Radical I’On: Then-Now-Tomorrow

The 4-part speaker series Radical I’On: Then-Now-Tomorrow, ran on succeeding Mondays in late October and early November. Video recordings of those talks are now on line.

Part 1    Urban Designer Victor Dover https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TdaLypw0ALk

Part 2    Urban Designer Andres Duany https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m5rZjHRzLvQ&feature=youtu.be

Part 3    Transportation Engineer Rick Hall https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pdxwU0e-v5M

Part 4    Environmentalist Dana Beach https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mVE6gl-bR00

Thanks again to cosponsors: the I’On Trust, Charleston Moves, the Coastal Conservation League, Seamon Whiteside & Associates, Thomas & Hutton, William Means Real Estate, Buist Byars & Taylor, Grace Salon Spa, Pearce Law Firm, Lowcountry Local First, AIA Charleston, and the I’On Club.

Radical I’On

Then – Now – Tomorrow
Radical adj \ra-di-kəl\ Latin radix [root]
1: arising from or going to a root or source.
2: departing markedly from the usual or customary.

Twenty years ago, a radical new neighborhood was proposed for Mount Pleasant. Radical in the sense that I’On’s builders looked to root sources for design inspiration – those historic sections of Beaufort, Charleston, Mt. Pleasant, and other memorable places from around the world. I’On is also radical in the sense that its age-old neighborhood concept represented a departure from the conventional suburban development patterns that characterize post-World War II America.

Though it drew on much-loved historic precedents, I’On was opposed at the outset and its supporters and founders endured four years of permitting and legal battles to gain approval for development. Twenty years have gone by and I’On continues to receive accolades and widespread recognition as one of the most celebrated new neighborhoods in the country. Its mix of uses, traffic-calmed streets, and focus on creating a beautiful public realm, characterize a human-scale place and make I’On a radical standout from ubiquitous generic subdivisions of contemporary America.

Our series will look back over these two decades: What lessons can be learned from I’On? Was this radical concept worth pursuing? Should its development concept be encouraged in other places? Can it be made better?

Please join us to pursue these questions and more during our series Radical I’On: Then-Now-Tomorrow – a five part series of provocative discussion featuring maverick designers, engineers, and environmentalists.

October 12 Victor Dover, Urban Designer, Dover Kohl and Associates
October 19 Andres Duany, Urban Designer, DPZ Architects and Planners
October 26 Rick Hall, Transportation Engineer, Hall Planning and Engineering
November 2 Dana Beach, Director, Coastal Conservation League
Vince Graham, I’On Group President and Co-Founder of I’On

Each lecture will begin at 6 pm at the newly constructed Chapel of the Holy Cross in the I’On Square, www.ionmeetinghouse.com located just inside the main entrance to the neighborhood.

Sponsored by The I’On Trust, Charleston Moves, and Coastal Conservation League; along with Seamon Whiteside & Associates, Thomas & Hutton, William Means Real Estate, Buist Byars & Taylor, Grace Salon, Pearce Law Firm, Lowcountry Local First, AIA Charleston.

Thoughts on Independence and Amazing Southern Grace

“Not to know what happened before one was born is always to be a child.”
~ Marcus Tullius Cicero

Earlier this week, a friend emailed good wishes for a happy Carolina Day (June 28th) with a reminder of the importance of that victory to American independence. He also mentioned Thomas Jefferson’s displeasure at the editing done to his original draft of the Declaration of Independence. This led me to reflect on recent events. As background, Included in Jefferson’s initial draft of the Declaration was grievance language condemning slavery:

“He [King George III] has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of INFIDEL powers, is the warfare of the CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain. Determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce. And that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people on whom he also obtruded them: thus paying off former crimes committed against the LIBERTIES of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the LIVES of another.”

In addition to criticizing slavery, Jefferson called out the King’s strategy of divide et impera. This diabolical tactic continues to be used by politicians in the U.S. and around the world.

Writing his autobiography in 1821, Jefferson wrote:

“The pusillanimous idea that we had friends in England worth keeping terms with still haunted the minds of many. For this reason, those passages which conveyed censures on the people of England were struck out, lest they should give them offense. The clause, too, reprobating the enslaving the inhabitants of Africa was struck out in complaisance to South Carolina and Georgia, who had never attempted to restrain the importation of slaves, and who, on the contrary, still wished to continue it. Our Northern brethren also, I believe, felt a little tender under these censures, for though their people had very few slaves themselves, yet they had been pretty considerable carriers of them to others.”

