New Urbanism hits the peninsula

Image by I'On GroupImage by 20080707morris.jpg Morris Square in downtown Charleston includes homes, condos, two commercial spaces, and a park.

In his weekly architecture column, The Post and Courier's Robert Behre discusses how Morris Square downtown reflects Charleston's changing landscape.

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Morris Square is located at Smith and Morris, and it's a collection of homes, a couple of commercial spots, and a park. Vince Graham of I'On Group fame, was the developer of the Morris Square project, and Allison Ramsey Architects of Beaufort handled the architecture. And as Behre puts it, it's what happens when New Urbanism goes according to plan.

From The Post and Courier:

Morris Square is the first large-scale urban infill project by developer Vince Graham, who is probably best known for I'On, a New Urbanist neighborhood in Mount Pleasant whose traditional design has been featured in National Geographic magazine and many other places.

But there are some big differences: While I'On was hugely controversial and ultimately saw its apartment and retail aspect diluted by town politics, Morris Square is pretty much what Graham and his planners hoped it would be.

That's partly because Graham had to work closely with the city. The development hinged on a land swap in which the city traded the existing Dereef Park for three separate parks to be built by Graham. They include the new Simonton Park (named after the old elementary school), the plaza and a future park to be built in the project's final phase north of Morris Street.

But the point of the whole thing is this, as Behre continues: Greater density, but better spaces. You can have a yard downtown, but you have to share it. That's the focus of Morris Square, and it's going to be the focus of much of the development in this area over the next few decades, as the population continues to grow in the Lowcountry.