U.S., No. 2 in ‘Best in World’

Posted on July 3, 2014 by in Place

Best Cities in U.S, Travel & Leisure, 2014Charleston is “Best City” in U.S. and Canada for the fourth straight year in Travel & Leisure’s readers’ contest, and moved up to second place in the magazine’s “World’s Best Cities.”

Charleston and New Orleans were the only American cities in the “World’s Best.” No. 1 was Kyoto, Japan, which was 3/100th points ahead of Charleston.

Readers used a five-point scale of excellent, above average, average, below average and poor to rate cities based on sights to see, restaurants, hotel facilities and a number of other categories mostly built around travel, like airports and car rentals.

Charleston ‘Reckless’ TV drama opens with she-likes-it rape scene

Posted on June 28, 2014 by in Place

'Reckless.' Charleston police officer prepares to rape women he stopped on Ravenel Bridge. Premiere, 06.29.14The new CBS legal drama “Reckless,” which is set in Charleston, premiered Sunday night with the provocative proposition that maybe women can enjoy be raped if they’re sexually cool and get into the violence.

In the opening scene, after a stunning nighttime shot of the Ravenel Bridge, a Charleston police officer pulls over a woman driver for speeding. He takes her underneath the bridge and tells her to put her hands up on the chain-link fence. After handcuffing her, he begins a body search (illegal because there’s no suspicion the driver has a weapon) that turns into a grope, that becomes a clear-cut sexual assault…except the woman’s apprehensive face is suddenly transformed into a consensual smile. “I like the posterior,” she says.

'Reckless' scene from City Hall, June 29, 2014“Reckless” was made will the cooperation of the Charleston city government — some scenes are set in the City Council chamber in front of the full-length portrait of George Washington on his 1791 visit to the city. But it’s abundantly clear the show is not bound by any restrictive rules similar to the ones in the new Entertainment District that the City Council is in the process of adopting.

The premiere’s script with the rape-turned-into-consensual-sex scene was written by “Reckless” creator-executive producer Dana Stevens. “Honestly, I think it gets pretty sexy,” Stevens tells Zap2it  about the new show she’s running. “CBS told us, ‘We want you to push the envelope. We want you to do a sexy show.’ We would turn in episodes and think, ‘Oh, they’re never going to let us do this,’ but they did let us do it.”

Rape is becoming an almost obligatory trope in TV drama. “Game of Thrones” has a rap sheet of rapes. But Stevens decided to give her rape scene a twist by having the victim starting to like the violence not long after the cuffs snap on her outstretched arms.

'Reckless.' Jamie and Roy in front of courthouse, July 2014Stevens and CBS don’t appear to be too concerned about Charleston’s image, which the city promotes with the slogan “where history lives.” “Dark secrets simmer behind every door and threaten to tarnish the genteel façade of seductive Charleston,” CBS publicity says. It’s the place where the principal characters — the female defense attorney and her male courtroom rival, the assistant district attorney — go knee to knee on the front steps of the courthouse in the middle of the afternoon — an apparent homage to the nighttime kissy-poo of John Jenrette in 1981, when he was a congressman representing part of Charleston, and his then-new wife Rita (who has since remarried) on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. Charleston. (Rita Jenrette denied earlier, published gossip that she and her husband had sex among the columns of the Capitol Portico.)

“Prepare to be seduced,” says CBS about the show, which right now is built around sex scandal in the Charleston Police Department involving group sex on top of a patrol car that was videotaped.

As the actor who plays the defense attorney says, “We’re showing the other side of the South, the side that’s not as genteel.”

But it’s only a TV show. Like “Dallas.”


City gives initial OK to limited late-night alcohol ban in new peninsula Entertainment District

Posted on May 27, 2014 by in Place

Bar sign

The Charleston City Council gave initial approval tonight to creation of an Entertainment District running up the length of the peninsula where new restaurants and bars would be banned from serving alcohol or even remaining open after 12 midnight. The ordinance was approved 12 to 1. It will go to two more readings at separate Council meetings before it can becomes law.

