WCHS had an article about President Obama coming to Charleston today to discuss the drug epidemic that is literally killing West Virginians. By now, everybody is aware of this. Our death rate from drug use is over twice the national average, and we are the worst state in the country for it. Here's what is getting me, and it's something that has been on my mind for a while now. Charleston is a shrinking city, or town, or whatever we are.
In this WCHS article, one of the interviewees literally says, "Mostly we hear he’s in big cities, but in small town it's exciting to see what he’s doing and what he’s going to say." Read the whole article by clicking the quote so you realize I'm not taking anything out of context. Here we are, the capital city of West Virginia, and we are being referred to as a small town. And...he's right. This is a city that essentially popped up in the early 1900's and continued to grow as a force through the 1960's, where the population peaked around 85,000. With the industrial areas cutting back, the city had a sharp decline in the 70's and to this day is losing population by the year.
I have opinions, and maybe I'm wrong entirely, but as a proud Charleston resident, are we a city that is shrinking away because of circumstances or because of the decisions the city is making? I know a lot of young professionals leave the city quickly after getting here because the small town charm that this city possesses wears off pretty quickly. We don't have a lot of the things you would expect a big city to have.
I hate clubs. Dancing and grinding and whatever else happens at those places are just awkward for a guy who's 6'-6" and can't dance. However, for a city to not have a single one, that seems a bit crazy to me. We had one, but stabbings and shootings and all the negative that came with it, the money it brought into the city wasn't nearly enough to make up for the shenanigans that went with it. I currently live on the East End. The East End is a great place. There are people doing great things, but it's also a "historic" district. Which means all of the buildings are really old. Most of the apartments on the East End are junk. Sure, if you hunt around, you can find great apartments at decent prices, but as long as the people buying the houses aren't allowed to make changes to anything or build new ones because they won't fit in with the look, good luck changing things. Virginia Street is gorgeous. Quarrier Street is really nice to look at as well, but maybe allowing people the shed the "Historic" label and letting them build some nice new apartment buildings, not large, just eight to ten unit three story apartment buildings and even put some requirements for aesthetics to make them look older, like they have to be brick or have certain style columns or something, but let them have nice new interiors would help.
The Main Streets groups for the East End and the West Side are doing some great things, but one group isn't enough to change a whole city. A person who has lived in Charleston their entire lives (he's about 45, for reference) said the biggest problem he sees with business and the local government is that they are too afraid to look forward and spent all their time either protecting what is here or reminiscing about the past. This seems to be a theme. Charleston is a city that has some cool things popping up. Look no further than the success of the Moxee. It's a coffee joint on the East End. It doesn't look historic and is trendy. It's not for everybody, but in order to attract the younger crowds and actually live up to Charleston's "Hip, Historic" label, they need to be a little more hip. That's not really my thing, although I do get coffee from there fairly regularly.
The Civic Center is truly going to be a sight to behold. I love what they are doing by modernizing it. This is more of what I'm talking about. Props to Mayor Danny Jones for helping make this happen. I don't know a whole lot about your political career because honestly, until recently I didn't care, but as I get older, I realize how much of an impact having the proper leaders in place can help a place grow. Again, don't come in here saying how much you love or hate him, I don't know what all Mayor Jones has done, but I do know that he had some things to do with the Civic Center, and that's a big plus. The people that got the Clay Center built also have helped Charleston grow.
All in all, what I see is a city that is preparing to grow, but there's just something missing. Me personally, I think there needs to be more of an effort to attract businesses. We have one of the best capital buildings in the country, the Clay Center is awesome, I love the Power Park, among other places, and Charleston seems to be moving into the right direction, but until more jobs come in, good luck attracting young, talented people. Maybe it's just one of those things that takes time, but I will be looking more into everything as I continue to live here. Personally, I would love to see Charleston become a hot spot like it was in the 50's, but I don't know exactly how to go about that. Maybe somebody else has an idea?