Imagining the future of historic Charleston
CHARLESTON — The potential impact of another Hurricane Hugo on the Charleston peninsula is a frightening prospect. Economic and population booms, as well as busts, challenge the city in unique ways. These are scenarios that students in Clemson University’s new Master of Resilient Urban Design (MRUD) degree program will be asked to consider.
“The livability and resilience of any urban area is dependent on myriad factors, many designed, from roads and infrastructure to neighborhoods, parks and buildings,” said Kate Schwennsen, director of Clemson University’s School of Architecture, the program’s home. “We live in a world that is urban and getting more so all the time, in which sea levels are rising. We need to learn from the world’s best cities, in order to design a resilient, livable future.”
The new MRUD degree program will be based in the historic Cigar Factory at the Clemson Design Center and will be one of a handful offered in the nation with this unique focus. It is a post-professional degree, geared toward graduates and professionals with prior design skills in architecture, landscape architecture, city and regional planning, and other related disciplines. The program seeks to prepare the next generation of design leaders to engage complex cultural, market and government policy forces through sustainable and resilient urban forms.
“This is something we’ve been working toward for a long time,” said Peter Laurence, director of graduate studies for the School of Architecture and member of the team that developed the program. “Today, the majority of the global population lives in urban areas. In South Carolina, our urban areas — Charleston, Greenville, even Clemson — are growing rapidly. We need a new generation of design leaders who understand how cities work, why they decline and thrive, and are prepared to contribute to their future prosperity.”
According to Laurence, the ultimate goal of the program is to bring together a diverse group of students and faculty — from architecture, city planning and other fields — and connect them with a diverse group of local stakeholders, city planning and public policy staff, and business and community leaders. Together, students, professionals and citizen stakeholders can study what is working well and not well in the city and develop creative solutions, as well as anticipate future challenges to build present-day resiliency.
“This is especially critical in a time when we are confronted by environmental and economic changes unlike ever before — and which are not unique to Charleston,” he said.
Laurence added that there is no better place to undertake these studies than Charleston. As one of America’s oldest cities, with its well-preserved historic core, Charleston is a globally important example of walkable, pre-automobile urbanism. At the same time, as a growing mid-sized city, it faces a number of complex urban design challenges that must balance historic preservation, environmental sensitivity and fragility, transportation and infrastructural needs, tourism and economic development, and investments in managing growth and change, all within a sensitive coastal location.
“Like many great cities, Charleston is struggling with transit, density and intense new development,” said Ray Huff, director of the Clemson Design Center in Charleston. “This degree will help future designers understand short- and long-term strategies for managing changes in the urban environment. We want to provide our future designers with skills that are important to this region while also working collaboratively with our sister institutions in Charleston along the way.”
Laurence adds perspective to Clemson’s vision for the new program by quoting legendary urban activist Jane Jacobs, “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”
For more information on Clemson’s MRUD program, visit the website.