The ordinance, which was drawn up by Mayor Joseph P. Riley’s administration, says “Drinking Places” are barred from operating between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m. The only exception that’s specified in the ordinance is hotels of more than 20 rooms. But Mayor Riley said at Tuesday’s night Council session that currently operating restaurants and bars are “grandfathered,” and that interpretation was reaffirmed to Local America Charleston by city government public information officer Barbara Vaughn, who said in an email this morning: “Existing restaurants and bars are NOT AFFECTED BY THE ORDINANCE.”

The ordinance would also require grocery stores, gas stations and other businesses that sell off-premise alcoholic beverages to close from 12 midnight to 6 a.m.

While residential neighbors are sure to give the ordinance their overwhelming support, some other key city constituencies are not for  restrictions covering such a large swath of the city.  Erin Perkins, a local write and editor, told Local America Charleston:

“I’m against this bill entirely. I think it harms the food and beverage community by taking away potential earnings. I do think that the situation on King Street on weekends is a bit out of hand, but I think there are better ways to control this than a midnight cutoff. An early cutoff will just lead people to drink more earlier and then head to other bars with later closing times.”

Perkins was speaking for herself, but her opinion matters because she  is editor of Charleston Eater, a well-read site that is part of a national network of more than 25 platforms covering local culinary scenes.

The Entertainment District, with King Street as its spine, would extend from Broad Street on up to the city’s border with North Charleston.

“This is big,” Council Member Mike Seekings (8th District), said last week when he unveiled the proposal at a meeting of the Radcliffeborough Association. Seekings said the proposal was driven in part by an ultimatum by three large high-tech companies that want to relocate to Upper King Street but are concerned about the boisterous, sometimes rowdy nighttime scene in the district created by inebriated revelers who crowd the numerous bars, pubs and restaurants.

“These companies are worth tens of millions of dollars,” Seekings said. “If the ordinance passes, they’ll come, If it doesn’t, they won’t.”

The proposed ordinance would exempt hotels with 20 or more rooms from the ban on serving alcohol past midnight to 6 a.m.

Seekings, who supports the proposal, told Local America that the chance the measure would be approved by the 12-member Council “will be close.” He told the Radcliffeborough Association meeting: “We have to make Charleston a place for people who are going to be here 72 years as well as 72 hours” — a jab at tourists and other visitors, whose nighttime behavior in the Upper King district — especially after midnight — is fueling increasingly antagonistic feelings among residents who live on the residential streets that are as close as one block away.

One association member said about the scene: “There’s this restaurant that has a garden in back. They were putting on music that, if I were 30 years old and didn’t leave nearby, I’d love to hear. But I live a block away, and I could hear the pounding through my walls.”

At a recent meeting of the Mazyck-Wraggborough Association, a homeowner called Upper King “the new Bourbon Street” — an unflattering reference to the tourist-magnet neighborhood in the historic French Quarter of New Orleans that, some critics say, is losing its charm to frenetic commercialism.

In an effort to better control what’s happening in the Upper King district, including on the traffic-congested thoroughfare, the Charleston Police Department is deploying eight newly hired police officers to the area.

For decades, Upper King was a mostly retail district, lined with clothing, furniture, hardware, notions and variety stores and newsdealers and barbershops. As many of those businesses began to close in the face of the development of malls elsewhere in the region, the vacated buildings — many dating back to the 19th century — deteriorated.

Mayor Riley’s administration acted to reinvent the district with a new mix of businesses — venues catering to tourists and other visitors but including a sprinkling of high-tech companies who would set the tone for the “knowledge” economy that the city government and business community seek to create.

Swelling numbers of tourists and reasonable rents attracted a new generation of hospitality-oriented business people who are turning restored buildings into often-packed, fashionably edgy restaurants and bars, some featuring live music.

