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What Can Be Attributed To Charleston's Low Population Compared To Other Major Cities

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Last night I was riding around and I drove through the Old Village of Mount Pleasant. I had forgotten that they had a small housing project over there. And recently, a friend of mine from New Orleans was down here for the first time, and he was amazed at how similar the cities looked.

With that being said, he also pointed out how a big difference between Charleston and New Orleans was that the housing projects in New Orleans were built SO much bigger. So driving around last night, remembering him say that, made me wonder. I know that the housing projects came about in the late 1930's as a way to rid slum areas of the city, and so most of these projects were built in the latter half of the 1930's. The obvious answer is that Charleston's population was not as big, so consequently the housing projects were built much smaller.

But Im wondering what was the definite cause of Charleston never prospering to the size of a major city, while other previously less prominent southern cities populations bloomed. Im assuming that the after-effects of the Civil War destruction and then the earthquake disasters had a lot to do with it, but New Orleans, San Francisco, and so many other cities had disasters too. But somehow they still turned out to be major cities.

Why did Charleston end up with such a small population?

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New Orleans was at the mouth of one of the largest rivers in the world, and as the US expanded west, it had acesss to a lot of growing regions that needed to ship stuff out. Charleston did not industrialize with the other big ports of its day (Baltimore, Boston, New York, Philadelphia).

The Ashley and the Cooper are just tidal rivers. They had to build a canal to get the connection inland to the Congaree.

Its all about the market that it had access to. The North had a strong industrial base, and a lot of stuff to export, the south had mostly agricultural stuff- less people are required for such things.

New Orleans had access to the North/Midwest via the extensive Mississippi River basin- especially the Ohio River connection that goes to Pittsburgh.

More recently Charleston has started to mix its low income housing in with other housing types so that you dont get the large slum areas as much. Also, if you look at Mount Pleasant, you won't see much of that anyway.

What other cities did you have in mind?

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I didnt really have any other particular cities in mind. The question just hit me, because you have many other southern cities like Jacksonville for instance, Birmingham, Charlotte, Nashville, Memphis, etc....that all bloomed into major cities. I was wondering why Charleston never did the same and what were the specific causes.

And as far as the low income housing, yes I realize that Charleston has been recently incorporating mixed income housing. But Im talking about the late 30's when they were built, why is it that Charleston built theirs so relatively small for much less people, while even smaller cities like say Savannah for instance, built larger low income housing for their residents. That was really more of a sub question to the larger issue. But nevertheless both questions came to mind when I was riding around the other night.

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I could be wrong, but I think Charleston's historic preservation movement got started in the 30's, so that could have something to do with it.

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No Spartan, you are right about the preservation. Charleston didn't become a major city for several different reasons, but preservation is only the most recent.

Understand that Charleston has had quite a checkered past such as being one of the main import areas for slaves and the starting location of the Civil War. After the war was over, the city's population was overrun with freed, yet unemployed slaves. Any incentive to jump start was hampered just because of the city's reputation.

Also, the city has quite a history of being abused by natural disasters. The peninsula had a history of flooding (and there is no way to stop it by building levees), several major fires, a terrible earthquake, and of course, several hurricanes. These occurrences led to the stark preservation of the city's historical buildings because it didn't have many other resources for economic gain.

The last hurricane was actually a blessing for Chas, because it gave an incentive to rebuild...some dilapidated buildings were destroyed and allowed for redevelopment. Lately, Chas has been blessed with hurricanes missing the city or the storms being very weak if they did hit the city. The leadership of the current mayor has provided an impetus for a dramatic economic and population surge to Chas, and now it is booming. Give it about 5-10 years, and Chas might end up becoming mentioned in the same tiers as Jacksonville and Birmingham!

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Its hard to believe how Charleston over 150 years ago experienced seismatic activity. When visiting the city, you'd think this would be the last place/area that could ever get an earthquake but if anything, aftershocks from further inland since the area is so flat and no rough terrain to be found nearby. From personal observations being in the Chas. area, theres not any evidence thats visable from the previous earthquake(s). Only thing i can think of that may have something to do with earthquakes are the Cooper and Ashley Rivers that could of been formed (or maybe even expansion from it being just a small river like the Pee Dee) from seismatic activity centuries ago!

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There are many reasons, but geographically, the main one is that Charleston does not have a large deep harbor compared to other Southern cities. Savannah is similiar, and thus is of comporable size.

