When Joseph P. Riley Jr. first ran for mayor of Charleston, S.C., in 1975, he wanted to heal racial tensions in a deeply Southern city where the Civil War began. Visiting older European cities, he found his signature strategy. He saw people of all socioeconomic classes enjoying these cities’ fine public spaces. Riley became convinced that when the public realm -- streets, squares and parks -- is built well, the bonds of citizenship are reinforced. People know that everyone owns it.
Riley, who last month concluded four decades as Charleston’s mayor, calls himself a disciple of the urbanist William Whyte, who first came to prominence as the author of The Organization Man in 1956. While working with the New York City Planning Commission, Whyte pioneered the use of direct observation to study pedestrian behavior, work that led to two influential books: The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces in 1980 and 1988’s City: Rediscovering the Center. That last book, which I read shortly after it came out, pulses with energy and is still as vibrant and relevant today as when it was first released.