CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - A Harvard law professor predicts a day when millions will have to flee the beauty of coastal living, because nature and rising sea levels will have reclaimed those cities by the sea.
Susan Crawford’s book, “Charleston: Race, Water, and the Coming Storm,” examines America’s coastal landscape and the historical negative impacts insufficient planning has had on minority communities.
She interviewed several Charlestonians about this issue and recently spoke about her research.
Crawford said she chose Charleston because 7 million tourists visit the Holy City annually.
“People love Charleston,” she said. “It’s also, the center of our racial history in America place where the original sin started of slavery and the slave trade. It’s also a place that really is America in small. It’s got everything. It’s got out of control gentrification, a lot of displacement, crushing traffic, all in this beautiful parcel right next to the ocean.”
She said the beauty and the history are coming crashing together.
“Charleston, like all coastal cities is just one storm away from a lot of misery among its African American residents. When people who don’t have a plan and don’t have anywhere to go get stuck and we have no way of thinking right now about how to move people, relocate people away from the coasts, to lead them to safety, to high dry and connected places about 13 million Americans are going to have to make this transition over the next few decades. And Charleston is the bellwether.”
She said in talking to a number of Charleston residents, she discussed how race plays a factor in the problem with respect to the area’s history, present and future.
“Like most Coastal citizens of America, black residents have been pushed to the margins and they’re living concentrated on the east side of the peninsula. We know that those lower areas on the east side and west side flood all the time and it’s just getting worse and worse. The city’s making efforts to drain away water, but that’s not going to do it in the long run. We’re one storm away from a lot of miserable lives.”
So what’s the answer? Crawford says every coastal city has to start thinking ahead for where new places could be built that are high and dry and dense and connected, something she says is a huge challenge at every level of government since Charleston, like every city, depends on property tax to keep rolling.
“It’s just very hard to face and we have deep attachment to this area, a lot of culture, a lot of ties, very hard to even contemplate having to move away in a few, you know, decades not centuries, but that’s the reality,” she says. “And this book is trying to mobilize action to getting people to at least talk about this with some frankness. I think we very quickly forget the last storm as soon as it’s about a month in the rearview mirror that happened after Sandy, after Ida, after Ian, and Charleston has missed a bunch of storms recently making it look like it’s sort of holy and gifted. But frankly, we’re going to see continued chronic inundation of Charleston in just a few years and that should wake people up and I also believe that even now people are taking this seriously.”
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