2020 State of the City Address

2020 State of the City Address

The following State of the City Address was prepared for delivery by Mayor John J. Tecklenburg on January 28, 2020, at 7:00 p.m.

Mr. Mayor Pro Tem Robert Mitchell, members of City Council, honored guests and fellow Charlestonians:

Good evening. Two weeks ago, I was honored to be sworn in once again as our city’s mayor. On that day, I spoke of the work we have done over the past four years to address the four most critical issues facing our city and our citizens -- flooding and drainage, traffic and transportation, affordable housing, and public safety. Tonight, I’d like to share some of our plans for the future on each of these essential priorities -- and just some of the work that’s already underway.

But first, I want to take a moment to recognize my colleagues in city leadership - the outstanding members of our City Council, who serve our citizens with diligence and distinction. These are the men and women who work for our citizens not just when we meet on Tuesday nights, but every day and night of the year to ensure that every resident and every area of our city receives the representation it needs and deserves. And I’d like to ask you to join me now in recognizing their efforts, and thanking them for their service.

"Make no little plans,” the great city architect Daniel Burnham once said. “For they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably will not themselves be realized." 

“Make no little plans.” 

As the inheritors of a long and rich history dating back 350 years – yes, it is Charleston’s 350th birthday - we Charlestonians can feel the truth of those words in our bones. We know that little plans did not raise a great city on the banks of the Ashley and Cooper rivers. We know that little plans did not create the extraordinary works of art and culture and architecture that surround and inspire us every day. And we know that little plans will not suffice to address the challenges that lie before us -- challenges that are deeply rooted in the very history that brought us to this moment.

That’s why I’m so pleased to be able to report tonight that our plans to address these challenges – flooding and drainage, traffic and transportation, affordable housing and public safety -- are not little. In fact, they are the largest and most comprehensive plans of their kind in city history.

First, our city’s top priority, and perhaps its oldest challenge: flooding. And here, our plans are nothing less than transformative, with major infrastructure projects, tough new rules for development, and -- thanks to what we learned in the Dutch Dialogues process -- a fundamentally new and different mindset for managing water. 

In terms of infrastructure, our focus is both large and small, with construction underway to raise the Low Battery, massive underground drainage systems like Spring Fishburne and Market Street currently being built, and smaller but highly effective neighborhood projects such as Forest Acres Phase II, Rivers Point Row, and many others throughout the City. In addition, we’re currently working closely with the Army Corps of Engineers on a plan to provide the kind of large-scale barrier protections that will be necessary to protect the city as climate change continues to raise sea levels and create ever more extreme weather.

But that’s just one part of our strategy -- just as important, we’re completely changing the way we do business here in Charleston, with new, citywide stormwater standards that ensure improvements to our drainage capacity, and a revision of our comprehensive city plan that will use the concepts of the Dutch Dialogues to shape land use, zoning and citywide planning policy.

To that end, we’re already buying out properties that should never have been built in the first place and helping to elevate others. In addition, we are engaging our citizens to action, from starting rain gardens and installing rain barrels to helping monitor our storm drains. Every drop counts. In the end, we’re simply going to have to stop fighting water, and learn to make room for it instead -- with better planning, more responsible development, full citizen engagement, and a built environment that turns anti-flooding projects into public amenities that make our city even more beautiful and more livable than it is today. We’re all in this boat together.

And to be clear, by all, I mean not just our citizens, but everyone who loves Charleston -- including the millions of people who visit our city every year. That why we’ll be meeting with state officials in the coming months to discuss changes in state law that would allow all our visitors, including hotel guests and cruise ship passengers, to help fund flooding solutions – a responsible, reasonable extension of Home Rule that would benefit not just Charleston, but the entire state of South Carolina.

Next, traffic and transportation -- a challenge that grows out of both our geography, which tends to create choke points, particularly near waterways, and our history, which has allowed development and transportation improvements to get fundamentally out of sync.

Working with our regional partners, we’ve committed ourselves to a three-part strategy to deliver real traffic relief to our citizens: more and better roads, more and better options for alternatives like biking and walking, and more and better public transit, first from Summerville to the peninsula, and afterwards to West Ashley, James and Johns Islands.

With regard to roads, we’ve revived I-526 completion, secured land for the Northern and Southern pitchforks on Johns Island, and are working to increase capacity on the Glenn McConnell Parkway, and at busy choke points such as Main Road and US17, Courtenay and Calhoun, and Maybank and River roads.

In terms of alternatives, we’ve passed the People Pedal Plan to create a more walkable and bikeable city, secured financing for the bike-ped bridge linking the peninsula to West Ashley, and purchased the site that will soon become Low Line -- a spectacular linear park running up the spine of our city, from Marion Square to Mount Pleasant Street.

And on public transit, we’re partnering with CARTA and the Council of Governments to help create Lowcountry Rapid Transit -- the area’s first truly ambitious plan to move large numbers of people across the region comfortably and conveniently, with the speed, convenience and reliability our commuters want and need.

Third, affordable housing, another challenge that has roots going back generations. And another area where our plan is sized to meet the issue head on.

For example, on the peninsula and underway this year are the Grace Homes with 62 units, the James Lewis, Jr. Apartments with 64 affordable units -- and 573 Meeting, with 70 apartments for those transitioning from homelessness. In West Ashley, Bulls Creek is moving forward with 72 units, and Waters at West Ashley is renovating 100 more. And three new affordable homes will also soon be available for first time homebuyers at 4 Nunan St., 4 Grant’s Court, and 87 Cooper St.

Looking forward, the City is already working on new affordable housing complexes on Johns Island and Cainhoy, and has a plan in place to ensure that Bridgeview remains affordable for many years to come.

In addition, we are continuing efforts to cut red tape and expedite approval for affordable housing, utilize new funding sources, and work with new partners.

Taken together, our efforts will produce more than a thousand units of new affordable housing right here in the city of Charleston -- housing that’s attainable for everyone from police and firefighters, to school teachers and bus drivers, to hospitality workers and more.

And finally, public safety, where our police department is working to make our city even stronger and safer by helping to right the wrongs that have impeded our progress for too long. 

Last year, under the leadership of our outstanding police chief, Luther Reynolds, and with the full support of this Council, the Charleston Police Department submitted itself to a racial bias audit by one of the leading firms in the country. And the action plan coming out of that process is detailed and far-reaching, with 48 specific findings and recommendations to make our citizens safer and our policing more just.

From traffic stops, to use of force, to new guidelines, training and more, these reforms will help our police department build the strong relationships and deep sense of trust that’s so critical to successful community policing and public safety. 

I want to salute our police department and, just as important, our citizens for the literally thousands of hours they’ve already put into this process, and for their commitment to ensuring that all of these reforms are made in full, and in a timely fashion.

And, so, tonight, in closing -- with these far-reaching plans firmly in place and already moving forward -- I’m proud to report to you this evening that the state of our city in its three hundred and fiftieth year is united -- and ready to make real progress on our city’s greatest challenges. Together.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the great city of Charleston.