Ann Barrett said Low Country growth is not the issue, but how to manage that growth collectively. File photo
The Low Country has a problem, and the problem is prosperity, according to the head of the state's leading organization advocating for responsible land use.
A growing economy, and the natural beauty and history of Charleston and its environs, has led to a population explosion. But it is a problem many other regions would relish and it is manageable if there is a collective will among its passionate residents, said Ann Barrett, executive director of the Urban Land Institute.
The Charleston-North Charleston Metropolitan Statistical Area now has an estimated population of around 800,000 people, up from 550,000 at the turn of the century.
Development, and how to manage sprawl and where to encourage density, are among the most pressing questions facing the city and region.
"I would say it's a problem if we do not manage it properly.... we have to act together pretty quickly," Barrett told the Palmetto Business Daily, adding there must be a collective response in a region where "passions run high on issues that are near and dear to people's hearts."
Barrett argues that growth in itself is not the issue, but how to manage that growth collectively. This, she said, required hard decisions to be made in a region where people are very passionate about all things, especially their homes.
"Our problem is prosperity, and doing a lot of things right," she said, noting other regions have the opposite problem, with people leaving cities.
South Carolina's economic well-being is tied to strong tourism, a great port, and an excellent atmosphere for manufacturing.
"What we did not think through all the way is how to accommodate all these people," Barrett said.
Among the positives, she cites the bus rapid transit system, though it is not due to be completed by the middle of the next decade. But well before that, it has driven conversations about finding solutions and co-operation, she said.
Barrett believes any argument pitting density vs. sprawl is something of a false dichotomy. The larger question is how to be more responsible, she argues, and that often means denser developement, which can be more efficient.
"We are not advocating density as always good....(but) where sustainable, where appropriate," Barrett said. "It is complicated, but these are good problems. On the spectrum, these are the best problems that you can have. It is the problem of prosperity. I do not minimize them, but they are manageable."