Leonardo"s Notebook by Mattheus Mei

I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Warren Bolton: Sensible Expansion

Warren Bolton has spoken a serious truth people that is hindering our local and regional economies. Check out his Editorial from Thursday:

THE CITY OF Columbia annexes along a shoe-string into Lexington County and stretches far into Northeast Richland, skipping miles of unincorporated area, to gain tax base.

Northeast Columbia residents flirt with the idea of incorporating in search of identity and to escape Columbia’s grasp.

Irmo leapfrogs into Northwest Richland to expand its boundaries and claim property for a Wal-Mart that would add to its coffers.

Cayce annexes across the river into Richland County, seeking to gain identity, become a bigger player and grow its tax base.

Ballentine residents seek incorporation to create an identity and escape an aggressive Irmo as well as approaching Columbia.

Over the years, it’s been frustrating to watch local governments and communities in Lexington and Richland counties struggle to find identity, affirmation and affluence. If the energy, effort and resources that sometimes divided this community had been directed toward supporting one unified city, Columbia’s good story would be a superb one.

Imagine if the real city — the economic city — were allowed to be. No matter what side of the river you live on or the city or town you call home, there’s only one economic footprint for this community. While some people wince over SCANA and the State Farmers Market moving to Cayce, it’s really no big deal. It’s all the same economy.

What would things be like if only Columbia and Lexington and Richland counties existed?

Citizens wouldn’t be confused about who represents them and where their services come from. It would be easy to develop an identity and build a marketing plan to lure industry, visitors and new residents. Duplication of services would be nil. Water and sewer services would be consolidated, of a better, consistent quality and less costly.

Developing land-use and strategic plans would be a cinch compared to the haphazard, fractured way it’s now done.

There wouldn’t be a debate about who’s responsible for maintaining and growing the foundering public bus service into a transit system that supports the area economy, combats congestion and pollution and takes people where they want and need to go.

The elected city leadership would be unified and focused, not competing to see who can get the biggest piece of our common pie.

The river wouldn’t be an artificial boundary, seen for too long as only a symbol of the division between two counties and their municipal governments. Instead, it would function as it should — as the major artery coursing through a unified body, drawing development, tourists and visitors.

I know. I’ve gone to meddling. It’s a pipe dream. But it’s a most pleasant dream and far better than some of the nightmares we’ve had trying to get local governments to work together to build a cohesive community that collaborates to improve services and create a bustling economy.

Want to know why Columbia is looking for a new slogan, a new marketing plan, a new identity every few years? It’s unable to find itself. How can it when it is fractured into multiple towns and cities and overlayed by special purpose and school districts?

Much of the problem is caused by South Carolina’s archaic annexation law. It tramples on the fact there’s only one real city in Lexington and Richland counties.

I know Cayce, West Columbia, Irmo, Forest Acres, the town of Lexington, et al., are firmly established and aren’t going anywhere short of an act of God. (He is able, you know.)

But, what if the real Columbia existed? A city whose boundaries were determined by the extent of urban development and not city limits or county lines. Our region would be so far ahead economically, politically, culturally.

Columbia isn’t supposed to be a city whose population hovers barely above 100,000. This is a metropolitan area of well over 700,000. There are significant urbanized pockets in both counties, some incorporated and some not, that should be within the city.

Columbia isn’t alone. Other S.C. cities know its pain, to varying degrees. As successful as Greenville and Charleston are, they too have suffered from not being able to grow without regard to city limits and boundaries.

Consider this: In 1950, Charlotte and Columbia were about the same size. Today, Charlotte has five times the population of Columbia because of North Carolina’s annexation laws. North Carolina wisely recognized it makes sense for an area to develop under an urban strategy that encourages unified growth and not divisiveness. As urban areas grew up around Charlotte, it annexed them. No tiny towns, no fights, no fragmentation.

So, as Charlotte prospered economically, Columbia found it nearly impossible to grow, even slipping in population for a period of years as people opted to move out to the suburbs. The worst part is that while Columbia and other sizable cities strained to grow under state law, tiny paper towns were allowed to form. That limited progress, splintered communities and hampered their ability to attract new businesses and jobs.

We’re a ways from receiving that miracle that will transform our region’s fractured governing structure into one city. But lawmakers can at least give us some relief by reforming our annexation law. Stop those paper towns from popping up for no reason, and empower existing cities to more easily and sensibly expand.

Don’t say it; I know — now I’m really dreaming.

Certainly there's a lot that can be done and that Columbia is doing to grow and flex it's muscle economically and regionally as well as polish it's image. I believe Mr. Bolton is on to something though that tends to be a huge underlying problem. There is after all only so much that can be done to Downtown and the Vista (which stands at the moment to be a lot more).

If South Carolinians were politically motivated they would contact their local representatives to inquire about such modernizations.

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