For the fifth year in a row, readers of Travel + Leisure magazine have named Charleston, SC the number one city in the nation, as well as number 2 in the world.
Readers were asked to rate cities based on sights/landmarks, culture/arts, restaurants/food, people/friendliness, shopping and value. Now, you’d expect the locals, college students and business owners to rejoice at the recognition that their beloved city is receiving, right? WRONG. We actually HATE all of the attention, the same way we hate the sight of the big, ugly cruise ships sitting in the harbor. I guarantee that many people were filled with a sense of dread when they scrolled down to that headline, myself included. This is because for years there has been one question on everyone’s mind: how many tourists can the city handle without losing that special charm that has made it such a unique destination?
First of all, with all the hype surrounding the city, living costs inevitably rise. It becomes more and more difficult to find a house or apartment that is even close to being reasonably affordable and close to where you need to go. People are left with no choice but to either leave this beautiful city full of culture behind or to move to one of the surrounding communities, which makes rent prices there more competitive as well. After the arduous commute in rush hour traffic on roads that aren’t built for it, there are still the issues with parking. With all the outsiders coming in, on-street parking in the most urban areas is almost impossible to come by, and the parking garages aren’t that much better of an option for many people. As college students, when we tell someone that we live in Charleston, we are often told how lucky we are to spend most of the year in such an amazing city. However, what they don’t realize is that life here is not cheap, which makes it difficult for us.
Not only has it become expensive to rent housing in the city, it has also become more and more difficult for small businesses to keep their doors open due to rising leases. So many of the little shops and eateries that gave Charleston its charm have been taken over by larger department stores and hipster-style restaurants that are marketed for tourists. Though we may love having a Starbucks every couple of blocks, this only adds to the influx of tourists to the area. Without the unique experience that small businesses owned by friendly people provide, going out on the town in Charleston has started to feel like going to any indoor mall in any other city. The Preservation Society does what it can to keep the old-fashioned facades intact; however, on more than one occasion, they have lost out to the large corporations such as Apple who want to provide their customers with the same shopping experience in every one of their locations across the world. Those who remember the streets the way they used to be often long for the old days when the name shown in faded tile on the sidewalk in front of the stores matched the name on the front of building.
As college students, we get a unique perspective. The many of us that only live in Charleston for the duration of the fall and spring semesters get to see the city both as a local and as a tourist. We may gravitate towards the tourist-y things that the city has to offer, such as the farmer’s market and King Street shopping, but we also feel the pain of the locals when we see new hotels popping up in the skyline and have to deal with the confused drivers who don’t know how to handle all the one-way streets and other quirks that the city has to offer. The part of me that thinks of Charleston as my home away from home love the city and doesn’t want to see it change, and I know that there are many others who feel this way. USA Today perfectly summed up what we all want to say to everyone who tells us how lucky we are to be living our daily lives in such a beautiful destination in one sentence: “We’re flattered, but please stop.”