Charleston, my beloved city, is in transition between the South and Globalism. Yet, while its costumes are becoming more liberal. While the streets don coffee shops, spinning classes, and a variety of ethnic foods that the South has never been known for. It still manages to lack competence in astounding ways. The institutions face rising oceans, exploding homeliness, a substance abuse crisis, a mental health crisis, and major traffic congestion and the city that was not too long ago no more than a small town suddenly has found itself thrust into a quixotic fantasy of global stardom it was never prepared to handle. Yet, it still thinks like a small town because small towns are “self-regulating” and don’t have problems that government or the other institutions of society are expected to fix.
If a small town has a pollution problem in a local creek, if the town ignores it then everything will probably be benign enough so that whatever natural beauty and biodiversity is lost, it will be barely noticeable. So, small town government can be incompetent. It shouldn’t be but if it is then no one cares. I am a huge supporter of locally addressing issues but in this culture, there isn’t a hippie sense of communitarianism but a redneck laziness and hedonism. Without the sense of civicism characteristic of the left, small towns generally ignore issues until they become too conspicuous to plausibly deny the effects of and then the local authorities try to find whatever solution will cover their asses at the lowest cost.
I speak not only of the government proper but the powerful of the other major institutions that govern this fair city alongside them. Now, many of the problems that plague the city’s bureaucracy and leadership are not different than those of historically large, less Southern, and more cosmopolitan cities, mostly, except in degree. The same sociological ills that human psychology infects human organizations with are present in every institution, yet, there historically has not been a need to mitigate those human flaws since, as said earlier, the problems of our small, Southern, town were able to be ignored while maintaining a functioning and productive polity.
The ills are many but foremost among them is the fact that there are no incentives for the individuals to do better and no consequences if they passively do badly. Active failure is punished but there is no punishment for negligence or passive failure. As long as whatever particular bureaucrat doesn’t have their name on a specific program then they don’t get blamed and since every program comes with risks, doing nothing is the safest option to keep their comfortable middle-class jobs. Each individual is concerned with their individual liability, then the liability of their organization, and only after that any sense of public good.
They also have to contend with NIMBY movements which are, themselves, a problem with the electorate and not the government and bureaucracy but they are a phenomenon that politicians and other civil servants need to know how to handle. No matter what it is, every change to the urban, physical, environment and especially those that increase density and common spaces, will be fought by micro populist movements arising to defend whatever heritage they think is being threatened or that threaten to make their quaint area less quaint by making it more urban, often being a expression of subconscious or not-so-subconscious racism. If most NIMBY movements are victorious then municipalities can get almost nothing accomplished. They are just a sociological natural disaster that happen to cities that the civil servants must deal with.
These are just two examples but they are the two worst examples of how Charleston has failed to grow into the responsibilities that it now has as a city with a bigger population, economy, and influence. It is a cautionary tale to other up-and-coming cities and even all cities about how politics must change in accordance with changing circumstances. Both the broader lessons of recognizing the flaws inherent to institutions and the specific problems of institutions. They have always been problems for this city but, now, they’re problems with victims that may number in the hundreds of thousands and, that being the case, the student council cannot be organizing the response to the fire.