From an article published on the WV Gazette (here).
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Charleston used to be a walkable city, and could be made walkable again, developmental consultant Craig Gossman said Thursday.
Gossman, a principal architect with the firm msi|kkg and one of the lead consultants hired to create downtown redevelopment and comprehensive plans for Charleston, has been meeting with various “stakeholder” groups this week to gather information for those plans.
“You look at historical photos, and Charleston was a very walkable city,” Gossman said.
Through urban renewal and efforts to get vehicles in and out of downtown quickly, though, streets were widened and made one-way.
“When you walk out of City Hall, you better watch out or you’ll get hit by a hood ornament,” he said. “You know it wasn’t designed that way.
“Washington or Lee [street] is like being on the Interstate. There are no visual cues to make you want to slow down.”
Gossman said he’s already heard plenty about Kanawha Boulevard.
“Everybody talks about the Boulevard: ‘We don’t want the traffic to go so fast; build more benches so we can sit and watch the river.’ Others say they want to keep the traffic moving fast. I don’t know what the right balance is. I don’t think it makes sense as a highway.”
Ted Armbrecht, a member of the Charleston Land Trust, said there are fewer speed advocates each year.
“Just look at the obituaries,” he said.
“It would be great if you could come back with a very strong plan: ‘Do this with the Boulevard.’ There have been recommendations that there is an excess lane on the Boulevard.”
With members of the Land Trust, NeighborWoods, the Beautification Commission and the City Council’s Parks & Recreation Cmmittee in attendance, Gossman focused the session on parks and outdoor recreation.
“Are you overfunded? Do you have all the money you need?” he asked, as the group laughed. “How do you deal with it?”
Dennis Strawn of the Land Trust said there is no friends group that raises money for parks. “It would be nice to see half percent [of city funds].”
Most cities are going in the other direction, Gossman said. “They pull themselves away and create private foundations.”
City Councilman Mike Stajduhar urged the planners not to ignore the West Side, with its large population and separate problems.
The school board was wise to build one school and plan a second on the West Side, Gossman said. “Hopefully that will plant a seed, that this might be a good neighborhood.
“Then we need to get developers interested. I’m a preservationist, but there are some areas there that just are not habitable. What if we take half a block and put in six rowhouses that match the character of the neighborhood, and recruit young families to live there?”
Gossman and Kathleen Duffy, project planner with LSL Planning Inc., the other lead consultant, planned to meet Thursday evening with the city’s steering committee for the project, then hold another series of stakeholder meetings Friday.
More meetings are planned next month with other groups, such as state government and communities outside Charleston, to learn why people chose not to live in the city, Gossman said.
Reach Jim Balow at email@example.com or 304-348-5102.