As a resident of Old Town since the early ’80s, it’s not surprising that I can say, without hesitation, I have seen many changes (good and not so good) in Old Town … but recent decisions by the planning commission and other city initiatives remind me about a recent trip to San Francisco.
You may be wondering about the connection.
In preparation for my trip to San Francisco I looked up my favorite fabric shop only to find a series of articles about the city’s concern about the loss of its “cultural heritage assets.” The shop I was searching was Britex Fabrics, and its recent move off Union Square represented the last locally owned store to be on San Francisco’s Union Square. City preservationists spoke of preserving retail in the heart of the city versus being a flagship location for national retailers. It struck a chord to me about the changes and proposal for changes on King Street.
The San Francisco Heritage Society published a report in September of 2014 that details the vast cultural assets of the city and the threats: “Amid unprecedented economic pressures, mainstays of San Francisco’s cultural landscape – our cultural heritage assets – are increasingly imperiled by skyrocketing rents and encroaching new development.”
I do not mean to compare Alexandria to San Francisco, but I do mean to directly compare what I feel as a long time Old Town resident, the increasingly imperiled quality of life, loss of local businesses and services, and a growing concern among neighbors who value not only preservation of the buildings but preservation of a community that started in the 18th century.
On another recent trip I picked up a magazine about Charleston, S.C. One of the city council members was profiled and he eloquently spoke of the pleasure of having visitors to Charleston but requested respect and protection of the residents from visitors, just as you would if you came into their home. He has a mantra I think is worth passing along to our city officials: the 72-72 balance.
At its core, the idea is to make decisions with this “balance” in mind.
To continually improve Charleston as the best place for people who come for 72 hours (or spend $72 for dinner) and those who want to live there for 72 years. I would suggest we as residents are losing this balance.
Among those of us who have lived here, maybe not 72 years, but shaped and invested in Old Town over decades, we need to continue to aggressively reach out to city officials that preserving Old Town as a community is as important as preserving any single building or adding new ones.