Jefferson’s assertion that the inhabitants of Georgia had never attempted to restrain the importation of slaves was incorrect. Georgia’s founder, James Oglethorpe, persuaded the British government to ban slavery in 1735 (under Oglethorpe’s leadership, attorneys and hard liquor were also banned). While Oglethorpe returned to England for good in 1742, his ban of the evil institution lasted until 1751. My theory is that following the leadership vacuum created by Oglethorpe’s departure, a group of unethical lawyers snuck into Georgia, got everyone liquored up, and succeeded in ending the prohibition against slavery.

Note that slavery was legal in Georgia for 115 years (1751-1865). This is less time than in the other 12 original colonies/states including Massachusetts where slavery was legal for more than 150 years; Pennsylvania where it was legal for more than 180 years; and New York where it was legal for more than 200 years. Something to keep in mind when our Northern brethren get a little sanctimonious.

Among the many things our schools fail to teach is that the practice of slavery existed in virtually every country in Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, and South America. The slave trade was, by far, the richest part of Britain’s trade in the 18th century. Slave trade fortunes were made in Britain as well as New England (as Jefferson noted in his original draft of the Declaration and in his autobiography). The despicable slave trade was eventually abolished by the U.S. on March 2, 1807, and by Britain three weeks later, on March 25, 1807. In 1833, the U.K. abolished slavery throughout the British Empire, with the exception of those territories in the possession of the Crown’s mercantilist creation – the East India Company. Slavery was abolished in other countries of the Americas throughout the 19th century, the last being Brazil in 1888 – 23 years after the U.S. did away with it. Ironically, the U.S. and Haiti were the only countries to abolish slavery through violent means. All others managed to do it peacefully, including Saudi Arabia which, with encouragement from President John Kennedy, ended slavery in 1962.

13 States declared their independence and seceded from Great Britain in 1776. The first official U.S. flag was a Confederate flag, in that at the time of adoption the United States consisted of a 13-State Confederacy operating under a constitution called The Articles of Confederation. During this initial Confederate period, slavery was legal in every state of the union.

But I digress. Let’s go back to the mid-18th century south. George Whitefield, a famous British evangelist during the period known as the “Great Awakening”, happened to be living and preaching in Charleston. Whitefield, though an influential man of the cloth, nevertheless joined with other South Carolinians in a push to lift the prohibition against slavery in Georgia. As previously noted, Oglethorpe’s ban was lifted in 1751 and Whitefield subsequently purchased slaves and a plantation in coastal Georgia. As a further aside, Whitefield and other radical ministers like Josiah Smith, had a considerable influence on a young man named John Newton – another Brit who happened to find himself a Charleston resident in 1749. Newton, a recent convert to Christianity, was flabbergasted by the practice of Whitefield, Smith, and other Charleston ministers who were engaged in the revolutionary practice of baptizing slaves.

Born in London in 1725, John Newton was impressed into the British Royal Navy at the age of 18. He rose to the rank of Midshipman aboard the HMS Harwich. After attempting desertion, Newton was demoted to Seaman and received 96 lashes before the 350-man crew. Humiliated, he was then transferred to the slave ship Pegasus bound for Africa. The crew of the Pegasus found Newton so annoying that they put him ashore in Sierra Leone where he was one of many slaves – white and black – of an African Duchess named Princess Peye.

He escaped in 1748, whereupon he began serving as a crew member aboard slave ships. Newton arrived in South Carolina as First Mate aboard the slave ship Brownlow in the late summer of 1749. He and his shipmates made initial landfall on Sullivan’s Island, across the harbor from Charleston. Due to a high risk of Smallpox and Yellow Fever in the city, Sullivan’s Island was designated a quarantine station (lazaretto). There, as required by law of the time, slaves were kept for at least 10 days before being brought to the slave market in town. A “pest” (short for pestilential disease) house was built to accommodate sick Africans. Sullivan’s Island has been called the Ellis Island of Slavery as an estimated 40-50% of African Americans can trace their lineage to someone who first stepped onto North America at this location. Of his time in Charleston, Newton wrote:

“I began to taste the sweets of communion with God in the exercises of prayer and praise… My relish for worldly diversions was much weakened, and I was more a spectator than a sharer in their pleasures… I had, for the most part, peace of conscience, and my strongest desires were toward the things of God.”

