Illustration of horizontal berm at Brickelbank Park. Provided by DesignWorks.

SC - Behre: Back to the future? Charleston's new wall might not be a wall at all

When English colonists sailed into Charleston’s harbor 350 years ago, the peninsula was surrounded by oyster beds and salt marsh. A group of designers is now suggesting something very much like that might be the best bet for the city’s next few centuries.

“We believe a nature-based, context-sensitive design could be a real catalyst for making Charleston a more resilient and livable city in the future,” says Keith Bowers, President of Biohabitats Inc. “If we do this thoughtfully, Charleston could be a model for cities in similar situations.”

Bowers recently enlisted about a dozen like-minded planners, landscape architects, architects and engineers with experience in shoreline protection to use some of their unexpected free time (thank you, coronavirus) to launch an ambitious study of the peninsula.

Actually, “study” might not be the right word. The authors describe it as a “thought experiment.” It involved a memorable bike trip and a lot of work and culminated in a website ( ) detailing the thinking.

The starting point was the Army Corps of Engineers’ new Charleston Peninsula Coastal Flood Risk Management Study. Unveiled in April, it recommends a $1.75 billion, 8-mile perimeter wall around the peninsula, as well as a storm surge barrier off the peninsula’s tip.

Imagine the Wall aims to broaden the conversation about what could provide that protection — and what other important benefits could be created along the way.

Some of its ideas are familiar, such as creating very different protections (or walls) along different stretches of the peninsula. That seems like a no-brainer since the total height needed varies significantly, as do the streets, buildings and public places that exist near the water’s edge. And the important notion that the wall should serve other functions, such as recreation, is a value the city has adopted from the Dutch.

But Imagine is different as far as proposed solutions. Perhaps it would be better named, Reimagine the Wall.

Read more.