Residents want Charleston to live up to its potential

By Megan Workman
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Pauline Shaver envisions a river walk along the Kanawha River similar to the public park she visited in San Antonio, which is lined with restaurants, hotels and attractions.Many Charleston residents who attended an open house to discuss the city's comprehensive plan at the University of Charleston Thursday said they'd like more activity on the river. Some people want to see improvements in the riverbank's appearance, while others want to increase boat traffic.Kanawha City's Russ Young said the Kanawha River is "fantastic during the summer months, with so many boats," but he is more concerned about the historic preservation of the state's capital city.Instead of tearing down old buildings and replacing the space with parking lots, Young suggests multipurpose developments."So much space is taken up by surface-only parking, which serves no purpose other than parking," Young said. "They should build to accommodate automobiles but also cater to pedestrians. Development from now on needs to be 'mixed-use' that balances both."Krista Farley is also concerned about the city's pedestrians, and in particular how they're able to get around on the sidewalks.As the director of health promotion and the public information officer for the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, Farley attended the public forum largely to promote physical activity. Many sidewalks in Charleston are in disrepair, she said."Our environment is very inviting to physical activity but the infrastructure is not supportive of it," Farley said. "We need to make the walkers and bikers a priority rather than not having safe sidewalks. I don't think we can assume if we build it, they will come. They have to be involved." Involving the community is important in planning "Imagine Charleston: Your Dream. Your Future," said Craig Gossman, an architect who's leading a team that's writing the new downtown development and comprehensive plan for Charleston.Gossman said he was shocked that nearly 50 people had attended the first open house from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday. A second open house was scheduled from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.Standing next to posters that outlined the city's neighborhoods and downtown districts, consultants invited public comment and spoke to residents one-on-one and in groups."People came with their input today. Some had notes, drawings and maps of properties," Gossman said. "The general public is bringing their dreams in and we want to make sure we're listening to those dreams."
People feel that Charleston has great potential but hasn't yet lived up to that potential, Gossman said.Jamie Jeffrey, director of children's medicine at Charleston Area Medical Center's Women and Children's Hospital, recommended converting old, abandoned lots into "pocket parks" for children to play baseball. A project director with the KEYS 4 HealthyKids program, Jeffrey said community members want smaller parks, not one large park in the middle of town.KEYS 4 HealthyKids is a multi-pronged effort to improve community access to fresh fruits and vegetables and safe places to exercise. Program organizers also focus on limiting television and computer use and cutting out sugary soft drinks.
"We need to make important decisions for our younger generation by building up neighborhoods where we have access to healthy food and a safe place to play," Jeffrey said.Jeffrey proposed creating combined community gardens. The multi-functional space would help with the access to fresh food, provide a place for children to play and bring the community together, she said."The multidisciplinary space would be appealing to [a] grandma who could garden while the grandkids are playing," she said.Since February, consultants have held dozens of meetings with different groups and individuals around the city, including a steering committee of nearly 90 and its five technical committees.From now to November, the consultants will be writing their plans.Gossman said another public forum would be held sometime in the fall.
To learn more about "Imagine Charleston: Your Dream. Your Future," visit imaginecharleston.com or facebook.com/imaginecharleston.Reach Megan Workman at megan.workman@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5113.  
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