Newton returned to England, got married, gave up the slave trade, and became a tax collector. He also began serious religious studies, which led to his becoming an evangelical lay minister, followed by ordainment as an Anglican priest in 1764.

Back in North America the anxiety level was on the rise because King George III, seeking revenue to pay off debts arising from the 7-year French and Indian War, attempted to impose new taxes on the colonists. Following the War, the King also issued the Royal Proclamation of 1763 which contained a provision with a demarcation line running along the Eastern Continental Divide atop the Appalachian Mountains, reserving all land west of that line for the Indians. This didn’t go over so well with land speculators. Particularly those with last names like Washington and Franklin who held legal claims to land west of the line. This was a contributing factor in the rising angst against King George III, which would eventually culminate in hostilities between Great Britain and her 13 American colonies in 1775.

Anticipating a British invasion, a fort made of sand and palmetto logs had been hastily constructed by Americans of African and European descent at the quarantine station on Sullivan’s Island in early 1776. The mighty British fleet attacked the fort on June 28, 1776. Greatly outgunned and outmanned, the Americans, fighting under William Moultrie, managed to fend off the British in what would come to be known as the first major victory of the American War of Independence. News of this victory is said to have emboldened some of the reluctant members of the Continental Congress who, though they had voted to approve the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, didn’t actually sign their name on that parchment until August 2, 1776.

A few years later in 1779, John Newton, now the Rector of a parish church in Olney, a tiny town in southeastern England, published the Olney Hymns. Among these hymns was one that would arguably become the most popular song in the history of the world, an autobiographical poem entitled Amazing Grace. In 1788, Newton published Thoughts Upon the Slave Trade in which he described the terrible conditions of slave ships and apologized for “a confession, which…comes too late… It will always be a subject of humiliating reflection to me, that I was once an active instrument in a business at which my heart now shudders.” Newton became a leading abolitionist, and served as mentor and spiritual guide to William Wilberforce, the Parliamentarian who led the fight to end the British slave trade. As previously mentioned, this happened in 1807. Newton lived to see this important milestone, and died a few months later at the age of 82.

In the aftermath of the American victory in its War of Independence from Britain, a little town called Moultrieville sprang up on the southern end of Sullivan’s Island. In 1796, nine years before the U.S. slave trade would end, the quarantine station was moved from Sullivan’s Island across Charleston Harbor to James Island. And what became of the former pestilential house of the lazaretto? The Episcopal Diocese acquired the building and converted it into Moultrieville’s first house of Worship – Grace Church.

Advancing Grace
John Newton’s autobiographical hymn did not become well known until “The Southern Harmony” was published in 1835 by William “Singin’ Billy” Walker of Spartanburg, South Carolina. Walker, a self-taught composer, combined Newton’s hymn with the tune “New Britain” to create what has become the most popular song in the world.

Happy Independence Day! May yours be filled with connection and grace.


Golden Pen Award: Thanks P&C!

The editorial staff of Charleston’s daily newspaper, The Post and Courier, awarded a letter I wrote the “Golden Pen” winner for the month of March. http://www.postandcourier.com/article/20150503/PC1002/150509821/1025

Hooray! Here’s a link to the full letter: http://www.postandcourier.com/article/20150328/PC1002/150329240, as well as a link to the article I responded to: http://www.postandcourier.com/article/20150320/PC16/150329880

Letter: Expanding localized governance
Mar 28 2015

The March 21 article about splitting the Charleston Board of Architecture Review (BAR) into two parts pointed out that the board’s purview had been extended from an initial 180 acres in 1931 to 2,700 acres today.

Defending this mission creep, Mayor Joe Riley drew a comparison to other beautiful cities: “There is not a part of Siena that you’re not worried about. There is not a part of Venice that you’re not worried about.” These comments made me wonder if a blind spot exists with regard to the vastness of Charleston’s scale.

Siena’s historic district today is about the same size as Charleston’s historic district was in 1931 — 180 acres. It is divided into 17 contrade (Siena’s name for boroughs). The historic area of Venice, comprising 1,800 acres, also provides an interesting comparison. Though half the size, Venice has almost double the peninsula’s population — all of it gracefully housed in two to four-story buildings. Venice also manages an annual tourism load of 20 million visitors — more than four times that of Charleston’s. Are there lessons to be gained from the scale of these cities and how they accommodate tourism?

