Planning & design
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.
Charlotte has a lot of ambitious, master-planned efforts underway right now, but it is the more spontaneous, less-planned areas that have seen truly explosive growth. Consider six areas: Brooklyn Village, Eastland Mall, North Tryon, South End, NoDa and Stonewall Street.
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.
It’s hard shopping for the city that has it all: Gleaming office towers, a new-ish light rail line, a booming population and one of the world’s busiest airports. But that doesn’t mean Charlotte couldn't still use a few gifts this holiday season. After all, despite the city’s obvious and explosive growth, there are still plenty of challenges: Housing that’s too expensive for many, a rising violent crime and murder rate, increasing traffic and low economic mobility for those born into poverty. So, what would you get Charlotte this year, if you could gift the city anything? I took a (very informal, totally unscientific) poll on Twitter, and received more than 100 replies and suggestions.
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?
In the past decade, City Council has only denied 27 rezoning petitions out of more than 1,200 filed, according to city records. That means there are more new breweries in Charlotte since 2009 than rezoning petitions turned down. What’s behind the high approval rate?
In one of the fastest-growing cities in the U.S., with rising rents and rapid changes in long-established neighborhoods, there’s sure to be a certain amount of churn in the local business scene. Angst and nostalgia are certain to follow. But as it grows and stretches, Charlotte is shedding pieces of its skin, and many don’t like the new identity they see emerging.
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