But reinvented Upper King is also  home to the headquarters of PeopleMatter, the human resources software company that relocated its headquarters from North Charleston to No. 466 King in 2011 and plans to expand its job force there to 265. PeopleMatter’s office building is surrounded by restaurants and bars that start coming alive by 6 p.m.

Photo credit for bar sign: Bobafred, Flickr.


Charleston’s ‘bests’ (and its ‘worsts’): The listicle

Posted on May 21, 2014 by in Place

Charleston's bests, Travel & LeisureThere doesn’t seem to a city “best” list that doesn’t include Charleston. We even make it on several “worst” lists (more on those in a moment).

The biggest is Condé Nast Traveler magazine’s Readers’ Choice “Best Cities in the World,” where Charleston ranks fifth in the 2013 list, and was first in 2012. For three years in a row, Charleston has been the magazine’s “Best City in the U.S.”  The honors are especially significant because they come entirely from the magazine’s readers. Most recently, Charleston was No. 4 in the  magazine’s Readers’ Choice for “Best American City for Foodies.”

Travel & Leisure magazine — an indefatigable list maker — rates cities in more than a score of ways — everything from Wild Weekend to Family Vacation to Gay Friendly. Charleston is high on many, but not all, of those lists. Note that the links below divide results between those from residents and visitors.

The results (with Charleston’s rankings in parentheses):

Then there are the bests where Charleston is among the worsts:

I wonder about the low rating on sports bars. I’m no authority on sports bars in metro Charleston, but I notice that Yelp gives at least three stars to nine local sports bars. including the recently opened Bay Street Biergarten, which, to me, looks like a great venue for watching games and drinking German beer.

Sea levels and Charleston: Expert says bring all players to the table

Posted on May 13, 2014 by in Place

Charleston among most cities at most risk, White House Climate Assessment, 2014

The “unstoppable” collapse of glaciers in Antarctica first reported on Monday has triggered a flurry of dire estimates about what the big melt will mean for higher sea levels, including in metro Charleston.  But there won’t be hard numbers until the actual report on the collapse is released.

Gary Mitchum, professor and associate dean at USF, 2014One of the leading researchers on sea levels in the Southeastern U.S., Prof. Gary Mitchum, a faculty member and associate dean at the College of Marine Science of the University of South Florida (photo at left), told Local America he is withholding comment until he sees the report produced by researchers at NASA and the University of California at Irvine. Mitchum, who grew up in Charleston, expects the study to be released by the end of the week.

How ice shelves are retreating in West AntarcticaMitchum is studying the abstract of the forthcoming report, which includes a map (image at right) showing the different rates of the “unstoppable retreat to the sea by ice shelves of melting glaciers in the West Antarctic. Shelves shown in red on the map are retreating most rapidly.

The abstract’s only reference to what the collapse of the glaciers would mean for future sea levels was this line, “This sector is of global significance since it contains enough ice to raise global sea level by 1.2 meters [4 feet].” The estimate, which is from a 2008 research paper reference, did not include any time frame.

Mitchum’s 2011 report projecting a 2.6-foot rise in regional Charleton sea levels by 2100 is one of the key documents cited by the National Climate Assessment — released by the White House late last week — which pinpointed Charleston as one of the coastal areas “most at risk” from rising sea levels.

Mitchum said the 2.6-foot number was significant by itself, regardless of how the West Antarctic melt is quantified and interpreted in coming days, weeks, months. Besides, he said, the 2.6-foot number would most likely keep increasing beyond 2100 unless there was major action to reduce man-made global warming. The National Assessment, backing up the recently updated United Nations report on climate change, said carbon pollution was the main factor behind global warming.

Mitchum said it was up to local and state government to be the lead actors in reducing global warming. “Every city, county and region should be sitting down with scientists, economists, policy makers, planners and developers so they can produce the best strategy,” he said.