Until 1960, Charleston’s city limits were confined to the peninsula. This compact urbanism resiliently weathered centuries of storms, plagues, earthquakes and war sieges.

Today it provides the city with its internationally recognized brand. However, the peninsula comprises only 5 percent of Charleston’s city limits. Since 1960, Charleston’s land area has expanded twenty-fold to 72,000 acres, most of which is planned for sprawl.

Today, Charleston’s population density is less than one third that of Detroit’s. Something to worry about?

Andres Duany’s suggestion to split the BAR represents yet another threat to the bigger-is-better, command-and-control mindset of the 20th century. A mindset that, like the cumbersome BAR, is failing to deliver quality results. If debate is opened to the notion that small can be beautiful, that bifurcating authority carries the potential for more democratic and responsive governance — look out.

Residents of each borough may demand the right to establish and monitor their own design guidelines. Or choose a guideline-free territory.

Before you know it, this crazy idea of localized governance might take hold amongst the 75 percent of city residents who live off the peninsula.

Mayor Riley said Andres Duany’s visit “made everybody think a little bit.” He said the idea for splitting the BAR “was something I’d never thought of before.” Duany is indeed a genius at provoking constructive tension.

After debating direction for four square miles of the peninsula, perhaps the mayor and candidates aiming to succeed him can engage an introspective discussion on a vision for the city’s other 100-plus square miles.


5 Charles Street, Charleston

Happy Halloween – Explaining the fear campaign behind the dreaded “controversial sidewalk house”

The Charleston Post and Courier carried a front page article last Sunday about Earl’s Court. The couple leading the opposition followed it with an email blast. I responded to that email yesterday. Enjoy.

Project Fear and Earl’s Court, Halloween, 2014

The Controversial Sidewalk House

One Little House – Front Page of last Sunday’s Post and Courier, Oct 26, 2014

Rose Wilder Lane, the new street we’ve built through Earl’s Court in Mt. Pleasant’s Old Village continues in the news.

So what?

Last week, I was quoted in a Post & Courier newspaper article Made for fitness. Study says older, more compact cities are healthier

I responded with the following letter to the editor. Will see if it gets posted.

Kudos to reporter David Quick for his August 19th article headlined “Made for fitness: Study says older, more compact cities are healthier.” Mr. Quick demonstrated a refreshing knack for showing relationship – in this instance between the built environment and community health. And while I appreciated being asked to comment on the study, an abbreviated quotation to one of Mr. Quick’s questions didn’t quite capture my views on the subject. For clarity, here is the full context:
“COMPACT SHMOMPACT! Sure, there’s no question older, walk-able neighborhoods are more conducive to enabling a healthy lifestyle than are sprawling automobile-dependent suburbs. The compact nature of older cities makes it possible to walk or bike to meet daily needs. Such a time-tested arrangement also fosters informal speaking relationships among neighbors, which can lead to healthier social relations and community life. But so what!
Ours is a consumption-based society. Combining the automobile dependent vision embedded in local zoning codes with sprawl-inducing state and federal transportation policy encourages maximum consumption. Thus, building ever more and wider roads across more land leads to more parking spaces, more congestion, more obesity, more mental illness, more traffic fatalities, more cops, more political cronyism, more sick care, more gasoline, more oil, more military to secure more oil flow, more bombing brown people in faraway oil-rich lands, etc. So while it may not be good for human health, urban sprawl is critical to perpetuating our consumption-based economy.”

For 280 years the City of Charleston exemplified human scale urbanism: compact, walk-able, mixed-use. But the mold was broken in 1960, replaced by a planning model that emphasized automobile scale. Historic buildings on corner lots were replaced with gas stations and parking lots. City streets were converted to one-way traffic, and the construction of I-26 and the Crosstown eviscerated neighborhoods. Thousands of people were displaced for the sake of accommodating high-speed traffic on and off the peninsula.

Meanwhile, like cancer, Charleston metastasized. From 3,500 acres in 1960, the city limits grew to more than 70,000 acres, most of it zoned for low-density sprawl. Charleston is now bigger than Washington, D.C. and Boston COMBINED! It has more land area than 10 countries!

