CHARLESTON — Cityscapes, small towns and suburban communities are changing at a rapid rate, ultimately influencing socioeconomic factors and citizens’ quality of life. While it may seem challenging to tackle the breadth of issues caused by population growth, gentrification and commercialization, students in the Clemson University Master of Resilient Urban Design (MRUD) program are seeking solutions through a new one-of-a-kind partnership with the College of Charleston’s Joseph P. Riley Jr. Center for Livable Communities.
Earlier this year, the College of Charleston relaunched Riley Mayors’ Design Fellowship under the direction of Riley Center for Livable Communities Director Kendra B. Stewart. The only state program of its kind in the country, the Fellowship seeks to benefit South Carolinians by equipping eight mayors from around the state every year with the tools necessary to envision and implement projects that positively impact the environment, quality of life, community pride and economic development in their cities and towns.
Although she was new to South Carolina, Master of Urban Resilient Design Director B.D. Wortham-Galvin wasn’t unfamiliar with this concept. Prior to joining Clemson, Wortham-Galvin worked on several occasions with the Mayors’ Institute on City Design, a Washington, D.C., program the Fellowship is modeled after.
“I met with Kendra when I moved to Charleston last year and learned they were working to revive a program similar to the National Institute, which I thoroughly enjoyed being involved in. I knew there was an opportunity there to get involved, not just for me but for our students as well,” Wortham-Galvin said.
“Not only does their mission of positively impacting South Carolinians align with Clemson’s, partnering with the Fellowship gives our students an opportunity to be involved with hands-on research and develop innovative ideas that can potentially transform our state’s communities for the better.”
Throughout this semester, nine students have been traveling across the state to assess the eight mayors’ communities, which include Orangeburg, Travelers Rest, Estill, Rock Hill, Hartsville, Patrick, West Pelzer and Hardeeville.
“Through this project, I’ve come to realize that there is something special about each city no matter how large or small,” student Abraham Champagne said. “I’m originally from Sumter, South Carolina, and I see how small Southern cities can begin to thrive again by adapting to changing times. These cities have great leaders and great potential to add to the prosperity of our state as a whole.”
Students’ fieldwork includes speaking with the mayors and constituents in their towns and analyzing the layout of the communities.
“The networking experience working with government officials is invaluable,” said Nicolas Bilgri, a first-year MRUD student. “Interacting with the community and getting to know the issues they face on a personal level was easily one of my favorite parts. It is inspiring to see community members come together and talk about not only what makes their communities special, but how they would like to see them progress into the future.”
For student Karie Dostert, the Fellowship is helping hone her skills and preparing her for the future.
“I was attracted to this program because I wanted a multidisciplinary approach to helping cities thrive,” said Dostert, who has a background in environmental engineering. “I want my career to focus on how cities can be beautiful, thriving places, and the Fellowship has already provided me with experience that I know will be invaluable when I enter the workforce.”
The culmination of the students’ work will result in a briefing book to be presented to the mayors and an expert resource team coordinated by the Fellowship during a conference in Charleston Feb. 20-22, 2019.
The expert team is slated to be announced in early 2019 and will comprise eight to 12 experts in fields related to design, engineering, city planning and community advocates, among others.
The conference will feature a keynote from former Charleston mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. about the importance of political leaders embracing design to enact change and a number of expert talks on design and planning, helping further empower mayors to create positive change in their communities.
“We’re pleased that in MRUD’s first year we’re already involved in a project of this caliber that has a statewide impact,” Wortham-Galvin said. “I know our students will gain valuable professional experience and look forward to continuing our work with the Fellowship.”