Guest post: Winslow Hastie, president and CEO of the Historic Charleston Foundation, on partnering with Morehead-Cain’s Civic Collaboration program to drive equitable redevelopment efforts in Charleston
The following post was written and shared with permission by Winslow Hastie, president and CEO of the Historic Charleston Foundation (HCF) in Charleston, South Carolina. The nonprofit seeks to preserve and protect architectural, historical, and cultural heritage in the Charleston region. HCF hosted a team of Morehead-Cain Scholars during summer 2021 to explore the nexus between preservation initiatives and equitable redevelopment and environmental justice.
HCF was proud to host a team of Morehead-Cain Scholars from UNC–Chapel Hill this summer. We chose to have the students dive deep into the Eastside community to learn more about the needs and priorities of the diverse residents in this evolving neighborhood. When the discussion of the fate of the St. Julian Devine Community Center smokestacks was in high gear last year, it became obvious to us that the city did not have clear priorities for improvements to the neighborhood, which was compounded by a lack of adequate outreach and engagement with its residents.
As a city, Charleston is in a seminal period—one with the potential to broaden opportunity or widen inequality. The Eastside community serves as a microcosm for some of the most acute challenges facing downtown Charleston and the broader region. Over the last hundred or more years, the Eastside has been a majority African American, working-class neighborhood. Economic growth and the escalation of real estate values in Charleston over the last twenty years have made the neighborhood attractive to investors and exacerbated massive demographic changes. The area is rapidly redeveloping, especially around its edges, and as a result there are opportunities, from tax revenue and other sources, to address its most pressing challenges. Unfortunately, competing interests and priorities in the neighborhood had called into question what the most pressing neighborhood challenges are and how they should be addressed, and oftentimes large segments of the community have been left out of those discussions.
In approaching their work, the Morehead-Cain scholar team collaborated with the community and stakeholders to find ways that HCF can act as a convener and bring added value to the work that is going on in the neighborhood currently. They focused on catalyzing community connections through open dialogue, learning and listening sessions with formal and informal leaders in the community, and volunteering in community outreach. They met with community organizations, nonprofits, the private sector, elected officials, city staff, and the faith community. Their final deliverable includes a community directory, oral histories, a reflection on central themes uncovered in their conversations, and recommendations for HCF’s next steps for community engagement with a focus on empowering youth and increasing collaboration and transparency.
As the scholars spent more and more time with local leaders and residents of the Eastside, it became very clear that Hampstead Mall, the four-block park in the center of the neighborhood, was a critical gathering place and point of pride. There is a noble effort being led by a group of community activists to focus attention and resources on its beautification, and HCF looks forward to engaging in those discussions. The St. Julian Devine Community Center and Martin Park also serve as key neighborhood centers, and we plan to work with the city to help develop youth educational programs that help to foster awareness and pride in the distinctive culture of Charleston. We know we have a lot more to learn about this peninsula community, yet we are excited to be a part of this important conversation.
—Winslow Hastie, President & CEO, Historic Charleston Foundation
Becoming a Civic Collaboration host for Morehead-Cain
Hosts propose an emerging dilemma for scholars to address together, provide guidance and mentorship, and share information and resources pertinent to the focus of scholar work. The Morehead-Cain Scholarship provides each scholar with a cost-of-living stipend and transportation to and from the host city (hosts are not expected to provide financial assistance to scholars).