Charleston Part II: Going to the Mountain Top

Mayor Joe Riley is finishing his 10th and final term.

Mayor Joe Riley is finishing his 10th and final term.

If you love cities, going to see Joe Riley is like watching LeBron James play ball.
He’s just the best. So when you have a chance to see him and hear him speak about building a great city you drop everything and you go. Especially when your invited to share your story with a national audience. I never miss a chance to promote Delray.
After 40 years as mayor of Charleston, one of America’s great cities, Mayor Riley is calling it a career. And what a career it has been.

At 72,  Mayor Riley is sharp and vigorous and there’s more to do (there’s always more when your a mayor who matters) but he’s decided to move on after having shaped, preserved and grown his city for 10 terms. He’s also influenced several generations of Mayors and place makers worldwide.
Charleston is a magical place, imbued with history and character. It’s Main Street, Kings Street, defies all planning logic: its one-way, doesn’t have the widest sidewalks, it’s pavement pocked. But it works, even though some bemoan the presence of a ton of national retailers where independents once operated.
Mayor Riley spent a lifetime shaping modern day Charleston by preserving the past but carefully ensuring that his city would not be a museum piece. Change happens whether we like it or not or as Riley memorably puts it: “the only human that likes change is an infant wearing a diaper.”

Still, he believes that mayors are the primary sales people and architects of their cities and they need to be both every day. And so for 40 years he has sold and promoted Charleston and then shaped the growth he has attracted with a design ethic that has made him a legend.
Every piece of public infrastructure in Charleston is thought out and made beautiful like the Romans used to do. So you will see interesting pump stations, granite sidewalks and beautiful architecture when you visit his city.
All of this costs more, sometimes a whole lot more,  but Riley is a believer in the public realm and Charlestonians have been eager to help him via generous donations over the years.
“The public realm belongs to every one. So the poorest person owns the city park as much as the richest person in town does. When you invest in the public infrastructure of a city everybody feels like they have a stake.”
The Riley Symposium, hosted by ULI at the College of Charleston was a chance for real estate professionals, architects, developers, planners and others to celebrate Riley’s legacy.
Delray Beach was selected to participate because we have a unique success story and have used innovative strategies, financing and policies to revitalize our urban core.
It was an honor to be selected and it’s a privilege to share the story with other communities and professionals seeking to move the needle in their towns.
I often feel that we don’t fully appreciate the place we live. It’s special and people from across the country recognize it. That bears repeating: Delray is special and people know it.
Mayor Riley told the symposium that Charleston exists for its citizens and businesses but also welcomes and values visitors.
“When you create a special place people want to come and experience that place,” he said. “It’s a challenge to manage but you must strike a balance.”
Charlestonians–at least the small sampling I met–have an enormous amount of pride in their city as they should. They debate events, development, business mix and affordable housing with gusto but also with a sense of pride. They know they live in a special place.

So do we.