There are economic reasons as well, although the harbor is also an economic reason. Charleston was one of the wealthiest cities in country up to the Civil War, and cotton, rice and other agricultural products harvested by slave labor was the reason. With the fall of that economy and the rise of industrial economies fed by large immigrant populations, Southern cities in general were left behind. The Southern cities that grew in the latter 20th Century were really transportation hubs. Shipping by boat is the cheapest transportation method for many materials and New Orleans and Memphis have always had the Mississippi, connecting them to Midwest industrial cities. I have heard it is actually cheaper to send materials like steel from Pittsburgh to New York via the Mississippi and Intercoastal Waterway than by rail. Houston has a huge port combined with oil. Atlanta and Birmingham (a city founded on steel production after the Civil War) were both considered for a major hub airport. Atlanta got the airport in the 50's and exploded in growth. Jacksonville has a huge harbor for the Navy.

With tha loss of a major product to ship, and with two tidal rivers to do not connect to other inland cities, Charleston grew slowly, if at all. Now the tide is turning as northern industrial economies are on the decline, and information, banking, biomedical and tourist economies are on the rise. While the preservation movement helped, the decline and relative stagnation of Charleston's civilian economy from 1865-1970 had much to do with antebellum Charleston remaining largely intact, escaping the widespread destruction of American urban centers from 1950 to 1980. There is a saying that Charleston was "preserved by poverty." In the end, I think it is a hidden blessing that Charleston did not have that growth.

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There are many reasons, but geographically, the main one is that Charleston does not have a large deep harbor compared to other Southern cities. Savannah is similiar, and thus is of comporable size...

...While the preservation movement helped, the decline and relative stagnation of Charleston's civilian economy from 1865-1970 had much to do with antebellum Charleston remaining largely intact, escaping the widespread destruction of American urban centers from 1950 to 1980. There is a saying that Charleston was "preserved by poverty." In the end, I think it is a hidden blessing that Charleston did not have that growth.

Actually, the harbor itself wasn't the growth-stifling factor, it was the fact that the rivers were tidal rivers and didn't connect further inland to other cities, as you pointed out earlier. The harbor is fairly deep now, and Chas is the 2nd largest port on the Southeast Coast...4th largest in the nation. This port has actually contributed alot to the economy of Chas and its current boom. The port and Navy base allowed for a deep harbor, and a strong amount of ship cargo went through the port, even in the dark economic years. Antebellum homes, while significant to the tourism economy of the city, are not the sole primary reason for the city's growth now.

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Interesting stats I found online:

Population of the 24 Urban Places: 1790

Source: U.S. Bureau of the Census

Internet Release date: June 15, 1998

--------------------------------------------------------------

Rank {sodEmoji.{sodEmoji.|}} Place {sodEmoji.{sodEmoji.|}} Population

--------------------------------------------------------------

1 New York city, NY *..................... 33,131

2 Philadelphia city, PA *................. 28,522

3 Boston town, MA *....................... 18,320

4 Charleston city, SC..................... 16,359

5 Baltimore town, MD...................... 13,503

6 Northern Liberties township, PA *....... 9,913

7 Salem town, MA.......................... 7,921

8 Newport town, RI........................ 6,716

9 Providence town, RI *................... 6,380

10t Marblehead town, MA..................... 5,661

10t Southwark district, PA *................ 5,661

12 Gloucester town, MA..................... 5,317

13 Newburyport town, MA.................... 4,837

14 Portsmouth town, NH..................... 4,720

15 Sherburne town (Nantucket), MA *........ 4,620

16 Middleborough town, MA.................. 4,526

17 New Haven city, CT *.................... 4,487

18 Richmond city, VA....................... 3,761

19 Albany city, NY......................... 3,498

20 Norfolk borough, VA..................... 2,959

21 Petersburg town, VA..................... 2,828

22 Alexandria town, VA *................... 2,748

23 Hartford city, CT *..................... 2,683

24 Hudson city, NY......................... 2,584

--------------------------------------------------------------

Charleston was among 5 Southern cities to make this list was most definitely a major U.S. city at this point. The only other Southern city to come close was Richmond.

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^ Quite amazing, isn't it? That fact can change your perspective into what Charleston should really look like today. When I first heard that fact as a kid, my first thought was: "why is Charleston so small now?" Nowadays, Chas is doing some catching up. :) Hopefully, this will continue!

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