From Local America’s earlier coverage about the collapse of the West Antarctic glaciers and the earlier released National Climate Assessment:

Melting glacier ice sheetsResearchers from NASA and the University of California at Irvine said on Monday that six glaciers in the West Antarctic (see NASA map above showing melting glacial ice sheets in red) are in an “unstoppable” retreat that is dumping the sheets in the water and setting in motion long-term rising sea levels worldwide. The retreat is irreversible, says lead report author and geologist Eric Rignot, primarily because there are no land masses under the glaciers to act as a barrier.

Rignot there’s enough frozen water in the retreating glaciers to raise sea levels by 4 feet. The big question is, What’s the time line for this 4-foot increase to happen? “This sector [the six melting glaciers] will be a major contributor to sea level rise in the decades and centuries to come,” Rignot says. “A conservative estimate is it could take several centuries for all of the ice to flow into the sea.”

Mitchum’s 2011 “Sea Level Changes in the Southeastern United States, Past, Present and Future,” one of the studies cited in the National Climate Assessment, says:

“[The] present best guess for our region is 80 centimeters [2.6 feet] of sea level increase by 2100. This estimate, however, is more likely to be too low than too high.”

Mitchum’ s baseline estimate of a 2.6-foot rise represents a 240% increase in what was recorded in a century of sea-level measurements in Charleston Harbor extending to current times.

This guide from Climate Central shows the estimated flooding impact on population and housing in the Charleston region from foot-by-foot increases in the sea level.

Thwaites ice shelf in West Africa calving in 2012, James Yungel, NASAMitchum says global warming is the main cause for the faster rise of sea levels. He and many other scientists says global warming is melting ice sheets in the Arctic and Antarctica.  One example is the breakup of the massive Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica (photo above). The melting ice has only one place to go: the sea.

The White House Climate Assessment echoes the recently updated United Nations report on the threat of global warming. “Climate change is affecting us right now, and the carbon pollution that causes it is a threat to our health and the environment,” the White House said in a statement accompanying the report.

Mitchum’s study is based heavily on measurements of the melting of Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, which has been accelerating in recent decades. The study says the accuracy of measurements has increased “dramatically” with the use of altimeters on satellites circling the Earth. Gages like the one long used in the Cooper River in Charleston are subject to tidal fluctuation and consequently aren’t considered as exact.

The National Climae Assessment cited a 2012 report that says 25,000-50,000 people in the Charleston region are “at risk” from flooding because of rising sea levels. The “lowcountry” has always been vulnerable because some of it is less than 1 meter above high tide.

Minor flooding from higher sea levels is already occurring in downtown areas of Charleston, particularly at Lockwood Drive-Wentworth Street. (The details are in this Local America Charleston article.) The flooding can increase when storm surges in the tidal Cooper and Ashley Rivers are intensified by higher sea levels.

Credit for map at top of page: National Climate Assessment, May 2014.

Photo credit for ice sheet of collapsing Thwaites Glacier in the West Antarctic: James Yungel, NASA.

Crab Bank: 22 acres owned by nesting seabirds

Posted on May 10, 2014 by in Place

From live web came at Crab Bank island in Charleston HarborCrab Bank is a spit of an island in Charleston Harbor off Mount Pleasant. A mere sandbar for at least 250 years, Crab Bank finally became an above-water island in the 1950s. It regularly changes shape, getting bigger and smaller in the tidal currents, but staying above water. Today it’s 22 acres.

With no predators, the grasslands of Crab Bank are an ideal nesting place for seabirds — one of only nine such sites in South Carolina. Among the seabirds which nest at Crab Bank are pelicans, terns, egrets, the Laughing Gull, Wilson’s Plover, American Oystercatcher, Tricolored Heron and White Ibis.

The Crab Bank Seabird Sanctuary is closed to the public during the nesting season from March 15 to Oct. 15.. But the island’s Spy on a Bird live web cam — installed with the support of the SC Coastal Conservation League, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and South Carolina Aquarium — provides a 24-hour open window to the entire seasonal nesting process. During May, there are egg hatchings, and in July fledglings will be on display as they take wing.

