Playground Cities

On a recent visit to Charleston, a local complained to me that the city was in danger of becoming New Orleans, that is, a playground city. The tiny historic peninsula between the Ashley and Cooper Rivers, whose resident population below the Crosstown Expressway is about 20,000, is inundated with tourists (an average of about 12,000 per day), and day-visitors from mammoth cruise ships. Many of the homeowners are absentee landlords for whom the charming place is merely an occasional pied-à-terre. But New Orleans has a gritty decadence that prim Charleston lacks. If I were living in Charleston, I would cast a wary eye on Venice, whose falling population, now about 60,000 in the historic center, is almost surpassed by the average number of daily visitors. Like Charleston, Venice is a built memory of the way we used to live—or, at least, the way we can imagine we used to live, for few cities were as beautiful as Charleston or Venice. But sometimes beauty can be a curse.

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