Drive-By Neighbors

The 18th-century historic district in Charleston, South Carolina, has become so popular that very wealthy people are buying homes there to live in for a few weeks a year. What's wrong with that? It makes the area more like a museum than a real neighborhood.
December 2004
By Otis White  |  Contributor
President of Civic Strategies Inc.

The 18th-century historic district in Charleston, South Carolina, has become so popular that very wealthy people are buying homes there to live in for a few weeks a year. What's wrong with that? It makes the area more like a museum than a real neighborhood. "It's a very unhealthy situation," said one year-round resident. "A high percentage of the most historic homes in Charleston are now closed up 10 months a year or more. The new owners don't participate in the community. And they've forced up prices to the point where families are no longer able to live here." Charleston's mayor, Joseph Riley, is urging residents to donate an easement on their homes to the Historic Charleston Foundation. The easement forbids the home's use as a vacation house and authorizes the foundation to sue future owners if it's used that way. Not surprisingly, some of the part-time residents are taking this personally. Said one, a lawyer from North Carolina. "They complain when their children and grandchildren can't afford to buy homes here. But they don't complain when a house they bought for $30,000 sells for a million dollars."


Most people either drive to work in a car or catch a bus or train. But increasingly in the Los Angeles area, commuters drive their car to the train station, catch the train to a place near work, and then get in their second car for the rest of the trip. That's right, lots of people in L.A. buy a second car just to have for the final leg of their morning commutes and to run errands during the day, the Los Angeles Times reports. At the Irvine transit station, nearly half of the 500 spaces in the parking deck are filled by cars that are parked overnight. Isn't this an awfully expensive way to commute? It's worth it to avoid the freeways, said Kevin Curry, an insurance consultant who lives in San Marcos and works in Brea, a harrowing 79-mile commute by freeway. "It would take me an hour and 30 minutes to drive to work," he explained. "It takes me an hour and eight minutes by train. And it is a stressful hour and 30 compared to a stress-free hour and eight."


If you've ever attended a city council meeting and thought that the council was moving so quickly from item to item that it seemed, well, rehearsed, then you were probably right. Very likely there was a meeting before the meeting to talk through the sticking points. In some cities, these strategy meetings are called "work sessions" to distinguish them from the public sessions that follow; in other places they're called "premeetings." Activists hate them. Said Joan Floyd of Baltimore, "[Public officials] are afraid to debate in public. We are not children. We can handle controversy." The Baltimore Sun recently wrote about the odd world of premeetings, which reporters know about and often cover but about which most citizens (including many who attend council meetings) are blissfully unaware. Take Baltimore's Board of Estimates, which approves major city purchases. It meets in public session every Wednesday at 9 a.m. in a large hearing room. But at 8:30 it meets in a conference room just off the chamber with chairs for the 12 members and a few others, usually reporters and staff members. There it decides which purchases will be considered "routine" (not discussed in public session) and which are "non-routine" (open for discussion). The same things go on with the city council, which meets for lunch on Mondays to talk over the agenda well in advance of the public session that evening. THE


The trend for the past 20 years or so has been to locate professional sports stadiums in downtowns. There are a number of reasons for this (better traffic flow, fewer residents to complain about noise, etc.), but fans also seem to like downtown locations better. Reason: There's something other than tailgating to do before and after games. So the Dallas Cowboys seem to be defying the trend in deciding to build a new football stadium in suburban Arlington, Texas. Granted, there's logic here: Arlington is midway between Dallas and Fort Worth. And the Texas Rangers, the baseball team, are already in Arlington, so clearly professional sports can succeed there. But what about the fans' preference for downtown locations? No problem, the Cowboys say. In November, Arlington's voters agreed to pay half the cost of the stadium (the team would pay the other half), so the Cowboys and Rangers will build something called "New Town Center" with shops, restaurants and a park near the two stadiums. In other words, their own private downtown. The development "will have tremendous value to both the ballpark and the stadium," said Arlington's mayor. "And, of course, the city itself." But the mayor, who had been informed of the plan only a few days before the election, was a little hazy on the details, including how it would be financed. "I suspect the Rangers and the Cowboys will pay for this," he said.