Joe Urban | Sam Newberg, Urbanist

Looking for Clarence in Charleston

Dateline: 8:32 am October 2, 2006 Filed under:

About a month ago I ventured to Charleston, South Carolina on business. I had been there years ago, but not since I heard the mayor of Charleston, Joe Riley, give his inspiring slide show about placemaking. I was on a mission to see one of the places he helped make in Charleston.

If you have not heard Mayor Riley speak, you are missing out. The man is quotable and very inspiring. He says things like “most Americans don’t want density or sprawl.” I suppose he is right. “There’s no reason to build anything that won’t add to the beauty of the city.” “Great cities give their finest edges to the public, without fear.”

It was with these latter two quotes in mind that I set out from my hotel and realized with delight that I was a half-block from one of Mayor Riley’s signature projects, Waterfront Park. It consists of a lovely pier and promenade, complete with fountains, flowers and large swings that face the water, can seat four, and are very popular. It is indeed a fine public space that adds to the beauty of the city.  

During his presentations, Mayor Riley likes to tell the story of Clarence, a Charleston resident who is unable to travel, but spends a lot of time on the waterfront. The mayor asked him once why he does that. Clarence replied that he simply loves to come out to the waterfront at sunrise and watch the beautiful ships go by.

I made it a point to get up the next morning and watch the sunrise from a Waterfront Park swing. I looked for Clarence, but realized that was silly since I had no idea what he looks like. The important thing was to experience a grand public place that exists largely because of visionary leadership from Joe Riley.

To see Waterfront Park was a sort of homecoming in one sense. Mayor Riley has a moral imperative that “our cities must be a place where every citizen’s heart can sing.” His presentations are inspirational, and it was important for me to see and experience an example of what he is trying to convey. Great design can win awards, but if the end result is a place like Waterfront Park for all people to enjoy, including Clarence, then indeed we have all won.

No Comments

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.