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Susan Crawford, Charleston: Race, Water, and the Coming Storm (2023).

Abstract: An unflinching look at the beautiful, endangered, tourist-pummeled, and history-filled port city which now finds itself at the intersection of the twin crises of climate and race. Unknown to the happy, mostly white visitors who hop from one restaurant to another on the charming streets of the Charleston peninsula, or to readers of the glossy magazines in which the city is named a top destination year after year, rapidly rising sea levels and increasingly devastating storms are mere years away from rendering the Holy City uninhabitable. If this precarity is hidden, it is because the city and the state have a strong interest in keeping up appearances. And because the city’s Black and lower-income residents will bear the brunt of the storm. Charleston will show how the city must quickly reimagine its future before rising waters stymie its ability to act at all. Along the way, the city will need to confront and right historic wrongs. Susan Crawford’s evocative and profoundly important book will make us question whether Charleston is a bellwether for other towns and major cities along global coastlines. Charleston will chronicle the tumultuous recent past in the life of the city, from protests to hurricanes. It will show readers the city tourists never see, and lay out the risks now faced by a place that is in the business of marketing ahistorical, glossy luxury. We will hear from Rev. Joseph Darby, a well-regarded Black minister with a powerful voice across the city and region—who has an acute sense of the city’s shortcomings when it comes to matters of race and water. It will introduce Michelle Mapp, one of the city’s most promising Black leaders, who left her nonprofit post to attend law school at the Charleston School of Law and sees clearly how the systems around her must change. We will hear from Quinetha Frasier, a charismatic young Black entrepreneur with Gullah-Geechee roots who fears her people will be displaced by developers if they aren’t first wiped out by chronic flooding. Readers will meet Jacob Lindsey, the young white city planner charged with running the city’s ten-year “comprehensive plan” efforts—who ends up working for a private developer bent on turning what was once part of a river running next to the city into a giant commercial development. Each of these people, and the city in which they live, faces extraordinary risks in the form of coming environmental chaos. This emblematic American city crystallizes human tendencies to value profit and property above all else. At the same time, Charleston, like scores of other global coastal cities, urgently needs to chart a new future for its citizens in light of the changes ahead. Whether it can do so successfully will have crucial implications for cities everywhere. Illuminating and vividly rendered, Charleston is a clarion call and filled with characters who will stay in the reader’s mind long after the final page.