While heroic leadership has enabled some one-way streets to be converted back to two-way, most efforts to correct mistakes made on Charleston’s peninsula involve reactive “lip-sticking the pig” tactics – the Crosstown Expressway landscaping comes to mind. Yes, it looks better, but superficial SUB-urban solutions did nothing to solve structural problems.

With the benefit of hindsight, it’s clear that those who advanced a vision of automobile dependency didn’t know what they were doing because they didn’t know what they were undoing. For evidence, behold the enduring blight adjacent to I-26 and the Crosstown Expressway slashed through downtown’s old street network. Now imagine the same scarred fabric along similar highways hacked through hundreds of cities around the country. Now imagine this damage severing thousands of cities around the planet.

As unbearable as this may seem, one must also confront the reality that such blight-inducing infrastructure costs the planets’ taxpayers trillions of euros, renminbi, pounds, real, rubles and dollars to build and maintain. Worse, 1.2 million people are killed each year in automobile accidents around the planet.

Also hard to accept is the fact that once an institution surpasses a certain size, short-term benefits to be gained by its working to perpetuate a problem often outweigh those to be derived by solving that problem. Such is the case with an urban vision that involves maximizing the consumption of land, labor, capital, blood, and oil. For you see, by living in a place where it’s possible to walk or drive a short distance to meet daily needs, one does not need to consume as much gasoline. A daily commute that involves more walking as opposed to an hour spent competing for asphalt on a congested expressway, results in fewer doctor visits and consumption of stress-related drugs. Get the picture?

Thus, while politicians, Chamber of Commerce officials, and newspaper editors give lip service to the problems of urban sprawl, they shy away from taking action that would jeopardize the interests of privileged players in our hyper-consumptive economy. As Upton Sinclair said “It’s hard to get a man to understand something, if his salary depends upon him not understanding it.”

But resistance does not lessen the need for change. If this paper’s editors have any aspiration toward advancing the Lowcountry’s conservation ethos, then engage an adult-sized, fact-facing discourse that aspires to move beyond the cronyism inherent in our consumption-oriented growth model. Otherwise, so what!

A Message from the Founders of I’On

In the wee hours of the morning of August 2, 2014, a Charleston County jury rendered a final verdict in the trial of Walbeck vs The I’On Company. The jury found the I’On defendants liable for claims of negligent misrepresentation, breach of contract, and breach of fiduciary duty. The jury rejected all claims of fraud and breach of contract with fraudulent intent.

The jury awarded $20,000 to plaintiff Brad Walbeck and $1.75 million to the homeowners association, the I’On Assembly. The jury also rejected the plaintiffs’ plea for $7,000,000 in punitive damages.

In layperson’s terms, that means the jury felt that we, the defendant, made a mistake that caused significant damages, but they were unconvinced by the plaintiff’s aggressive attempt to portray us as malicious, predatory, or intentionally misleading.

While we are disappointed in the results, we are nevertheless pleased that the jury rejected all suggestions of fraud and found property owner Lea Ann Adkins’ claims completely lacking in merit, rejecting them entirely.

We would like to express our gratitude to the I’On neighbors who testified on our behalf. Finally, we are deeply appreciative of the heroic defense mounted on our behalf by the attorneys and staff of Duffy & Young.

We are proud of the neighborhood and feel it stands as an enduring testament to the honor, vision, noble aspiration, and attentive execution of The I’On Company and the thousands of associated neighborhood building participants engaged in its development over the past two decades. Despite this unfortunate legal contention, our hope is that the neighborhood will endure as a beloved place to be enjoyed by this and future generations. Thanks to all who have supported us along the way.

Geoff Graham, Co-Founder, The I’On Company Tom Graham, Co-Founder, The I’On Company Vince Graham, Co-Founder, The I’On Company

Ribbon Cutting for Earl’s Court!


A welcome ribbon cutting for Earl’s Court took place last Thursday. Three of the first four homes were framed and it was a great opportunity to celebrate with friends, neighbors, elected officials and future residents.

We’re Officially Underway!

If you’ve driven by the Earl’s Court site this week, you’ve noticed some changes! We’re in the process of forming up the foundations for the first three lots. Check out some pictures below and we’ll continue to update the blog as construction progresses!