To see what’s happening on the island, click to the live web cam.


DIG SOUTH 2014 by the numbers

Posted on April 26, 2014 by in Place

DIG SOUTH logoDIG SOUTH 2014, held in Charleston April 9-13, had:

  • 5,000 attendees (66% over last year’s inaugural interactive festival).
  • 650 companies (260% over last year).
  • 200 presenters (49% over last year), including representatives from Twitter, Facebook, Buzzfeed, Time Inc., LinkedIn, IBM, Kickstarter, Zubie, Tableau.
  • 74 sponsors.
  • 14 music shows.



Residents on tourism: ‘We have reached the tipping point’

Posted on April 18, 2014 by in Place

Tourist carriageThe City of Charleston is on what looks like will be a rocky road to updating its tourism management program.

Residents sounded about the impact of the 5 million annual visitors to the region at a recent city-sponsored  forum. Another forum will be held June 12 at 6 p.m. at the Charleston Museum.

Here’s a selection of public comments at the April 7 forum:

‘Tourists are hearing lies’

As someone who lives on the carriage track I hear lies/falsified stories all the time. When I asked the carriage offices/tour guides about this, they said that tour guides are allowed to ‘make up stats and info’ to keep the attention of the tourists. While this may keep attention, it is concerning to think that the tourists are hearing lies. What are the regulations on carriage tour lectures? Does it differ for carriage companies?”

‘The small from carriages is awful’

Parking is a huge problem. I see horse carriages on streets they should not be on – for example, Magazine Street. There’s no way to pass if an emergency. Too many carriages on streets. The smell from carriages is awful.”

‘What would we lose by banning motor coach tourists?’

“Can you determine the economic impact of motor coach tourists? What would we lose by banning them South of Calhoun Street? If they cannot be banned, can they be discouraged from stopping or idling?”

‘Tourists prefer to park in front of our homes’

Charleston residents have spent millions to provide parking for tourists (16 parking garages) but the tourists prefer to park in front of our homes.”

‘The ordinances are not enforced!’

It is a joke to say that the Tourism Commission represents the residents. The ordinances are not enforced!” [see city response below]

We have reached the tipping point on livability’

Charleston does not have the infrastructure to accommodate more and more visitors! We have reached the tipping point between livability for Charleston’s taxpaying citizens and visitors to Charleston. Given the overbalance of panelists who profit from tourism that impacts the Old and Historic District the hardest, how can we expect that this panel will defend the historic district from increasingly overwhelming tourism, traffic, noise, congestion, carriages and horses, buses, pedicabs, bicycles, golf carts, motorcycles and tourists who disrespect our houses with trespassing, trash and worse?”

‘We are overrun by buses, horse and carriage, pedicab, cruise ship traffic and pollution’

What is the vision to keep Charleston from becoming Key West, Venice, Italy, etc. We are overrun by buses, horse and carriage, pedicab, cruise ship traffic and pollution from the above. It is already very badly affecting quality of life south of Broad.” [see city response below]

‘We need an overall ceiling on tourism’

The number of events: total number must be curbed. There should be an overall ceiling on tourism through moratoriums on numbers of hotels, cruise ships, etc.”

City’s response to some complaints

City of Charleston Planning Director Tim Keane told Local America Charleston that tourism-related violations of city ordinances will not have to wait on final adoption of the new tourism management program to be addressed. “If the [tourism management advisory] group identifies enforcement improvements soon, there is no reason they can’t be made before we finish this process.  The same goes for bus tours or any other management issue. We don’t have to wait till the whole process if finished to implement improvements.”

Keane also said the advisory committee on tourism management has 24 member, with eight representing business interests and the rest being residents of the Historic District or representing other non-business interests.

This link has the names of all advisory committee members and all the complaints and suggested tourism management improvements from the April 7 forum. The link also includes previously adopted tourism plans.

Any resident who has a complaint or question about tourism management should sent it to Amy Southerland of the city planning office at