Back to the Present: Time to Look Around

June 30, 2021
Charleston Medical District's Greenway's logo

Have you ever had the feeling of seeing something new on campus and wondering, "Whoa! When did THAT happen?!" There has been so much going on during these past 18 months, despite the COVID-19 pandemic forcing us to focus on "in-your-face" challenges, that as we start to look around, it seems like maybe we are emerging from a strange time warp. Sort of like a bad sequel to "Land of the Lost," or like if Biff from "Back to the Future," made it into the DeLorean and changed 1985.

On clinic, inpatient rounding and OR days, when I typically walk from the office over at Colcock Hall to Ashley River Tower, I feel like I see this look on people's faces as they take in all the changes to the Charleston Medical District Greenway in the past year.

Biff to George McFly: "Hello? Hello? Anybody home?"

To be fair, though, it's not terribly surprising when you consider just how much has been on people's plates in recent months. But as we start to emerge from the pandemic tunnel, with some folks just beginning to engage with the appearance of our "new" environment, I'm reminded often on these walks how important these spaces are to our overall health and well-being, for all of us - employees, students, faculty and patients alike.

Recently, I had the pleasure of working closely with Robin Smith, our Grounds Department supervisor, on the vision for Phase II of the CMD Greenway project. If you don't know Robin personally, you surely will recognize her work when you are on the downtown campus or visit University Medical Center - she and her very hardworking team are responsible for the dramatic improvements and beautification of the natural landscapes and green spaces that many tread daily. They are the fuel behind the transformation and have been steadily and quietly working on the future of our physical campus.

Doc Emmett Brown: "Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads."

When we created the CMD Greenway and asked the City of Charleston, Roper Hospital and the Ralph A. Johnson VA hospital teams to join with us to transform this space, we started Phase 1 of this long-term project, in 2017, with a concept called tactical urbanism. In essence, we reclaimed a portion of Doughty Street with the intention of creating a place for gathering, collaboration, respite and connection to the natural environment in an otherwise urban setting.

Marty McFly: "Sounds pretty heavy."

Doc Emmett Brown: "Weight has nothing to do with it."

View of the Greenway in 2017
The Greenway in 2019
View of the Greenway in 2017
The Greenway in 2017

So, back to the present, and we are nearing the completion of Phase II, targeted for this July/August. Where there was once green asphalt, now there is green turf. Trees, plants, flowers are in steady supply. Food trucks offer appetizing choices on a daily basis. There's a deck underneath a large live oak tree; bricks line the sidewalks, memorializing someone's time on campus or perhaps a loved one; and next to the Public Safety building, even more green space, tables, chairs and umbrellas will welcome all-comers in the weeks ahead. And, being that it IS the 21st century, there's Wi-Fi and more electronic plug-in stations on the way.

Doc Emmett Brown: "If my calculations are correct, when this baby hits 88 miles per hour, you're going to see some serious 'stuff.'"

View of the Greenway in 2021 
The Greenway in 2021
View of the Greenway in 2021
The Greenway in 2021

So, if it's been awhile since you've visited this space in the center of our campus, I encourage you to make the time to stroll through it, grab lunch in the fresh air or gather with colleagues outside instead of the same ol' conference room. You'll be amazed at what a little more time outside each day will do for your mental and emotional health. No DeLorean required.

About the Author

David J. Cole
MUSC President