Of all the cities of which I have some personal experience, but to which I have no personal connection, Charleston, South Carolina, is the only one in which I’ve seriously thought I could live. The attraction is not the climate (my Polish and German genes and my Upper Midwest upbringing make me long for a real winter and a more temperate summer); nor the Southern culture, which I admire but of which I could never truly be part; nor even the food, which feels comfortably familiar to someone with roots in Southern Indiana, albeit with grits and seafood mixed in.
No, the attraction of Charleston is that it is a real place, to which a string of buzzwords—walkable, livable, human-scale—could never do justice. And it is a living testament to how the character of a people can shape a city, which in turn molds the character of future generations.
Returning to Rockford from my fourth visit in a little more than a decade to Charleston, I could not help but be struck by what has been lost here. It is not that Rockford never had its charms; you can sample them in two volumes of vintage postcards, Rockford: 1900-World War I and Rockford: 1920-1960, both from Arcadia Publishing (based in Charleston).
Of course, Rockford never looked like Charleston. A different place called for a different architecture, more suited to the climate and topography of Northern Illinois and to the character...