By Barney Blakeney
Charleston officials this week released the first draft of a plan to revitalize West Ashley. Nearly half the city’s residents live West Ashley. Enclaves of predominantly Black neighborhoods pepper the city’s greatest land area which encompasses nearly 100 sq. miles. Some residents of those neighborhoods want to know how revitalization will impact their communities. Ardmore/Sherwood Forest Neighborhood Association President Rev. Christian King has been attending information session to bring residents up to speed. She says she’s concerned.
At a September 18 meeting to present the plan’s first draft to the public, King said her interests were how it would affect Black communities and how Black residents could be part of that growth. Being at the table can insure Black residents aren’t negatively impacted by the gentrification, she said. Revitalization and growth almost always focuses on housing and the economy, she said. And while the people steering the initiatives that impact those issues may have good intentions, being at the table offers some influence.
As often is the case, Black participants in such activities are far fewer than their white counterparts. That was the case at the presentation of the draft. The best laid plans of mice and men sometimes go awry, so although city officials and their planners may want to keep promises to protect Black communities, when priorities dictate, communities that receive service likely won’t be Black communities, King said.
With available land limited, issues such as housing density, flooding and zoning require that Black residents remain engaged in the process, King said. On the economic side of revitalization, Black communities easily could become a secondary concern, she said.
King thinks in addition to active participation in the developmental processes of the plan, Black communities also should consider establishing collaborative relationships with private sector developers. That’s beginning to happen as leaders of several Black communities are investigating the advantages of community land trusts. A community meeting to discuss such possibilities will be held 6 p.m. September 27 at Graham AME Church, located 1124 Wappoo Rd. West Ashley.
Unless Black communities make their voices heard, revitalization could result in nothing to benefit them, King suspects. A stronger, more organized commercial presence West Ashley means a more affluent residential presence. Residents of the Orleans Woods/Savage road communities should pay special attention as proposals are being made to revitalize The Citadel Mall, she said.
Diane Hamilton president of the Maryville/Ashleyville Neighborhood Association and one of three Blacks on the 19-member West Ashley Revitalization Commission said the plan includes segments that address protection of traditional Black communities West Ashley as well as segments addressing affordable low income housing. But Black residents must attend the public input sessions to weigh in on the proposals that will come forth.
“I think Black communities are being considered in the plans for revitalization,” Hamilton said, “but we have to make sure that happens.” The city will conduct a 6:30 p.m. October 17 meeting at West Ashley High School to present the second draft of the plan, she said. That meeting will be the last opportunity for public input, she said. Copies of the first draft are available at Charleston County libraries in the city and online.