Charlotte faces a wide range of needs, from affordable housing to more police, bigger parks and better transit, but they all share a similar root cause: growth. That was one of the main themes at City Council’s annual planning retreat, held this week over four days in Durham at the Washington Duke Inn. There was little anxiety about when the city’s boom might end. Instead, the focus was on ways to manage, change and deal with the side effects of a booming city. “We’re growing faster than we’re putting in that critical infrastructure around it, and people are feeling the pain,,” said council member Tariq Bokhari.
A new, mixed-income housing development is set to take the place of a long-troubled, low-income housing complex in South End. Brookhill Village is a paradox: An oasis of affordability in the midst of a booming and fast-gentrifying part of the city, but full of run-down units, many of them boarded up and visibly decaying from the street. Developed in the 1950s by the late C.D. Spangler, a wealthy Charlotte businessman, the complex of one-story buildings occupies 36 acres. Less than two miles away, uptown’s skyline glitters on the horizon.
HunterWood is fast approaching a tipping point, as new houses replace old. A quick walk around the neighborhood found 76 old houses (built before 2007) and 50 post-2007 houses. On my walk, I found long-time neighbor Jane Stout walking her dog. “The neighborhood is simply recycling. I get it. That happens,” she said. “I just wish the builders could be more sensitive to the surroundings. They seem to be so callous to what a lot of us like about the neighborhood.”
The Walters-brand piano held a commanding spot for decades in Sue and Dale Riley’s den, on Charlotte’s Wonderwood Drive. They bought it for $75, used, for their daughter Megan to learn on when she was 4 or 5 (she’s 47 now). Even when she was grown and came home on weekends or holidays, the piano, ever in need of tuning, came alive again. Until recently. One bright afternoon on my daily walk, I found the aging upright kicked to the curb.
Development has been sprawling. Places that were once rural now seem urban. Take Fort Mill, S.C., whose population, according to the American Community Survey, has nearly doubled since 2010. Many small towns have grown into bustling suburbs as developers search for large tracts of land to build residential communities. As the population grows, low-cost land and high volume are necessary to meet the regions demand for single family housing.
Charlotte has a reputation as a car city, but many of its leaders badly want to promote more biking, walking and transit use. That’s one reason an intriguing idea kept surfacing at this week’s City Council Transportation & Planning Committee meeting: Why not take all the cars off a major street in uptown or South End, creating a pedestrian-only space?
You’ve probably heard a few catchy statistics about Charlotte’s explosive growth: For example, the city’s population grew by 47 people a day from 2010 to 2018. But did you know that over the same period, the city also grew by almost 1.5 square miles a year?
Charlotteans often lament how many old buildings here have been torn down, but there are still structures worth saving, along with groups and developers willing to put in the work. On Thursday, the Charlotte Museum of History announced the winners of its 2019 Historic Preservation Awards. The five honorees, from 27 nominations, include a historic high school gym, a hip, repurposed mill, and historic houses.
Breweries, apartments, hip food halls, creative offices, coworking spaces: Charlotte developers keep finding new uses for the city’s old mills. As a post-war, Sunbelt boomtown, Charlotte has garnered a reputation for tearing down its old buildings and replacing them with sterile plaques to make way for the city’s glittering new skyline. But while many once-grand buildings have fallen (Goodbye, Masonic Temple and Hotel Charlotte), the humble, sturdy mill has proved surprisingly resilient.
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