Imagine this: A new city neighborhood to replace a rail yard

Here's one vision for how a new urban neighborhood might look, where today the North Tryon Street rail yard sits. Image courtesy UNC Charlotte College of Arts + Architecture and Master of Urban Design student Tenicia Jones

This is an exercise in imagination. 

Imagine that the large rail yard spreading between North Tryon Street and North Brevard Street, covering 210 acres and separating the two streets for a dozen blocks, magically went away. What should go on that land? That’s the challenge a UNC Charlotte urban design professor gave to her class. What follows are how they answered the question.

To be clear, Norfolk Southern is not moving the railyard. This isn’t about something expected to happen any time soon. Instead, it’s about imagining possibilities for Charlotte’s future. And sometimes this kind of exercise in envisioning can spark the imagination and lead to projects that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

Deb Ryan – who also chairs the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Commission – invited several dozen local officials, planners and interested others to a presentation by her students in the Master of Urban Design program in early December at the Trolley Powerhouse Studio, now owned by the city, on Camden Road.

Among the audience were Charlotte City Manager Marcus Jones, Interim Planning Director Ed McKinney, newly elected City Council member Larken Egleston, urban design program manager Grant Meacci of the city’s Planning Department, and Richard Petersheim, a partner at the planning firm Land Design.

The assignment was purely conjecture, Ryan emphasized: What if the operations of the North Tryon rail yard moved elsewhere? “What if we took that big scar in the fabric of the community and turned it into a neighborhood?” The idea is not limited to Charlotte. Cities around the world have been redeveloping, or drawing up plans to redevelop, rail yards that are no longer used. Examples include Hudson Yards in New York, the Sacramento Rail Yard, and Potomac Yard in Alexandria, Va.

Map of The Railyard project from UNC Charlotte College of Arts + Architecture urban design students. North Tryon Street is at the top of the map, Brevard Street and the Blue Line Extension at the bottom, and Matheson Street on the right. Click image to download a zoomable PDF.

The students delivered. They dubbed their neighborhood “The Railyard,” and designed a series of parks, streets, stores, workplaces and homes for an estimated 20,000 people.

Sitting six blocks northeast of uptown, and on the west edge of two light rail stations (Parkwood Avenue and 25th Street) along the soon-to-open Blue Line Extension, the neighborhood they designed would offer:

  • 26 acres of parks and open spaces, including rain gardens – specifically designed to capture storm water run off and let plants and soil filter pollutants.
  • 390,000 square feet of cultural and institutional space.
  • 170,000 square feet of office space.
  • 71,000 square feet of “creative space.”
  • 68,000 square feet of retail space.
  • 5,900 parking spaces.
This image illustrates the concept of a woonerf, a street where pedestrians are the priority, but with space for other transportation modes, such as cars, bicycles, etc. Image courtesy of UNC Charlotte College of Arts + Architecture student Molly Stahl 

Among the interesting proposals is a “woonerf” – a Dutch term for a street that shares space among all transportation modes (cars, bicycles, skates, etc.) with pedestrians the priority.

Other ideas:

  • Adaptively reusing older industrial buildings along North Tryon Street as maker space, for small manufacturers, artisans or other creative uses.
  • A “mews,” a series of small residences fronting a pedestrian passage used as a gathering space.
  • “Park Avenue,” a linear park stretching across the site – following today’s rail beds – providing green space bike paths, recreation and pedestrian paths.
  • “Madison Park,” not named for the Charlotte neighborhood near Park Road Shopping Center but for a proposed park on the south side of East 23rd Street, modeled on the Pearl District Park in Portland, Ore., and Madison Square Park in New York City.
  • “Railyard Park,” dedicated to the area’s rail history, featuring reclaimed shipping containers that can be moved around as pop-up shops.
  • A Main Street area with ground-floor retail, including a two-story grocery, and condos and townhomes above.
  • “Bryant Park,” modeled on midtown Manhattan’s Bryant Park, with high-end housing adjacent.

View the following images. And imagine.


Diagram shows where the different areas of The Railyard would be. Image courtesy Master of Urban Design Program, UNC Charlotte College of Arts + Architecture
An imagined scene along Railyard Road, the project's main retail street. Image courtesy Master of Urban Design student Kelsey Morrow
The design for The Railyard neighborhood has large and small public park spaces, including rain gardens. Image courtesy of the Master of Urban Design Program, UNC Charlotte College of Arts + Architecture
Streets in The Railyard are designed on a grid, with small blocks for walkability, and they connect to existing streets surrounding the project, to increase walkability and diminish congestion on any one street. Image courtesy of the Master of Urban Design program, UNC Charlotte College of Arts + Architecture
The Railyard is designed to make walking, bicycling and transit more attractive than driving, with multiple protected bicycle lanes and two light rail stations. Image courtesy of the Master of Urban Design program, UNC Charlotte College of Arts + Architecture
The Railyard's Park Avenue runs the length of the project, designed for pedestrians and bicyclists. Image courtesy of Master of Urban Design program, UNC Charlotte College of Arts + Architecture student Rashi Sonsakia