Protecting ArdmoreIt Takes a City to Enhance a ‘Village’
April 20, 2017
By Bill Davis | News Editor
Ardmore, the West Ashley neighborhood better known for low-rent houses and higher crime, is fighting to change everyone’s perceptions of it. And just in time, too, because the white wave of gentrification is about to crash into it.
Racially mixed and mostly poor, Ardmore has begun welcoming millennial to its numbers as prices of homes in nearby neighborhoods have started to soar. And with small yards and starter homes, it may just be the perfect place to grow a beard, home-brew beer, and play ping pong on the front porch.
Located between Savannah Highway and St. Andrews Boulevard, Ardmore has the West Ashley Bikeway running through its middle, but no community center or public park for any kind of recreation,
Before he left town to run Atlanta’s neighborhoods and traffic office last year, former Charleston planning czar Tim Keane remarked that City Hall never expected Ardmore to gentrify. “But just look at it,” he said at the time.
Indeed, it’s time to look at, and protect, the “Neighborhood that Time Forgot.”
Originally built in the mid-century to appeal to mostly white naval and shipyard workers, Ardmore began to welcome more and more black homeowners and renters as white flight took its former residents further down highways 17 South and 61, remembers longtime resident, the Rev. Christian King.
King has lived in Ardmore for four decades, and for decades has run The Pink House, a nonprofit after-school centering the neighborhood for area kids struggling with academic subjects.
King, the most recent past president of the conjoined Ardmore-Sherwood Forest Neighborhood Association, remembered how investors moved in with their wallets, buying up houses in Ardmore, with many proceeding to do little more than collect Section 8 rent checks instead of tending to needed repairs.
To this day, King says some of the houses in her neighborhood would fall in on themselves “if a termite sneezed.” Nowadays, King sees investment further isolating Ardmore.
Down the street, Avondale has exploded, with stores flocking to the area. And the city has made redoing the DuWapp area a priority, especially helping guide the intersection of Wappoo Road and Savannah Highway.
But King says that leaves Ardmore out of the mix. Again.
“They’ve gotten rid of the Kmart and a grocery store; I love Whole Foods, but the people I know in my neighborhood who are having free food delivered to them are not going to be patronizing it,” she says.
King feels her neighborhood is becoming “walled off” from the improvements going on around it, leaving Ardmore with little more than the backside of car lots.
And, as property values and rent goes up, a lot of the families she’s called neighbors for decades will be leaving, too, as their kids won’t be able to take over the banknote on their homes or pay the taxes.
King says she knows that some will just see her as “another angry black woman” complaining about gentrification, but she sees herself as merely “speaking truth to power.”
Elliot Wells, a white real estate agent who has made his home in Ardmore and specializes in selling the neighborhood, disagrees that Ardmore is about to be whitewashed off the map via gentrification.
Wells, a College of Charleston biology graduate and the current neighborhood association vice president, thinks because of the higher percentage of public housing present in Ardmore, it will always remained a mixed-race neighborhood.
Regardless of race, the neighborhood association has come together to do whatever it can for Ardmore.
And their efforts are working, according to City Councilman Keith Waring, who represents Ardmore.
Waring says because King, Wells, current neighborhood association president Anthony Coaxum appeared at City Hall to complain about flooding issues, Ardmore has been included in the flooding study being conducted in West Ashley. Before, they had been overlooked.
Waring argues that gentrification can only occur when one group of people have information that another group doesn’t have, and the other group isn’t vocal. Well, according to Waring, Ardmore is both informed and vocal, unlike many former peninsular communities – some of whom didn’t even have neighborhood associations to rally around.
By being involved in civic meetings, and bringing attention to their needs, Waring says the city is also looking for a community center site in Ardmore, as well as putting in appropriate “traffic calming” measures to slow cars cutting through during rush hours.
Neighborhood association secretary Nancy Snow says traffic is a nightmare outside of Ardmore already. She says it takes her 45 minutes to a full hour to commute in the morning to her downtown law office job. On Sundays, it takes 10 minutes to get to her downtown church.
Current city planning director Jacob Lindsey says that because of the neighborhood association’s level of activity, the neighborhood is being included in the city’s comprehensive master plan for West Ashley.
And that’s a major win, according to Lindsey, because the master planner the city has hired to run the process also has access to a specialized housing economic firm to make sure places like Ardmore – too small for its own master plan – can be protected. “They are going to tell us what we can do,” he says.
Waring and Lindsey both agree with the officers that the city has more to do with drainage affecting the area. Years ago, the city built retention ponds along the bikeway where egrets, cranes, and other storky-birds share space.
That section of the bikeway is more known as a getaway for drug dealers on bikes than it is for its beauty.
But it seems like everyone is engaged with changing that.
Waring says that gentrification may have some positives, like higher property values and faster police response times. But he described West Ashley as a series of villages where only some are benefitting from enhancements.
“We have to make sure that as we enhance other villages, the enhancement of Ardmore – as well as Sherwood Forest and Maryville-Ashleyville neighborhoods – has to take place.”