The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance
Shrimp 'n Grits
Really Go Green –Build Urban Parks!
Last week, after a downtown business meeting and with a few minutes to spare, I drove to White Point Gardens and parked to watch one of the larger Tall Ships enter the Harbor for this past weekend’s Maritime Festival. As I gazed about the park that I remembered playing in as a young boy, something seemed missing from the majestic canopy of old Live Oaks that shaded this still beautiful, albeit now shop-worn creation of Olmstead’s genius. It took a few minutes until realizing that there wasn’t a hand-full of moss (Spanish Moss – neither Spanish nor moss, but an epiphyte) to be seen anywhere. Later while driving around the Lower Peninsula, I began consciously searching for any sign of this commonplace vegetation that still graces and accentuates most mature oak canopies throughout the more rural settings of the Lowcountry. One can’t help but be impressed by the beautiful old gray beard oaks that still line most heavily wooded roadways throughout the Sea Islands and surrounding rural landscapes south of Charleston. Ever the curious, I called an acquaintance who was in the landscape business and asked why there was no longer any Spanish Moss in the Peninsula. His answer was short and to the point – air pollution.
Spanish Moss obtains all of its moisture and nourishment from the same air we breathe. With no other source to sustain this distant relative of epiphytic orchids, it is very susceptible to increased urban air pollution, especially the by-products of the internal combustion engine, particularly hydrocarbon emissions. The presence or absence of Spanish Moss is an excellent local indicator of relative air quality, particularly the higher concentrations of what are now labeled as greenhouse gases. This wispy gray little plant functions not unlike the proverbial “Canary in the Mine Shaft” as an early warning indicator of hazardous urban air quality in southern cities.
There’s a simple lesson that the absence of Spanish Moss in the Peninsula and the City’s denser suburbs can teach Charleston’s own World Class city planners, one that big city dwellers throughout the world have learned all too well. High building and population densities equate directly to increased air pollution and the increased risk of respiratory distress and other health complications, particularly in the very old and very young.
Charleston and its all-too-often reelected Mayor and sycophantic Council need to give more than election-year lip service and polemic rhetoric to the issue of global warming and the reduction of greenhouse gases. Before they cajole all of us into changing Edison’s incandescent bulbs for poisonous mercury laden CFB’s (compact fluorescent bulbs) or claim that finally replacing the failing mechanical systems at the Gaillard Auditorium was an award winning energy conservation effort worthy of another tin star, our lustrous leaders need to pause and consider the unanticipated consequences of high-density infill development and redevelopment throughout the Peninsula.
Instead of buying swampland for a park in Long Savannah from a deal-estate development crony with our hard earned half-cent sales taxes, why not redevelop some of the last remaining undeveloped urban property into meaningful urban parks that will mitigate the current trend to build on every square inch downtown? Without the cooling effects of evapotranspiration from healthy, abundant, large and well-landscaped urban parks, the Peninsula will become a stifling, polluted asphalt and concrete covered “heat sink” absent of shade and cooling breezes except for the few isolated strips of green bordering its periphery.
Charleston’s current urban redevelopment strategy is counter-productive to the reduction of greenhouse emissions, because it increases coal-fired energy consumption by increasing dependency upon an air-conditioned environment to comfortably survive. Absent are redeveloped neighborhoods with vegetated yards, gardens and densely shaded canopies of evergreens– all sacrificed to satisfy the misguided visions of a despot and his handpicked court of jesters. Mercy!